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What the Bible says about Keeping the Sabbath
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 35:3

There is an interesting example in the way Orthodox Jews keep the Sabbath and the 39 forbidden Sabbath activities (melachot) that they have come up with. Rather than learn the principles involved in Sabbath-keeping, the attitude seems to be, “Let's just have a rule to cover every conceivable development.” The command in Exodus 35:3 directly follows a command not to work on the Sabbath, so in saying not to kindle a fire, God was speaking of a fire employed in work, such as one used by a smith to shape metal, not a home heating fire.

However, the Orthodox Jews take it to an extreme, teaching that it includes the modern analogy of moving electricity through a circuit. If a person opens his refrigerator door on the Sabbath and the light inside comes on, in their judgment, he has “kindled a fire.” So, the Orthodox Jewish solution is to unscrew the bulb in the refrigerator on the Preparation Day so that no light comes on when the door is opened on the Sabbath.

On the Sabbath, a Jew cannot turn the lights on in the house or the burner on the stove. To get around this, Jews use timers. Note that they do these things to “get around” the law. To this end, their sages have come up with the concept of grama, and this has nothing to do with the nice older lady who gave you cookies as a child.

In Jewish law, there is a difference in direct and indirect action on the Sabbath. For instance, a Jew cannot intentionally extinguish a flame, but if he opens a window and the wind blows out the candle, he has not violated Sabbath law. Such an indirect action, whose result is not guaranteed, is called grama, which comes from the Hebrew root meaning “to cause [something to happen].” If a fire breaks out on the Sabbath, a Jew cannot put it out, but he can fill water jugs and place them in the path of the fire. When—or if—the heat bursts the jugs, the water may put the fire out. There are more subtleties to grama, but that is the short explanation.

So, in this modern, technological world, the Jews use the grama principle in numerous ways. Opening and closing electrical circuits would be work. But if the switch has a delay so that, when a Jew presses or turns it, nothing immediately happens, yet a few seconds later something does happen, that is not considered work.

Some manufacturers have installed “Sabbath” modes on their appliances. On some new refrigerators, unscrewing the light bulb is not so easy. So now, more than 300 types of ovens, stoves, and refrigerators can be set to “Sabbath” mode, which, when enabled, means lights stay off, displays are blank, tones are silenced, fans are stilled, compressors slowed, etc. To quote WIRED magazine's Michael Erard in “The Geek Guide to Kosher Machines”:

In a kosher fridge, there's no light, no automatic icemaker, no cold-water dispenser, no warning alarm for spoiled food, no temperature readout. Basically, [Sabbath mode] converts your fancy—and expensive—appliance into the one your grandma bought after World War II.

If we have to jump through these mental and physical hoops to follow God's laws, have we really learned the principles involved?

Mike Ford
Do We See the Line?

Related Topics: Keeping the Sabbath


Ezekiel 20:10-13

God is referring to Israel's Sabbath-breaking in their wilderness journey, quite early in their relationship with Him. In addition, if there was any time—in all of the history of Israel's relationship with God—this was a time during which they had no excuse for breaking the Sabbath. He was with them at all times in the cloud and the pillar of fire. They were also a completely closed society. There should have been no other God to worship.

All of the people were gathered in one general location. There was no place to go. Double manna fell each Friday, and no manna fell on the Sabbath. They had no excuse for losing track of what day it was. God, jarringly, had a man executed for Sabbath-breaking to remind them how important the day is and to instill in them respect for it. Yet, God says they still rebelled, suggesting that God was mostly concerned with how they were keeping it.

They undoubtedly gave lip-service to the Sabbath, setting it aside on the calendar. When that day came around, any commercial business in the wilderness probably came to a halt on that day. They did not travel. It was what they were doing or not doing personally and individually on that day that harmed their relationship with God. That was the issue.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)

Ezekiel 20:12-13

What caused one house (Judah) to retain its identity and the other (Israel) to lose it? God gives the answer—the Sabbath. Whedon's Commentary on the Bible (at verse 12) states, “The Sabbath was the visible sign to the Hebrews and to the world that they were his, and that he was theirs.”

A sign identifies. An example is a burqa, the long, loose garment covering the whole body from head to feet, worn in public by many Muslim women. A woman wearing a burqa is an unmistakable sign that she is Allah's and that he is her god. It is a sign that separates and identifies.

With these verses in chapter 20 of Ezekiel, God guarantees that if His people keep the Sabbath—the sign that signifies who they are and who they worship—that sign would assure their identity. To be separate requires a definable identity. God, by their observance of the Sabbath, guaranteed they would remain separate and set apart, preserved as a select people unmixed with the nations.

Throughout history, the house of Judah has continued to observe the Sabbath. As a result, they have retained their identity. On the other hand, the house of Israel rejected the Sabbath, and true to Ezekiel 20, they have disappeared from view. They have lost their identity. They no longer have the sign that tells them, or the rest of the world, who they are.

The house of Israel chose to rebel against the Sabbath, a proclivity that began as far back as the wilderness journey:

Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments, 'which, if a man does, he shall live by them'; and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. (Ezekiel 20:13)

So, the Bible clearly and consistently identifies as Israel those nations that have become known as the “Ten Lost Tribes,” rather than the house of Judah.

Pat Higgins
The Nation of Israel—Biblical Israel? (Part One)

Luke 14:5-6

This is the famous "ox in the ditch" example. "Ditch" is incorrect; "pit" is correct. It is virtually impossible for an ox or an ass to fall into a ditch. They have four legs, four hooves, making among the most stable and sure-footed of all domesticated animals. Man has two legs, and how many times do we fall in a ditch? Almost never, and an ox or an ass will hardly ever fall into a ditch either.

But they did occasionally fall in a pit. He is specifically speaking about a cistern, which caught rainwater and stored it in the ground. People occasionally, carelessly, left the lid off the cistern, and a person or an ox or ass would step into the hole and fall into the pit. Sometimes it was a life-or-death situation, because the cistern might be full of water many feet deep.

The chances, then, of an ox or an ass falling into a pit are probably about as good as seeing a blue moon. It just does not happen all that often. This examle, of course, applies in principle to emergency situations that might arise on the Sabbath. True emergencies do not happen all that often either. They occur every once in a while.

If somebody comes to us with what they claim is an emergency, we must make the decision as to whether it is an emergency or not. We must not let them bulldoze us, because often the "emergency" will be something like, "I forgot to buy sugar yesterday when I went shopping, and now I need to go to the store." There is a big difference between that and, "My son just fell out of the apple tree and broke his arm." One is a genuine emergency, the other is merely an inconvenience.

If we do any old thing just because somebody else decides it is an emergency, there will not be any witness made, is there? We will be making no witness that we are keeping the Sabbath holy. In addition, we are showing God that we will probably be a weak king because we will let any special-interest group just bulldoze us into doing what they want. So we need to decide whether the situation will be resolved the way they want or the way we—and God—want.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)

Acts 13:43-47

Consider the import of what Paul says here. He is to be a light to the Gentiles, showing them the way. What day did he appoint to meet with these people? He had a wonderful opportunity at the end of that first Sabbath, which broke up in a dispute, to tell the people: "Now, wait a minute. Yes, I want you to all come back, but why not just do it tomorrow, on Sunday?" Instead, in order to continue in the grace of God, he had them wait a full week. Then, on the Sabbath, they assembled again. Note that this occurs in the general area of Galatia.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Four)


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