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    Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy
    Basic Rules For Observing
    the Weekly Sabbath

    NCW 80, July-December 2003
    (Second Edition, 22 January 2013)

    We who have committed ourselves to keeping covenant with Yahweh our Heavenly Father are commanded to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." (Exodus 20:8) 'Holy' means "separate" or "special". We are to give honour to the Sabbath. In order to accomplish this, we must plan and prepare – and be out of step with the world – in order to keep the Sabbath holy.

    Honouring the Sabbath is an outward sign of the covenant that we make with Yahweh. "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily, My Sabbaths ye shall keep; for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that ye may know that I am Yahweh that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the Sabbath, therefore; for it is holy unto you…Six days may work be done, but in the seventh, it is the Sabbath of rest, holy to Yahweh… It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever." (Exodus 31:13-17)

    "Moreover also I gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am Yahweh that sanctify them." (Ezekiel 20:12,20) Observing the Sabbath is one sign that we are the people of Elohim (God).

    "And Elohim blessed the seventh day and sanctified it." (Genesis 2:3)

    There is no mention made anywhere in the scriptures of the Bible that the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day of the week to the first day ('Lord's Day') or to days of the Roman calendar like 'Saturday' or 'Sunday'.

    The Messiah kept the Sabbath. "And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read." (Luke 4:16) "And when the Sabbath day was come, He began to teach in the synagogue." (Mark 6:2) "And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath." (Luke 13:10)

    Paul, whose writings many people misinterpret, continued to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. Gentile believers, as well as Jews, met together on the Sabbath. "As they (Paul and his Jewish companions) left, they were urged by the Gentiles to continue this preaching the following Sabbath … The next Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of Elohim (God)." (Acts 13:42-44) "Every Sabbath, he (Paul) spoke in synagogues, trying to convert Judahites (Jews) and Gentiles". (Acts 18:4)

    Prophecy clearly points out that the Elect in the Last Days, and during the Millennium will observe the Sabbath. The Redeemer spoke of the Sabbath in the Last Days, in regard to the time of the future Tribulation. (Matthew 24:20) Isaiah referred to keeping the Sabbath in the time we commonly call the Millennium. (Isaiah 66:23)

    Those who keep the Sabbath commandment are promised a special place within the Eternal Kingdom. Those who keep the Sabbaths are promised "a place and a name better than of sons and daughters…an everlasting name that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 56:5-6; 58:13-14)

    Because of upbringing, previous religious practices, as well as the customs of our culture and communities, the fact is that most people are inexperienced at keeping any sort of Sabbath (other than attending a church meeting). Especially over the past 40 or 50 years, Western church-goers have become less and less observant of any sort of Sabbath. Even among those who (incorrectly) believe that Sunday is the Sabbath, that day is generally not honored as a day of rest. To be sure, there are many who worship on Sunday – but most of them do not set apart the day to the honour of Elohim (God). Though they may go to church meeting on Sunday, they stop by the restaurant or the stores on their way home from worshipping. They go to athletic matches, or the amusement park, or the movie theaters in the afternoon or evening of the day that they call the Sabbath.

    The fact is that when someone begins go observe the Sabbath of Yahweh, quite often he or she is very inexperienced. Most people have little concept of what it means to observe "the Sabbath day to keep it holy?" As you will see, it means far more than assembling for worship on the Sabbath.

    This paper is a summary of our halachah of keeping the weekly Sabbath. (Halachah is a Hebrew word that means 'interpretation' or 'path'. It is how a particular commandment is interpreted and put into practical application.) Though commandments are clearly stated in the scriptures, there is quite often need for interpretation, added explanation, and clarification. Though we can read what the commandment is, we are sometimes left to ponder how to apply it. Sometimes uncertainty or confusion arises regarding how to keep the Sabbath day holy.

    For example, the scripture instructs: "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day." (Exodus 35:3) What does that mean for us in the present? How should those who wish to keep the Sabbath holy understand this commandment? The explanation and interpretation of this commandment is known as the halachah.

    Sabbath rules are vague in some instances, or may even seem to be at odds with each other. One purpose for this apparent conflict is to cause us to think, ponder, and pray about the matter.

