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Keeping Sabbath Holy

In this post: 

As I write this, our facebook fellowship groups total over 20,000 people as we read through the entire Bible together, start to finish, in one year. This is our fourth year doing such and the group continues to grow with each cycle. It has been such an exciting time to be able to watch so many read the whole word of YHWH* for the first time! *Why do I say YHWH? Click here to learn about God’s personal name.

Some have taken this journey with us before and for each of us, no matter how many times we’ve read the Word, there have been exciting new discoveries, deeper understanding, and the added blessing of growing closer to our wonderful Father each day. One of my favorite things about the Bible is that we never stop learning from it. The Father teaches us in layers and as we grow and mature, He continues to add additional layers of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Each time we turn to His word there are new treasures to behold and new gifts to open as He draws us ever closer to Him.

However, when we start reading the Word firsthand, it is inevitable that we will find some surprises. By this point in our reading, we’ve read the words of our Creator when He said, and reiterated, that Sabbath is forever and for all the people of YHWH. We’ve seen that Messiah did not break Sabbath, but rather he broke manmade laws that had been added to Sabbath, which made it a burden rather than a delight. And we’ve read about the apostles faithfully keeping Sabbath long after Messiah ascended.

As a result, I’ve found that whenever we get to this point in our reading, there are a LOT of folks who have either started keeping Sabbath or have a strong desire to do so. For each group, there are questions. I love these questions because they come from such a deep and sincere love for our Father and desire to take part in all that He has given us.

But for most folks (including myself just a handful of years ago), this is a new thing. We weren’t raised keeping Sabbath and when we read that we are to keep it “set apart” and “holy”, we understandably wonder what that looks like. I’ve received emails, private messages, and even a postal card or two from dear brothers and sisters in the faith asking me just how one goes about keeping Sabbath. The heart of the matter is that they want to please our Father and there is a concern that they may not be doing it “right”. My hope in this article is to encourage you, give you confidence going forward, assuage your fears, and hopefully leave you even more excited about keeping YHWH’s Sabbath than you were before you read this.

This is by no means an exhaustive explanation of how to keep YHWH’s Sabbath. For a deeper understanding, the great textbook (the Bible) should be read and studied daily from start to finish. We go deeper into common questions regarding the Sabbath in our Deep Diving Bible Study so at best, this is a surface level teaching which invites you to dig deeper into the Father’s Word in order to find and follow His will.

First and foremost, as a Believer, we need to recognize who has authority over YHWH‘s Sabbath and that is, you guessed it, YHWH. He has spoken extensively about Sabbath in His word. In His generosity, He also gave us countless examples of others keeping His Sabbath and showing us how important it was to them and, consequently, to all Believers today. Further, Messiah is Lord of the Sabbath and He used this Lordship to set the example of how to keep it fully.

Let’s begin with one of the first verses about Sabbath, when YHWH set it apart and made it holy.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. ~Genesis 2:2-3

Now I want to point out that only YHWH can make something Holy. Man tries and we’ve declared things holy since the dawning of time but counterfeit holiness will never compare to the real thing. So when we read that there is one day of each week that has been set apart and declared as Holy by the Creator of the Universe, that should get us excited!

After YHWH spent the Creation week commanding all into existence, He set apart a day for rest. Did YHWH need to rest? Certainly not. He does not tire or grow weary – and I’ve personally put that to the test more times than I can count. But our Father, in His love and wisdom, sets the standard for us to follow. So after a week of working on the world, He set this day apart, blessed it and declared it holy, and rested.

What does set apart mean? To set something apart means to separate it from the common for a special purpose, to treat it with special care and reverence. It is no longer one of many but one apart from the rest, singularly special, rare and precious. When the Father set apart the tribe of Levy, He adopted them as His own, to hold a very special role with Him. Likewise, when He sets us apart, He tells us that we are to be given a name better than sons and daughters, treasured, beloved. He does not look at us as part of the world but as part of His own household, a treasured child in His eyes.

When YHWH sets something apart, it remains set apart. However, we can choose to ignore it. We can treat something set apart as common and when we do so, we do not get to partake of the gift it contains. For most of the world, Sabbath is a day of running errands and indulging self. Does that make the day less holy? No. Sabbath was instituted at the beginning of time and YHWH has declared it holy forever. Ignoring it does not make Sabbath less holy, but it does deny us of an opportunity to become more holy ourselves.

