Shabbat is the hebrew word for Sabbath. It is the first of the Lord's appointed times which His people are instructed to observe.
Leviticus 23:1-3: "The Lord said to Moses, say to the people of Israel, The appointed feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed feasts, are these. Six days shall work be done; but, on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work; it is a sabbath to the Lord in all you dwellings."
Important and equal to the other commandments given by God, Shabbat celebrates God's creation and resting on the seventh day and ALSO God's intervention when He took His people out of slavery. After they left Egypt they were given the commandments at Sinai among which was the command to observe a day of rest.
Exodus 20:9-11: "Six days you shall labour and do all your work but, the seventh is Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant or your female servant or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates."
The instruction is very clear and straightforward. Take a rest from all that you do for six days and spend the seventh day in remembrance of God and dedicate the day as holy to God. The verse just before states this, in Exodus 20:8: "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy."
The importance of the Sabbath is stated again in Exodus 31:12-15; "And the Lord said to Moses, You are to speak to the people of Israel and say 'Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout you generations, that you may know that I the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.'"
It is to be a sign forever between God and His people. Exodus 31:17: "It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and on the seventh He rested and was refreshed."
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt they had no rest. God took them out of Egypt and as free men and women they were to enjoy one day of rest in every seven. The Sabbath is a time to remember that there is freedom from slavery.
God created the Sabbath - Genesis 2:2: "And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. God made the Sabbath day and set it apart to be a holy day. Then He reminds His people of this when He gives the commandments to Moses at Sinai and instructs them to keep the Sabbath."
Attitude To Sabbath
In Genesis 2:2-3 it says that on the seventh day God finished His work and He rested the Hebrew word for rest is 'menuchah'. Rest is not really an adequate translation, it is more than plain abstinence from work.
For Jews, their Sabbath or to give it it's hebrew name Shabbat, is time to rest and abstain from the usual week day routine and among other things to offer prayer. There are three set times of prayer, morning, afternoon and evening.
The afternoon call to prayer is the 'minchah' and celebrates the menuchah or rest as a rest of love freely given, a rest of truth and sincerity and a rest in peace and tranquility in quietude and safety.
The Sabbath or Shabbat is a time to reconnect with God. For six days there is work, eating, sleeping and praying but, on Shabbat there is space to be more contemplative and focused on prayer. The distractions are done away with and the rest time is used to connect with Almighty Creator God.
The day is to be out of the ordinary, out of the rat race of the other six days and time for the soul to be restored and refreshed.
Remember And Observe
There are two distinct purposes outlined for Shabbat:
Zakhor Shabbat - Remember
In Exodus 20:8: "REMEMBER the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." The emphasis here is on remembering how God rested from His work of creation on the seventh day. The day is a holy day that God has blessed and hallowed. As we remember the day we make it our holy day by acknowledging God as creator and spending time in prayer and worship to Him." (emphasis mine)
Shamor Shabbat - Observe
In Deuteronomy 5:12: "OBSERVE the Sabbath day to keep it holy as the Lord your God commanded you. The emphasis here is on observing the day and it's holiness The Jews were to remember that when they were slaves in Eygpt there was no day off to rest. On the Sabbath day everyone is to observe rest even the stranger in the land, the manservant and maidservant." (emphasis mine)
Everyone is to remember that God rescued them from slavery and set them free. They (and we) are free to observe a day of rest.
These two aspects of Shabbat point to different rational. In Exodus the remembering and rejoicing in creation and in Deuteronomy the reminder that God gave freedom from slavery. As Christians we can reflect the freedom that God has given us from our sins, by the sacrifice of His son.
We can be free from our weekly routine and pressures when we observe the Sabbath, no longer a slave to our jobs or our stresses.
Exodus 35:2-3: "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lords' whoever does any work on it shall be put to death; you shall kindle no fire in all your habitations not the sabbath day."
The seventh day was given its name and the command to observe it as a rest day, while the Israelites were in the wilderness.
They had manna provided every day which they collected, prepared and ate. On the sixth day a double portion was provided for them which was to last until the seventh day when no manna was sent. They were to honour the seventh day by desisting from the work of gathering food and make the day a holy one unto the Lord.
The word work is the translation for the Hebrew word 'melachah'. Melachah was not necessarily what we may consider work nowadays, physical labour or doing the job we're paid to do. It refers to creative activities (more in line with God creating the heavens and the earth) not always physically demanding but, it's action produces something thats created. For example, lighting a fire is forbidden but, to carry out rabbinical duties is permitted.
However, the idea of a Sabbath was not new when it was presented to the Israelites in the wilderness. As we read in Genesis 2:2-3: "And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done and He rested on the seventh day from all his work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation."
