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 (The Doctrine of Sabbath)
Chapter 5: The Messages of the Old Testament Prophets
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CHAPTER 5: The Messages of the Old Testament Prophets

5.1         The role of the prophets

It is an unfortunate fact of history that God-fearing kings in Judah and Israel were few and far between. The majority not only broke God’s laws, but also led the people to do likewise. Therefore, God had to raise up prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel to reprimand the two kingdoms, and to remind the people of their covenantal obligations, including their duty to keep the Sabbath day holy.

5.2         Prophetic messages for Israel

5.2.1      Amos

Amos ministered in the eighth century BC, during the reign of Jeroboam II. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the northern kingdom; yet, all was not well. The prophet was compelled to speak out against a troubling attitude in the people:

“When will the New Moon be past,

That we may sell grain?

And the Sabbath,

That we may trade our wheat?

Making the ephah small and the shekel large,

Falsifying the scales by deceit,

That we may buy the poor for silver,

And the needy for a pair of sandals—

Even sell the bad wheat?”

                                                          Amos 8:5–6

Outwardly, they worshipped God and observed the Sabbath and the New Moons, but it was mere lip service. The condition of their lives did not match their religiosity: they failed to act righteously, exploited the poor and were dishonest. To make matters worse, they adopted the idolatrous practices of the surrounding nations to create a syncretic brand of religion; the damning evidence was in the high places at Bethel and Gilgal (Amos 4:4–5; 5:4–5). This dire situation prompted God to issue a severe warning through Amos:

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

“Surely I will never forget any of their works. 

Shall the land not tremble for this,

And everyone mourn who dwells in it?

All of it shall swell like the River,

Heave and subside

Like the River of Egypt.” 

“And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God, 

“That I will make the sun go down at noon,

And I will darken the earth in broad daylight;

I will turn your feasts into mourning,

And all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist,

And baldness on every head;

I will make it like mourning for an only son,

And its end like a bitter day.”

                                                                                Amos 8:7–10

The prophet made it clear that God would not overlook the sins of the people, but would surely judge them. He therefore spoke of a day when Israel would have cause to put on sackcloth and mourn.

5.2.2      Hosea

During the latter part of Jeroboam’s reign, another person emerged to speak out against the northern kingdom—the prophet Hosea. Continuing the message of Amos, he highlighted the social and moral sins of the people, focusing particularly on the matter of idolatry. He pointed out that, in God’s eyes, they were like an unfaithful wife: “Do not rejoice, O Israel, with joy like other peoples, for you have played the harlot against your God” (Hos 9:1). Hosea added that God had no choice but to pronounce judgment:

“For she did not know

That I gave her grain, new wine, and oil,

And multiplied her silver and gold—

Which they prepared for Baal.”

“Therefore I will return and take away

My grain in its time

And My new wine in its season,

And will take back My wool and My linen,

Given to cover her nakedness. 

Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers,

And no one shall deliver her from My hand. 

I will also cause all her mirth to cease,

Her feast days,

Her New Moons,

Her Sabbaths—

All her appointed feasts.” 

“And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees,

Of which she has said,

‘These are my wages that my lovers have given me.’

So I will make them a forest,

And the beasts of the field shall eat them. 

I will punish her

For the days of the Baals to which she burned incense.

She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry,

And went after her lovers.

Then she forgot Me,” says the Lord.

                                                                                     Hosea 2:8–13

The prophecies of both Amos and Hosea were duly fulfilled in 722 BC. The Assyrians, led by Tiglath-Pileser III, invaded Israel, exiled the people and brought in foreign subjects to occupy the land. From that time, the northern kingdom ceased to exist.  

5.3         Prophetic messages for Judah

5.3.1      Isaiah

Isaiah was a prophet of the southern kingdom and a contemporary of Amos. Addressing the inhabitants of Judah as the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah, he pointed out that God took no delight in their sacrifices, New Moons, sacred assemblies and Sabbaths.

Hear the word of the Lord,

You rulers of Sodom;

Give ear to the law of our God,

You people of Gomorrah:

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”

Says the Lord.

“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

And the fat of fed cattle.

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

Or of lambs or goats.”

“When you come to appear before Me,

Who has required this from your hand,

To trample My courts?

Bring no more futile sacrifices;

Incense is an abomination to Me.

The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—

I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 

Your New Moons and your appointed feasts

My soul hates;

They are a trouble to Me,

I am weary of bearing them. 

