How do we keep the Sabbath?

by | Apr 13, 2022 | 01 Podcasts, sabbath

How do we keep the Sabbath? The simple command is not to work. We stop the activities that sustain our lives and instead we do the things that foster our relationship to, understanding of and dependence on God.


  • God commanded Sabbath for His people as a reminder of their dependence on Him.
  • Sabbath is to remind us who God is. We rest to remember God.
  • Sabbath reminds us that God created us (Exodus 20).
  • Sabbath reminds us that God chose us (Exodus 31).
  • Sabbath reminds us that God redeemed us (Deuteronomy 5).

Two Examples of rest

  • My grandfather spent Sunday afternoon sleeping in a hammock. We grandchildren were told he was “taking his Sabbath.”
  • Mr. and Mrs. Busybeaver work twice as hard on Saturday, preparing for Monday and accomplishing all their chores by sunset on Saturday. They spend Sunday playing games and taking walks.

Which one is right? Are they both right? Or neither right? Which one is this Sabbath?

Exodus 16

The children of Israel have been delivered from slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and are wandering in the Sinai desert. They complain that God brought them out of Egypt to let them die of hunger in the wilderness. God provides supernatural food for them from heaven.

25Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field.  26Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”  27On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.  28And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?  29See! 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.”  30So the people rested on the seventh day.  31Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.  32Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”  33And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.”  34As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept.  35The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.  36(An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.) -Exodus 16:25-26

  • Before we have a command to observe the Sabbath, God’s people were forbidden to gather the manna on the seventh day.
  • This prohibition is linked to the same themes: God chose us; God created us and God redeemed us (Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:6; Exodus 16:12; Exodus 16:28).
  • Food sustains our physical lives. One day a week the children of Israel were to stop doing what was necessary to provide for themselves in recognition that God is the one who sustains them.

Exodus 35

1Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do.  2Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”  – Exodus 35:1-3

  • Fire for them was the equivalent of electricity for us. It was the power that fueled their way of life.
  • Gathering food and building a fire were two basic necessities of life.
  • The simple command is not to work. “Work” is the normal activities you do that sustain your life.
  • We stop work to remember that God sustains our existence.

Numbers 15

32While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day.  33And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation.  34They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him.  35And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.”  36And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses. – Exodus 15:32-36

  • Technically the Sabbath-breaker was not breaking the command against lighting a fire. However, he was gathering firewood to prepare for a fire. He kept the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law.
  • Sabbath is more than what you do or don’t do on the outside. Sabbath is about where your heart is and why you are doing what you’re doing.
  • Sabbath is about remembering our dependence on God and finding avenues in our lives that help us to express that dependence.

Nehemiah 13:15-22

15In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food.  16Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself!  17Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?  18Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”  19As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day.  20Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.  21But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath.  22Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. – Nehemiah 13:15-22

  • This episode occurs roughly 1000 years later, after the Jews have been in the land, been exiled and returned to the promised land.
  • The Jews of Nehemiah’s day are not selling on the Sabbath, but they are preparing to sell and trading with the Gentiles.
  • Nehemiah reacts strongly, forbidding them to trade or even line up at the gate to get a good spot in the market place when the gates open after Sabbath.
  • Keeping the Sabbath has not changed, but culture has changed and thus what constitutes Sabbath keeping has changed.
  • In their new culture, commerce was the life-sustaining activity that was considered work.
  • What constitutes work changed, but the idea that you need to live your life in such a way that you recognize, remember and encourage your dependence on God remained the same.

Psalm 46

1To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 
2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 
3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah 
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 
5God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 
6The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 
7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 
8Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 
10“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 
11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah  – Psalm 46

  • The psalmist looks to God as sovereign over the natural forces of creation. This connects with the first reason given to observe the Sabbath: because God has created the world.
  • Then the psalmist talks about God as a refuge in the midst of foreign enemies. This connects with the second reason given to observe the Sabbath: because God has redeemed Israel from life in Egypt.
  • In the finale (46:10), the psalmist says, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”
  • Sabbath starts with stopping and focusing on who God is.
  • To honor the Sabbath, we stop and relate to God in whatever way best fosters our relationship with Him.
  • Sabbath is resting to remember God and relating to God. And you can enjoy it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on your study the last two weeks, what (if anything) has changed about your understanding of rest and work?
  2. If a new believer asked you what NOT to do on the Sabbath and what we should do on the Sabbath, how would you answer? Has your answer changed over the course of your life?
  3. If you are rested and peaceful at the end of a week, are you doing something right or wrong? What does your culture say?
  4. How do you think understanding the Sabbath changes across time and cultures? Compare Old Testament times to New Testament times; Compare your grandparents time to today.

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

Next: When do we keep the Sabbath?

Previous: Why remember the Sabbath?

Series: Sabbath: Why, how and when

Photo by Do Nhu on Unsplash

Podcast season 19 episode 9