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D4. Resting from Work & Assembling on God's Annual Sabbaths    [Make a Comment]

We are to rest, refrain from work, and assemble on God's annual Sabbaths;--these are (1) the first and (2) seventh day of Unleavened Bread, (3) Shavuot, (4) Yom T'ruah (Rosh HaShanah), (5) Yom Kippur, (6) the first day of Sukkot and (7) Sh'mini Atzeret.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

First Day Of Unleavened Bread

Exodus 12:3
Speak to all the assembly of Isra'el and say, 'On the tenth day of this month, each man is to take a lamb or kid for his family, one per household.'

Exodus 12:16 (Maimonides RP159, RN323; Meir MP25; Chinuch C297-298)
On the first and seventh days, you are to have an assembly set aside for God. On these days no work is to be done, except what each must do to prepare his food; you may do only that.

Leviticus 23:5-7 (Maimonides RP159, RN323; Meir MP25, MN147; Chinuch C297-298)
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, between sundown and complete darkness, comes Pesach for ADONAI. On the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of matzah; for seven days you are to eat matzah. On the first day you are to have a holy convocation; don't do any kind of ordinary work.

Numbers 28:17-18
On the fifteenth day of the month is to be a feast. Matzah is to be eaten for seven days. The first day is to be a holy convocation: do not do any kind of ordinary work.

Seventh Day Of Unleavened Bread

Exodus 12:16 (Maimonides RN324)
On the first and seventh days, you are to have an assembly set aside for God. On these days no work is to be done, except what each must do to prepare his food; you may do only that.

Leviticus 23:8 (Maimonides RP160, RN324; Meir MP27, MN148; Chinuch C300-301)
Bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work.

Numbers 28:25
On the seventh day you are to have a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work.

Shavuot

Leviticus 23:10, 15-16
Tell the people of Isra'el, 'After you enter the land I am giving you and harvest its ripe crops, you are to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the cohen ... From the day after the day of rest - that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving - you are to count seven full weeks, until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days; and then you are to present a new grain offering to ADONAI.'

Leviticus 23:21 (Maimonides RP162, RN325; Meir MP28, MN149; Chinuch C308-309)
On the same day, you are to call a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; this is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live.

Numbers 28:26
On the day of the firstfruits, when you bring a new grain offering to ADONAI in your feast of Shavuot, you are to have a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work.

Deuteronomy 16:9-10
You are to count seven weeks; you are to begin counting seven weeks from the time you first put your sickle to the standing grain. You are to observe the festival of Shavu'ot [weeks] for ADONAI your God with a voluntary offering, which you are to give in accordance with the degree to which ADONAI your God has prospered you.

Yom T'ruah (Rosh HaShanah)

Leviticus 23:24-25 (Maimonides RP163, RN326; Meir MP29, MN150; Chinuch C310-311)
Tell the people of Isra'el, 'In the seventh month, the first of the month is to be for you a day of complete rest for remembering, a holy convocation announced with blasts on the shofar. Do not do any kind of ordinary work, and bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI.'

Numbers 29:1
In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; it is a day of blowing the shofar for you.

Yom Kippur

Leviticus 16:29-31 (Maimonides RP165)
It is to be a permanent regulation for you that on the tenth day of the seventh month you are to deny yourselves and not do any kind of work, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you. For on this day, atonement will be made for you to purify you; you will be clean before ADONAI from all your sins. It is a Shabbat of complete rest for you, and you are to deny yourselves. This is a permanent regulation.

Leviticus 23:27-32 (Maimonides RN329; Meir MP31, MN151; Chinuch C315, C317)
The tenth day of this seventh month is Yom-Kippur; you are to have a holy convocation, you are to deny yourselves, and you are to bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI. You are not to do any kind of work on that day, because it is Yom-Kippur, to make atonement for you before ADONAI your God. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day is to be cut off from his people; and anyone who does any kind of work on that day, I will destroy from among his people. You are not to do any kind of work; it is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live. It will be for you a Shabbat of complete rest, and you are to deny yourselves; you are to rest on your Shabbat from evening the ninth day of the month until the following evening.

Numbers 29:7
On the tenth day of this seventh month you are to have a holy convocation. You are to deny yourselves, and you are not to do any kind of work.

