On this passage, commentator Matthew Henry writes:
On sabbath days we must not walk in our own ways (that is, not follow our callings), not find our own pleasure (that is, not follow our sports and recreations); nay, we must not speak our own words, words that concern either our callings or our pleasures; we must not allow ourselves a liberty of speech on that day as on other days, for we must then mind God's ways, make religion the business of the day; we must choose the things that please him; and speak his words, speak of divine things as we sit in the house and walk by the way. In all we say and do we must put a difference between this day and other days.
At the heart of Sabbath-breaking is idolatry, having other gods before the true God (Exodus 20:3). The basic, physical manifestation of idolatry is the worship of idols—graven images, statues, etc.—but its spiritual manifestation is much more subtle and dangerous. It is putting anything above God: money, a job, a house, or even a spouse! If anything becomes more important than God, idolatry is committed. Thus, if in the weekly observance of the Sabbath we do anything that becomes more important to us than our relationship with God, we have broken the Sabbath and committed idolatry. It could be said that idolatry is at the heart of all sin, as our willingness to esteem something higher than God and His way of life causes us to sin.
We must make a very real distinction between the Sabbath and the other days. The Sabbath was "made for man," as Christ points out (Mark 2:27), but that does not mean mankind has the authority to use it for his own purposes—rather, God made it on man's behalf, for his benefit. The seventh day still belongs to God, and He shares it with those whom He has called and sanctified. We have a key responsibility in esteeming the Sabbath in our conduct, in our conversations, in our attitudes, and even in our thoughts. By entering into this covenant with God, we have been entrusted with the knowledge and significance of this day, but we have also been warned, as stewards of God's truth, to be very careful with it.
David C. Grabbe
It's Not Our Time
Instruction in the Bible as to how to keep the Sabbath is not given in specific detail but in broad principles that cover a multitude of specifics. If we are being led by God's Spirit, we should be able to determine what is right. Maybe not the first time around, maybe not the tenth time around, but eventually, we will see that we are doing something wrong and make a change. Or, if we find out that we have been doing it right, we will probably intensify our efforts to do it better. If we are being led by it, God's Spirit will gently compel us towards the perfection of the One from whom that Spirit is emanating.
How can one call the Sabbath "a delight"? Like everything else in life, we delight in what we recognize as being valuable and in what we do well. Doing something well is fun. Doing something poorly is a burden, and we wish nobody were around to see us do it so poorly. On the other hand, if we do something well, we want to make sure that everybody watches us. This is not a wrong principle because, if we are doing something right, we will be a fitting witness for God.
God has four broad concerns here. First, "to turn your foot away." This has to do primarily with one's overall approach, with one's attitude toward the day, with respect for Sabbath time. In Exodus 3:5, where God tells Moses to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy, God is saying, "Get your dirty shoes off where I am." The same principle is involved here. We must respect the things of God, and the Sabbath is of God. Thus, we should not trample all over His holy Sabbath day.
The Sabbath must be regarded as holy. It is different; it is not common. We must hold it in deep respect—the same kind of respect contained in "the fear of God," the kind of fear that prohibits us from falling on our knees before a statue because it is idolatry, which we do not want to commit because of our reverence for God. We need to have a similar respect toward the Sabbath. This attitude should dominate during this period of time.
Consider that the Sabbath—appointed by law—unites us as a religious organization committed to God. It is "the test commandment," "the sign" that God gave between Him and His people (Exodus 31:13-17). Conversely, the Passover unites us as an organization "under obligation" to God. There is a difference between the two. First comes recognition of obligation, then commitment to obedience. This is why we have to accept the blood of Jesus Christ first. When we do that, we are put under obligation. Every year when we take the Passover, we recommit ourselves to the New Covenant because we are forcefully being made aware of our obligations to the One who died for us. The Sabbath unites us, however, as an organization committed to God, and we show our sense of obligation by our obedience to the Sabbath command.
"Your ways" is another aspect of this. A way is a path or a course leading from one place to another. It is a direction, a manner or method of doing something. It is a code of life, a lifestyle. The problem with mankind's way is its direction. It is self-centered. In this context, "ways" means the path, direction, or manner of speaking or worshipping God. The way is the means of accomplishing our worship.
Many Scriptures contain the word "way" or "path," for instance: "You will show me the path of life [or, the way of life]; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). He is saying that, because God has showed him the path and he now walks in God's way, and because he is in the presence of God and fellowshipping with Him, fullness of joy is being produced. It is a fruit of walking God's way.
A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beasts go up on it; it shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk there. (Isaiah 35:8-9)
There is a certain path, a certain way. In this case, he calls it a highway in which those who are close to God will walk. In Isaiah 58, God says, "Take care—pay attention to your way."
