AR"You Shall Do No Work"What is the true meaning of God's command for the Sabbath? Read how the principles of Sabbath observance translate to our lives today.Despite what the Israelites practiced in the Old Testament, observing the Sabbath day and keeping it holy requires a willing heart to sacrifice any means of making money or indulging in personal enjoyment. The Sabbath does not require us to walk to church or to cease preparing meals, but doing good and helping one another spiritually and physically is encouraged and pleasing to the Lord. As labor can be interpreted in many different ways, Isaiah the prophet concludes that one must keep the Lord's day filled with the desires of God and not of oneself and he shall be blessed.
Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, which are set in stone and
unchanging. The Sabbath Day is the day that belongs to God (Gen 2:1ff;
Ex 20:8ff; Deut 5:13ff).
Like the other
commandments, it is binding on us. In fact, the degree it binds us is more
significant than how it bound the people of Israel. By commanding the
Israelites to keep the Sabbath, God gave them opportunities to reflect
upon His creative power, His purpose for them (cf. Gen 2:1ff; Ex
and His deliverance (Deut 5:13ff).
Of course, these opportunities are also available to us today, and keeping
the Sabbath in our time also ushers us into the rest of God—from the
seventh day Sabbath's rest to the eventual eternal rest.
For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way:
God rested on the seventh day from all His works'... There remains
therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who entered His rest has
Himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. (Heb 4:4,
Without a doubt, Sabbath observance has a direct bearing on our salvation.
In the Gospels, Jesus teaches that we must keep God's commandments not
only in the literal sense but also from within our hearts (Mt 5).
Therefore, at the outset, before we can understand the true essence of
Sabbath observance, we have to comply with the letter of the commandment:
"Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh
day is the day of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work"
(Ex 20:8ff; Deut 5:13ff).
The command "you shall do no work" served to restrain God's
chosen people from laboring on the Sabbath. This ensured that they would
keep the Sabbath as God had intended. However, the Old Testament
Scriptures do not sufficiently elaborate this commandment in a way that
enables us to deal with it in the context of the new millennium (Ex
20:10). Therefore, we can illustrate only the principles of Sabbath
The Israelites' Sabbath Observance
When God gave the Israelites this command, they were still wanderers in
the wilderness. He first issued it in the form of "staying at
home," which meant "staying in one's tents" as opposed to
leaving home to gather manna just like on any other day of the week:
Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the
Sabbath, there will be none... See! For the Lord has given you the
Sabbath; therefore He gives you the six days. Let every man remain in his
place... (Ex 16:26, 29)
It is clear that the gathering of manna outside one's dwelling place
amounted to "doing work"-that is, it was the same kind of labor
as was done on the other six days of the week. So God clearly stipulated
that if the Israelites worked on the seventh day, they would be profaning
the Sabbath, and thus, severe consequences would befall them (Ex
Once the Israelites settled and became farmers, they had to stop all forms
of farming on the seventh day in order to keep with the essence of the
Sabbath. Likewise, after they began to develop into a nation, gathering
wood (Num 15:32-36), burden-bearing (Jer 17:21-27), traveling (Ex
and trading (Amos 8:5) were all forbidden on the Sabbath. To prevent
business dealings, Nehemiah ordered the gates of the city to be closed on
the Sabbath (Neh 10:31; 13:15,19). All of these are examples of the types
of "works of labor" that the Israelites could do on the first
six days of the week but not on the seventh.
In spite of the prohibition to do work on the Sabbath, there were some
activities that were lawful and permissible. These included attending
dedication feasts (1 Kgs 8:65; 2 Chr 7:8) and marriage feasts (Jud
14:12-18), visiting a man of God (2 Kgs 4:23), changing the temple guards
(2 Kgs 1:5-9), preparing the showbread (1 Chr 9:32), and leaving the East
gate open (Ezek 46:1-3).
