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THE SABBATH.


(All quotes from NKJV, unless otherwise indicated)

In the past, when giving sermons about the Sabbath, I have encouraged the brethren to keep the best of their food of the week for the Sabbath. I now understand that this is not necessary. Nothing wrong with having good food on the Sabbath – after all we are to keep it as Holy time – but I now understand that God does not require the Sabbath to be a food feast day.

In this article I will try to outline what I understand to be the truth about keeping the weekly Sabbath.

First we should address the principle of truth. Knowing what is truth and what is error is an important part of a Christian's life, but acting correctly on the truth we already have is more important. Just looking for new truth - without putting into practice the truth we already have - will not get us into the Kingdom. Mat 7:26-27 "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

Phil 3:16 (NLT) "But we must be sure to obey the truth we have learned already"

So it is clear that Christ expects action based on His words in the Bible. However the Apostle Peter also warns us to hold onto the truth we already have, because there will be people who will want us to follow their particular "understanding". But we are also expected to grow in knowledge (2 Pet 3:14-18). So once again we see that Christians have to walk down this very straight line. We can't get so involved in searching out truth that we get side-tracked from applying what we have already been taught or learnt, yet on the other hand we need to consistently refine and improve on the understanding we already have. How different might the world be today if Adam and Eve had taken the time to check out "the new truth" passed on to them by the serpent?

Christ brought out another aspect about truth, in that it gives us freedom to move without the shackles of error (or sin). (John 8:31) "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.""

Being willing to change for the right reasons is a trade-mark of God's people. We know that we should be growing in the love of God, and we are told in 1Cor 13:4,6 that "Love .... rejoices in the truth;". In John 4:24 it says, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

So searching out and identifying truth is part of Christian living - but NEVER to the exclusion of putting into practice what we already know. We move into truth by putting out the error, as and when, it is found and identified.

So what does the Bible say about the Sabbath? It could be a good time to take down Strong's Concordance and a Bible. In trying to understand what God and Christ are saying to us through the pages of the Bible we must keep in mind that, if we have included error in the past, then when it is shown and proven we must change. By always doing this we will move forward into a more complete truth.

One of the big problems we have today, is that most translators do not keep the Sabbath or the Holy Days of Lev 23 - so it is difficult for them to understand how the original words surrounding these events should be translated. We also know from Christ's discussion with the Jews of His day that they were very confused about many points, and as far as I can see, that confusion has only grown worse in the 1970 odd years since. So, we have to go back to basics, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us.


The Feast Days.

Let's begin in Lev 23. The first thing we need to do (if you haven't already done so) is to identify the two different Hebrew words that have been translated as the English word "Feast". It may be a good idea to use a different coloured pencil for each word, so that it is clear what the word translated "Feast(s)" means. The first word translated "Feasts" in Lev 23:2,3 ,4, 37 and 44 is number 4145 in Strong's, and means "an appointment". This is the same word translated as "seasons" in Gen 1:14, Lev23:4, Ps 104:19.

So first up, Lev 23 is telling us about certain days that God has set into His calendar, and we are to make sure we keep them when their "appointed time" comes round. The first one - the Sabbath - has a weekly cycle, and the other days of Lev 23 have a yearly cycle.

The second word translated “Feast” is number 2282 in Strongs and means "a festival" or “time for making a sacrifice”. This word is used in Lev 23:6,34,39 and 41, and is applied to the seven days of Unleavened Bread, and the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles. Though not the major reason, Biblical examples show us that these festivals are celebrated with good food.

From Deut 16:16 we can see that Pentecost is also a “Feast” day, as well as an appointed time.

The Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Last Great Day are appointed times and Sabbaths (no regular work). The Day of Atonement is a yearly Sabbath (Lev 23:32), and is used for counting out the land Sabbath every seven years. Being a Sabbath and not a Feast day, means that servile type work is not restricted, but obviously (as it is a fast day) there should be no food preparation.

So what is clear from the Bible so far.

1. The day the Passover Lamb was killed (14th) is "an appointed time", but is not a Festival or a Sabbath.

2. The weekly Sabbath is "an appointed time" and is not celebrated with a food feast in the same way as the other yearly Feasts. It is also a day of rest from our regular work.

