The Bible’s View
What Sabbath Should You Keep?
AFTER being freed from Egyptian slavery, the Israelites were instructed to keep a weekly Sabbath. That Sabbath fell on the seventh day of the week, beginning at sundown on Friday and ending at sundown on Saturday. What was the purpose of the law requiring Sabbath observance? Is this the Sabbath that we today should keep?
Sabbath observance was first imposed upon the Israelites in connection with the miraculous provision of manna. On the sixth day, the people were to gather enough manna to last for two days, as none would be made available on the seventh day or the Sabbath. (Ex. 16:22, 23) When the seventh day came, however, some of the people did look for manna, indicating that they were not accustomed to observing a day of rest. (Ex. 16:27) Therefore, God’s message through Moses was: “How long must you people refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? Mark the fact that Jehovah has given you the sabbath. That is why he is giving you on the sixth day the bread of two days. Keep sitting each one in his own place. Let nobody go out from his locality on the seventh day.”—Ex. 16:28, 29.
In arranging for his people to have a Sabbath, Jehovah God was acting in their interest. It gave all the people, including slaves, and even the domestic animals, a period of needed rest and refreshment. Additionally, the Sabbath was to remind the Israelites of what the Most High had done in liberating them from Egyptian bondage. During that period of oppressive slavery, the people knew no rest. God’s law stated: “The seventh day is a sabbath to Jehovah your God. You must not do any work, you nor your son nor your daughter nor your slave man nor your slave girl nor your bull nor your ass nor any domestic animal of yours nor your alien resident who is inside your gates, in order that your slave man and your slave girl may rest the same as you. And you must remember that you became a slave in the land of Egypt and Jehovah your God proceeded to bring you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why Jehovah your God commanded you to carry on the sabbath day.”—Deut. 5:14, 15.
Since Sabbath observance was to serve as a reminder of what Jehovah God had done in freeing the Israelites from Egypt, it is clear that the law about keeping a Sabbath did not exist earlier; nor had it been given to any other people. This is further confirmed at Exodus 31:16, 17, where we read: “The sons of Israel must keep the sabbath, so as to carry out the sabbath during their generations. It is a covenant to time indefinite. Between me and the sons of Israel it is a sign to time indefinite, because in six days Jehovah made the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day he rested and proceeded to refresh himself.” So, in the case of the Israelites, Sabbath observance was a visible sign or proof of the covenant relationship that they enjoyed with their God. Surely, if other peoples had been keeping such a day of rest, the Sabbath could not have served as a distinguishing sign.
Though commanding his people to keep the Sabbath, Jehovah God was more interested in their heart appreciation for the arrangement than in a perfunctory observance of a day. This he made plain through his prophet Isaiah in these words: “If in view of the sabbath you will turn back your foot as regards doing your own delights on my holy day, and will actually call the sabbath an exquisite delight, a holy day of Jehovah, one being glorified, and will actually glorify it rather than doing your own ways, rather than finding what delights you and speaking a word; you will in that case find your exquisite delight in Jehovah.”—Isa. 58:13, 14.
Note that what pleased the Most High God was not a mere refraining from work. Rather, it was a matter of setting aside the day as especially devoted to him, and, hence, concentrating on spiritual matters. The Israelites were to refrain from following their own selfish pursuits and were to find delight or pleasure in doing God’s will.
What about today? Does Jehovah God require his servants to set aside one day a week specially for him? Note what the apostle Paul wrote about observing days: “One man judges one day as above another; another man judges one day as all others; let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day observes it to Jehovah.” (Rom. 14:5, 6) These words show that in the first century C.E. Christians were under no obligation to keep any day as a Sabbath. The important thing for Christians was their doing of God’s will daily.
The Mosaic law, with its Sabbath requirements, was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It had never been binding on non-Jews and so was not imposed on persons who accepted Christianity. Hence, Christians were not to let others condemn them, to make them feel that they were sinning, on the basis of their not keeping certain days. To fellow believers at Colossae, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.”—Col. 2:16, 17.
Moreover, the apostle Paul warned the Galatian Christians against professed Christians who were trying to bring them back under the Mosaic law in various respects. He said: “How is it that you are turning back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things and want to slave for them over again? You are scrupulously observing days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that somehow I have toiled to no purpose respecting you.” (Gal. 4:9-11) To the Christianized Hebrews, Paul also wrote: “We who have exercised faith [in the Christ provided by God] do enter into the rest, just as he [God] has said.”—Heb. 4:3.
In view of this, what does Jehovah God want his people to do today? As in the case of the Israelites who were commanded to keep a weekly Sabbath law, that which pleases the Most High is the doing of all things to his honor and not the mere formalistic observance of a day of rest. (1 Cor. 10:31) Hence, we should strive to use each day in a way that will bring praise to Jehovah God.
Therefore, according to the testimony of Scripture, only the Israelites were commanded to keep the seventh day as a Sabbath. This Sabbath observance served as a sign of the covenant between Israel and Jehovah God. With Jesus Christ’s fulfilling the Law, Sabbath keeping was not imposed anew on his followers. (Rom. 7:4-6) However, by refraining from making selfish pursuits the focal point of their lives, Christians demonstrate that they recognize the importance of using their time to honor the Creator. Each day they should strive to follow God’s way, proving that they are finding pleasure in him.