Guest Post: A Fresh Understanding of the Sabbath

What is the Sabbath? Should we keep it? How do we keep it? Is it really that important?

These are questions we may or may not have ever considered in our walk of faith, but the questions are never the less becoming more and more frequent. I keep the Sabbath day, along with my wife, every week. No, not Sunday; Saturday or the 7th day. When we first made the decision to start “honoring” the Sabbath as Scripture puts it, we started out very basic. Friday evening, we would simply start recognizing the day. As time moved on, we began eliminating certain “work” from our schedules. Then we began honing in on getting things accomplished throughout the week so we wouldn’t have to worry about them on the Sabbath.

All these things are what Scripture tells us we should do, but one thing Scripture does not really tell us is… WHY? Why does God not wish for me to mow the lawn on Sabbath? Why shouldn’t my wife make an elaborate home made meal? Why does God care what I do on the Sabbath? Well, when we peek into Scripture we find something very interesting; God kept the Sabbath. In fact, God was the first one to keep the Sabbath. Remember, during creation week?

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. – Genesis 2:2

What does it mean, “God rested”? God does not have muscles, or exhaustion that He needs to rest. What is the big idea here?! Well, the answer lies in the culture the Scriptures were directly written to; The Ancient Near East. The “ANE” is the time period of the mid-late Bronze age within the geographical area of the modern day “Middle East”. This was the time period that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, were born into. The ancient nation of Israel was also established in Canaan during this time period.

In the ANE, creation was not focused on materializing something. It was focused on giving function to an object that had no purpose. EVERYONE thought that their god(s) materialized the earth and universe. However, the belief of a deity giving a creation function, now that was true power. This is why Ba’al was worshiped in Canaan, because it was believed he made the storms. Astarte, also in Canaan was believed to bring about wealth as a pagan fertility goddess. Ra, who was worshiped in Egpyt was believed to govern the sun whereas Konshu was believed to have governed the moon. Each pagan god was esteemed by the belief that they gave function and governance to a small portion of creation.

This is when the God of Israel comes in. According to the creation account in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, the God of Israel not only materialized every aspect of creation, He gave function to every aspect of creation. This was unheard of in the ANE. Israel worship the only God that claimed to have complete sovereignty over the entirety of creation. This is how great our God is. He alone governs and reigns over creation, not daring to allow His glory to be shared.

Some argue that every time you see the word “created” in Genesis 1 and 2, it could be read “gave function”. Not saying that God did not form and materialize all things, of course He did. But putting emphasis on the fact that He is establishing order and a functioning creation.  Take the first verse in the Bible:

In the beginning God created (Gave function to) the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

Why would God need to give function to heaven and earth?

And the earth was without form, and void. – Genesis 1:2

Creation was formless and void, without purpose and function. God moved upon the waters and brought order to the mucky chaotic mess of earth. This concept also makes sense when we apply to ourselves and followers of Christ.  2 Corinthians  5:17 says:

Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation…

When you became a Believer, did you start existing? NO, of course not. You existed before coming into the covenant and love of The Messiah, but once you entered The Covenant, you were given a purpose, you were given function within His kingdom.

You may be thinking, “this is great, but what in the world does this have to do with the Sabbath day?”. In the beginning, God did not have a kingdom. Hear me out, don’t throw the stones yet. In the beginning, God was… God. He created the heavens and the earth for the purpose of being His throne and kingdom to govern. The concept in the ANE was that God created and formed the heavens and the earth to reign over. Once completed, God took up His residence on His throne…. resting in his governance.

This is why Isaiah wrote:

Thus saith the LORD, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest?” – Isaiah 66:1

When God rested on the Sabbath day, it wasn’t because He was tired or worn out. “Resting” meant His creation was completed and He had taken up residence on HIS THRONE. This is similar to a presidential candidate running for office. They work, work, work, and run, run, run. Debate, kiss babies, get support and then finally, when the votes come in, he/she is elected. Then, on Jan. 21st they are inaugurated into office and for the first time, they get to enter into the oval office and “rest” in the seat of authority.

Sabbath is a day we rest from our own efforts to recognize just how great our God is. Where our world stops being our “us”, and re-focuses on our God, seated on His throne, ruling and reigning over all of creation.

For more information regarding how ancient Israel perceived the Sabbath, check out our DVD teaching titled “The Ancient Sabbath Day: How did God keep it?” available athttp://foundedintruth.com/store/

Pastor Matthew Vander Els is Founder of Founded In Truth Ministries and leads a fellowship in Fort Mill, SC. Not only is the focus of his studies the Hebrew Roots of the Christian faith, but the archaeological and anthropology of Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms and civilizations. By studying not only ancient Israel, but the neighboring kingdoms that surround them, we can gain priceless insight into the culture, context, and language used in the Holy scriptures.