If you wrote out the full ten commandments back during our Exodus challenge to do so, you were probably surprised to find that the commandment to keep Sabbath is the longest of all commandments. It is also the only commandment that begins with the directive to “Remember” it. When does the Father tell us to remember something? When He knows we are prone to forget, just as we have. Let us read the fourth commandment:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11

The main thing to remember about Sabbath is that on this day, YHWH rested. It is all about rest. Stepping away from the world, disconnecting from the stressors and anxiety of all this world holds for us, and resting in YHWH. It reminds us that we belong to Him, that the world, no matter what it tries to tell us, has no real hold over us. We are the Father’s, and He is our God.

Is keeping Sabbath hard?

I want to assure you that keeping the Sabbath is one of the easiest things we’ve ever done. Have you ever been told that it is too hard to keep all the commandments? Think about where you heard that from because I want to point out something: God’s word says the opposite. The Father tells us time and again, in His own voice and through His son, that His yoke is light and His burden is easy (Matthew 11:30). He tells us that His commandments are not too hard for us (Deuteronomy 30:11) .

And so we have to understand that most often we are the ones who complicate things. Notice that the only place we will hear that it is hard to follow God is from sources in the world. I’ve learned that God’s word is the one I can rely on and He can always be trusted so it is important that I put my faith in His word rather than what the world tries to convince me of.

However, learning how to keep something Holy and set apart is something that will take time and study of Scripture. The closer we come to the Father the more we understand Holiness and His desire for us to be set apart people. So it will take time to understand the Sabbath and your keeping of it will no doubt evolve over that time – and that is okay. YHWH is an infinite source of wisdom and so it is to be expected that those who follow Him will never cease learning and growing in that Wisdom.

There are a lot of traditions regarding Sabbath and many of them are rooted in reverence and honor for the Father, but we have to be careful to walk after the Father and not just traditions of men. I would start by looking at how the Father says to keep Sabbath and then perhaps consider adding honoring traditions at a later date If you choose to do so.

I encourage you to look at all of the verses regarding Sabbath keeping in the Bible. God’s word is our authority and we need to start there, end there, and go back there to see if what we hear elsewhere lines up with what He says. Test everything to His word. His word is the straight edge to which all else must line up. There are records of 84 times in Acts alone of the Apostles keeping Sabbath and plenty of examples which we talk about in our Deep Diving Study of the whole Bible. Look at how Yeshua (Jesus) kept the Sabbath, what He did. Look to God’s specific instruction in Deut 5:14 and Exodus 20:8-11.

Pray, seek the Father’s will, and study His Word with regards to this. He will lead you and as you learn, and no doubt stumble a bit (as we all do), He will show you Grace because your heart is wholly after His.

Sabbath is a tremendous gift. Prepare to be amazed at all the blessings that flow from it.

Why keep the Sabbath?

It points us back to the Creator: Genesis 1-3

God/Yahweh created rest: Genesis 2:2-3

It’s the Fourth Commandment: Exodus 16 & 20

Yahweh wrote it with His own finger in stone: Exodus 16 & 20

It’s a symbol of our salvation: Exodus 31:17

We are to remember that Yahweh delivered us from sin: Deuteronomy 5:15

It remains today: Hebrews 4:9

Jesus/Yeshua is Lord of the Sabbath: Matthew 12:8

The Apostles kept the Sabbath — Recorded 85 times in Acts alone

It’s Yahweh’s seal of authority: Exodus 31:17

It’s a blessing: Revelation 22:14 (check out a few other translations besides ESV to understand this reference)

It will be kept forever: Isaiah 56:6-7; Isaiah 66:22-23

So just how do I do that? 

Remember, Sabbath is Holy. It is not to be treated as another day. Scripture prescribes that we:

But what about the man picking up sticks? Before I read the whole Bible, I had never read or heard of anyone using that story in context. It was always taken out of context and held up like a horror story to dissuade anyone from trying to keep Sabbath by way of threat of stoning if they did not do it right. If you read it in context, this is a time in which YHWH had already issued and fully explained the ten commandments. But if you read the chapters before and after this you’ll see it was a time of great rebellion among the Israelites. They were grumbling against YHWH, Moses, and their priests and directly following this incident came the great and terrible rebellion of Korah. Now, keep in mind that YHWH was still raining Manna down for them to eat during this time. They had been expressly told not to gather wood on the Sabbath and this man was out where he could be seen, doing just that. He was an Israelite and therefore he knew full well what the commandment was and yet chose to do this anyway. Again, a complete reading of the Bible, in order, makes all the difference in understanding His Word.

Questions I often get regarding how we keep Sabbath: 

Do we go out to eat on Sabbath? When we first started keeping Sabbath, we did for a time. We excused it away by saying “Well we aren’t causing them to work, they came to work of their own accord, we’re just supporting the business.” Yeah, it was an excuse and like all of our excuses to do things our way instead of YHWH’s way, it didn’t make it right. These days, if we really want to eat out, we wait until after sundown on Saturday now.