Thus says the LORD: "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you shall find rest for your souls." But they said, "We will not walk in it." (Jeremiah 6:16)
Do we want rest? When we are striving to obey God and are walking His way, then we have already been brought into the rest of God. It is a beginning—not the fullness, but it is a beginning! Why? It is producing the right fruit. "My peace I leave with you." "My joy I give to you." God's way will produce the right fruit, and the Sabbath is central to all these things. It is the day that God made for man (Mark 2:27). It is an expanse of time in which He says, "Today, if you will hear My voice" (Psalm 95:7).
Why is God working towards producing faith? Those with faith will submit to and commit their lives to Him. If He can build people's faith, they will believe in Christ and believe His words. They will begin to enter into God's rest. This teaching is throughout the Bible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)
The Ten Commandments can be summarized in two overall principles: love toward God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love toward neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments expound on our relationship with fellow man.
What does it mean to have a relationship with God? An analogy is frequently used to describe the relationship between Christ and the church is that of a groom and a bride (Revelation 21:1-4). Likewise, Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." The word "betrothed" seems somewhat archaic; today, we would say the church is "engaged" to Christ. By making the New Covenant with Him, we have agreed to spend all eternity with Him, but at present, we are within the period preceding the marriage described in Revelation 19:7-9. Following the analogy, we are to be preparing ourselves for this future relationship. During this preparation time, the parties involved are getting to know each other. God the Father has handpicked us for this relationship, and now is the time we need to make ourselves ready.
How does this fit into the Sabbath and the concept of ownership? God has already established a regular meeting time with us—a "date," as it were. Every week, that part of our schedule is already determined. Amos 3:3 asks, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" In other words, can a person meet with another if they have not determined a meeting time?
Sabbath time has been specially designated as the Bride's time with Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we should restrict our interaction with Him to this day; on the contrary, part of each day should be devoted to prayer and Bible study. Nevertheless, this is a primary reason the seventh day has been set apart and made holy.
What does this mean practically? Imagine a couple planning to marry. Being devoted to one another, they have set their wedding date and have agreed to meet on a weekly basis. It is easy to see that, if the young man shows up at the designated time, but the young woman suddenly decides that there is a more convenient time, a rift is going to develop in the relationship. Obviously, the correct day is vitally important. God has already established that day.
Suppose the couple gets the day right, and they meet and spend time together. What if the young lady, in the midst of this quality time she is supposed to be spending with the one she loves, pulls out a cellphone and begins talking to her friends, as if her fiancé does not even exist? What if the topic of conversation, either between her and her friends or between her and her fiancé, is little more than gossip or what she is planning on doing as soon as her weekly date with her alleged beloved is over? Or, what if their date, which her betrothed had made special for them, has become a mere ceremony to her? What if she just goes through the motions, doing the things required of her, showing little or no feeling about what this relationship really means to her?
On a spiritual level, we are commanded to assemble, if possible, and part of our Sabbath is intended to be for fellowshipping. What are the topics of our conversation? Do sports, entertainment, shopping, or business advance our relationship with God? Is catching up on the latest gossip and social news appropriate for this time that does not belong to us? During this weekly appointment, where do our thoughts wander? Do we think about our business interests or financial concerns? Do we think about or make plans for what we are going to do as soon as the sun sets? Do we esteem Saturday night more than the time God has set apart for us to meet with Him? Are our Sabbath services mere ceremonies? Are we demonstrating to God by our actions on this day that we are eagerly looking forward to spending eternity with Him?
These are points to ponder.
David C. Grabbe
It's Not Our Time
It is likely that the Sabbath here is either the Feast of Trumpets or the Day of Atonement. The chapter opens up with "Lift up your voice like a trumpet," but then the bulk of the chapter has to do with fasting. The Sabbath arises in verse 13, which indicates that, when Isaiah wrote this, God had a particular Sabbath in mind.
There are only two Sabbaths in which God says, "No work shall be done." The one is the Day of Atonement, and the other is the weekly Sabbath (which occurs fifty-two times a year). In that regard, the weekly Sabbath is more stringent than are the holy days. When holy days and weekly Sabbaths coincide, the holy day takes precedence as being a Sabbath of the first rank. But yet, in regard to the weekly Sabbath, God says, "No work shall be done."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)
On the surface, the Sabbath appears to be only a rest - a break from physical labor. Rest is a factor in keeping it, but its central purpose, which should guide our use of the day, is the developing and building of our relationship with God, an exceedingly more important reason than ceasing to work! Not working only provides the time so that we can do what is more important - develop our relationship with God. The core reason for breaking from the normal routine is to get to know Him. Jesus says that eternal life is to know God (John 17:3). Do we want eternal life? We need to get to know God. That is what the Sabbath is for.
