Friday, June 5, 2015

Can I Work on Sabbath Day?

12 And the Lord said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’ 
18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
Exodus 31:12-18

Sabbath is a sign of the covenant that the Lord has with his people.  This Sabbath regulation finds its frame of reference on the account of Creation.  From the passage above it is clear that the account of Creation cannot be taken as myth.  The Lord made the heaven and earth in six days and rested on the seventh, thus those seven days become the “ancestor” of all seven days a week as we have right now.  These seven days therefore must be understood simply as seven times 24 hours a day.  This is the kind of day that we have and know in real life. 
Some theologians interpret the day in the account of Creation as a period of time – could be thousands of years or even millions of years.  If such is the case, then the passage above would mean nothing.  Because then resting on the Sabbath, on the seventh day, would then be obscure.  If then, as some Christians argue based on science so they say, the “day” in Genesis 1 and 2 is a period of time that can be stretched to millions of years, Israel would not need to stop working on Sabbath day every week.  But their interpretation is a heresy because the Bible clearly reveals that the meaning of day on the Creation account is the 24 hours period, evening and morning.  And thus the covenant stands as something solid.  Here is the early application of the Sabbath rule:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.  ….
22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’ ” 24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.   27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
(Exodus 16:4-5, 22-30)

And Israel did as they were commanded, except for some rebellious people who ignored God’s command and went out on the Sabbath in search for manna.  Here there is no indication whatsoever that supports the interpretation of day as a period of time even to the stretch of millions of years.  The application is clear and simple, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, evening and morning.  Six days Israel work, but they must rest on the seventh day.  It would be therefore absurd to interpret this passage to mean that Israel is to work for, say, six million years and then resting in the next one million year.

            It is undeniable that the Sabbath regulation presupposes Creation.  God has made it clear that the point of reference is the six days of creation and the resting on the seventh day.  With that understanding is made clear we then may proceed further into the Sabbath rule itself.  The Exodus 16 passage above shows how God is displeased when some people broke the regulation.  This is not a law made to be broken.  This is a serious regulation that God commands.  This law reflects God himself when he created the universe.  The account of creation is depicted vividly following certain order that highlights God’s rational and logical orderly plan and execution of his work of creation, which he completed in six days.  And then he rested on the seventh day.  The order and rhythm of life then is set by God himself.  Man, being created in the image and likeness of God, must reflect God, including their order and rhythm of life.  Working in six days and resting on the seventh.  Violating this would seriously break the order and rhythm of life as naturally given and modeled by God himself.  So God put a heavy punishment for those who violate Sabbath.  Exodus 31:14-15 reveals:

14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.

The punishment is death.  And it is repeated twice, one in verse 14 and the other in verse 15.  This dual emphasis means that it must be followed.  For sure, this rule is actually one of the Ten Commandments.  The fourth commandment:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Sabbath law is a reflection of God’s work, his order and rhythm, and also as a testimony of God’s creation and created order that he completed in six days and blessed on the seventh.  If the creation account is misinterpreted, then Sabbath law too is prone to be violated.

            Now, what does it mean by work?  What kind of work?  Now, the Hebrew word that is translated as work in Exodus 20:9 & 10 and 31:14-15 is “מְלָאכָה” which actually means work in the sense of occupation.  So this word cannot be interpreted merely as “work” in its broadest sense.  It would be absurd to interpret this to mean for example: to lift up one’s hand, or any other similar “efforts.”  If this word is interpreted too broadly then even walking or getting up from bed or even turning the body on the bed would be prohibited.  Such interpretation would spell disaster to everybody’s life.  So we need to understand that the kind of work spoken here is the one that has something to do with our occupation.  And generally occupation is the kind of work that we do to continually support our own need starting from the basic need of food-clothes-shelter to the more advanced need of self actualization.  Occupation is work in the sense of job or profession.  A doctor is someone working in the medical sector, and that’s his or her profession.  Or an architect is someone working in the building design, and that’s his or her profession.  But when they are home and they prepare food for themselves to eat, they do a different kind of work, and preparing food is not their occupation.  This distinction is important especially because the English word “work” in itself is broad in meaning, and so confusion over what kind of work it is meant could be avoided.  Because every single “effort” man does can be considered “work,” but that is not what the commandment of God meant.