First Day of Succoth

Leviticus 23:34-39 (Maimonides RP166, RN327; Meir MP34, MN153; Chinuch C318-319)
Tell the people of Isra'el, 'On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of Sukkot for seven days to ADONAI. On the first day there is to be a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work. For seven days you are to bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI; on the eighth day you are to have a holy convocation and bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI; it is a day of public assembly; do not do any kind of ordinary work. These are the designated times of ADONAI that you are to proclaim as holy convocations and bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI - a burnt offering, a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its own day - besides the Shabbats of ADONAI, your gifts, all your vows and all your voluntary offerings that you give to ADONAI. But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe the festival of ADONAI seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest.'

Numbers 29:12
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you are to have a holy convocation. You are not to do any kind of ordinary work, and you are to observe a feast to ADONAI seven days.

Sh'mini Atzeret

Leviticus 23:34-39 (Maimonides RP167, RN328; Meir MP37, MN154; Chinuch C321, C323)
Tell the people of Isra'el, 'On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of Sukkot for seven days to ADONAI. On the first day there is to be a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work. For seven days you are to bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI; on the eighth day you are to have a holy convocation and bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI; it is a day of public assembly; do not do any kind of ordinary work. These are the designated times of ADONAI that you are to proclaim as holy convocations and bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI - a burnt offering, a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its own day - besides the Shabbats of ADONAI, your gifts, all your vows and all your voluntary offerings that you give to ADONAI. But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land you are to observe the festival of ADONAI seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest.'

Numbers 29:35
On the eighth day you are to have a festive assembly: you are not to do any kind of ordinary work.

This Mitzvah D4 bestows the term "Annual Sabbath" on seven of the annually-occurring "designated times" listed in Leviticus 23. This is because, as in the case of the weekly Sabbath, we are commanded to rest on them, refrain from work, and assemble. Of these however, only one of them - Yom Kippur - is actually termed a Sabbath in the Scriptures. Each of these days has its unique theme and reason for being, but because they bear a basic similarity to the weekly Sabbath which is discussed at length in Mitzvah # D1  of this book, the related issues of work, rest, and application to Gentiles will be dealt with here only briefly.

The first and seventh days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread remind us o God's provision and our need to purge leaven (analogized to sin) from our lives (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Of all the feasts, Passover is the one that has most caught the attention of the Christian Church. This is because of the obvious analogy of the Passover lamb sacrifice to Yeshua's sacrifice, where the blood of each of the sacrifices, saved those who applied it.

The next "designated time" listed on the biblical calendar, Shavuot, was historically commanded to the Israelites to commemorate the Spring harvest, but it is relevant to Gentile followers of Yeshua as well, both as an identification with the Jewish People, and also as a memorial of the Shavuot that occurred centuries later, when God made the Holy Spirit available on earth to all of mankind (Acts 2:1-21, 10:45). Christian terminology for this day is "Pentecost"1.

Shavuot is unique among the Annual Sabbaths in being the only one that Scripture does not assign a particular date on the lunar calendar. Instead, Leviticus 23:10,15-16 states:

"Tell the people of Israel, 'After you enter the land I am giving you and harvest its ripe crops, you are to bring a sheaf od firstfruits of your harvest to the cohen ... From the day after the day of rest - that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving - you are to count seven full weeks, until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days; and then you are to present a new grain offering to ADONAI.'"

This fifty-day count from "the day after the day of rest" (or Sabbath) is known in Jewish practice as "counting the omer", and which one of several possible Sabbaths is "day zero" of the count is a subject of ongoing dispute that involves two different days that Scripture refers to as "firstfruits". The first of these is the one in Leviticus 23:10 which, for clarity, I will refer to as Yom Habbikurim.2 The second occurance is in Numbers 28:26, where the term is again used, but for Shavuot.

Jewish orthodoxy has adopted the Pharisaic view that the count should start from Nisan 16, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, thus causing Shavuot to always fall on the 6th day of Sivan. By contrast, most of the Messianic Judaism has adopted the Sadducean view that the count should start from the day after the Seventh-Day Sabbath that falls in the midst of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This results in the count beginning on the first day of the week on Yom HaBikkurim (the Day of Firstfruits), making this day the probable day of Yeshua's resurrection. This also results in Shavuot falling on different days of the lunar calendar in adjacent years, a result that seems to have been intended in the Leviticus 23 account.

