The Sabbath: God's Biblical Day
The pages of Zion’s Fire magazine address a wide variety of subjects, especially since the ministry of Zion’s Hope deals with the entirety of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. As a result of our biblical perspective, which includes looking at Scripture through a lens tinted with Jewish heritage, a pre-wrath timing for the rapture of the Church, and our love for biblical history, we occasionally receive questions from our readers that other ministries might not typically address.
Other than questions about understanding the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, the most prevalent recurring question we receive deals with the issue of observing “the Sabbath.” That question normally comes from people who are earnestly looking at keeping the Ten Commandments, or might be in a denomination that considers itself sabbatarian, or perhaps are members of a messianic congregation.
In order to understand a biblical Sabbath, there are a number of important issues to consider, such as: How does God define a biblical day? How does one determine which days are Sabbath days? How does the lunar calendar relate to the solar calendar? What does this all mean if one intends to keep a Sabbath day today? We’ll attempt to address these issues in this article and others following in future editions of Zion’s Fire.
THE BIBLICAL DAY
In our current era, a typical day in most countries around the world begins in darkness at midnight and ends in darkness at midnight twenty-four hours later. Our modern definition of a day was established late in the Roman Empire. However, that’s not the pattern established millennia earlier by God during the Creation.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day (Genesis 1:3-5).
After God divided light from dark, He established the pattern for a biblical day when He said, “And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). God’s pattern starts at the beginning of darkness (dusk) and becomes darker as the night progresses, but then that darkness is overpowered as the light increases (dawn). The oppressive darkness of night is brought to a conclusion by the glorious light of day.
Notice also that God had not yet set the planets in the heavens. He had set dark and light apart in such a way that the pattern of moving from dark to light was established. He was able to differentiate between “evening and morning.”
In reality, evening is simply a lack of light, which is caused by being in the shadow of an object. Day is simply being in the light, on the side of an object that is facing a light source. As soon as God separated dark from light, He also made it possible to have shadow, or night, on one side of an object and light, or day, on the side facing the light source.
That pattern of moving from dark to light, in a spiritual context, is repeated throughout the Scriptures. Here are a couple of examples. Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden only for a brief while (dusk) and then entered the long night, when sin entered the stream of history, which continues to this day and will continue until light comes back into the world (dawn) at the second coming of Israel’s Messiah and the Christian’s Savior, Jesus Christ.
Also, man is born into this world and shortly thereafter is living a life engulfed in sin, in spiritual darkness, but if and when he repents of his sin, acknowledges his need for the Redeemer, accepts the payment for sin as accomplished by Jesus on the cross, man becomes a new creation where he is in spiritual light.
Scripture confirms that Jesus, during His first coming to the people of Israel, was the light of this dark world, but the pitch-black hearts of many in Israel were hardened and rebellious: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:4-5).
Needless to say, not only did Israel reject God but so did all of mankind from the very beginning. This fact is blatantly evident simply by looking back to the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve’s rebellion, to the sinful murder of Abel by his brother Cain, through to the wickedness of all of Noah’s contemporaries, which led to their destruction, except for righteous Noah, his wife, their three sons, and daughters-in-law. And this is the general, irrefutable condition of the world today.
Considering this topic for just a moment longer, the reality is that the direction an object faces determines which side is in the light or in the dark. Each person has a choice, to turn from their dark, sinful ways and face the light, or to continue in darkness and never reap the benefit of seeing the light, namely Jesus, who desires to remove them from their darkness. The vast majority of people in the world, by choice, are facing the dark shadows of spiritual night, however, there are a few who have acknowledged their dark condition and are looking forward to the coming light of day.
The prophet Micah was well aware of his dark sinfulness, but he also knew his source of light would one day rescue him:
Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness (Micah 7:7-9).
This terrible condition of spiritual darkness is awaiting a glorious resolution for people of true biblical faith. This darkness-to-lightness pattern is one of the first prophetic signs God instituted, even before the Creation was completed. As we see the pattern repeated over and over again, we should be reminded of God’s biblical promises:
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever (Revelation 22:3-5).
As we consider the pattern of a biblical, twenty-four hour day, in particular when dealing with Israel and the Law, we must keep in mind that it starts at sunset, often specifically sunset as determined in Jerusalem, and ends twenty-four hours later at sunset, which then begins the next day.
THE BIBLICAL WEEK
In the Creation account found in Genesis, we can see the pattern for the biblical week, which uses the biblical day for its foundation. The first six days – listed with their corresponding verses in Genesis Chapter One – look like this:
5 …And the evening and the morning were the first day.
8 …And the evening and the morning were the second day.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
31 …And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
These six days were filled with God’s creative acts, which created ex nihilo, out of nothing, everything that exists. And again, we see an example of darkness ending in light as God, from nothing (darkness), through the power of His Word, brings into existence all things (light). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-5). This verse is clearly referring to the pre-incarnate Christ as the passage goes on to add, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
On the fourth day, as a result of separating light from dark and creating the greater light (the Sun) to rule the day and the lesser light (the Moon) to rule the night (Genesis 1:16), He also created the dimension of time. Prior to sun, earth, and moon rotations and orbits, upon which we base our seconds, hours, days, months, seasons, and years, there was no definable time as we know it today, only eternity.
We must keep in mind that God had already established “evening and morning” as a day on the first day. In other words, He had already established the length of the day. Now, however, He gave His creation a means by which to measure the length of the day.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth…” (Genesis 1:14-15).