When you spread out your hands,

I will hide My eyes from you;

Even though you make many prayers,

I will not hear. 

Your hands are full of blood.”


“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;

Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.

Cease to do evil,

Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Reprove the oppressor;

Defend the fatherless,

Plead for the widow.”

                                                                                        Isaiah 1:10–17 

The reason for God’s acute displeasure was the people’s religious hypocrisy. Like the nation of Israel, they honoured Him outwardly, but their lives told a different story: they failed to implement justice and righteousness, and instead committed evil. They also profaned the Sabbath—not surprising, given their overall backsliding. The prophet therefore urged them to mend their ways, before God was forced to execute judgment:

Thus says the Lord:

“Keep justice, and do righteousness,

For My salvation is about to come,

And My righteousness to be revealed.

Blessed is the man who does this,

And the son of man who lays hold on it;

Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,

And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

                                                 Isaiah 56:1–2

After proclaiming messages of warning and judgment, Isaiah gave words of comfort to assure the people of restoration. One key message was God’s promise to bless those who honoured the Sabbath day: 

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,

From doing your pleasure on My holy day,

And call the Sabbath a delight,

The holy day of the Lord honorable,

And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,

Nor finding your own pleasure,

Nor speaking your own words,

Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;

And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,

And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. 

The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

                                                                  Isaiah 58:13–14

God would grant them three blessings. One blessing was that they would delight in Him—that is, they would find spiritual joy through their relationship with Him. The second blessing was that He would make them “ride on the high hills of the earth”—words reminiscent of the Song of Moses: 

“He made him ride in the heights of the earth,

That he might eat the produce of the fields,

He made him to draw honey from the rock,

And oil from the flinty rock;

Curds from the cattle, and milk of the flock,

With fat of lambs;

And rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats,

With the choicest wheat;

And you drank wine, the blood of the grapes.”  

                                      Deuteronomy 32:13–14

They revealed a blessing of a physical nature: God would bestow His providential care upon the people, as well as the bounty of the earth. The third blessing was the “heritage of Jacob”, which, in one sense, signified the right to dwell securely in the promised land (Gen 28:3–4, 12–14; cf. Ex 6:8; Ps 135:12). However, in a more profound sense, it referred to the right to inherit a far better heavenly country (Heb 11:13–16). This latter meaning was reinforced in another of Isaiah’s messages:

For thus says the Lord:

“To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths,

And choose what pleases Me,

And hold fast My covenant,

Even to them I will give in My house

And within My walls a place and a name

Better than that of sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

That shall not be cut off.”

                                                   Isaiah 56:4–5

Herein was God’s assurance that even the eunuchs would receive a lasting legacy for their part in honouring the Sabbath: He would grant them an everlasting name and a place in His house. In other words, God would record their names in the Book of Life—a privilege signifying their right to eternal life in His kingdom (Rev 20:11–15). 

Finally, Isaiah prophesied of a new era when God’s people would return to Him:

“For as the new heavens and the new earth

Which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord,

“So shall your descendants and your name remain. 

And it shall come to pass

That from one New Moon to another,

And from one Sabbath to another,

All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord.

                                                                            Isaiah 66:22–23

In that time, salvation would extend to “all flesh”, and both Jews and Gentiles would gather before Him on the Sabbath.     

5.3.2      Jeremiah

Jeremiah was a prophet of the southern kingdom, ministering from 627 to 580 BC. Despite the earlier reforms of King Josiah (2 Kgs 22, 23), the religious situation of Judah did not improve for the longer term. In fact, the nation was backsliding once more, for we learn of the following indictments against the people: they were ignorant of the way of the Lord (Jer 5:4); they continued in idolatrous practices (Jer 5:7; 7:9, 18); they carried out abominable pagan acts (Jer 7:31); their religion was false and their lives, immoral (Jer 7:1–11).

A sign of the nation’s godlessness was their neglect of the Sabbath. It was for this reason that God instructed Jeremiah to stand by the gates of Jerusalem to proclaim this warning: 

Thus says the Lord: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.”
    “And it shall be, if you diligently heed Me,” says the Lord, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the Lord. But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”

            Jeremiah 17:21–27

The message was clear: unless they took care to sanctify the Sabbath day, God would destroy the city with a consuming fire.

