Beyond the Seventh-Day Sabbath
A sincere question in the life of many Christians today is, “Should I keep the Sabbath and, if so, how do I do that?” To answer that hotly-debated question, we must understand what God means when He talks about a Sabbath. To that end, this second of four articles pursues that biblical truth.
In the previous edition of Zion’s Fire, we introduced the topic of the biblical day. God established that day at the beginning of time, at the Creation of all things, and it was measured from sunset to sunset, not midnight to midnight as we do today.
That pattern of beginning at dusk, then entering the dark of night and eventually being overpowered by the light of day has spiritual significance. For example, early on, sin plunged the world into darkness, which will eventually be overcome by the light of the Lord’s second coming, His millennial reign, and, ultimately, eternity.
After studying the biblical day, we took a careful look at God’s biblical pattern for the week. This pattern followed that of the Creation week, six days of work then a Sabbath day of rest unto the Lord. The seventh day was to be a day when no servile work was done.
However, a Sabbath is not only the seventh day of the week. God has established a number of Sabbaths, several of which are not observed on the seventh day of the week.
And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all,… For on that day [the tenth day] shall the priest make an atonement for you,… It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you… (Leviticus 16:29-31, italics added).
The Lord decreed the Day of Atonement, which is observed on the tenth day of the month, to “be a Sabbath of rest,” when the people of Israel shall “do no work at all.”
God carries the principle even further – beyond a time of rest for people and animals – when He decrees,
When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard (Leviticus 25:2-4, italics added).
Hence, we see the seventh year is designated a Sabbath year of rest for the ground, a year in which it is to remain fallow.
“Whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 31:15). This same principle applies to keeping the Sabbath year of rest for the ground. The nation of Israel, for 490 years, did not observe the Sabbath of rest for the land by leaving it fallow every seventh year. Due to their national sin, Israel suffered a national death of sorts which began at the hands of the Babylonian Empire.
And they [the Babylonians] burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon;…To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths [70 Sabbaths]: for as long as she lay desolate [490 years] she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years [70 years] (2 Chronicles 36:19-21, italics added).
THE BIBLICAL MONTH
In ancient Jewish history, the first day of any month was determined by two witnesses attesting to having seen the first sliver of the moon after the moon had been totally dark. The witnesses would report their sightings to the Sanhedrin who, in turn, would make the official proclamation that the Rosh Chodesh (literally, “head of the month”) had begun because of the New Moon sighting. This sighting took place every 29 or 30 days. It varied since a lunar month is 29.53 days in length.
Scripture does not have a specific “Thus sayeth the Lord” decree identifying when observing the New Moon became “official.” However, the New Moon was associated with a specific sacrifice unto the Lord.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, and say unto them, My offering,… shall ye observe to offer unto me in their due season…. And in the beginnings of your months ye shall offer a burnt offering unto the Lord; two young bullocks, and one ram, seven lambs of the first year without spot; And three tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, for one bullock; and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, for one ram; And a several tenth deal of flour mingled with oil for a meat offering unto one lamb; for a burnt offering of a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord (Numbers 28:1, 11-13, italics added).
In several places we can see the New Moon assigned amongst the special days of Israel.
Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God (Numbers 10:10, italics added).
While Solomon was building the Temple on Mount Moriah, he mentioned:
Behold, I build an house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense, and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance for ever to Israel (2 Chronicles 2:4, italics added).
The New Moon observance held a place of importance “as an ordinance for ever to Israel,” as did the Sabbath and the solemn feasts of the Lord. A proper observance of the New Moon, like the Sabbath, included “burnt offerings morning and evening.”
The New Moon is assigned a status equal to the Sabbath and the solemn feasts of Unleavened Bread, Weeks (or Pentecost), and Tabernacles. The three solemn feasts are holy convocations, a time when no work is done.
Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread;… And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation… and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you (Exodus 12:15-16, italics added).
And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days…And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations (Leviticus 23:15-16, 21, italics added).
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord. On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein…on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein (Leviticus 23:33-36, italics added).
The seventh day, the Day of Atonement, and the three solemn feasts were decreed as days when there was no servile work, in essence, Sabbaths of rest unto the Lord.
Like the three solemn feasts, which are holy convocations to the Lord, it is clear there was a proper method of observing the New Moon of each month, which was given by God to Israel through Moses.
Then Solomon offered burnt offerings unto the Lord on the altar of the Lord, which he had built before the porch, Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles (2 Chronicles 8:12-13, italics added).
If observing the New Moon had its origin as a pagan practice, which would have been abominable to the Lord, He certainly would have said so. Nowhere in Scripture does God condemn observing the New Moon, except when Israel’s hearts were hardened against God.
Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them (Isaiah 1:13-14, italics added).
The very observances God had ordained for Israel – the Sabbaths, Feasts, New Moons, and solemn assemblies – had become abominable to Him because they were not conducted as a result of genuine worship of the holy God. Hard-hearted Israel eventually cared more about the love of money instead of setting a God-ordained day aside as a Sabbath to the Lord.
Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? (Amos 8:4-5, italics added)
Instead of setting aside the New Moon day unto the Lord, the people of Israel preferred to work and use dishonest scales and balances. The New Moon, like the solemn feasts, was to be a holy convocation to the Lord, a day in which no work was to be done, in other words, a Sabbath. At the New Moon, Israel was to begin each month with a holy convocation, a Sabbath.
THE BIBLICAL YEAR
Similar to the days of the week in the biblical lunar calendar, which are not given names but, instead, are assigned a numeric value, months likewise did not originally have names other than their numeric value. So, the months of the lunar year were called the First, Second, Third, Fourth, etc., month all the way through the Twelfth and even Thirteenth month of the year.
A thirteenth month is added periodically to the lunar calendar because 29.53 days per lunar month multiplied by 12 months equals only 354.36 days, approximately 11 days short of a solar year. Seasons in each lunar year will drift, if not corrected. Spring, for example, will occur 11 days later each year. Eventually, the four Spring feasts will occur in the Winter and the three Fall feasts will occur in the Summer. Obviously, the seasons are not changing their timing but the calendars are drifting earlier because they are shorter than the solar year, which makes the seasons appear to occur later in the lunar year.
Simply stated, in order to keep the lunar calendar in sync with the seasons, an additional 30-day month is inserted before the last month once every three years. The twelfth month becomes the thirteenth when a new month is inserted into the twelfth position.
In ancient days, the Sanhedrin observed the seasons, weather, crops, and livestock to determine in which year to add the extra month. The main objective was to ensure the feast of Passover occurred in the Spring.
Today’s Jewish calendar starts on the first day of the month known as Tishri. The current names for the Jewish months are believed to have come with the exiles returning to Israel, along with Ezra, from Babylonian captivity. They are, in fact, Babylonian names.
Tishri, on the Jewish calendar, cannot be equated with January, which is the first month on the Gentile “Gregorian” solar calendar [we’ll discuss our contemporary calendar in a later article]. As a matter of fact, Tishri typically begins the Jewish New Year in approximately September or October on the solar calendar. The first two days of Tishri are known as the feast of Rosh Hashanah, or literally the “head of the year.” The feast of Rosh Hashanah requires the blowing of a ram’s horn, therefore it has a secondary name, the feast of Trumpets.
The first day of that month is determined by the Molad, a Hebrew word meaning “birth,” or what we commonly call the New Moon. Today, the molad for Tishri is the most important New Moon for calendar calculations, and is referred to as Molad Tishri. Today, the rest of the Jewish calendar months are determined from the starting point of the Tishri New Moon.
While Tishri may be the head of the year for today’s Jewish calendar, in the Bible God identified a different starting point of the year for the people of Israel: “And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:1-2).
Today, as stated in Exodus 12, the first month of the year for the Jewish people, the one containing the feast of Passover, is called Nisan (or Nissan). Biblically, Nisan is the first month of the “religious year.” The religious yearly cycle does not have a numerical year value assigned to it. Tishri, on the other hand, is the first month of the Jewish “calendar year.” The calendar yearly cycle does have a numerical year value assigned to it.
Again, there is a vast difference between the values assigned to Jewish and Gentile years. The numerical value for the Jewish calendar year is calculated based upon adding up the ages of the biblical genealogies and other major historical events in the Tanach, the Jewish Bible, which is that portion of the Scriptures Gentiles call the Old Testament.
Since most Jews do not believe Jesus is their Messiah, they prefer to not use the terms B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, Latin for Year of our Lord). Instead, the Jewish year measures time from approximately the year of Creation. For example, the Gentile date of September 25, 2014, begins the next Jewish year on Tishri 1, 5775.
The Gentile year advances each Gentile New Year and, likewise, the Jewish year advances each Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Gentile year advances in January on the solar calendar. The Jewish year advances in Tishri on the lunar calendar, which is equivalent to September or October on the Gentile solar calendar.
The biblical year is somewhat more complicated than simply adding lunar months together to equal twelve or thirteen months, depending on how out-of-sync the year has become when compared to the actual Spring season.