More specifically, the Israelites celebrated the Sabbath (Ex 31:16) by
gathering together in holy convocation (Lev 23:3) to make offerings (Num
28:9-10), and by providing new showbread in the holy place (Lev 24:8). It
was a day of gladness (Num 10:10; Is 58:13). Though such celebration may
have amounted to "work," it was permissible on Sabbaths.
Jesus' Sabbath Observance
When Jesus came into this world, He brought to light the meaning of
Sabbath observance by declaring Himself the Lord of the Sabbath (Mk 2:28)
and by declaring that the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the
Moreover, the command "to rest from all works" does not negate
His activities (works) in accomplishing His salvation plan on any Sabbath
day. Jesus said, "My Father is working until now and I am
working" (Jn 5:17; cf. Jn 9:4). If God had rested after His creation,
how could He have been working until now? Surely, God does not stop
sustaining the universe, giving life, and judging on the Sabbath. Rather,
He rested from His work of creation, the work of the six days, as an
example for us to follow.
Many times when Jesus performed healing on the Sabbath, He took the
opportunity to rectify the common perception of placing sacrifices above
the need to keep God's word: "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice"
(Mt 12:7; cf. Hos 6:6). Mercy should take precedence over sacrifice. Life
is precious in His sight. Even though the Torah is silent about Sabbath
healing, to do good and to save lives on the Sabbath are pleasing in His
eyes (Mt 12:12; Mk 3:4).
From His reply to the people who accused him of being possessed by a
demon, Jesus made it obvious that even the Law of Moses provided a level
of tolerance to certain works done on the Sabbath, such as circumcision (Jn
7:21ff). Certainly, Jesus did not intend to change the Law as He desired.
His ministry of healing (Jn 5:1-11; Mt 12:9-14) and joining in feasting
(Lk 14:1) merely demonstrated the types of work that are permissible on the
Sabbath. Any work done on the Sabbath at the command of God (Jn 5:8), that
glorifies Him (cf. Jn 5:8ff) and is good in His sight, is therefore
acceptable (Mk 3:1ff).
Jesus, however, never advocated that we can do the work of labor on the
Sabbath, just as we do it on any other day. Once, Jesus permitted His
disciples to pluck and eat ears of corn, to satisfy their basic need (Mt
12:1ff), but if we think about it, the act of plucking and eating do not
amount to more "work" than that of placing manna into one's
mouth to eat on the seventh day, as the Israelites did in Exodus 16.
Sabbath Observance Today
Though the command "you shall do no work" is clear, it is
difficult to define the work of labor, since it varies from one generation
to another, from one community to another, as well as from one person to another. If we were to keep defining works of labor in every
aspect of life, then outlining exactly what is permissible could become an
impossible task. This is precisely the situation that the Scribes and
Pharisees placed themselves in.
Isaiah, being moved by the Spirit, saw the crux of the matter concerning
Sabbath observance. He taught, from a spiritual dimension, that no man
should seek self-pleasure and must desist from his own ways on the
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. (Isa 58:13-14)
When our hearts are with God, then our observance of the Sabbath will be
in line with what God requires of us. In considering Isaiah's message, we
can clearly see that our hearts control what we should and should not do
on the Sabbath. In turn, the work we do will affect our observance of the
In a nutshell, the phrase "you shall do no work" defines the
work of the world, involving the labor of the six days, which we can
choose not to do on the seventh day. The difference between the types of
work is clearly a distinction between personal matters, matters of
necessity, and religious concerns. Even so, God provides a degree of
tolerance that enables us to satisfy basic human needs on the Sabbath.
He places the meaning of Sabbath observance on the denial and renunciation
of natural desires, such as making money, any form of pleasure-seeking
activities (e.g., watching a movie), and the like. It is a day of complete
dedication to serving (Jn 7:23; Mt 12:5), worshiping, and loving God
(Is 56:2, 58:13f; Eze 20:12,21), as well as helping others in their physical
and spiritual needs.
The Sabbath belongs to God. The purpose of refraining from work on the
seventh day is to concentrate on entering into God's rest, to do good work
and save lives, and, what is most important, to improve one's spirituality
by assembling together (cf. Lev 23:3).