Yom T'ruah (day of blowing) is also known as the "Day of Trumpets" or "Shofarot", and as "Rosh Hashanah" (head of the year, i.e. New Year) by the Rabbinic community. It is followed ten days later by Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Although these days were historically commanded to the Israelites, Gentile followers of Yeshua may choose to observe them as well, both to identify with the Jewish People, and also to use as times of personal introspection and repentance that may lead to joining with their Jewish brothers in praying for Israel on Yom Kippur. This is especially appropriate when one considers the elevated position of New Covenant believers (both Jews and non-Jews) as priests under Messiah Yeshua (1 Peter 2:5-10; Revelation 1:4-7).

Finally, Sukkot is particularly significant for Gentiles, because Scripture prophecies the time when all the Gentile nations on earth will be required to join with Israel in keeping the Feast (Zechariah 14:16-19). This appears to be a nation-to-nation mandate and not one directed to individuals.

Although "rest" is not specifically mentioned in the supporting Scriptures for the Feast of Unleavened Bread and for Shavuot, it is strongly implied by the requirement that we not work. Also, although in Hebrews 4:2-11 it is the weekly Sabbath rest that is analogized to resting in Messiah, its application to all of the annual Sabbaths is unmistakable.

I am of the view that complying with these Annual Sabbaths by resting, abstaining from work, and assembling, is mandatory for Jews and K'rovei Yisrael Gentiles but, with the exception of the Feast of Sukkot is not mandatory for Gentiles generally. That notwithstanding, I believe that blessing comes to Gentiles who keep the Annual Sabbaths, analogous to the blessing for keeping the Seventh-day Sabbath that is promised in Isaiah 56:1-7. Keeping the Annual Sabbaths also serves to connect Gentile believers to their Jewish brethren, and enhances understanding of the events in history that led to the Messiah's coming and to the New Covenant.

Daniel C. Juster
My view on this is that, without the support of civil law as we have in Israel, it is very difficult for Jews to do all of the Sabbaths (e.g. the seventh day of Passover and the 8th Day of Sh'mini Atzeret) because the number of days are just too difficult in a non-Jewish society. I think Messianic Jews should seek to keep them all as an ideal, but there is, in my view, allowance in the Diaspora for some degree of indulgence.

Regarding Gentiles, there is no requirement for them to embrace the Sabbath days, as is made most clear in Colossians 2, Romans 14, and Galatians 5. Also, although there is no evidence in any historical text that this was ever expected of Gentile believers, they are not relieved from understanding and applying these Sabbath days as their communities and they, as individuals, are led by the Holy Spirit. Of course, even when some level of compliance is decided upon, Gentiles are not called to add extra-biblical rabbinical practices, although they are not prohibited from them either. The literal partaking of the Annual Sabbaths is covenantal to the Jewish people and would seem to have application to Gentile believers in their communities as follows:

  1. There should be teachings regarding the meanings of all the Sabbaths.
  2. It would be good and reasonable to teach on the Sabbaths in the seasons of their actual celebrations in Israel and in the Jewish community. This connects the Christian world to the Jewish people with whom they are joined through Yeshua (Romans 11).
  3. Whenever Christian communities are led to celebrate these Sabbaths, it would be sufficient for them to do so on the weekends closest to their biblically prescribed dates.
  4. Lastly, Christians may choose to abstain from work and rest on these Sabbaths (similar to their Jewish brothers) in identification with the Jewish people.
  5. How the Sabbaths are acknowledged and expressed in each Christian community should be led by the Holy Spirit.

Commentators:
Maimonides and Meir loosely refer to the "first day of Passover" when they mean the first day of Unleavened Bread. This is a common Jewish practice, but is at odds with the biblical definition which describes Passover as the period from before sundown on the 14th day of the first month (Nisan 14), to sometime early the next day (Nisan 15), when the Israelites began their exodus from Egypt. HaChinuch specifically refers to Nisan 15, and all three commentators recognize the exception from not doing work when food preparation is needed. HaChinuch considers the first and seventh days of "Passover" to be a single festival, unlike the case of Sh'mini Atzeret.

HaChinuch's interpretation of "rest" allows for food preparation on all the Annual Sabbaths except for the seventh day of Unleavened Bread. Maimonides allows for it on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and on Sh'mini Atzeret, and Meir allows for it only on the first day of Unleavened Bread. No explanation is given for these inconsistencies.

In their writings, Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch assume the common rabbinical practice in the Diaspora of doubling up on each of the Annual Sabbaths except for Yom Kippur. The reason for this duplication is interesting, but will not be explored further here.


1. According to Jewish tradition, the day subsequently defined as Shavuot is also the day on which the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai.

2. Hebrew for "Day of Firstfruits."


NCLA: JMm JFm KMm KFm GMo GFo

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