The Sabbath is a weekly, and sometimes annual, appointment of time to be devoted to God, so that the relationship does not become lost in the swirl of life's activities. If it is done right, no one has an excuse for not "knowing" Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 2)
"Your pleasures": God does not intend that the Sabbath be a day of rigorous abstinence. In verse 14, He says that, if we keep it rightly, the day is going to be a delight. Rigorous abstinence is never a delight, but the Sabbath can be a delight.
The word "pleasure" is not wrongly translated, but it is somewhat misleading. Within the context, its intent is better translated "business," "desire," "purpose," or "matter." It describes what one finds pleasure in occupying himself in doing.
A man's business can be his pleasure. Some people just love to work! A person's pleasure might be riding a bicycle, yet the Sabbath is not a day to be out riding a bicycle the way he would like to ride a bicycle. What He's generally talking about are the things that normally keep us busy during the other six days.
The emphasis here is on the word "your," as in "your pleasure." It could refer to hobbies, sports, and entertainments. The Sabbath is not designed for swimming, jogging, hunting, fishing, TV, boating, woodworking, ham radios, raking leaves, stamp collecting—or whatever it is that we do to preserve our physical life. I have listed these because I have had questions on all of them.
I have known people who say they just love to rake leaves. So, when the leaves fall down to the ground in the autumn, they like to get out there and rake! They smell wood fires burning in the neighborhood, and that smoke is so nice and relaxing, so energizing. It makes them feel so good to get out there and rake the leaves. But the Sabbath was not designed for raking leaves. This would fall under the category of "your pleasure."
Now, is there anything wrong with raking leaves the other six days of the week? Of course not! Neither is there anything wrong with sports, entertainments, and those sorts of things as well—as long as they are not being done sinfully. But all of those things that we would tend to do on the other six days of the week, things that are "your pleasure," are not good uses of Sabbath time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
"Your words": Matthew 12:34 says that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." The key is out of the abundance of the heart, that is, "what is in the heart," what we want to talk about. Of the four broad areas in Isaiah 58:13-14, this is probably the most difficult one for us. We wrestle with it, wondering whether "what we are saying" should be said or not.
The emphasis is on the word "your." Our conversations on the Sabbath should not be the same as they are on the other six days of the week, when our conversations would tend to be on those things that are pleasurable to us. What God wants us to do and say on the Sabbath are things that are His pleasure, not ours. But if we are growing spiritually, then what is "His pleasure" is also going to be in our heart.
The title of the first book of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy on the one ring of power is very interesting. It is called "The Fellowship of the Ring." The story is a fantasy about a group of nine people who were chosen to destroy the one ring of power. If we understand the symbolism, their enemy was Satan.
He wanted to keep the one ring alive and working among the nations. It was up to Frodo Baggins and the group of people who were with him to destroy that one ring. The whole trilogy describes what happened to this "fellowship." It contains all of the experiences they had in carrying out this quest to destroy the ring: the good times and the bad, the good weather and the bad, the fear and the courage, the discouragement, sickness, and injuries—all of the things that happened along the way, all of the things that they fought against and overcame, all of the difficulties, all of the trials—and all the while carrying the burden of trying to make sure that this one ring of power was kept out of the enemy's hand so it could be destroyed.
There are a lot of good lessons there, but this illustration should help us to understand what should be the subjects of our Sabbath conversations. It is our fellowship, first of all with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, as well as all of us who are within this fellowship. The things that we experience with the Father and Son, the things that we experience with each other—our discouragements, our hopes, our dreams, our failures, our successes, our courage, our fears, our worries, our crying, our happy times. All of these things become a part of the way.
The fellowship that we have along the way to the Kingdom of God is "fair game" to talk about on the Sabbath. Many things we might consider to be mundane contain vital lessons for us and others. We should share our happy times and sad times with our brothers and sisters in the faith.
But when we start throwing in things that we are planning to do about entertainments, sports, etc.—we are beginning to drift away. Are these part of the way? Is it part of the fellowship? Probably not, but it could be. This should begin to give us a framework within which we can see what is right to speak about.
God does not intend that we spend our whole time on the Sabbath turning to Scriptures. Certainly, to do so is right and good. But there is nothing wrong with talking about our fellowship and all it entails. There is a great deal that can be explored in these areas and that we can feel comfortable—with good conscience—talking about and sharing with one another.
A great deal of what we say is just so much vanity, but a lot of good lies in the experiences we have had, the lessons that we can pass on, the encouragement that we can share. There are multitudes of experiences and subjects that fit within positive purposes for which the Sabbath was created.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Isaiah 58:13: