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Smith's Bible Dictionary

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Sabbath. (Hebrew, shabbath). "A day of rest", from shabath, "to cease to do to," "to rest"). The name is applied to divers great festivals, but principally and usually to the seventh day of the week, the strict observance of which is enforced, not merely in the general Mosaic code, but in the Decalogue itself. The consecration of the Sabbath was coeval with the creation.

The first scriptural notice of it, though it is not mentioned by name, is to be found in Genesis 2:3, at the close of the record of the six days creation. There are not wanting, indirect evidences of its observance, as the intervals between Noah's sending forth the birds out of the ark, an act naturally associated with the weekly service, Genesis 8:7-12, and in the week of a wedding celebration, Genesis 29:27-28, but when a special occasion arises, in connection with the prohibition against gathering manna on the Sabbath, the institution is mentioned as one already known. Exodus 16:22-30.

And that this, all of which confirmed by the great antiquity of the division of time into weeks, and the naming the days after the sun, moon and planets, was especially one of the institutions adopted by Moses from the ancient patriarchal usage, is implied in the very words of the law, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." But even if such evidence were wanting, the reason of the institution would be a sufficient proof. It was to be a joyful celebration of God's completion of his creation. It has indeed been said that Moses gives quite a different reason for the institution of the Sabbath, as a memorial of the deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Deuteronomy 5:15. The words added in Deuteronomy are a special motive for the joy, with which the Sabbath should be celebrated, and for the kindness which extended its blessings to the slave and the beast of burden as well as to the master: "that thy man servant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou." Deuteronomy 5:14.

These attempts to limit the ordinance, proceed from an entire misconception of its spirit, as if it were a season of stern privation, rather than of special privilege. But in truth, the prohibition of work is only subsidiary to the positive idea of joyful rest and recreation, in communion with Jehovah, who himself "rested and was refreshed." Exodus 31:17. Compare Exodus 23:12. It is in Exodus 16:23-29, that we find the first incontrovertible institution of the day, as one given to and to be kept, by the children of Israel. Shortly afterward, it was re-enacted in the Fourth Commandment. This beneficent character of the Fourth Commandment is very apparent in the version of it which we find in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

The law and the Sabbath are placed upon the same ground, and to give rights to classes that would otherwise have been without such - to the bondman and bondmaid may, to the beast of the field - is viewed here as their main end. "The stranger," too, is comprehended in the benefit. But the original proclamation of it in Exodus, places it on a ground which, closely connected, no doubt, with these others is yet higher and more comprehensive. The divine method of working and rest is there propose to work and to rest time, then to man as the model after which presented a perfect whole; it is most important to remember that the Fourth Commandment is not limited to a mere enactment respecting one day, but prescribes the due distribution of a week, and enforces the six days' work as much as the seventh day's rest.

This higher ground of observance was felt to invest the Sabbath with a theological character, and rendered it, the great witness for faith, in a personal and creating God. It was to be a sacred pause in the ordinary labo,r which man earns his bread; the curse, the fall was to be suspended for one and, having spent that day in joyful remembrance of God's mercies, man had a fresh start in his course of labor. A great snare, too, has always been hidden in the word 'work', as if the commandment forbade occupation and imposed idleness. The terms in the commandment show plainly enough, the sort of work which is contemplated - servile work and business. The Pentateuch presents us with, but three applications of the general principle - Exodus 16:29; Exodus 35:3; Numbers 15:32-36.

The reference of Isaiah to the Sabbath gives us no details. The references in Jeremiah and Nehemiah show that carrying goods for sale, and buying such, were equally profanations of the day. A consideration of the spirit of the law, and of Christ's comments on it, will show that it is work for worldly gain, that was to be suspended; and hence, the restrictive clause is prefaced with the restrictive command. "Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work;" for so only could the sabbatic rest be fairly earned. Hence, too, the stress constantly laid on permitting the servant and beast of burden to share the rest which selfishness would grudge to them.

Thus the spirit of the Sabbath was joy, refreshment and mercy, arising from remembrance of God's goodness as Creator, and as the Deliverer from bondage. The Sabbath was a perpetual sign and covenant, and the holiness of the day is connected with the holiness of the people; "that ye may know that I am Jehovah that doth sanctify you." Exodus 31:12-17; Ezekiel 20:12. Joy was the key-note of their service. Nehemiah commanded the people, on a day holy to Jehovah "Mourn not, nor weep: eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared." Nehemiah 8:9-13.

The Sabbath is named as a day of special worship in the sanctuary. Leviticus 19:30; Leviticus 26:2. It was proclaimed as a holy convocation. Leviticus 23:3. In later times, the worship of the sanctuary was enlivened by sacred music. Psalms 68:25-27; Psalms 150:1; etc. On this day, the people were accustomed to consult their prophets, 2 Kings 4:23, and to give to their children, that instruction in the truths recalled to memory by the day, which is so repeatedly enjoined as the duty of parents; it was "the Sabbath of Jehovah," not only in the sanctuary, but "in all their dwellings." Leviticus 23:3.

When we come to the New Testament, we find the most marked stress laid on the Sabbath. In whatever ways the Jew might err respecting it, he had altogether ceased to neglect it. On the contrary, wherever he went, its observance became the most visible badge of his nationality. Our Lord's mode of observing the Sabbath was one of the main features of his life, which his Pharisaic adversaries meet eagerly watched and criticized. They had invented many prohibitions respecting the Sabbath, of which we find nothing in the original institution. Some of these prohibitions were fantastic and arbitrary, in the number of those "heavy burdens and grievous to be borne," while the latter expounders of the law "laid on men's shoulders." Compare Matthew 12:1-13; John 5:10.

That this perversion of the Sabbath had become very general in our Saviour's time, is apparent both from the recorded objections to acts of his on that day, and from his marked conduct on occasions to which those objections were sure to be urged. Matthew 12:1-16; Mark 3:2; Luke 6:1-5; Luke 13:10-17; John 6:2-18; John 7:23; John 9:1-34. Christ's words do not remit the duty of keeping the Sabbath, but only deliver it from the false methods of keeping, which prevented it from bestowing upon men, the spiritual blessings it was ordained to confer.

Bibliography Information
Smith, William, Dr. Entry for 'Sabbath'. Smith's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​sbd/​s/sabbath.html. 1901.
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