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To Whom Given

by Tim O'Hearn

In some internet circles I am infamous, even vilified, as being anti-Sabbatarian. Those who carefully read what I write know that is not exactly true. I am certainly not opposed to the concept of a day of rest. I would never object to or prevent anyone from observing sabbath. What I do oppose is binding the sabbath where it has never been bound. What I do oppose is making the sabbath into something it was never intended to be. What I do oppose is legalism at the expense of the grace of God.

Let it be first said that I believe that the Jewish people are expected to keep sabbath. I do believe that Christians who are Jewish may even possibly be expected to keep sabbath. That said, I must also define what is meant, and not meant, by keeping sabbath.

There are a group of Christians who believe that even though they were never Jewish they are still bound by the Law of Moses. More particularly, they believe they are bound by the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people, and emphasize the command to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Ex 20:8) These Christians believe that observing the sabbath precludes assembling as a church on Sunday. To them a principal aspect of the sabbath is the assembly for worship on that day. It is true that the Jewish people were commanded to assemble on that day. (Lev 23:3) That was not, however, the primary purpose of the day, nor was it the only day on which the people gathered. Even to this day devout Jews assemble every day of the week for worship. The Jewish people, unlike their Christian counterparts, never limited assembly on other days. Those who object to first-day assemblies generally do so whether the same congregation also assembles on the seventh day or not. In this they differ from the Jewish practice of the Law of Moses.

The principal reasons given in scripture for observance of the sabbath emphasized rest rather than assembly. Sabbath was a day set aside in which no constructive work was to be performed. (Ex 35:2) Scripture gives two reasons for this prohibition. One is that God rested on the seventh day. (Ex 20:11) The other is that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and therefore not allowed a day of rest. Sabbath provided a rest for them, for their animals, and for their servants/slaves that had not been afforded to them. (Deut 5:14-15) These reasons for sabbath lead to some important observations.

Some argue that sabbath observance dates back to creation, because God rested on that day. Interestingly, sabbath is not mentioned in Genesis at all. It is first mentioned in relation to the gathering of manna in the wilderness. (Ex 16:23) In verse 29 of the same chapter Moses explains that “the Lord hath given you the sabbath.” (Emphasis mine) It was given to the Israelites after they had left Egypt. There is never any indication that sabbath was given before Exodus 16, to the Israelites or anyone else.

If sabbath observance was specifically tied to the Egyptian captivity, and it was, then the clear implication is that nobody who had not gone through that captivity, either themselves or in their ancestors, was required to keep sabbath. Most non-Jews were never in Egyptian captivity; therefore, they are not bound by sabbath law.

Many years later, one of the prophets taught that sabbath was given specifically to the Israelites upon leaving Egypt. “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.” (Ezek 20:12) God tells Ezekiel that sabbath was a sign of the covenant made in the wilderness. It was a sign to the Israelites, and to them alone. Those who were not direct descendants of the Israelites who had been in Egypt were never required to keep the sign of sabbath.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with observing a day of rest, or of doing so on the seventh day. Where some make their mistake is binding that on people on whom the scriptures never intended it to be bound.