3. The Festival of Trumpets and the Last Great Day are "an appointed time" but not "food feasts".

4. The Day of Atonement is a yearly Sabbath, and not a feast day.

5. Unleavened Bread, Pentecost (First fruits) and Tabernacles are “an appointed time” and are Festivals that include food feasts - see Deut 16:16.


What Work is Allowed?

Again it seems that the translators have been confused about how to translate the word "work" when it is applied to the weekly and annual Sabbaths. While some translations get it right in some places, I have not found any one translation that is correct or consistent all the time. Using Strongs we can see that two different words are involved.

The word translated as "work" in Lev 23:3 and Ex 20:9,10 is number 4399 in Strongs, and means "deputyship, .... general employment (never servile) or work". Since it is the same "work" we are told to do for the other six days, we can see that we can call it our "regular work, our business or occupation" (such as a housewife or self-employed person) or our "employment" (such as working for a boss). We should take special note that Strongs is quite clear that it does not include servile work (or work that provides a service for others). When we search the Gospels for what Christ did, and allowed, on the Sabbath, we can see that walking, serving of meals, taking live stock to water, pulling animals out of wells and ditches and doing good for others are all acceptable activities for the Sabbath, if and when they have to be done. But these types of activity should not detract from keeping the day Holy (Ex 20:8). It’s primary purpose is to relax and rest (Gen 2:2) and not be uptight with fear about what we are doing, and if we might be "breaking" the Sabbath.

I might also mention here about having fires on the Sabbath for warmth and cooking. People get confused about Ex 35:3 which seems to forbid this. However, the word translated “habitations” (Strong’s #4186) can also be translated “assembly” (Ps 107:32) or community, and putting it into context, I feel that it is a restriction about having communal fires for working on the tabernacle. Other Scriptures (Ex 16:23-25) indicate that fires were used for cooking on the Sabbath, so fires for warmth would be fall into this category too.

When we come to the annual Holy Days, we find that there are two Hebrew words that describe the type of work that should not be done. One word is Strongs 4399 (regular work or employment) that is applied to the weekly Sabbath, but then there is another word translated "servile" (KJV). According to Strongs, this is number 5656 and includes "work of any kind". Again from Strongs, we can see that this word translated "servile" is used in Lev 23:7,8,21,25,35,36, Num 28:18,25,26 and Num 29:1,12,35 for the first and last day of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day.

Only the weekly Sabbath, and Day of Atonement which is also a Sabbath (Lev 23:32), are excluded (the Passover day has no work restrictions). This means that six of the yearly festivals are to be observed with a higher standard as far as work restrictions are concerned than the Sabbath. In effect, these six festivals are to be observed with no servile (service) work AND no regular or employment type work - and this is what we would expect. With this greater emphasis about not working on the Festivals, it was necessary for God to explain that we still could prepare food on the Festival days (Ex 12:16) "'On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat; that only may be prepared by you." While food preparation is necessity and allowed for during the three Feast seasons, it should relate to the specific day. A Holy Day is not a time to be cooking tomorrow’s bread for instance.


Sabbath and Atonement.

Some people have noticed that the weekly Sabbath and The Day of Atonement do not have this extra restriction of servile work, and then have come to the conclusion that the Sabbath should be somewhat of a fast day. This is where we have to go to whole Bible - not just one or two verses - for our understanding. As we shall see, food preparation is allowed (with some restrictions) on the weekly Sabbath. To completely understand why God made the Day of Atonement a Sabbath (like the weekly Sabbath as far as work is concerned) and not a Festival, we may have to wait for Christ to return and tell us, but it simply could be that God thought the restriction of no food was enough. Another factor could be the “return to his possession” (Lev 25:8-10) which appears to be on the day of Atonement..

In passing we might note that there is a third type of Sabbath - the land Sabbath of Lev 25:1-7, which starts on the yearly Sabbath - the Day of Atonement (v9).


Food and the Sabbath.

Preparation of food would have fallen into a servant's type of work, and as we have seen, this is not excluded on the Sabbath. Some Scriptures that illustrate this are, Luke 4:38-40 - where Peter's mother in law was healed on the Sabbath and then went about serving Christ and his disciples. Also Luke 6:1-5, where the disciples - upsetting the Pharisees - plucked heads of grain and ate them on the Sabbath. Certainly taking an animal to water would fall into “servile” work, and yet Christ said this was the expected thing to do - along with pulling an animal out of a well if it fell in (Mat 12:11,12) and doing good on the Sabbath.