    When two Sabbath rules seem to conflict, we apply the "greater than - less than" principle. For example, the commandment to assemble together with the Saints (believers) is 'greater than' the commandment not to travel on the Sabbath day. Circumstances make the difference. When in doubt, ask!

    The Sabbath was made for man. (Mark 2:27) It was made by Yahweh-Elohim on the seventh day of creation. "And Elohim (God) blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it." (Genesis 2:2-3)

    Assembling together

    • "The seventh day is…an holy convocation (sacred assembly)…" (Leviticus 23:3)
    • "There remaineth a (Sabbath) rest for the people of Elohim (God)." (Hebrews 4:9)
    • "Let us...not forsak(e) the assembling of ourselves together..." (Hebrews 10:24-25)


    • "The seventh day is the Sabbath of rest…" (Leviticus 23:3)
    • "There remaineth a (Sabbath) rest for the people of Elohim (God)." (Hebrews 4:9)

    Rest means rest. Rest does not mean work. Building, manufacturing, assembling, and planning projects or commercial pursuits are work. Planting, watering, gathering, cleaning, doing laundry, etc, are also not resting.

    We should do that which is uplifting and restful – not tiring.

    No Work

      "You will work for six days, but the seventh will be a day of complete rest…" (Leviticus 23:3)

    What is work?

    By the strictest definition, breathing is work. Digestion is work. Moving is work. So a halachah regarding work is necessary in relation to Sabbath.

    This means no work for yourself…and…not causing others to work for you. This includes employees, children, and those under your control. Just because someone is 'working anyway' such as an employee at a restaurant, does not give us an excuse to eat there on Sabbath.

    On the Sabbath we admire and give thanks for the Creation – we don't alter the Creation on the Sabbath.

      "But the seventh day is the Sabbath of Yahweh thy Elohim (God): in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger, that is within thy gates" (Exodus 20:10)

    We are to do no work – even in harvest time. (Exodus 34:21) Farmers or gardeners ought not to harvest on the Sabbath.

    The Apostles picked corn (barley) to eat one meal, because they were hungy…but did not harvest.

    We are commanded, "You will not light a fire on the Sabbath day…" (Exodus 35:3) The key to understanding this instruction is in the word 'light' (or 'kindle' in another translation) – which means to start a fire. The concept behind this is that we ought not begin a new project on Sabbath. The commandment does not prohibit us from having the furnace on in cold weather, or from having a gas hot water heater or stove lit.

    Starting an automobile results in internal combustion within the engine. A spark is created, which ignites the mixture of fuel and air, to move the cylinders. This is an example of a 'greater than – less than' halachah. The commandment to assemble together with fellow believers is greater than the commandment against traveling or starting a car engine. Driving to and from Sabbath meeting is appropriate.

    Cooking, on the other hand, should be avoided on the Sabbath. We should do the work of cooking the day before (Exodus 16:23) But warming food that has been previously prepared, serving it, and cleaning up afterward are acceptable.

    We are not to plan other activities while it is still Sabbath. (Amos 8:5) On the Sabbath we ought not plan our future work, plan shopping, etc.

    We ought not to ask someone for advice that involves his or her occupation on the Sabbath. For example, it is not appropriate to ask a person in the congregation who is a mechanic a question about a problem you are having with your car, on the Sabbath day.

    The commandment regarding the weekly Sabbath is for no work of any kind.

    On some of the annual Sabbaths, the commandment relates only to servile work. (Servile work is mainly occupational or domestic work.)

    The following are ridiculous examples of Sabbath prohibitions among certain Talmudic Jews, past and present. They lost perspective of the purpose of the Torah, and invented unreasonable notions and restrictions.

