The Sabbath … in the beginning

Many in the post-modern and post-Christian world in which we live question whether we are still a Judeo-Christian society; however, most baby boomers know the basic values upon which our nation was established, particularly the Ten Commandments.

I present on this blog “the Sabbath” of the Hebrew Scriptures from which the Jews learned to “Remember the Sabbath – keep it holy” from the mandates of the Decalogue and the story of creation. The Christians continued to maintain this commandment although in honor of Jesus’ resurrection, they celebrate it on the first day of the week, rather than the last day.

Later in the blog I will present the “war on the Sabbath”. With society’s relentless demands of globalization and the constant chatter of the information age that overwhelms the rhythm of what was considered “the good old days”, our 24/7 socio-economical society is robbing us of any free time the Industrial Age had provided us.

From where did the SABBATH come?

The story of creation and God’s Day of Rest on the Seventh Day is told in Genesis, the first book of the Torah or Pentateuch (in Greek). The Sabbath is introduced on the seventh day in the second book of Gen., verses 1-3, with the words,

“Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested (literally Sabbathed)[1] on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:1-3)[2].

The Jews might not have had a written copy of the creation story until 500 BC, 750 years after the period in which Moses was given the 10 Commandments (the Decalogue) on Mt. Sinai (c. 1250 BC).[3] Prior to the written word, knowledge of historical and mythical events was passed down orally – by word of mouth.

The Jews’ first written knowledge of a duty to the Sabbath came from what the Catholic Church names the third of the Ten Commandments. It is one of the longest of the Ten Commandments and is recorded in Exodus 20:8–11,

“Remember the Sabbath day – keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God. 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. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

The command in the Decalogue to keep the Sabbath holy, which means to dedicate or set apart for religious purposes, documented in the book of Exodus, is tied to the creation story in Genesis. It reveals God as creator. The Sabbath’s significance is announced as the climax of God’s creation.

The seventh day of rest, however, was in reality a continuation of creation. God set it apart, blessed it, and made it holy. He did not just finish his work in six days and so rested on the seventh.  Rather, he blessed and sanctified it by gazing and reflecting on all his creation. When humanity imitates God by taking this day to rest and reflect on God’s beautiful and holy creation, he is drawn to gratitude for and dependence upon the creator with whom humankind shares a covenant.

This living of the Sabbath is a sign of an everlasting covenant between Israel and God (Ex. 31:13), just as circumcision was a sign of the covenant made by God and Israel through Abraham (Gen. 17:1-14).  The observance of the Sabbath and circumcision were at the heart of the Law of Moses – both were outward signs of membership in the community of Israel (Ezek. 20:13; Neh. 13:17-18).[4]

To be continued …


[1] New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. (Detroit: Gale, 2003.) 0. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 June 2016, 455.

[2] New American Bible. Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: 2010.) Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Kindle.


[3] Ibid., 456.


[4] Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, (New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009), 785-6.