The Sabbaths

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In addition to the special Feast Days, one day out of each week, the Sabbath, was observed as a day of rest and a holy convocation. “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings” (Lev. 23:3, NKJV).

The Sabbath was given to Israel as a memorial of God’s creative activity and a permanent sign of their covenant relationship. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20.11). The keeping of the Sabbath was given as the fourth commandment of the Law. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8, NKJV).

Scripture is clear that the Sabbath was given only to Israel and served as a sign of their unique covenant relationship with God. “Therefore, the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed” (Ex. 31:16-17, NKJV).


It may surprise some to learn that the word Sabbath does not mean the seventh or last day of the week. On the contrary, the Hebrew word, Sabbath, means intermission, to cease, or to stop and rest. It only took on the English definition when it was used in conjunction with the seventh day of the week. In fact, there were special feast days designated as Sabbaths that did not always occur on the seventh day of the week. A good example is the Feast of Trumpets which is celebrated on the first day of the seventh month, Tishri (Lev. 23:24), the first day of the Jewish civil year.

The law applied to the whole nation of Israel, and its penalty for violation was death (Ex. 31:14). However, the nation proved to be lax in keeping the law, and there were only a few times when the death penalty was imposed. Because the Sabbath was given as a sign of their covenant relationship, it became the standard of measure for their spiritual health. The Sabbath was a very special period and served as a constant reminder to Israel that they were a chosen nation and that they had pledged to be obedient to the directive will of their Husband and their God.

Not only were the people to rest and refresh their bodies every seventh day, but the land must also rest every seventh year. “Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard” (Lev. 25:3-4, NKJV).

The pattern of sevens reflected in the festivals is now extended to the land. During the Sabbath Year, the land lay fallow, and the people were freed from much of their work and were taught and trained in the law. In addition, man and beast ate from what they had stored before the Sabbath Year. Any food that grew wild was available to people experiencing poverty. Debts were also forgiven at the end of the Sabbath Year.

Israel was lax in keeping this commandment. One of the reasons the southern kingdom was taken into captivity by the Babylonians was because they were not keeping the Sabbath Year – apparently for 490 years. “And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chr. 36:20-21, NKJV).

The fiftieth year, following the seventh sabbatical year, was an extra fallow year for the land. “And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family” (Lev. 25:10, NKJV). “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land” (Lev. 25:23-24, NKJV).

The year of Jubilee was when men were freed, and their property was restored. This reminded the people that the land belonged to God, thus preventing the wealthy from amassing land and slaves. Today, recessions, depressions, and reevaluations often occur and accomplish the same thing. What a contrast between God’s way and man’s way!

One cannot study the Jewish religious ordinances without noticing the recurrence of the number seven. Seven denotes completeness and is used as a structural element in the Mosaic religious ceremonial system. Notice that every seventh day was a Sabbath, every seventh year was a Sabbatical year, and every seventh Sabbatical year was followed by the Jubilee year. Every seventh month was a month of feasts. There were seven weeks between the Passover and the Pentecost feast. The Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days. We also see the sevens in the number of animals sacrificed. Fourteen (twice seven) lambs were offered at the Passover and the feast of Tabernacles. The entire Levitical system was run on wheels of seven cycles and pointed to what was completed in the first advent of Christ.

We see this same system of sevens used in the Book of Revelation in the chapters that point to the events that will occur just before the Second Advent of Christ.

Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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