The seventh-day Shabbat (Sabbath) is not only central to Israel’s calendar, it is at the heart of Jewish identity. Exodus 31:13 reports Adonai commanding Moshe to “speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘Surely, My Shabbats you must guard, for it is a sign between Me and you, to your generations, to know that I, Adonai, am sanctifying you….’” Yet the observance of Shabbat has historically been shrouded in rules and customs that can separate us from the very Shabbat we are supposed to be protecting. Beautiful, elegant—some-times strict—and infused with spiritual symbolism, the Shabbat traditions of Judaism nevertheless (and unnecessarily) complicate what may arguably be the simplest thing in Scripture.

While the practical out-working of Shabbat in the modern Diaspora does take some amount of forethought, the principles set forth in the Scriptures are easy to understand and apply—if we will only hear them. Indeed, wedged in our thinking is the belief that Jewish religion and culture supercede Scripture, and that centuries of practice amount to expertise. Not necessarily.

“How do I ‘do’ Shabbat?” is the question that kills Shabbat even before it begins. Candle-lighting, Shabbat dinner and special prayers are nice, but not what this holy day is all about. To “do” Shabbat, first consider the Scriptures (see image, above), and start by simply stopping. Don’t worry about going wrong with the way you “do” Shabbat… as long as you’re not going at all…

What do you think? Post a comment below.

This “Fast Foundations” article was originally published in Messianic Jewish Issues.

(Other extra-Torah or land-dependent Shabbat prohibitions include carrying a load out of one’s house or in through the gates of Jerusalem (Jer. 17:21-22), and buying from non-Israelites who are trying to do business in Jerusalem (Neh. 10:31, cf. 13:16). There are also explicit commands for Shabbat sacrifices. As for assembling for the purpose of worship, the Shabbat itself is a sacred assembly (Lev. 23:3), but what constitutes assembly, where, and of whom is not stated. Assembly of at least some members of Israel at the Tabernacle/Temple may be implied by Numbers 10:2&10.)

4 replies
  1. Sandy Hudson
    Sandy Hudson says:

    God never ceases to blow my mind. Just days ago I was pondering what Shabbat truly meant and what sacred assembly or Holy convocation really meant. And here comes Kevin writing on the Shabbat.

    Though I am still unsure if one must attend a synagogue to observe the Shabbat, or at home to observe it is alright too?

    Reply
  2. Timothy
    Timothy says:

    I feel that the Emissaries/Apostles and the book of Acts was very clear on the “Assembling of ourselves together.” I “was the custom” to gather together on the Shabbat and then also on the 1st day for the collection/handling of money that would come into the congregation and whatever other activities occured then as well. Several time Apostle “Sha’ul also called Paul” would teach on the 1st day.

    Reply
  3. Mary E Heuvel
    Mary E Heuvel says:

    Do we ‘do’ Wednesday?
    I know we ‘do’ (or don’t ‘do’) Christmas. To ‘do’ Shabbat is to make of it an idol. To merely take that deep breath as one coming out of a smoke filled environment, is to simply breathe. That is Shabbat. A wonderful cleansing breath in a dank and smelly place. You get to wake up and just ‘Shabbat’ like a verb, as you respect your legs for walking, or heart for beating, You get to live, at harmony with your CREATOR on a day HE asks you to listen and fellowship with HIM. It’s a holy day set apart like you are a holy creation set apart on a set apart day. Then HE graces you with His presence as you ‘Shabbat’ together…enjoy!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *