Sabbath Restrictions

I return to the topic of Sabbath, how and why it was established, and how it continued in Christianity. Remember, the Sabbath was first mentioned in Exodus 2:3 “…God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” There were no stipulations to go with this announcement; it is just said that the seventh day is set aside as holy.

We then see the Sabbath as formally established through the Decalogue—the Ten Commandments–in Exodus 20:8-11.  Attached to this commandment were some conditions: “ You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates” (Ex. 20:10).

Each time this commandment is mentioned in Exodus it gets stricter and stricter.  The strands of the Torah that are attributed to the Pentateuchal Priestly Writers (P) become more obligatory upon the Israelite tribes as they became more and more disobedient.

In chapter 31 of Exodus, the LORD says to Moses, “Keep my Sabbaths, for that is to be the sign between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the LORD, who make you holy. Therefore, you must keep the Sabbath for it is holiness for you. Whoever desecrates it shall be put to death. If anyone does work on that day, that person must be cut off from the people” (Ex. 31:14 ).

The Sabbath laws continued to get more extreme as the history of Israel journeyed along and transgressions were made upon it. Biblical revelation reveals prohibitions in farming, “…even during the seasons of plowing and harvesting you must rest” (Ex. 34:21). They were not to carry loads on the Sabbath, “…take care not to carry burdens on the sabbath, to bring them in through the gates of Jerusalem” (Jer. 17:21). Limitations were put on commerce. In this verse, the people complain, “’When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the grain-bins?’” (Amos 8:5). There were even strictures on traveling on the Sabbath–a specific measure was allotted (approximately 2/3 of a mile), “… a sabbath day’s journey away” (Acts 1.12).

During the seven religious feasts that were elevated to the title of sabbath because of their holiness, although they did not necessarily fall on the seventh-day, some work was allowed such as preparation of food. However, even what was allowed had some restrictions, for instance on the seventh day of the festival persons might be allowed to lift things, but they were not allowed heavy lifting or heavy work(Lev. 23:7-8). The official Sabbath, however, still had strict demands of which no work was allowed.

Most Christians know  how strict the Sabbath laws had become by the time of Jesus Christ’s revelation, for he was constantly having run ins with the priests and Pharisees on the matter. Next Sabbath blog will cover how Jesus redeemed the Sabbath from all the extremes the “law givers” had attached to it.

Note: Quotes from the Bible are from the New American Bible Revised Edition. I have capitalized Sabbath when it applies to “the” Sabbath. The Bible, however, does not always capitalize it, there fore it is not capitalized when it is within a quote.