Do I cook on Sabbath? Yes. It is against some doctrine to do so but I have seen no commandment from YHWH that forbids me from preparing food for my family (once all verses are put back in context). Still, it is a different day and so we have simple meals: either leftovers, something I put in the crock pot, or sandwiches.

Do you say special prayers on Sabbath? We do say special prayers in that we thank the Father for the gift of another Sabbath. Sometimes we bless our children with what is known as the Aaronic Blessing from Numbers 6:22-27. We also like to sing the Shema, the words of our Father that Messiah Himself quoted from Deut 6:4-5. Our Jewish brethren have a beautiful ceremony for lighting Shabbat candles and saying a prayer over them and while that is a beautiful tradition, there is no scriptural compulsion to do the same.

The truth of the matter is what YHWH has given us some specific instructions for Sabbath and beyond that, He has left us the freedom of having many choices when it comes to exactly how we keep it. 

Sabbath will look different in different houses – and that is okay. The Father left lots of room for us to add in our own customs on how we honor Him on His set apart day.

Below are three examples of Sabbaths in different houses, beginning with my own.


How I keep Sabbath: 

I’ve been hesitant to tell you how we keep Sabbath because we are not the standard and we will always be learning, just as you are. I am going to offer a bit of insight into our Sabbaths but please don’t hold us up as the model. It is extremely important to me that I encourage people to follow the Father and look to Him for instruction – in everything – but most certainly in the days He has set apart and made Holy. I don’t want anyone looking to follow me or my example. Skip right over me and go straight to the top!

With that beseeching and word of encouragement, I’ll share a little of how we keep Sabbath right now.

Our Sabbath doesn’t consist of a lot of tradition. We do like to have a big family meal Friday night, set up really nice with candles and nice dishes and all, to come together as a family. We begin Sabbath on Friday evening. I try to get most of my work done by lunch on Friday so that I can spend a couple of hours Friday afternoon doing housework, cooking, and shopping for groceries if needed. Ricky tries his best to get off work an hour or two early so that he can help me and also get his ducks in a row to prepare to disconnect from the world for a bit. Among the Sabbath keeping folks you’ll find that Friday is called “Preparation Day” because most of us use this day to prepare for our Sabbath so that we can rest.

As the sun sets, we are usually sitting down for our meal and our rest from the world begins! We thank the Father for bringing us through another week, for the gift of His Sabbath, and for the wisdom He so generously shares in His Word. We have a nice slow dinner with lots of chatting and catching up with one another and afterwards Ricky and I usually head on out to the front porch with coffee to unwind. On Shabbat (Saturday) Ricky and I often get up early to have coffee and talk over our Bible studies but sometimes we sleep late. I put lunch in the crock pot and we enjoy rest, relaxation, each other’s company, and catching up on our studies. However, somedays we go sit outside in the sun and just “be”.

Most weeks we meet with our Bible study group in the late afternoon, towards evening. We all read the Bible together and we could go on reading for hours. No one ever wants to leave. It is a time of wonderful conversation, Bible study, and talking over insights. In our earlier lives as Believers we went to a traditional church on Sunday and we’d listen to a one hour sermon before heading home. Our Fellowship now consists of us reading the word with such zeal that we have read for as long as five or six hours. We now understand how that Bible study in Acts went so long that that man fell asleep and fell out the window! (Acts 20)

Do you know that feeling when you go on a vacation and you just rest and relax and unwind? We have that every single week – per the Father’s plan.

How my friend, Amy, keeps Sabbath:

“Throughout my childhood  and up until 3 years ago, I kept Sabbath on Sunday. My husband has very little interest in religion, but he LOVES the routine of having a “Fancy Friday” meal, staying home on Saturdays,  not spending any money, and spending time with family and friends.  Since I work a full time job, Thursday is preparation day at my house…laundry, groceries,  house cleaning…Our “Fancy Friday” meal consists of table cloth, 2 candles, our nice dishes, and a home-cooked meal…whatever my husband requests. Saturdays are back porch visits with family and friends,  canoeing down Big Wills Creek, ATV rides, hiking, arrowhead hunting, and other outdoor activities.  We usually have plenty of leftovers from the “Fancy Friday” meal to offer our guests.”

 

How my friends, John and Bev, keep Sabbath:

Mark 10:16 says, speaking of Jesus, “And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.” In my life participating in God’s Sabbath is not unlike being a child who is resting in the security and contentment of a loving father’s (or grandfather’s) arms. No anxiety, no worry, no thought for tomorrow. Just perfect peace! 

