Being Kept By Shabbos

hillel_shammaiYou shall honor it [Shabbos] by refraining from your usual weekday practices, nor pursuing your business, nor speaking thereof.

Isaiah 58:13

The observance of Shabbos and the festivals is characterized by not only abstinence from work, but also from all types of “weekday” activities, including even how one converses.

“Your conversation on Shabbos should not be similar to your weekday conversation”

-Shabbos 113b

A personal incident illustrates that by properly honoring the Shabbos and festivals, one achieves the respect of others.

As a resident in psychiatric training, I explained to the program director that I was unable to work on the festival days, and that these should be considered vacation days and deducted from my allotted vacation time.

The director shook his head. “No need for that,” he said. “Non-Jewish people can do anything they wish on their holidays. If they can wash the car, paint the garage, or go to the theater, then they can just as well come to work. In your case, you are not permitted to do anything, so obviously you cannot come to work, and this need not affect your vacation time.”

It has been said, “Even more than Israel has kept the Shabbos, the Shabbos has kept Israel.” If we honor the Shabbos properly, the Shabbos will honor us.

Today I shall…

…dedicate myself to a full observance of Shabbos and the festivals.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day – Tammuz 24”

This, as much as anything, illustrates the difference between the Jewish Shabbat and the Christian Sunday or “Lord’s Day.” I don’t doubt that the very first non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah observed a Shabbat in the same or similar manner as the Jewish disciples. Frankly, they wouldn’t have known any better, and a Sunday “Lord’s Day” probably wouldn’t even have occurred to them. Why would it?

Shifting the primary day to gather for worship from Saturday (Friday night to Saturday night, actually) to Sunday was most likely one of those acts designed to create a definition between Judaism and a Gentile Christianity. I can understand, to some degree, the desire to honor the day of Messiah’s rising from the tomb (although in Jewish reckoning, Jesus rising on the first day of the week could have happened anytime after sundown on Saturday), there’s nothing clear cut in the New Testament that says it was God’s intent.

However, there are just tons of references in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that speak of the Shabbat being observed on the seventh day, and as I said, the fact that Messiah came, taught, died, resurrected, and ascended never caused a ripple in Jewish Shabbat observance, just as it never caused a ripple in Jewish observance of any other part of the Torah or the normative halachah of the day.

But even if Gentile Christianity intended to lift Shabbat as a unit and move it over by about twenty-four hours, that wasn’t the end result. As Rabbi Twersky’s commentary tells us, an observant Jew’s response to Shabbat is quite a bit different than how a Christian spends his or her time on Sunday.

According to, there are thirty-nine melachot or forms of work that are prohibited to a Jewish person on Shabbos. Besides just the raw list presented at that site, how they are interpreted adds to the understanding of what must be avoided. From a Christian point of view, it all seems terribly restrictive and burdensome, and most Gentile believers having read such a list no doubt would rejoice in their “freedom in Christ.”

shabbat-candle-lightingBut our “holy day” isn’t all that holy if we don’t actually set it apart by behaving and even speaking differently.

I’ve discussed this with my Pastor and he believes the Ten Commandments, which includes the commandment to observe Shabbat, have universal applications. However, he does not believe that the day of the week is strictly fixed. I’m not sure what his rationale is for such a belief. He is usually very exact in his thinking and his attitude about Shabbat seems a little “fluid.”

I know that most Jewish people would deny that there is any direct command from God to the Gentile believers to observe Shabbos, especially in the manner of the Jewish people. There are some Gentiles who believe they are commanded and, in some manner or fashion, they do observe Shabbat. I don’t believe there are many who do so exactly like a modern, Orthodox Jew, and I’ve had a conversation with one Gentile believer who observes the Shabbat but who told me he retains the right to not make it burdensome (for instance, he feels free to turn light switches on and off, drive his car, use elevators, and so forth).

