What Is the Sabbath?

What Is the Sabbath?

Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
–Mark 2:27

What is the Sabbath? Contrary to popular opinion, the word “Sabbath” does not mean “seventh.” Instead, it comes from the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” which means “to cease or desist from any kind of work.” Somebody has said it means to cease from even thinking about working.

The idea of the Sabbath comes from the Fourth Commandment, found in Exodus 20:8-11, which says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”

What was the purpose of the Sabbath? The Sabbath was never meant to be a burden to God’s people; it was to be a blessing to God’s people. In Mark 2:27 Jesus made it clear that “the Sabbath was made for man.” The Sabbath is God’s gift to us. God our Creator has given us a maintenance program to ensure our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. And part of that maintenance program for us is observing the Sabbath. We are to do all our work in six days, and then we are to do something different on the seventh day. The Sabbath is a gift to us.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees took what was a blessing and turned it into a burden. They came up with a long list of man-made regulations about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. They said it’s okay to ride a donkey on the Sabbath, but you can’t carry a switch with you to make the donkey go faster because that would be making the donkey work. Or they said you can drink vinegar on the Sabbath, but you can’t gargle with it because gargling is work. They came up with all of these ludicrous restrictions of what you could and could not do on the Sabbath.

What about the Old Testament rules about the Sabbath? Should we follow those? The apostle Paul addressed that issue in Colossians 2:16-17. He said, “No one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day–things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” The Old Testament laws about things like food, drink, and the Sabbath were simply a shadow pointing to Jesus Christ; and now that Jesus has come, there is no reason to go back and keep those Old Testament laws. If you want to keep these Old Testament laws, go ahead and keep them; but don’t judge others who choose not to keep them. The same truth applies to us today. For example, if you don’t want to dance, fine. If you don’t want to go to the movies, fine. But don’t make your personal convictions somebody else’s obligation.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Squabbling Over the Sabbath” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2016.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.