One Scripture that has been used by some to exclude food preparation on the weekly Sabbath, is Ex 16:23 "Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD has said: 'Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.'"" While it is easy to think that they cooked all the gathered manna, this would not teach the lesson about the Sabbath, and how the manna was treated differently by God, one day each week.  In v19,20 it is clear that it was the uncooked portion of manna that went "off" - "And Moses said, "Let no one leave any of it till morning. Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them."  So for the lesson to make sense, it would have to be the uncooked manna that did not go "off" over Friday night, in direct contrast with the first manna that was left till Monday morning and did go “off”. As we can see from (Ex 16:24), "So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. 25 Then Moses said, "Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field."", the lesson was around having sufficient manna within the camp, and there being none outside the camp, and that God was using the manna to highlight the Sabbath day. As I understand it, it has nothing to do with doing two days cooking on Friday.  The New English  Translation confirms this, Exo 16:23 NET.  He said to them, "This is what the LORD has said: 'Tomorrow is a time of cessation from work, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Whatever you want to bake, bake today; whatever you want to boil, boil today; whatever is left put aside for yourselves to be kept until morning.' "


I believe this misconception is further helped by the way Ex 16:5 is translated in the NKJV. They are told to “prepare” what they bring in on the sixth day. The root of the word means to “pile up”, and can also be translated as “compare”, or as we would say today “measure”. That this is a more correct translation is brought out in the remainder of the verse, where they are told to notice that they gathered twice as much as on the previous days. Notice that they “measured” the first manna in v18 and the Friday manna in v22.

I guess to make all this clear in our own mind, we need to ask the question, after they collected the first manna on Sunday, what had gone “off” on the Monday morning? If it was the cooked manna, surely there would have been some sort of instruction to burn all the manna before morning to keep the camp clean. Or was it just the uncooked manna which was left over through disobedience to Moses’s command “not to leave any of it till morning”?

If the uncooked manna did not go "off" on Friday night, but it would on Saturday night, we are left with the conclusion that the Israelites did cook food on the Sabbath. As we have already seen, service type work was not excluded on the Sabbath, and spending some time preparing meals is not breaking the Sabbath as I understand it.

However, before we jump to conclusions, we have to take into account ALL the Scriptures about our behavior on the Sabbath.

A good summary of the essentials of the Sabbath is found in Isaiah 58:13 (NET). You must observe the Sabbath rather than doing anything you please on my holy day. You must look forward to the Sabbath and treat the LORD's holy day with respect. You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities, and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals.


Preparation Day.

Since I feel that we can't use Ex 16:23 to support the concept of a preparation day, is the principle still valid? Right up front, we need to realize that there are no specific instructions (that I know of) in the Bible, about keeping the preparation day. However there is a strong tradition in the Church to do so, and as we will see, with good reason. Keeping traditions is encouraged by the Apostle Paul in 2 Thes 2:15 "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." Of course, the example of the Israelites collecting their extra ration of manna on the day before the Sabbath, shows that we too should have our food needs on hand before the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not the day to do the weekly food shopping, though if we are hungry we can do what is necessary to obtain some food (Mat 12:1-8).

We also know that the Jews of Christ's day were observing the Friday as a Preparation Day (Mark 15:42; John 19:14,31,42), and since Christ did not comment about it, we can assume that He had no problem with it.


Why is the Preparation Day Useful?

As we have seen, food preparation is not excluded on the weekly Sabbath. However, two other important principles come into play. In Ex 20:8, we are told to keep the Sabbath day "holy". In Isa 58:13, we are also told to "call the Sabbath a delight". So in order to comply with these direct instructions, we need to keep the amount of “servile” (service) work to a minimum. One obvious way to do this is to prepare as much as we can ahead of time - hence the Preparation Day. Another way of reducing preparation time on the Sabbath, is to use recipes that require a minimum of effort (just heat and serve type of thing) or have foods that can be eaten in a more casual or relaxed manner. Depending on your food budget, there are enjoyable foods that taste great just the way you buy them - hence preparation is almost zero.


Summary so Far.


1. There are three different types of "Feast" days, or special days appointed by God. ( No work restrictions, regular work restrictions, all work restrictions - but excluding food preparation).