            This relates closely with the understanding of rest.  What does it mean by rest?  What kind of rest?  In order to answer them, let us take a closer look at the teaching of our Lord Jesus regarding Sabbath versus the misinterpretation of the Pharisees.  Matthew writes in Matthew 12:1-14 the teaching of our Lord:

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

It all started with Jesus’ disciples starving.  So they picked up grains in the field to eat them on the Sabbath day.  But, the Pharisees saw it, and they blasted Jesus for “allowing” his disciples to pick up grains on Sabbath, something that they considered as unlawful.  They found fault in Jesus and his disciples because they thought that picking up grains to eat due hunger on Sabbath was forbidden.  They cited the Sabbath Law from book of Exodus.  A violation of the law, finally, so they thought.  For they had been waiting for this kind of moment.  But Jesus’ reaction was unexpected.  Instead of agreeing with them and then rebuking his disciples, Jesus confronted them with two difficult cases where what were considered unlawful were actually permitted.  The Pharisees had no answer to Jesus’ counter.  And in their silence, Jesus concluded by pointing out the main thing God sought, which was mercy (or more broadly the attitude of the heart) and not sacrifice (and more broadly rituals or religious acts).  He closed his conclusion declaring that those who “break” rituals while being merciful guiltless.  And then he revealed the truth that their mind could not grasp, that Jesus was lord of the Sabbath.

            His revelation is very interesting.  There he stripped the Pharisees of their “power” over the people.  Their position as rulers was evaluated.  Clearly they were not lords of the Sabbath.  They imposed themselves as if they were lords of the Sabbath.  But Jesus declared that they were not.  The lord of the Sabbath was Jesus.  He was God.  He was the one deserving to be worshiped.  He was the one deserving to be obeyed.  The definition of rest must be found in him, and not in the Pharisees.  The Pharisees misinterpreted the Scripture.  They handed down tradition that was devoid of the true meaning of Sabbath.  They misconstrued the meaning of work.  And thus they too mistook the meaning of resting as doing nothing on the holy Sabbath.  Picking up grains to eat on Sabbath day was considered unlawful for them.  They would prefer for the people to suffer hunger than for them to find “rest” from their suffering by picking up grains and eating them.  The Pharisees then lorded it over the people through the exploitation of God’s law.  Surely picking up grains and eating them could not be considered work as it was meant by the Sabbath law.  If the disciples were picking up grains as part of their occupation on Sabbath, then they would be guilty of breaking the Sabbath law.  But no, they picked up grains in order to alleviate their suffering, suffering from hunger.  God desires mercy rather than sacrifice, so what the disciples did was not unlawful.  The lord of the Sabbath ought to be merciful rather than forcing rituals.  Rituals are outwardly, whereas mercy was inwardly.  The Pharisees, who elevated themselves to the position as lords of the Sabbath, failed to be merciful to those who suffered, and blindly required the people to follow the rituals no matter what.  So Jesus had to rebuke them.  For Jesus was the lord of the Sabbath, and he was merciful.  He understood the suffering the disciples went through.  Besides, they did not pick up grains as part of their occupation.

            Jesus, the lord of the Sabbath, then went one more step further.  He explained the meaning of rest on the holy Sabbath.  He took the opportunity from the trap question given to him: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?  So Jesus masterfully taught them by asking them a question: “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?  Obviously to this question nobody could honestly answer that they did not help their sheep which fell into a pit on a Sabbath day.  They all did.  As they did, they “broke” the rituals of not working on Sabbath.  But yet they did and be found guiltless.  The life of the sheep was at stake.  If the owner did not help, the sheep would die.  So it was critical that the shepherd helped the sheep even on Sabbath.  It couldn’t wait until the next day.  It’s about mercy.  It’s about alleviating pain.  The sheep was suffering in the pit, so it needed “rest” from the suffering.  Rest here then meant the break from suffering.  Rest here then meant freedom from bondage.  So, without anyone against Jesus’ question, he concluded: “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  In that teaching then he healed the man on Sabbath.  Jesus, the good shepherd, set the man free from the suffering he endured.  And this was the meaning of rest here.  It was quite different than what the Pharisees had in mind.  The Pharisees focused only on the outward appearance.  They paid too much attention to the rituals.  They neglected the deepest attitude of the heart, especially mercy.  The Pharisees thought that “rest” meant “doing nothing.”  And so consequently, according to their logic, doing anything would mean not resting.  So when it was applied on Sabbath, in their understanding the people must not do anything, even if it meant to release people from suffering.  They got the wrong understanding.  What Jesus did to the man with a withered hand was actually releasing him from his misery.  Jesus set him free.  Jesus gave him rest.  And that’s the essence of Sabbath.  That’s why God commanded Israel to have rest.  He intended it for good.  So people could break free from bondage.  This is rest.  Jesus is lord of the Sabbath.  He wanted people to have rest with him.  Resting on Sabbath should have its focus on having the rest with the Lord.  That is why the command not to work on Sabbath.

