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Bible verses about Annual Sabbaths
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Leviticus 23:1-3

This opening shot reveals two very important principles to begin our quest to find out how to keep the holy days.

The first, repeated twice in one verse, is that these festivals are God's feasts, not Israel's, not the church's. He is their Source, He set the times, He gave them meaning, and He is their ultimate Object. We could say they are all about Him—and His plan and our part in it with Him. Our observance of these days is to focus on Him and His teaching, and with that comes wonderful spiritual and physical benefits.

The second principle appears in the command to "proclaim [them] to be holy convocations." These divinely appointed times are set apart for calling together. In today's language, a primary purpose of the feasts of God is to bring God's people together, not just for fellowship, but also for instruction and most importantly, to honor and worship God Himself. These holy times, then, contain a vitally important corporate aspect, producing unity in purpose, doctrine, and relationships within the Body of Christ.

The next verse, Leviticus 23:3, presents a third important principle: "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings." Along with the weekly Sabbath, the seven annual holy days—the first and last days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Hag Hamatzot), Pentecost (Shavuot, also called the Feast of Weeks or the Feast of Harvest), the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, also called the Fast), the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth), and the eighth day (often called the Last Great Day)—are also Sabbaths.

Like Sabbaths, they are holy convocations, as can be seen in the ensuing instructions. In most cases, the wording is that the holy day "is a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it" (see Leviticus 23:7-8, 21, 24-25, 35-36). This means that we are not to attend to our normal, weekday work—the kinds of activities that we do on the other six days of the week. This includes not only our paying jobs, but also the ordinary work that we would do around the house, on our cars, in our yards, at the local community center, etc.

In the instructions for keeping the Feast of Unleavened Bread, though, God stipulates, "No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you" (Exodus 12:16). Feasting is part of the holy day experience. God wants us to eat and drink of the abundance that He has bestowed upon us in thanksgiving and joy on His appointed times, so He allows us to prepare food on the holy days. Even so, it is still better to prepare as much of the food beforehand, as on a weekly Sabbath, to get the most from the feasts.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
How Do We Keep God's Festivals?


 

Leviticus 23:11

The question is, which Sabbath do we need to isolate to arrive at the correct date for Pentecost? The Sabbath we choose to begin the count is significant, or else we could arbitrarily decide to count from any Sabbath. Confusion would be the result. Even though the Old Testament instruction seems ambiguous on this point, it is reasonable to conclude that, since the counting instructions given in Leviticus 23:11, 15 and Deuteronomy 16:9 are given in relation to the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost, the Sabbaths of Unleavened Bread are significant. Because Unleavened Bread is seven days long, one and only one weekly Sabbath, with its varying date, will always fall within it. If we were to deny this link between Unleavened Bread and when the count to Pentecost begins, God's counting instructions become unusable. Everyone could do what is "right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25), and confusion and division would result.

Although the wavesheaf is normally offered during the Days of Unleavened Bread, the connecting link between the wavesheaf and Unleavened Bread is the Sabbath. The Sabbath day is the sign between God and His people (Exodus 31:12-17), not just in identifying who they are, but in this case, it also serves as the focal point in counting to Pentecost. Because we must first identify the Sabbath to begin the count, it is the Sabbath that must fall within the Days of Unleavened Bread, not necessarily wavesheaf Sunday. In the odd years when Passover falls on a weekly Sabbath, the only weekly Sabbath day within Unleavened Bread is also the holy day at its end. Nevertheless, this Sabbath, a double Sabbath, is of greater importance for beginning the count, not the wavesheaf offered the next day. The weekly Sabbath provides a consistent and correct pattern for beginning the count to Pentecost.