God blessed the very first sabbath day and made it holy. Therefore when He speaks to Moses and gives him the commandments He says "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", Exodus 20:8 (emphasis mine).
God spoke through Moses requiring a Sabbath offering from the Israelites, Numbers 28:9-10. Here the Sabbath offering is explained. An extra lamb is sacrificed as a burnt offering to the Lord. So twice the offering is made on the Sabbath.
Rabbinic traditions extend what is written about the sabbath or Shabbat, in scripture. Scripture is quite brief on it's instructions, do not work, rest, don't light fires. The study of the Torah by rabbinical teachers gives further instruction about keeping the Sabbath.
The sabbath is likened to a queen whose presence adorns the sabbath day. Therefore, observant Jewish people put on their best clothes and have their houses clean and ready to welcome the sabbath as a special guest.
Because there are to be no fires lit on the sabbath, two candles are lit before sundown. Traditionally the woman of the household lights the candles eighteen minutes before sundown and says a blessing over them.
In Exodus 20:8 it states that the day is to be holy: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", (emphasis mine). At the start of Shabbat which is sundown on Friday, special prayers are said to welcome the day of Shabbat.
Rituals And Prayers On Shabbat
In scripture we are taught that each day begins at sunset. Shabbat begins at sunset on Friday and continues through Saturday until just after sundown.
The Shabbat meal on the Friday evening begins with the kiddush (sanctification) prayer that is said over the wine before the celebration meal begins.
The meal then starts, two loaves of bread are shared, which represent the double portion of manna that was provided in the wilderness. Following that a sumptuous meal is enjoyed along with songs and stories. The time spent together embracing fellowship
On Saturday morning families attend synagogue and more prayers are offered. The Torah portion for that day is read out aloud.
The remainder of the time is spent with prayers, worship or enjoying one another company in a pleasant social atmosphere.
In a similar way to the welcoming of Shabbat with wine, the end of Shabbat is also marked with wine. The ceremony is know as 'havdalah' which means separation. The havdalah ceremony includes blessings recited over fragrant spices. The scent is to revive the soul and ease the ending of Shabbat and the parting from the special time that has been had.
Isaiah 58:13-14: "If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth. I will feed you with heritage of Jacob your father for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
Scripture leaves us in no doubt of the importance of Sabbath rest. The command is repeated throughout. In addition we have the example of God Almighty and Yeshua, the early church and the Apostles.
The observance of Sabbath or Shabbat is for us to receive benefit from it and be blessed by it. Our relationship with our Creator God is better because of it. God has given us the Sabbath for our benefit and His glory.
Sabbath Rest In The Millennium
We shall be celebrating the Sabbath in the Millennial kingdom. Isaiah 66:22-23: "For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord."
The seven day cycle of rest is part of God's plan for His creation. All things were made according to that pattern. Rest and renewal are His ordinance for mankind and it will remain that way into eternity.
There is a Sabbath rest promised for God's people. The prophetic nature of the seventh day leads us to look ahead to the rest He will give in His Millennial kingdom. Hebrews 4:9-10: "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His."
Through Yeshua believers can enjoy God's presence, peace and rest. The Sabbath is a taster of the rest that believers will enjoy when Yeshua returns.
Which Day Is Our Sabbath?
There are various schools of thought on which day we should celebrate the Sabbath. As we have seen, scripture says it is to be observed on the seventh day, which for ancient Israel to the present, is recorded as what we know as Saturday.
However, the church at a point in history, chose to celebrate Sunday and to observe a day of rest, worship and gathering together as believers. Jesus' resurrection on the first day of the week, Sunday, doubtless persuaded the growing majority Gentile church of Sunday as the most appropriate day.
Additionally, the early Church justified a move from Saturday to Sunday observance on the grounds of wishing to distance itself from synagogue forms and overtly Jewish practices.
Having given thought and prayer to this we have chosen to make Saturday our Sabbath or Shabbat whenever we can. This is because we choose to identify with the Jewish roots of our faith and the Jewish people.
We intentionally set aside Shabbat starting on Friday evening but, it is not a legalistic stance and therefore when it is not possible due to circumstances or commitments that is ok. It is intentional but flexible.
In the UK most believers meet on a Sunday so while we remember and observe Shabbat on a Saturday we also try to meet with other believers at church on a Sunday when we can. I believe that the gift of the Sabbath is for blessing and it is good to meet together on the Sabbath. In the UK as in many western cultures, the tradition of Sabbath rest is being eroded.
I pray that God will be merciful and help us as a nation understand the importance of Sabbath rest.
I am encouraged to welcome Shabbat and give thanks for the wonderful gift of His presence and His rest, to desist from things of the world and enjoy, hallow and keep the Sabbath holy. It is a forerunner to the rest we will enjoy eternally.