I used to keep a “sort of” Shabbat, but it was nowhere near the level of observance of most religious Jews. My wife is Jewish and, sad to say, not particularly observant (for the moment…I’m hoping that will change), and so in our household we don’t have much of a Shabbat. If I have the opportunity, I try to spend most of my day reading the Bible or related texts but if the situation calls for it (including the “honey-do list” situation), I can be found violating quite a few of the melachot.

But I think there is something special about setting aside one day of the week as Holy to God and dedicating ourselves to observing that day, to using the time to draw closer to God and to withdraw somewhat from the world around us.

I can’t imagine the Messianic age not including a Shabbat observance for all of the disciples of Messiah. It would seem strange at that point to segregate such observance by Jewish and Gentile populations and, after all, even the Gentile nations will be commanded to observe Sukkot and to send representatives to Jerusalem.

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate Sukkot. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate Sukkot. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate Sukkot.

Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

I replaced the phrase “the Festival of Booths” with “Sukkot” in the above-quoted passage to emphasize the nature of what is being commemorated. “Festival of Booths” somehow puts a “Christian spin” on what is quite obviously Jewish.

And yet, the nations are commanded to commemorate Sukkot in Messianic Days. So too the Shabbat?

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath
And holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”
The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
“Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:6-8 (NASB)

Shabbat candlesIt would certainly seem, based on this passage, that the nations (foreigners) who are joined to God not only will be required to observe Shabbat, but will also be allowed to pray in the Temple and to even bring sacrifices.

I’m certainly in no position to go around pointing fingers at Christians about what they do with their time on Saturday or Sunday, but I do want to suggest that some day, our rather casual attitude about Shabbat will have to change. There are many passages in the New Testament telling us that the Master will return “like a thief in the night” and that we will have no idea the day or hour of his coming back to us. We are told to be constantly be prepared and ready, day and night, for the bridegroom’s return.

“Even more than Israel has kept the Shabbos, the Shabbos has kept Israel.”

If the Master’s return comes that suddenly and unexpectedly, then our only hope of being ready is to always be ready. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for us to practice a more focused Shabbat or two before he gets here.

6 thoughts on “Being Kept By Shabbos”

  1. I was just thinking the other day about how Sundays were so different while growing up, almost everything was closed in town. I was surprised to find out recently that New Jersey still has Blue laws too!

    Sundays were far more “Shabbat like” back in the day James, especially when America was new. I say that so as to be fair, because it’s not really a historic Christian thing, but more of a modern Christian development.

    Of course it was kept Jewishly (Sarurday) as our own Christian history attests, (check Council of Nicaea for a deliberate break) and the Pax Romana issues (3 sects of sun worshipers in Rome at that time) influenced the switch too, etc. The Catholic Church claims they “changed it” and that they had every right to do so! Peter being the Pope and all… 🙂

    But we had ecumenical councils that cut a path too…

    “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s Day they shall especially honor, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.” Catholic Church Council in Laodicea, 364AD, Canon 29.

    Back to America, consider: Connecticut Blue Laws from 1650 not only prevented commerce, but included: “No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from meeting; No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave on the Sabbath day; No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath; The Sabbath shall begin at sunset on Saturday.”

  2. I make an effort to explain to people that I do not “observe” or “keep” the Sabbath in my house in the traditional Jewish sense of “observing” or “keeping” the Sabbath. When mentioning it, I clarify that we “acknowledge” Shabbat by the lighting of candles and some of the prayers, with special emphasis on the blessing of the children, our two sons, Joshua and Aaron. This is very important to me, as a non-Jew, that I intentionally clarify we do not “observe Shabbat” as fully or perhaps “appropriately” as observant Jewish generations have, so as to not insult of demean the practice of those who truly “keep the Sabbath” with vim and vigor as the Jewish people have for millennia. We seem to be constantly “building” our Sabbath observance, using traditional Jewish sources for guidance, but without the lifelong customization process, our full adherence to Jewish tradition is a gradual process.