Another reason that we should count from the weekly Sabbath is the appearance of the definite Hebrew article ha that normally precedes "Sabbath." In the entire Old Testament, this designation, hashabbath, indicates the weekly Sabbath about 95% of the time. In Leviticus 23, a form of "Sabbath" appears in Hebrew twelve times and "Sabbaths" twice. The article ha appears before "Sabbath" three times, and each time it refers to the weekly Sabbath. Two of these occurrences concern the Sabbath in question (verses 11, 15). Once it appears before "Sabbaths" (verse 15), also referring to weekly Sabbaths.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001


 

Isaiah 1:10-14

Just because He calls them your Sabbaths, or your feast days, does not necessarily mean that they were not even meeting on the correct days. The context shows that they were doing the ceremonial things (Isaiah 1:11, 13; Amos 5:22).

If Israel regarded the Sabbath as merely ceremonial, then they were at least keeping the Sabbath in a ceremonial way. When He says "your new moons," or "your Sabbaths," they could very well have been on the same days that God commanded, and not something "new" that they came up with. There is a possibility in the book of Amos, because of Jeroboam I, that they indeed may have been keeping different days. But, in Isaiah 1, it seems "the Sabbaths" He refers to there, are "the Sabbaths" that we know of today as Saturday.

Thus, if indeed they were still keeping the weekly Sabbaths and the holy days (at least in terms of the right days on the calendar), then God's displeasure was caused by the way that they were keeping them, their attitude and lack of understanding as to why they should be keeping them. That is what concerned God. So bad were these issues, that as far as God was concerned, those days that they were keeping were no longer His, and He was separating Himself from them.

For short periods of time, small groups of people in Israel kept it right—but how to keep it was almost always a bone of contention between God and Israel. That issue is written about frequently in the Bible. It is not that they were keeping the wrong days, but how they were keeping them and their lack of understanding as to why they were keeping them that God was concerned about.

There is a great deal in the Bible about this commandment. When one includes what is written concerning keeping the holy days, the annual Sabbaths, with what is written concerning keeping the weekly Sabbath, there is more written directly about this commandment than any other, except the first commandment. We are not without instruction as to God's mind toward it—far from it. We have a great deal of instruction on how we should keep the Sabbath.

It is well understood that God did not inspire a list of hundreds of dos and don'ts to be written down. Instead, He chose to reveal by means of a few commands, examples, and broad principles, that we are supposed to study into, meditate upon, reach conclusions, and put them into practice in our lives. It was done this way to teach us to think through the process of choosing and coming to an understanding of why we are doing these things, developing our understanding of the mind of God.

The goal of this way is not that we would become creatures of rote, but rather, that we would do things because they are right and avoid other things because they are wrong. We would be making choices of our own free will that are in line with the mind and will of God.

The Sabbath has often been referred to as the "test commandment." God is testing the intention, the motivation that precedes the act and provides us with our justification, as well as what we will permit ourselves to do. Sometimes, in defending ourselves, we will say, "Well, I didn't mean to hurt you." Maybe not, but the fact is that the other person was hurt. This position is not good enough, because it still falls short of the glory of God. It is good to remember "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." God wants our intentions and our acts to be right. If we get the intention right, there is a far greater chance that the acts we permit ourselves to do on the Sabbath will be right. It must be this way, because the batting average for right intentions bringing forth right acts is exceedingly higher than the other way around. God wants us to understand why we are doing what we do before we do it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)


 

Luke 2:40-42

Jesus kept the Passover as a man because God had commanded it as a festival. In this, He set us a perfect example, showing us that we should observe this festival too.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Holy Days: Passover


 

Luke 23:55-56

If we continue in Luke's account, we get the impression that the women hurried to a spice shop, bought the spices and oils, prepared them, and then rested on the Sabbath (verse 56). But we would be wrong!

We have to go to Mark 16:1 for some vital information: "Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him." Logistically, the sequence of events cannot be otherwise. If Joseph barely had time to bury Jesus' body before sundown, how much less time would the women have had to do all that they needed to do!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

John 19:14

The word "Passover" in this context requires some explanation. At some time before Christ's day, the Jews had begun calling the day of Passover and the following seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8) by the single name "Passover." This has caused great confusion for non-Jews, especially when they read the account of this particular Passover. But John 19:31 should clear up any confusion: "Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day) . . ."!