    • The most conservative of Jews prohibit dragging a chair across the floor because it might form a rut, which would be digging.
    • Taking a bath is forbidden by Jewish sects, because steam rising from the hot water might lift up some dirt, resulting in cleaning – which is work.
    • Orthodox Jews forbid killing a mosquito or other biting insect.
    • Certain Jews have ruled that a radish may be dipped into salt – but not left there too long, because this would begin the pickling and preserving process – which is work.
    • Some Jews have forbidden clapping one's hands on Sabbath.
    • In case of a fire, only that which would be needful on that Sabbath day could be rescued; everything else must be allowed to perish.
    • Orthodox Jews will not carry a handkerchief or eyeglasses on Sabbath, nor wear anything that might need to be taken off later in the day, and have to be carried home from synagogue. If the weather gets warm, for example, it is forbidden to remove one's jacket to be more comfortable.
    • Some Jews will not look in a mirror on Sabbath, lest they see something, such as a gray hair, that they might be tempted to pull.
    • Some sects forbid taking out or putting in of false teeth on Sabbath.
    • Many forbid opening the refrigerator, because a light would turn on.
    • In ancient times, having a bowel movement on Sabbath was considered work. Or, because the latrine was so far outside the city walls, people within the city would have to travel more than a Sabbath day's journey to get there!
    • Thrashing was forbidden – therefore, rubbing heads of barley together in one's hands, as the disciples did, was considered work by some of the Jews in Messiah's time. (Matthew 12:1+)
    • Healing the sick was classified as work by popular Jewish sects in Yah'shua's (Jesus') day. Picking up and carrying one's sick-bed or crutches was considered to be work.

    No Buying or Selling

      "They...entered into...an oath to walk in Elohim's (God's) law...and to observe and do all the commandments of Yahweh our Elohim (God)...and if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals (food) on the Sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the Sabbath..." (Nehemiah 10:29-31)

    "Work" actually includes commerce: buying, selling, and trading are each work.

    Shopping is planning to buy.

    Buying over the Internet, for example, is still buying.

    Among the transgressions of backsliding Israel, Nehemiah observed things that they ought not be doing on Sabbath.

      "In those days I saw in Judah some treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles (leaders) of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our Elohim (God) bring all this evil upon us, and upon our city? …Yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath." (Nehemiah 13:15-19)

    Carrying a burden is prohibited on Sabbath

    This form of work is specifically forbidden in Jeremiah 17:21-22, (and probably also in Exodus 36:6).

    While the commandment against carrying a burden refers to literal work, we ought to consider it metaphorically, as well. The Sabbath is a day to lay aside mental and emotional burdens as we gather to study, worship, and praise Yahweh-Elohim.

    Sabbath is a state of mind and condition of the heart, as well as an appointed day on the calendar.


    "Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." (Exodus 16:29) The word translated as "place" can mean home, camp, locale or neighbourhood.

    A Sabbath day's journey is referred to in Matthew 24:20 and Acts 1:12. This was 2000 cubits (which is 0.57 mile) in one direction

    Traveling ought to be limited for the purposes of attending assembly (church) meetings, visiting family, visiting the sick, etc. Traveling out of one's neighbourhood ought not to be for the purpose of pursuing other interests on the Sabbath.

    "Place" can be interpreted to mean our mental condition or attitude. We ought not to leave the mental attitude of holiness on the Sabbath day.

      "If you turn away your foot from...doing your pleasure...not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words..." (Isaiah 58:13)

    Sabbath is to be a Yahweh-centered day, instead of a self-centered centered day.

    This means we are to avoid doing the things that take our minds away from Yahweh-Elohim, away from the mitzvot (commandments), away from the Kingdom of Heaven, etc.

    We ought to avoid going places on Sabbath where it is not observed.

    We should center our attention, conversation and activities on Yahweh-Elohim.

    Participating in secular entertainment should be avoided on Sabbath.

    Activities should be focused on fellowship…not on competition. The attention should not be scoring and winning, but on communion and relaxation. Serious competition is striving to win something – which is work.

    Playing games is permitted on the Sabbath, depending on the game. For example, Phase 10 is appropriate, but Monopoly (which is based on buying and selling) is not appropriate for the Sabbath.

    Regarding Sabbath activities, ask yourself the question: Does this activity result in inappropriate feelings or thoughts? Keeping the Sabbath holy involves the spirit of the Sabbath – which includes our intentions.

    We need to avoid attending events or entering places that charge admission (even if we have a free pass).