As you may already know, the people of Israel also have seven God-ordained feasts added into their annual mix – Passover (Pesach), Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot), First Fruits (Reshit Katzir), Weeks or Pentecost (Shavuot), Head of the Year or Trumpets (Rosh HaShanah), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles (Sukkot).
To these you must also add the civil and traditional feasts that have been added to commemorate certain national events or people. For example, the feast of Dedication is mentioned in the Bible (John 10:22) as having been attended by Jesus. It is not one of the seven Feasts of the Lord. Today it is known as the Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, and commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C. after it had been desecrated by Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 B.C.
Two of today’s national holidays are not mentioned in the Bible because they have been instituted since Israel became a nation in 1948. The first is a day of mourning, commemorating those who have fallen in the national defense of Israel – Yom HaZikaron. Immediately the next day, Israel celebrates its 1948 Declaration of National Independence on Yom Ha'atzmaut.
There are other holidays observed by Israel, which have not been mentioned here. The sole purpose at this point is to introduce one to the complexities of the biblical lunar calendar, its God-ordained feasts, as well as some of the Jewish secular, traditional celebrations.
THE SIMPLE BIBLICAL SABBATH
Everything mentioned up to this point, including the information in our previous article entitled “The Sabbath: God’s Biblical Day,” lays the foundation for discussing the issue of “keeping the Sabbath.” Again, it’s important to understand that not only the “seventh days”, but various days and feasts, are considered Sabbaths to the Lord, days when no servile work is done.
Considering the seventh day of the week as the only Sabbath is not a proper understanding of the entirety of Scripture. Most people equate a Sabbath and the seventh day of the week as meaning the same thing. As we’ve presented from the pages of Scripture, the truth is, Sabbath is a term indicating a day – any day – which God has ordained as a day of rest unto the Lord, when no servile work is to be done. Sabbaths include the first day of each lunar month – which is the New Moon – then, from there, every seventh day of the week, as well as various solemn assemblies and convocations.
Assuming, for the purpose of the immediate discussion, that a particular month contains none of the seven feasts designated by the Lord for Israel, then understanding the basic monthly layout is simple and straight forward.
In ancient days, when the New Moon had been sighted and decreed at sunset, it was a Sabbath of rest unto the Lord. Sunset of that day to sunset of the following day was designated the first day of the month. Five days of work followed, which now was a total of six days into the month. The seventh day of the month was the next Sabbath of rest unto the Lord. So, in the first week of the month, there have already been two Sabbaths – the first and seventh days of the month.
Following the seventh-day Sabbath, the people of Israel worked the next six days, then, on the fourteenth day, they rested – another Sabbath unto the Lord. Likewise, they worked the next six days with a Sabbath of rest on the twenty first day, followed by six days of work with a Sabbath on the twenty eighth day.
At this point however, the seven-day schedule changed since the lunar month is 29.53 days long and 28 days have already passed. This leaves 1.53 days left in the month. The people of Israel expected the report of the New Moon within the next couple of days. If the report of the New Moon came in two days, at sunset on the thirtieth day, a Sabbath was once again instituted, even though the last Sabbath of rest was only two days ago.
The month reset to the beginning. The New Moon was a Sabbath of rest and the sequence started all over.
In the example above, we see how there are two Sabbaths just two days apart. It is also possible to have two “Sabbaths of rest unto the Lord” back-to-back. For example, the God-ordained feast of Passover falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5). The fourteenth day is actually the third Sabbath of the month – the New Moon, seventh day, and fourteenth day. Passover, the fourteenth day, is followed by the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread on the fifteenth day (Leviticus 23:6). God has determined the first day of Unleavened Bread to be a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:7), a day in which no servile work is to be done, a Sabbath. Therefore, the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Nisan are Sabbaths.
A proper understanding of the Sabbath, especially when dealing with the Spring Feasts of the Lord, can help one determine more accurately which day Jesus was crucified. Perhaps this is a discussion for another day.
If the world operated solely on the lunar calendar with its seasonal drift, which could be corrected periodically by adding a thirteenth month, for the most part, things across the world would operate without confusion. But the devil must always step in to distract mankind from the plan of God. While our methods of measuring time have changed to atomic clocks and electronic watches, the modifications made by pagan rulers over the past two millennia have created two opposing calendars – lunar and solar. By following the secular, heathen calendar, and by subsequent royal and religious decrees made by the nations of the world, the beauty of the Gospel of Salvation, as seen in the lunar calendar, has been lost.
In the next article, we’ll discuss the solar calendar and how changes have made keeping a biblical Sabbath, in spite of one’s best efforts, and also in spite of one believing they are keeping the Sabbath, a near impossibility.
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine. May 2014.