When is the Sabbath Day? What is to be done on the Sabbath Day? Is the Sabbath Day even relevant for Christians today? These are all questions that may arise with this controversial issue. Some say it is no longer relevant. Others say it remains to be binding. The bible reveals that the Sabbath was never changed or discarded by Yeshua or His Apostles. Of those that believe in honoring the Sabbath, many today disagree on what is “lawful” and what is “unlawful” on the Sabbath Day. The commandment of the Sabbath is explained in scripture as ceasing from your own work and resting, not buying or selling, etc and remains in effect today though it isn’t honored by a vast majority of the inhabitants of the earth. This is the Old Testament understanding. In the New Testament Yeshua gives us a greater understanding and a greater perspective on what it means to keep the Sabbath along with the higher purpose of God’s law. Yeshua tried to give us clues into the concept and law of “mercy,” “love” and “compassion” again and again in His teachings, even during Sabbath times. There is one teaching that significantly stands out in the book of Matthew in this regard, where Yeshua was allowing His disciples to pluck corn on the Sabbath because they were hungry. The Pharisees saw this as disobeying the Sabbath and Yeshua quickly corrected them:
“At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” ~ Matthew 12:1-12
In a similar teaching:
“And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” ~ Luke 13:14-16
The wisdom of this teaching can be found in the details. Notice that this “work” of the disciples picking corn was not because Yeshua decided he wanted to harvest the corn, rather they were “hungry”, and it was customary and commanded in God’s law for the farmers to leave a portion of their crop unharvested for the poor so they could pick it and eat it. Yeshua had compassion on them and permitted them to eat. Also note- Yeshua wasn’t eating or plucking, rather he allowed the disciples to do it out of His mercy. We know that the Sabbath Day was commanded by God’s law. Yeshua began his explanation to the Pharisees by referring to King David and a time where he was running for his life, and he too was hungry and ate of the holy showbread of the temple which was “unlawful” according to the Law of Moses. The law states that the holy showbread is only to be eaten by the Levitical priests serving in the temple. Realize that David at the time was on the run from King Saul who sought to kill him. Ahimelech the priest had compassion for David and his hunger, questioned David whether he was pure from women (hadn’t had sexual relations with a women recently), making him a “pure vessel” for this holy bread, and gave him the holy showbread to take and eat. Yeshua indicates that David and the priest were blameless in doing this. Recognize, David was not king at the time; rather he was a fugitive in need of mercy and compassion. Some assume that David was King at the time and just chose to eat this forbidden bread, blatantly disobeying God’s law. This was not the case at all. This was a case of compassion for a hungry fugitive which you will soon see, occurred not even on the Sabbath, rather early in the week. Here is the scriptural account:
“Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee? And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place. Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present. And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women. And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel. So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the Lord, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.” ~ 1 Samuel 21:1-6
Notice the situation- there was no other bread there to feed David except for the holy Showbread. This appears to be an act of mercy and compassion on the priest’s part. The priest would later pay for this act of compassion with his own life, and the life of over 60 other priests at the hand of King Saul. What is more significant about Yeshua’s reference to this story is the day that this occurred. To find the day that David ate of the showbread, we must consider the previous chapter – 1 Samuel 20:
“And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, to morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.” ~ 1 Samuel 20:5
“Then Jonathan said to David, To morrow is the new moon: and thou shalt be missed, because thy seat will be empty. And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.” ~ 1 Samuel 20:18-19
You can see here that David fled before the regular new moon celebration that took place at the King’s court new moon day. In reading this account in 1 Samuel 20, Jonathan (King Saul’s son) and David conspire to meet on the third day from the new moon. This testimony also reveals that this in fact happened as planned, and Jonathan and David met up on the third day from the new moon, also known as the third day of the month.
“And it came to pass in the morning, that Jonathan went out into the field at the time appointed with David, and a little lad with him.” ~ 1 Samuel 20:35
Immediately after this meeting between David and Jonathan, David then goes to the priest to find food as he was hungry, probably starving. He had been hiding for three days and this indicates he probably hadn’t eaten during these three days, or had mere scraps to eat. We know that he went into hiding immediately prior to the new moon. It was this third day that David met with Jonathan, and it was the third day of the month that David entered the tabernacle to get the showbread.
