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”
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 Chabad.org, 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.”
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)
It 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.