Since God’s people are commanded to observe (do) the sabbath forever (Ex. 31:13), what then should we be doing on each weekly sabbath? Many different opinions abound, not only among the various groups of Messiah believers, but within the ranks of Judaism as well.

Since we are looking to the Bible as our source of rule and practice, a good place to start would be to do a word search on “sabbath”, and note places where practices, exhortations, and cautions are described. In doing so, we find some valuable instruction on how to make use of this sacred time each week in the void of our normal daily activities. Some summary definitions (in parentheses) from the Strong’s dictionary are included for expanding the meaning of some of the ideals:

Positive principles:

  • Keep (guard, put a hedge around) it: Ex. 31, Deut. 5
  • Remember it (mark it so as to keep it recognized, mention it): Ex. 20
  • Hallow (make clean, consecrate) the sabbath: Jer. 17:21-22
  • Keep it holy, sanctify it (purified, set apart): Ex. 20, Deut. 5
  • Remember past slavery (mark it so as to keep it recognized, mention it) and that the Lord God brought you out: Deut. 5
  • Rest and be refreshed: Lev. 23, Ex. 31
  • Participate in a holy “convocation” (a “miqra”, which is a called-out public meeting or assembly and reading; a rehearsal): Lev. 23
  • Sing, play (stringed) instruments: Ps. 92
  • Delight (be soft, pliable) yourself in the Lord: Isa. 58
  • Worship (prostrate, bow down, do reverence) Isa. 66:23
  • Read scripture (Lev. 23; Luke 4:16), read Moses (Acts 15:21), read Moses, prophets, share gospel (Acts 13:27, 42)

Sabbath conduct exemplified for us in our relations with others:

By Yeshua

  • Demonstrate mercy, not sacrifice: Matt. 12
  • Teach: Mark 6:2 (and many others)
  • Heal, (“work” by helping, demonstrating mercy) Matt 12:13, John 5:9, 5:17, 9:15

By disciples and Paul

  • Witness [even out of the way] Acts 16:13, reasoning, persuade others Acts 18:4

Cautionary principles:

  • do not go out to get food: Ex. 16:29
  • do no work (employment, labor for hire): Ex. 20, Lev 23, Deut 5, Jer 17
  • do not pollute, defile (break, dissolve, wound) the sabbath: Ex. 31, Isa. 56
  • do not kindle a fire (see notes below): Ex. 35:3
  • do not buy (take, accept, receive) food (grain, corn) or merchandise (wares), do not tread wine presses, bring in, load beasts of burden (for selling): Neh. 10:31, 13:15-21, Jer. 17
  • do not do (any part of) evil (moral badness, affliction): Isa. 56:2
  • do not do your own way (course of life, mode of action), nor find your own pleasure (desires, purpose, matters), nor speak your own idle words: Isa. 58
This list is by no means exhaustive (for example, many more examples of teaching and doing good to others could be listed). However, the principles contained herein can provide a foundation for your own further refinement in study and practice. I believe it is imperative that the legalism of sabbath observance be avoided at all cost, while sincere obedience to the simplicity of the instruction be maintained with a pure heart.
On kindling a fire
This command at first glance appears to restrict kindling any type of flame on the sabbath. From this surface understanding, many prohibitions have arisen within Judaism and even carried over to some believers in Messiah as well.
However, I believe the immediate context assists us in understanding the intent of this command:
(Exo 35:2-3 KJV) (2) Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. (3) Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.
In this context of work, I believe the command not to kindle a fire relates to two specific things: fires that would be needed for cooking, and also in the production of labor or employment.
As it relates the fires of cooking, the process of cooking food in the wilderness would be equivalent to our modern day camping experiences; it can be a very involved process, especially without the modern conveniences we have to assist us.
It would also relate to fires needed for work. This would be more specifically the work needed in the construction of the Tabernacle with which the Israelites were preparing to be engaged in at the time. There would be fires needed for all of the smelting of metals needed for the structure and fixtures of the Tabernacle, along with and jewelry and apparel of the priests. This commandment would force the Israelites to take a day of rest from all of the preparations needed for the construction of the Tabernacle.

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