For my wife and I Sabbath usually begins with preparation on Friday. Some forethought and work to put things in place that will allow us to be free from distraction and routine chores during that 24 hour period beginning at sundown Friday evening. Once the sun sets we might sound the shofar to mark the arrival of shabbat or we may just ease into it as we sit and discuss our day. Occasionally we gather with friends for dinner and discussion but most often it is just the two of us unwinding. We will do our nightly Bible reading before calling it a night. Sabbath morning usually means a morning of guilt free sleeping in for Bev. Once she is up she will spend quiet time in scripture while drinking her coffee. As an early riser for me it is time to spend in prayer, scripture reading, scripture writing, singing hymns and putting my own thoughts on paper without the hindrance of feeling I need to be “doing something productive”. It is time spent in His presence and it is a delight for me! The afternoon and evening are usually spent at a home fellowship group eating, talking, singing, sharing prayer needs and praises from the week as well as time reading scripture and discussing it. As the sun sets we typically will head home and wrap up the day again with our nightly bible reading. Dishes and other chores will usually wait until morning. The delight of this day is not in the particular activities we do,. Rather, it is in the freedom to step away from the hustle and bustle of life and enter into the presence of our loving Father with His full permission, and yes, even His expectation. It is a weekly “attitude adjustment” which reminds us who is God and that our faith is in Him and nothing else in this world. In a word, a BLESSING! 

My friend, Margie’s, wisdom on Sabbath:

A wise friend, Miss Margie, said that the best way to start keeping Sabbath is to look at how Christians treated Sunday a hundred years ago. At that time, most stores did not open at all on Sunday. People got up early, went to worship, and then came home and had a simple lunch. They had a day of rest and did not do housework, yard work, or any other type of work that could be put off. Over time, we’ve melded more and more into the ways of the world and now even though many keep the first day of the week as their own personal version of sabbath, they still do not keep it according to YHWH’s instructions regarding His Sabbath.

These are just three examples. If you are a Sabbath keeper, I invite you to share what Sabbath looks like at your house in the comments below. 

Learning to keep Sabbath is a process. We actually struggled for a while, learning how to rest with no guilt or wishing to do work as we were so accustomed to using Saturday as our catch up day around the house. But once we settled into Him and allowed ourself to adjust to partaking of His wisdom over our own, Sabbath became the day we look forward to the most. Very few Sabbaths have gone by that we haven’t had the conversation of “How did we ever live without this?”. We weren’t designed to live without a weekly Sabbath rest and so once we begin honoring the Sabbath as YHWH commands, many of our struggles fall away and blessings that had just been waiting for the fertile ground to grow in, sprout up around us.

I want to encourage you, though, to remain steadfast in your earnest desire to follow the Father. Let Him convict you and let your convictions grow each day. You will receive discouragement from unexpected sources but remember the encouragement of Paul to new Believers who were receiving the same discouragement when they began keeping God’s appointed feasts and obeying the commandments which people at that time saw as “becoming Jewish”.

 “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” Col 2:16 And trust me, judgement will be forthcoming, swift, and sometimes harsh.

But I’ll take judgement of the world over judgement of the Father any day. 

If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed, I’m going to share my quick start guide to keeping Sabbath. These are just a few suggestions from me to give you a jumping off point so that you can keep Sabbath this week if you like (glory to the King!):

Christy’s Quick Start Guide To Keeping Sabbath

1. Unplug from the news, your phone, and the tv. These are not Biblically requirements, although many choose to do them and treat them as if they are. Why? Because there is wisdom in that. We are connected to the world 24/7 and Sabbath is a time to cut those ties and remind ourselves who we really belong to.

2. Make it a special, set apart time. Do a whirlwind house cleaning BEFORE, even if you only have fifteen minutes to do so. Set the table a bit nicer. Light some candles. Make a special meal.

3. Acquire “Sabbath Vision”. On Sabbath, overlook all work that needs to be done. It will wait. Dirty dishes can remain dirty for twelve hours and be just fine. Laundry can be done another day. CUT THE ROPE BINDING YOU TO THE WORLD.

4. Don’t do your regular work (think your daily grind job) and don’t cause others to work on your behalf as described in Exodus 20. This means not eating in restaurants or shopping. This is a day to relax and enjoy family, life, and time with the Father.

5. Delight in the Sabbath! No matter what is going on around you, this is a pocket of time, a divine appointment made by the Father with us at the very beginning of creation in Genesis 2. He has always been here, waiting for us, each week for this special time with Him. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never met Him there before, He’s still waiting. No judgement, no harsh “Where have you been?”. You are the prodigal and He is the Father with open arms ready to celebrate your return.

We always need Sabbath. It is a gift from the Father, we just have to open it. 

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God..”

-Hebrews 4:9

The Bible begins in Genesis and so does this study. If you are new here, please click here to begin in Genesis.