    At this time in history, it seems important, to me at least, that we non-Jews who have made decisions to move in the direction of Yeshua’s Torah-observant lifestyle, be sensitive in this regard, and not overly liken ourselves to the Jewish people who’ve been loyal to keep Torah more rigorously over the centuries with dedicated resolve in a more intensely halachic manner. Not only because I think it demeans the Jewish people who do keep the Sabbath and festivals in the traditional manner, but because it may [unintentionally] demean or otherwise diminish the Sabbath and festivals themselves if more casual, “adopted and/or christianized,” pseudo-practice is presented as “Sabbath keeping” in [obvious] comparison to Orthodox Judaism, etc.

    This is my personal view; an effort to honor the centuries of living (and dying) for the sake of keeping the Sabbath by the observant Jewish generations.

    1. @Dan Hennessy — Shavua Tov! Your desire to guard Jewish distinctiveness is commendable, but oddly enough it may not be a requirement with respect to keeping the Shabbat. In the key prophetic passage that addresses non-Jews (i.e., “b’nei nechar”) keeping the Shabbat, the term used (“shomer”) is identical to that used for Jews. Moreover, in verse 2 of this 56th chapter of Isaiah, the terms used address generic human persons and not specifically Jews, while the rest of the chapter addresses non-Jews specifically in commending those who “join themselves to HaShem” and cling tightly to His covenant. While it never demands completely identical performance or comparison with Jews, it does promise them an everlasting memorial for guarding justice and doing right because of His salvation that is drawing near and His righteousness being revealed. There is, in fact, a great deal about this chapter that would seem particularly applicable to Rav Yeshua’s non-Jewish disciples. This is not a justification for any sort of “One-Law” position, because there are other passages that outline the distinctiveness of the two segments of the “bilateral ecclesia”; but it certainly should encourage those who feel drawn toward Jewish praxis that they needn’t feel completely forbidden, excluded, or overly self-conscious about it.

  3. Over the past several years, I’ve often wondered what responsibility Gentile believers have in observing the Shabbat in some fashion. Depending on who you talk to, opinions travel the range between not at all to absolutely. The Bible is clear that in the Messianic Age, all who honor the Jewish Messiah King, Jew and Gentile alike, will keep the Shabbat. Gentiles will even be able to worship and offer sacrifices at the Third Temple in Jerusalem. It is also said that Messiah will teach Torah (which he did in his first coming), so I believe all of the “mysteries” about worship, observance, and obedience that we puzzle over today will be resolved by him. The question of how or if Gentiles are to observe certain of the mitzvot will be answered. We will only have to decide if we will choose to obey what the Messiah teaches upon his return and reign.

  4. I was planning to reply to a comment from someone calling himself “Gideon” that I received in email, but it seems to have been removed from the blog, possibly due to its bad grammar and its intemperate references to “you Jews”. He seemed to believe that “we Jews” were being remiss about rebuilding HaShem’s temple, and yet that we were unduly critical of what he deemed an acceptable Christian alternative to our Sabbath. Obviously he is ignorant of the history underlying Jewish antipathy toward the Christian pseudo-sabbath and Christianity’s age-old guilt for invalidating the biblical sabbath observed by Jews. Likewise he seems ignorant of the political forces that still prevent “us Jews” from even entering the Temple Mount area, let alone committing the “crime” of praying there. We are still constrained to the western wall areas below the temple mount. I just participated in the 19th annual night-time march around the walls and gates of Jerusalem that commemorates the ninth of Av and the destruction of both of the ancient temples (and numerous other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people on that date). Given the speeches presented that night by representatives of several kinds of Israeli Jewish authorities (both secular and rabbinic), “we Jews” clearly would like to rebuild the temple at the earliest opportunity. May we soon see the achievement of political conditions that allow such hopes to be realized. However, it is not beyond possibility that we might resolve disputes about keeping the Shabbat even sooner.

  5. I briefly approved the comment you’re referring to PL, but then felt it was unfair to Gideon and everyone else to allow his comments to “see the light of day” on my blog, so I removed. Sorry for the confusion.

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