2. The day of the Lord’s Last Supper (14th Nisan) has no work restrictions.

3. The weekly Sabbath has a restriction on our regular or employment type work. “Servile” (service) type work is allowed, but has conditions attached (must keep the day Holy and be a delight).

4. The Day of Atonement is a yearly Sabbath, and while regular work is banned,                                                 servile work is allowed.

5. The other Feast days and Festivals have a restriction on regular or employment type work, PLUS a restriction on “servile” (service) work, with the exception of food preparation.


So while the Sabbath does not have as many restrictions as the Holy Days (we can do the washing up, make the beds, even carry our bed roll (John 5:8,9), water the animals, prepare food and go for a walk, etc.), we still need to be very mindful that ample time is set aside for prayer, study, meditation and (if possible) "holy convocation". We also need time for communication (fellowship), especially with the family and church brethren (Heb 10:24,25). With all the things that can be done on the Sabbath, we need to stay focused on what is important and what can be left undone. We need to be careful that one activity doesn't intrude to the point that the day becomes unbalanced. While it is a rest day (change of pace and activity) it is not a day just for catching up on our sleep. It is fine to fit in a “nap”, as long as it is not at the expense of the other essentials. To be balanced on the Sabbath, we need to be balanced for the other six days as well.

We need to use the preparation day (cleaning house, car, clothes, shoes, etc.) but we also have to plan the meals and activities so that the Sabbath enriches our relationship with God and our fellow man (Isa 58:13,14; Ex 31:12-17).


Hospitals, Goals and Restaurants.

There has been some articles on the Internet about eating in Restaurants on the Sabbath. In the light of the above comments, I think we should be able to see that buying some “take-away” or having a meal if we are away from home on the Sabbath, is not forbidden by the Scriptures. Obviously, if we can, we should take some food with us, but there will be times when this is not possible. Satisfying our hunger is one thing - going to a restaurant for our pleasure is another, and this would be (I believe) breaking the spirit of Isa 58:13. Also, remember that the Sabbath is not a food feast day, so there is no way to justify a special restaurant meal on that score.

[A person wrote in (and I thank them for that) and said that as far as they were concerned, taking money out of one's wallet to pay for food on the Sabbath is a form of trading. They based this understanding on Neh 13:15-22, and other Scriptures.  Of course, if taking money out of your purse or wallet on the Sabbath, in your mind, breaks the Sabbath, you should not do it. However, for me, the motive for satisfying your hunger, or hauling in cart loads of goods to sell for profit, is very different. Many Christians do "trade" on the Sabbath, by using electricity, town water, the phone, the Internet, and so on, that is paid for sooner or later, and I don't have a problem with that. But to be clear, the Sabbath is NOT time for doing business.]

To walk away from people in hospitals and gaols and similar situations, and make them fast for 24 hours (when we don’t have to) seems to me to be a very unchristian thing to suggest. If we can do good on the Sabbath, water and feed our own animals, then surely it is more important to take care of our fellow man. Obviously we would do it out of service and not for wages, and the time involved would be kept to a minimum, so as to not impact too much on our own rest. Each person would have to work out the details according to their situation, but however it is done, we are to show love and concern for our fellow man. Think of the Second Great Commandment, and then imagine yourself being in their situation.


Personal Thought.

How each family goes about keeping the Sabbath, has to be worked out at the family level, and will vary depending on the number and ages of the family members, and the conditions they are living in. Perhaps a point for family discussion is this. If masters (head of household) could not direct their servants on the Sabbath (Ex 20:10), how were the “servile” type jobs taken care of? Since all are to rest on the Sabbath, how can the necessary things that need to be done, be shared by all so that,


1. All family members get an equal opportunity to rest.

2. Family members get a rest from the “servile” (service) type work that they do on the other six days.

One way this can be done is for every one to switch roles. If Mum usually does the washing up during the week, then Dad does it on the Sabbath, and all the family members also switch roles. If nothing else, it gives all an appreciation of what the rest of the family does during the week.

You may come up with a better way of giving the "servants" a rest on the Sabbath.

Right from the beginning, the primary reason for the Sabbath is for God, and man (and even his animals), to rest.


Gen 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.

  1. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Bob Orchard 

While this information is made freely available (Mat 10:8b) , and can be printed out, it is done with the understanding that there will only be fair and honest use of the material, and that it will be copied in full with no alterations.


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