Sadly, the people refused to listen, and Jeremiah had the misfortune to witness the literal fulfilment of God’s words. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and destroyed both the city and its temple with fire. Not long after, the prophet could only lament over the fact that the chosen people would now be destined to forget the Sabbath:

He has done violence to His tabernacle,

As if it were a garden;

He has destroyed His place of assembly;

The Lord has caused

The appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion.
In His burning indignation He has spurned the king and the priest.

            Lamentations 2:6

5.3.3      Ezekiel

History indicates that Ezekiel was most likely exiled to Babylon in 597 BC, along with Jehoiachin, king of Judah. It was in that land, by the River Chebar, that God called him to be His prophet (Ezek 1:3)— to not only make known the sins of the nation and to pronounce  judgment, but also to give hope of future restoration.

Ezekiel pointed out that the people were guilty of idolatry (Ezek 6; 8:15–18) and of failing to obey God’s statutes and judgments (Ezek 5:6). A symptom of their fallen state was the profaning of the Sabbath. In effect, they were repeating the mistakes of their rebellious forefathers (Ezek 20:1–32)—those who forgot that the Sabbath was a sign of their sanctification (Ezek 20:12).

In God’s eyes, the defilement of the Sabbath was a particularly grave sin. Hence, Ezekiel spoke of it alongside the nation’s other great evils: the neglect of one’s parents, the oppression of the weak, sexual immorality, child sacrifice and idolatry.

“Look, the princes of Israel: each one has used his power to shed blood in you. In you they have made light of father and mother; in your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow. You have despised My holy things and profaned My Sabbaths. In you are men who slander to cause bloodshed; in you are those who eat on the mountains; in your midst they commit lewdness. In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are set apart during their impurity. One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; and another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter.” 

            Ezekiel 22:6–11

The Lord also said to me: “Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then declare to them their abominations. For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they have done in the midst of My house.”

            Ezekiel 23:36–39

Ezekiel continued his message by saying that the religious leaders had also committed great sins:

“The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.”

            Ezekiel 22:25–26

They broke God’s laws, acted corruptly, failed to distinguish the holy things and neglected the Sabbath.

In 586 BC, while the prophet was still speaking, God’s judgment came upon the southern kingdom: the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the city and its temple, and exiled the inhabitants. In the aftermath, God gave the prophet a vision of a new city and a new temple. He also set out His expectations concerning how the priests were to minister in the new era: “In controversy they shall stand as judges, and judge it according to My judgments. They shall keep My laws and My statues in all My appointed meetings, and they shall hallow My Sabbaths” (Ezek 44:24). The priests would act as faithful judges and keep His Sabbaths holy once more.

In chapter 45, God outlined the duty of one called the “prince”:[1] 

“Then it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and at all the appointed seasons of the house of Israel. He shall prepare the sin offering, the grain offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel.”

             Ezekiel 45:17

Thus says the Lord God: “The gateway of the inner court that faces toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened. The prince shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gateway from the outside, and stand by the gatepost. The priests shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings. He shall worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall not be shut until evening. Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the entrance to this gateway before the Lord on the Sabbaths and the New Moons. The burnt offering that the prince offers to the Lord on the Sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish, and a ram without blemish.”

             Ezekiel 46:1–4

This spiritual leader would do God’s will, to make offerings on the Sabbath and guide the people to hallow this day.

5.4         Conclusion

Through their various messages, the prophets warned the people of Israel and Judah about their departure from God and their failure to sanctify the Sabbath. They highlighted a number of important truths, including the point that Sabbath-keeping was as important as a life of morality; that obedience would be rewarded with physical and spiritual blessings; and that judgment awaited those who persisted in profaning this day.

Unfortunately, the chosen people chose to ignore the warnings, thereby provoking God to anger and righteous judgment (Jer 17:22–27; Amos 8:5–10; cf. Hos 2:11–12). In the case of the northern kingdom, the outcome was its invasion and destruction by the Assyrians in 722 BC. In the case of the southern kingdom, the outcome was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC.


© January 2012 True Jesus Church.

[1]      Strong’s reference no. H5387. Hebrew, nasi.  The identity of the prince is unclear, but from the Book of Ezekiel, we understand that he will: eat bread before the Lord (44:3); be given a portion of land in the temple area (45:7–8; 48:21–22); make offerings at the feasts, New Moons and Sabbaths (45:17); make a sin offering for himself and the people during the Passover (45:22); enter the gateway of the inner court facing east (46:1); be in the midst of the people during the feasts (46:10); have the right to pass on his inheritance to his sons (46:16).

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