CHAPTER 4: Sabbath Observance in Canaan
manna ceases to fall
their cue from the six-day cycle of manna, the Israelites learnt to observe the
Sabbath dutifully for the duration of their wilderness journey. The manna continued
to fall until they entered the land of Canaan: “Now the manna ceased on the day
after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no
longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year” (Josh
indicates that during this new era there appeared to be relatively few
regulations in force, and the people engaged in a number of activities that did
not constitute the breaking of the Sabbath.
4.2 Activities permitted
on the Sabbath
One of the
activities permitted by God upon the people’s arrival into Canaan was warfare.
We see evidence of this in the siege of Jericho. In the Book of Joshua, we
learn that God commanded them to march around the city for seven days: “You
shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the
city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven
trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march
around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets” (Josh
examples are in 1 Samuel 13:5–8 and 1 Kings 20:26–29.
4.2.2 Marriage feasts
in the time of the patriarchs was the holding of week-long marriage feasts (see
Gen 29:27–28). This was also the case in the era of the judges, for we learn
that this was the duration of Samson’s celebrations (Judg
14:10–17). A logical assumption is that the prohibitions against the kindling
of fire and cooking on the Sabbath no longer applied by this time.
21:1–10 records David and his band of men fleeing from Saul on a Sabbath day.
His journey from Nob to Gath would have been about twenty-five miles. In
another biblical account, we learn of a Shunammite woman who appears to have
had a habit of travelling to Mount Carmel on the Sabbath (see 2 Kgs 4:22–23), some twenty miles away from her home. These
examples reveal that there were no travel restrictions in those times. History
indicates that they came about later, during the inter-testamental
period, on account of the Jewish scribes and rabbis who interpreted and
expanded on the written Law.
4.2.4 Fasting and mourning
31:13 records the people of Jabesh fasting for seven
days after the death of Saul and his sons. Also, 2 Samuel 12:18 records David
fasting and praying for his sick son for the same length of time. These
accounts indicate that these acts were not prohibited during the time of the
4.2.5 Priestly duties
It was the
duty of the priests to minister before the Lord at all times. On the Sabbath,
they sang hymns, offered sacrifices, set out the showbread and performed
circumcision (Num 28:9–10; Lev 24:5–8; Jn 7:22–23).
time of Samuel and David, the Levites were appointed as gatekeepers of the
tabernacle, caretakers of the holy things and assistants to the priests (1 Chr
23:30–32). Some worked to a seven-day rota:
chosen as gatekeepers were two hundred and twelve. They were recorded by the
genealogy, in their villages. David and Samuel the seer had appointed them to
their trusted office. So they and their children were in charge of the gates of
the house of the Lord, the house of the tabernacle, by assignment. The
gatekeepers were assigned to the four directions: the east, west, north, and
south. And their brethren in their villages had to come with them from time to
time for seven days. For in this trusted office were four chief gatekeepers;
they were Levites. And they had charge over the chambers and treasuries of the
house of God. And they lodged all around the house of God because they had the
responsibility, and they were in charge of opening it every morning.
Levites were also singers and musicians (1 Chr 15:16–24), later playing a key
role at the dedication of the temple (2 Chr 5:1, 12). Among their repertoire
was “A Song for the Sabbath Day” (Ps 92).
4.3 A holy convocation
included the Sabbath among the holy convocations (Lev 23:1–3), and it was
therefore a day for the Israelites to rest and assemble for worship. After God
delivered the Law to Moses at Sinai, the tabernacle served as the focal point
for weekly Sabbath observance, for it was here that the priests performed the
required ceremonial rituals: namely the offering of sacrifices (Num 28:9–10)
and the setting out of showbread (Lev 24:5–9). Later, in King Solomon’s time,
the temple served as a far more magnificent and glorious venue for worship:
I am building a temple for the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to Him,
to burn before Him sweet incense, for the continual showbread, for the burnt
offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths, on the New Moons, and on the
set feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance forever to Israel.”
Solomon offered burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar of the Lord which he
had built before the vestibule, according to the daily rate, offering according
to the commandment of Moses, for the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the three
appointed yearly feasts—the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and
the Feast of Tabernacles.
period of the divided kingdom, Sabbath worship appears to have taken place in
Israel’s holy sanctuaries. Evidence for this is found in 2 Kings which records
the story of a Shunammite woman who, after her son died, made preparations to
seek out the prophet Elisha on Mount Carmel. Her husband asked, “Why are you
going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath” (2 Kgs 4:23). His words indicate that Carmel was a centre of worship at that time—a place where people
travelled to on Sabbath days and other holy feasts.
during the period of the Babylonian exile, when worship in the temple was no
longer possible, Sabbath observance took place in local synagogues. It was there that the
people assembled for prayer and instruction in the Scriptures.
Sabbaths and holy days the loss of the Temple and the absence of the solemn
sacrificial celebrations were keenly felt by the exiles…the synagogue…served as
a substitute for the Temple. In the synagogue there was no altar, and prayer
and the reading of the Torah took the place of the sacrifice. In addition the
prayer house performed an important social function…it was a gathering point
and a meeting place where the people could congregate whenever it was necessary
to take counsel over important community affairs.
Menes, The Jewish People, vol 1, pp 78–152
Jews returned from exile, synagogues became firmly established as places of
worship and learning. The Gospels show that Jesus Himself attended the
synagogues at Nazareth (Mt 13:54; Lk 4:16) and Capernaum (Mk 1:21; Jn 6:59).
Such were their importance that, by the first century AD, they could be found in those cities that the Jews migrated
to, including Salamis in Cyprus (Acts 13:5), Antioch in Pisidia
(Acts 13:14), Iconium (Acts 14:1), Thessalonica (Acts
17:1–2), Berea (Acts 17:10), and Corinth (Acts 18:1, 4). It was in the
synagogues, and often on the Sabbath day, that the apostle Paul took the
opportunity to preach to Jews and Greeks alike, proclaiming the good news of
Jesus Christ. As the Christian faith spread, believers also took their worship
into private homes (see Rom 16:3, 5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phm
2) and, finally, into church buildings.
Israelites settled in Canaan, there appeared to be few Sabbath regulations.
From the Bible, we note that the people were at liberty to engage in various
activities that did not constitute the profaning of the day—activities such as
warfare, travel, celebrating marriages, mourning and fasting.
the Sabbath became established as a holy convocation, with worship centering
initially on the tabernacle, and later, in the temple at Jerusalem and the holy
sanctuaries in Israel. From the period of the Babylonian exile, local
synagogues served as meeting places for the chosen people. In the time of the
New Testament, and with the spread of Christianity, believers took their
worship into private houses, and later into formal church buildings.
© January 2012 True Jesus Church.