Friday, November 27, 2015

What are the Sabbaths of the Old Testament?

Studying the Sabbaths of the Old Testament might seem like an odd question, but knowing the Sabbaths, and the customs that the Jews had behind them helps to clarify the gospels, which themselves have many references to these special Sabbaths. In the purposes of God, he deemed these Sabbaths important enough to go over several times, and we study them being observed during the Old Testament times, spectacularly so, particularly when Israel was undergoing a period of revival.

Perhaps the average Christian is aware of but one Sabbath, but the Bible presents many more. Several times I have found Chafer referring to the fifteen Sabbaths of the Old Testament, but I have not found him listing those fifteen anywhere, so I am sticking with the ten obvious Sabbaths the Bible presents, and then will follow those up with two more that do not quite fit the formula, but which were both probably treated as Sabbath days by the Israelites.

God presents the list of the original Sabbaths in two places: Leviticus and Numbers. Presenting them he usually gives three descriptions of them. The name Sabbath is often given to each, but not always. Secondly, it is referred to as a “holy convocation”. And third, the command is given that “you shall do no work”. All three go together and show that God was very insistent about the holiness of these Sabbaths. I will list the ten Sabbaths first, and then I have two that do not perfectly fit these definitions, so I will discuss the eleventh and twelfth Sabbath days last.

1. The seventh day of the week
This is the most common Sabbath, and the one Christians sometimes assume to be the only Sabbath. All three characteristics listed above are used to describe it. It commemorates the seventh day of Creation, when God rested.
1). Called Sabbath
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.
Deuteronomy 5:12
2). Told to rest
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.
Leviticus 23:3
3). Holy convocation
Same verse as above

2. and 3. The Feast of Unleavened Bread
This feast starts the day after Passover and is a week long, with Sabbath days being on the first day and the last day.
1) Not called Sabbath
The name Sabbath is not applied to either the Passover or any of the days of the feast.
2.) Told to rest
In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:7
But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:8
3.) Holy convocation
Same verses as above

4. The Feast of Weeks (also called First Fruits)
This feast is to observe the Lord who provides the harvest.
On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Feast of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Numbers 28:26)
1). Not called Sabbath
2). Told to rest (same verse)
3). Holy convocation is in the words “sacred assembly”. Also holy convocation in:
And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
Leviticus 23:21

5. and 6. The Feast of Trumpets
This feast may be a commemoration of the return of Christ, and ends with the all-important Day of Atonement. There are two Sabbath days observed, on the first day, and the Day of Atonement.
1). Called Sabbath
(First day)
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.
Leviticus 23:24
(Day of Atonement)
It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.
Leviticus 23:32
2). Told to rest
(First day)
Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.
Leviticus 23:25
(Day of Atonement)
And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God.
Leviticus 23:28
3). Called a holy convocation
Leviticus 23:24 (above)

7. and 8. The Feast of Booths (also referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles)

In this feast, the Israelites were to go outside of their city and were to build booths. There are two Sabbaths associated with this feast, the first and the last day.
1). Called Sabbath
(First day)
Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
Leviticus 23:39
(Last day)
Same verse
2). Told to rest
(First day)
On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:35
(Last day)
Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:36
3). Called a holy convocation
(same verses as above)

9. The Sabbath Year
But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the LORD. (Leviticus 25:4)
1). Called a Sabbath
(verse above)
2). Told to give rest to the land
(verse above
3). Not called holy convocation

10. The Year of Jubilee
Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. (Leviticus 25:9, 10)
The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. (Lev. 25:11) (This was to be the year of rest for the land.)
1). Not specifically called a Sabbath
2). Rest to the land
Leviticus 25:11
3). Holy convocation is not used. (Maybe because a year was not to be a convocation?), but holy is used.
For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.
Leviticus 25:12

Before I comment further on the Sabbaths, there are two more to add to the list. The first is the Passover. Passover is unusual in that it specifically is not called a Sabbath (in the Old Testament), neither is it a day of rest, or a holy convocation. I believe that the day itself, a commemoration of the day that the Israelites began to leave Egypt, did not lend itself to any of these special marks of a Sabbath. The Israelite was told to, “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's Passover” (Exodus 12:11). The day itself commemorates a time when the Israelites had to flee the Egypt presence, a time when the hand of God has gloriously delivered them, but a time when they had to run. It did not lend itself to being called a day of rest. Neither does it lend itself to being called a holy convocation, since the Lamb was to be eaten in haste, while each family was home. Perhaps it is not called a Sabbath for the same reason, though it is evident from a study of the gospels that this day was so commemorated.

The Passover is a picture of the Paschal Lamb being sacrificed for us, as the very moments, centuries later, that the Israelites were to be killing the Passover Lambs, our Christ was giving himself to be crucified on the cross. Interestingly, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which follows Passover the next day, is not called a Sabbath either, though the gospels again present it as a high and holy Sabbath day. These two days are the only days to occur next to each other, symbolizing I think the days that Christ was to spend buried in the earth.

Besides the Feast of Unleavened Bread, there is one more Sabbath to be considered, The Feast of Purim. Like some of the other feasts, Sabbath is not used to describe it, but it is a time when the Jews were given rest. It is the feast of Esther, a time to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from their enemies, and came much later in the history of the Jewish people. It is described thus, “On the thirteenth day of the month Adar; and on the fourteenth day of the same rested they, and made it a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews that were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day thereof, and on the fourteenth thereof; and on the fifteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness” (Esther 9:17,18). Thus it fits the definition of a Sabbath, being a feast, and being told to “rest” all three days of the feast.

During my next post, I will try to discuss more fully the meaning of these feasts and try to make some sense of what they might mean to us as Christians today.