If you are a Sabbath keeper, I have a question for you. If you don’t observe the Sabbath, this is not for you. If you believe the Sabbath was for another time, or for another group of people, this question does not apply to you. If you think that every day is the same, then this question is irrelevant.
Why do you keep the Sabbath?
There are probably multiple reasons, and some of them are easy answers. Here are a few of the most obvious.
God Commands It
After all, it is one of the Ten Commandments.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you (Deuteronomy 5:12).
A Day to Rest
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God (Exodus 20:9-10).
A Memorial of Creation
For in six days the LORD made heaven and 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 (Exodus 20:11).
A Sign of the Covenant
Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever (Exodus 31:16).
Public Corporate Worship
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:3).
From Torah Portion Mishpatim
This reading, from Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 24:18, focuses a lot on how we treat our fellow man. Yeshua said this is foundational for the entire Torah.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12 ESV).
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Yeshua] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
It would seem reasonable, then, that this is a major emphasis in Sabbath-keeping as well. The Fourth Commandment mentioned previously includes, among other things, the admonition for everyone to rest – you, your children, your servants (those you hire),your livestock, and your guests (Exodus 20:10). But a few chapters later in this portion about how we treat those around us is the instruction to rest for the specific purpose of allowing others to also rest.
Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed (Exodus 23:12).
No mention of creation.
No mention of covenant.
No mention of worship.
Intent – A Motivating Reason
The Hebrew word translated “that” in Exodus 23:12 is ma-an (Strong’s number H4616). Brown-Driver-Briggs lists the definition as:
…as a preposition:
. a) for the sake of
. b) in view of, on account of
. c) for the purpose of, to the intent that, in order to
…as a conjunction:
. d) to the end that
When we keep the Sabbath, we are to do it with the purpose or intent that others may rest.
Recently I’ve heard and read discussions about whether or not we should go out to eat or do some other similar activity on the Sabbath. The answer, I believe, is found in this passage. Does what I am doing mean that someone else cannot rest on the Sabbath? Whether or not they rest is not the issue – in other words, it doesn’t really matter that they may be working anyway, with or without my business.
This is something that we will need to consider and, as Paul wrote, “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Just make sure that the things convincing you are Scripture and the Holy Spirit, not your own desires to justify what you really want.