God implemented time to ensure His creation’s survival and, therefore, established cycles as He deemed necessary. For example, during a twenty-four hour day, plant photosynthesis needs light reaction and dark reaction. Without this pattern and these regular cycles, plants would die. This then adds credence to the days of creation actually being twenty-four hour days, and not a period of time spanning millions of years. Humans and most animals typically function best when they are awake during the day and recover at night, even though both can operate outside of that norm.
Seasons are extremely important because there is a pattern to farming, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing, and the like. In other words, you don’t plant, nor do you harvest, in the winter. Sheep, goats, and cows are not bred to produce offspring when there is no pasture. Even bugs have a lifecycle that makes them most successful in the spring and summer months.
We know the order of the days, seasons, and years because God implemented time and gave us an understanding of the patterns of the sun, earth, and moon.
As a result of one earth rotation we have a 23 hour-56 minute-4.1 second day. As a result of one earth orbit around the sun we have a 365.24 day year. As a result of one moon orbit around the earth, we have lunar months of 29.53 days. None of this was possible before God invented time, which He did by creating these amazing time pieces.
At this point in the discussion, it’s important to note that God did not give His days the names with which we are currently familiar. We look on our wall calendars, wristwatches, cell phones, computers, and a myriad other places and find our contemporary days named Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Each of these names is pagan in origin, but that is an entirely new discussion for a future time. Suffice it to say that nowhere in Scripture do you ever see names given to days of the week. One does, however, see mentioned the numerical values of first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh applied to the days of what we call a seven-day week. God, however, doesn’t stop at seven but continues through each day of the month. For example, we read, “And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth… And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dried” (Genesis 8:13-14).
God worked six days during Creation to implement His creation. Regarding the seventh day, God’s Word says:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made (Genesis 2:1-3).
After God’s six days of completed work we see He adds another day, the seventh day, into the pattern to establish the now-familiar seven-day cycle. Even though Scripture says God rested on the seventh day, be confident He didn’t need to rest. However, He knew His creation, and because of His love for His creation, He established a principle that permeates all of time. He knew men and their beasts of burden would need to rest, to be refreshed, and then begin the cycle over again. “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). God established the seventh day as a Sabbath, a day of rest. One day in seven should be a day of rest.
God reiterates the weekly pattern in numerous places in Scripture. In dealing with the children of Israel, He designates keeping the seventh day as a Sabbath set aside unto God one of the Ten Commandments:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11).
He elaborates elsewhere about the severity of not keeping His Sabbath holy: “Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 31:15).
The children of Israel are told they have six days in which to work, and then the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest. It is a day set aside from work; a day about which God is very serious, lest a violator of the Sabbath be put to death.
Mankind must understand that God desires the best for His creation, for each person He creates. The best for them is that the seventh day is a day of rest, to recover from six days of labor.
There are pagan nations all around the children of Israel. They follow after their pagan gods. The god of their world, Satan, does not desire the best for them. However, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cares for His chosen people, Israel, and makes this a very personal long-term decree in His relationship with them when He says,
Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed (Exodus 31:16-17).
God is not making a suggestion to the people of Israel. For them, this is a “perpetual covenant.” God is not assigning this Sabbath day as a perpetual covenant to be kept by pagans. He calls it a “sign” between Himself and the children of Israel forever. God has established, forever, His principle for the children of Israel; six days of work and the seventh day set aside as a Sabbath of rest unto the Lord.
When Israel was wandering in the wilderness, each morning God provided enough manna as food for each family for one day. When the sun rose higher in the sky, the manna melted away. They had to get all the manna they needed while it was available in the cool of the morning. The morning was spent working to gather food. However, the seventh day was to be a day of rest. If in the morning of the seventh day they were gathering manna to eat on the seventh day, it would not have been a whole day of rest set aside unto the Lord. Working in the morning would have been working in the middle of the sunset-to-sunset biblical day. God, however, resolved that challenging little problem.
And he [Moses] said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning (Exodus 16:23).
God clearly intended the seventh day to be a Sabbath of rest for Israel by providing manna on the sixth day that would keep for two days.
God even ensured there was no manna available in the field on the Sabbath of rest, lest any Israelite go out and work.
And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none (Exodus 16:25-26).
The seventh day is a Sabbath of rest.
This six-work-and-one-rest pattern is repeated elsewhere in God’s plan. This can clearly be seen in the Feasts of the Lord. The Lord designated that Israel should observe seven feasts annually. Four feasts occur mostly in the Spring: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Weeks (or Pentecost). The other three occur in the Fall: Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. Like the six days of work, God’s plan to accomplish the work of the redemption of mankind can be seen in the first six feasts. In these six feasts, four were literally fulfilled by the Lord when He came to earth the first time. The next two, which will complete the six-day work pattern, will be accomplished when the Lord returns the second time. Just as the first six days of work correspond to the Lord’s first six Feasts of the Lord, the seventh day, the day of rest can be said to equate with the seventh feast, Tabernacles, corresponding to the millennial reign of rest when the Lord will dwell and rule on the earth.
A Sabbath, as Scripture states, is “to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord” (Exodus 16:23). However, a Sabbath of rest is not only observed on the seventh day of the week. Other days are set aside as Sabbath days as well. We’ll focus on those Sabbath days in more detail in the second part of this four-part series.
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine. March 2014.