    What about free public places, such as the library or municipal swimming pool? To go to either of those places requires someone else to work – the librarian or the lifeguard. So we ought avoid those types of places on Sabbath

    How about listening to radio, watching television or videos, being on the computer, or playing video games? Regardless of the day of the week, we are instructed not to find pleasure watching sinful behaviour. (Romans 1:29-32) Radios, televisions and computers are not in and of themselves either evil or good. It is the content that is maybe good or evil. The rule against finding pleasure watching wicked behaviour restricts us from certain types of programs or games. There is nothing sinful about watching news programs, or wholesome programming or movies. (However, if you derive your income from the stock market, for example, you should not watch a financial news program on Sabbath.)

    What about dating on Sabbath? As with other things, it depends upon the context and intent of the date, obviously. Going on a date for a walk in the park is much different than going to dinner at a restaurant and a movie theater, obviously.

    Six Days Shalt Thou Work

    We are supposed to work six days. It must be remembered that part of the Sabbath commandment deals with work. "Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath." (Exodus 20:8-10; 31:15) "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day..." (Exodus 35:2)

    Examples of 'exemptions' permitted on Sabbath

    Certain occupations and circumstances require aiding or protecting others. This includes medical occupations, emergency services, military, police, etc. (However, the individual should seek to have a balanced schedule – that is, avoiding taking a shift on Sabbath except when it is unnecessary. Whenever circumstances permit, an individual should try to observe the Sabbath as completely as possible.)

    The work of the ministry is necessary on Sabbath. Healing on the Sabbath is appropriate. (Matthew 12:10; John 5:5)

    Feeding and watering pets or livestock is appropriate. Milking cows is a necessary task on the Sabbath.

      "And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift (it) out?" (Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15)

    Emergencies should definitely be attended to on Sabbath.

    Work that relates to safety, sanitation, and prevention of wastefulness (such as shutting off a valve to stop a water leak), or preventing loss of property (such as extinguishing a building that is on fire.)

    Carrying a baby and a diaper (nappy) bag are exempt from the commandment against carrying burdens. Likewise, changing a diaper (nappy) is a necessary type of work. Naturally, caring for children or the sick should be performed on Sabbath

    Cleaning up after eating is most appropriate because it is a sanitary practice.

    Acts of personal hygiene are proper, including bathing, brushing teeth, etc.

    Staying in a house that is rented is not forbidden (although we are actually 'paying' for that day).

    Using electricity or phone is acceptable, because this service is provided automatically.

    Whenever any work can be postponed, it should be.

    We are commanded to remember the Sabbath day.

    This includes remembering to plan for the Sabbath. Planning shopping, work, and other things in order to be prepared for the Sabbath.

    'Preparation day' is a title for the sixth day of the week, because during it our minds should think ahead to what we need to do to get ready for Sabbath.

    How does the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath relate? (Exodus 31:12-17)

    This is a perfect example of the 'curse of the law' that Paul wrote of. (Galatians 3:13) Although breaking the Sabbath commandment is still a sin, our repentance and our faith in the Messiah saves us from the penalty of death.

    What happens when we decide not to keep Sabbath?

    Having understanding of the Sabbath commandment, when we decide not to keep it holy, we are out of covenant. Sabbath breaking is equated with apostasy. (Ezekiel 20)

      "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 5:19)

    When we disobey the Sabbath commandment, we invite the cursings listed in Deuteronomy 28 into our lives.

    There is a penalty for breaking Sabbath. Although it is not the physical death penalty in our day, there is still a penalty for committing sin. Sabbath-breaking is a sin – and the 'wages of sin is death'. Messiah's death pays the penalty of broken laws for those who covenant with Him, and do their best to obey His commandments (and also little children, and those who do not know the Torah).

    As we strive to keep the Sabbath day holy, we must adopt the attitude of being willing to obey. It takes effort and time to rearrange our lifestyle and schedule to comply with Sabbath. Yahweh-Elohim expects us to work toward obedience, and not procrastinate or make excuse.

    Courtesy of Lion of God Ministries, P.O.Box 33, Oak Grove, MO 64075, USA

    Adapted for Messianic Evangelical use.

    Check out our main Sabbath Page for many more articles

    This page was created on 10 June 2004
    Last updated on 22 January 2013

    Copyright © 2003-2012
    Lion of God Ministries
    Reproduced with thanks and Adapted by NCCG