“And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel. So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the Lord, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.” ~ 1 Samuel 21:5-6
Nowhere does this say that this was the Sabbath Day. According to the account, Jonathan went out to meet with David this third day and as a cover and signal to David, he was shooting his bow and arrow along with a young “lad” who was to retrieve his arrows (which would have gone against Sabbath laws). Because of this it is highly improbable that this was a Sabbath, as Jonathan would be breaking God’s law with these actions. Also according to a lunar Sabbath system, this would have been in the early part of the week. Regardless, this indicates that this account didn’t even occur on Sabbath, yet Yeshua uses this account to explain mercy on the Sabbath to the Pharisees. There is a much greater teaching from Yeshua in Matthew 12 than just what is lawful and unlawful for the Sabbath Day. He is telling us that love, compassion and mercy for our brother is lawful no matter what day it is. He also reveals to us that love, compassion and mercy for our brother is lawful no matter what law may be infringed upon in cases where one demonstrates true hardship or need for mercy and compassion, as indicated in the breaking of the law of the showbread. He demonstrates the prevalence of the two greatest commandments of God- Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. He reveals how the commandments of love truly are the most important and greatest of them all. Though they don’t delete the other laws, they are simply the greatest and most important of the laws. This teaching of love, compassion and mercy was missed by the Pharisees and the Old Testament Israelites, and is even still missed today by many. Please know, this was not a license to break God’s law of the Sabbath at all and at no time did Yeshua dissolve the law of the Sabbath or any other law. Rather he upheld the law of the Sabbath and brought all matters of law to a higher standard, and was about his duties serving the brethren as our new and final high priest. He declared that not one part or piece, jot or tittle of the law would pass away until heaven and earth passed away. In Matthew 12, He revealed to the Pharisees His Priestly status when he said:
“Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?” ~ Matthew 12:
The Levitical priests performed intensive labor on the Sabbath, as they were responsible for maintaining all of the sacrifices of the animals among other things. We know that labor was not permitted on the Sabbath, yet because Yahweh commanded the priests to perform these tasks, they were blameless before Him. In other words, their sin in this case was not imputed to them because they were obeying God’s orders. Yeshua, our high priest was also doing what the Father had shown him to do as he ministered with love, mercy and compassion towards all men no matter what day it was. He was fulfilling the orders of the Father. According to Matthew 12, we are commanded by Yeshua to “do well” on the Sabbath, as it is lawful. This was His order for us. This was his teaching that brought us a greater understanding of our Creator. What does it mean to do well? This term can be found throughout the bible beginning in the example where the Lord spoke to Cain prior to his murdering of Abel:
“And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” ~ Genesis 4:6-7
“Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God.” ~ Deuteronomy 12:28
“And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” ~ 1 Kings 10:30
“Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” ~ Isaiah 1:17
The term “doing well”, is equated to obeying God, hearing his words and commandments and doing them, doing what is good and right in the sight of God, seeking judgment, relieving the oppressed, helping the orphan and the widow. These are the things that please the Father. Notice in the account of Cain that if we “doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” Sin means to disobey God’s law. Doing well means to obey God’s law and commandments, including His commandments of constant love and mercy for our neighbor. We are taught to have compassion for our fellow man, which is a constant call to action. If a man is in need, in trouble, hungry, thirsty, hurt or injured, sick, etc. we are to help them according to the law of Yahweh no matter what day this falls on, and no matter who it is- friend or enemy, rich or poor, respected or despised. This doesn’t delete the Sabbath Day, but it teaches us priority every day. If we are to be Kings and Priests one day, we must do the work of Kings and Priests today which involves complete service, and wise and righteous judgment. What a tremendous teaching Yeshua entrusted us with in this text in Matthew 12. It remains unlawful to do our own work on the Sabbath, but it is lawful to do God’s work and His will expressed in love, compassion and mercy for our neighbor every day. We pray that we all will choose to do our best in this difficult time that we live in, to do well on the Sabbath Day and every day.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me……Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” ~ Matthew 25:34-36, 45