So, without a doubt, Jesus was crucified on a Passover day, Nisan 14, and the Sabbath that followed was the first day of Unleavened Bread, an annual holy day, a high day. This only makes sense, for the apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 5:7, "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'


 

Acts 2:1

The Bible reveals no disagreement between Jesus or His apostles and the Jews about whether the festivals are to be kept. Indeed, the subject is approached assuming they will be kept. W.J. Conybeare and J.S. Howson confirm the early New Testament church kept them:

The festivals observed by the Apostolic Church were at first the same with those of the Jews; and the observance of these was continued, especially by the Christians of Jewish birth, for a considerable time. A higher and more spiritual meaning, however, was attached to their celebration. . . . (The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, p. 346)

Referring to the apostle Paul, they write, "Nay more, he himself observed the Jewish festivals" (p. 574).

The Bible plainly shows Jesus observing the Feast of Tabernacles and Last Great Day with the Jews in John 7. In John 11:55-57, the Jews standing in the Temple question whether He would come to the Feast, as though this would break a customary habit. Regarding Pentecost, some feel that the Bible records Jesus keeping it with the Jews, apparently in agreement as to the proper day, in Luke 4:16. This is the Sabbath on which Jesus, in His hometown, formally states the purpose of His ministry.

Luke does not say it is Pentecost, just that it is a Sabbath He customarily kept. The evidence derives from what He read from the Scriptures. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, under the article "Triennial Cycle" (a three-year plan for the public reading of the Old Testament, attributed to Ezra), the portion of the Law to be read on Pentecost in the second year of the cycle (AD 28) is Exodus 20. The Pentecost reading from the Prophets is the very section Christ reads, Isaiah 61:1-2! A Jewish Quarterly Review article, "The Reading of the Law and Prophets in a Triennial Cycle," by Dr. Adolf Büchler (Vol. IV, October 1893, pp. 1-73) confirms this fact. Remember, His ministry was three-and-a-half years long. He was crucified in the spring of AD 31, so this Sabbath (possibly Pentecost) would have occurred shortly after He began His ministry.

Stronger yet is the evidence from Acts 2 that the newly forming Christian church was sharing the day of Pentecost with the Jews in Jerusalem. Acts 2:1 states that this occurred on the day of Pentecost. Furthermore, verse 5 calls the Jews who witnessed the Pentecost occurrences "devout." The Christians and Jews are in the same general area for religious reasons.

In addition, verses 7-11 say that visitors had traveled from other areas, both Jews and proselytes. Here is a typical comment:

Certain "God-fearing Jews" who were residing in Jerusalem from many parts of the Diaspora, together with a number of Jews and proselytes who had returned to Jerusalem as pilgrims for the Pentecost festival, were "in bewilderment," "utterly amazed," and "perplexed" by the miraculous coming of the Spirit (vv. 6-7, 12). (Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 272)

Where does this activity take place? No one can pinpoint with absolute certainty the exact location. The final verse of Luke records briefly what the apostles did after Jesus' ascension: "[They] were continually in the temple praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:53). We find them in Acts 1:13 in the "upper room" somewhere in Jerusalem. Acts 2:2 mentions them being in a house when the Pentecost miracles begin. The house and upper room are likely the same place and probably near the Temple where devout people would assemble, especially on a festival day.

Concerning Acts 2:6, Expositor's Bible Commentary says: "The verb for 'hear' (ekouon) is in the imperfect tense, suggesting that their hearing took place over a period of time—perhaps first in the upper room itself, then in adjacent lanes and courtyards, and finally in the temple precincts" (vol. 9, p. 272).

Acts 20:16 shows the apostle Paul "hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost." He apparently made it, for Conybeare and Howson conclude that the episode involving Paul and the four men under a vow (Acts 21:23-26) occurred on Pentecost (p. 574). Finally, Paul states before the Jewish leaders in Rome, "Men and brethren, though I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers . . ." (Acts 28:17). "Customs" includes festivals.

The internal evidence from the Bible and from religious researchers confirms that Jesus, the Christian church, and the Jews who were responsible for setting the festival dates agreed on when Pentecost and the other festivals should be observed (except the well-documented Passover difference).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001


 

 




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