The Sabbath

By Barry Huff

Categories: The Bible


What is the purpose of Sabbath?


  • To discover that God is fun to be with1. While the Canaanites abstained from all labor on the Sabbath because they considered it an unlucky day controlled by evil gods, Israel transformed the Sabbath into a joyful festival of God2.
  • To remove burdens by reminding us that we are not creators controlling the world (cf. Matt 11:28-30). God is the creator, and "God is not a workaholic3." Therefore, we can rest because God rests (Gen 2:3). Sabbath enables us to approach life "as a trusted gift and not as a frantic achievement" (cf. Exod 16:22-30)4.
  • To celebrate both God's restful completion of creation (Exod 20:8) and God's liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery (Deut 5:15). Jesus' healings on the Sabbath day fulfilled the purpose of both the Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 versions of the Sabbath commandment: restoring the wholeness of God's creation and freeing humanity from enslavement to sickness and sin (cf. Matt 12 and John 5).
  • To liberate, not to limit, humanity: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
  • To celebrate Jesus' resurrection. By the start of the 2nd century, Christians began worshipping on Sunday, instead of on the Jewish Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset), to commemorate Jesus' resurrection on Sunday. "Sunday is a weekly reminder for Christians of Easter."5


1 Vernard Eller, The Ten Commandments Revisited (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), 80.

2 J. Morgenstern, "Sabbath," The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 137.

3 Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus," The New Interpreter's Bible 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 845.

4 Walter Brueggemann, "Preaching to Exiles," Cadences of Home (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997), 8.

5 J. Edgar Park, "Exposition of Exodus," The Interpreter's Bible 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980),985.

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