            Continuing to work their job on Sabbath is a violation of the Sabbath law and it only inflicts pain to them by submitting themselves under the “slavery” of occupation.  This is not God’s desire.  He set up the order and rhythm of the universe and modeled it himself in creation.  He commands the people to keep the Sabbath holy.  He orders the people to rest from all the “enslaving” work on Sabbath.  He wants the people to have communion with him.  And so when Moses repeated the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, he gave a different reasoning why Israel must keep the Sabbath holy:

12 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.  (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Moses reminded them of how God freed them from the bondage of slavery.  God gave them rest from the oppression.  And that became the reason why they ought to keep Sabbath.  Sabbath is meant for rest.  And the freedom from slavery in Egypt became the point of reference for the basis of their resting on Sabbath.  Enslaving oneself on Sabbath is then forbidden.  Sabbath is that one holy day every week that all “enslaving” work must be put to halt.  On that day everyone is to remember that they belong to the Lord.  On that day everyone is to remember that they must not be slaves to anyone else.  On Sabbath, God is freeing his people from slavery.  How come, then, his people still insist on being enslaved by anything else even on the day of the Lord?  Jesus is lord of the Sabbath.  Everyone owes their allegiance to Jesus.  And Jesus is freeing them from slavery.

            Currently, the growing trend of taking the creation account in Genesis as myth and interpreting “day” to mean a period of time that stretches into millions of years jeopardizes the meaning of the Sabbath law.  So people take Sabbath casually now.  They do not rest as they should.  They no longer focus on the freedom from slavery.  They do not pay attention to the fact that they essentially belong to the Lord.  So these people slip into the slavery mode and submitting themselves to the bondage of a different master, even on the holy Sabbath, and thus betray God who is lord of the Sabbath.  Some people pick up their grains on Sabbath not because their life is under oppression and must be relieved, but because they wish to profit more.  Their mind is not set on the Lord, but on themselves.  In that way they set themselves as lord of the Sabbath, and not God.  Some people are enslaved by sports, that they abandon the worship and rest on Sabbath for the sake of competing in sports.  In that way they give themselves to be enslaved by the world – the pride, the social pressure, etc.  Some people abandon Sabbath altogether and use the holy day to enjoy for themselves things of the world.  So they exchange the glory of God for worthless things that will pass away.  And many other things people do on Sabbath that keep themselves enslaved by other masters that is not God.

            What then must be done on Sabbath day?  The Scripture provides an excellent teaching and instruction on how the Sabbath must be filled.  Psalm 92 points out:

92 A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever;
but you, O Lord, are on high forever.
For behold, your enemies, O Lord,
for behold, your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.
10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil.
11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.
12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

To declare the glory of God.  To bring praise to God because of his works.  To proclaim the character of God.  And we do it in the morning and in the night.  Psalm 92 teaches us to fill our Sabbath with praise and worship of the Lord.  To submit to the lordship of God.  For he is the only one worthy of our devotion.  We have been set free from the cruel masters of the world.  We have been brought into the resting place of our Lord.  And there we may rest with him.    Now we may sit at his feet.  Enjoying him from the rising of the sun until the setting of the sun.  Bringing praise to him and listening to his life giving word.  God has ordered that every week on Sabbath we are to be set free from “slavery.”  Indeed, in Jesus Christ, we have been set free from the slavery of sin.  Sabbath becomes the testimony of our covenant that God made with us in our freedom, for he is our Lord, our Master, our King who set us free from the bondage of sin.  And so, it is only appropriate for us to magnify him the entire day, morning and evening, on the holy Sabbath.  This is the meaning of the Sabbath law.  Amen.

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