Ten Biblical Purposes for the Sabbath

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Ten Biblical Purposes for the Sabbath

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One of God’s signature characteristics is how He can create multipurpose objects. Consider, for example, a tree. It fulfills many different goals—it provides fruit or seeds to eat, shade from the sun, wood for building and shelter for birds, while it also offsets erosion, fertilizes the soil with fallen leaves, humidifies the air, absorbs carbon dioxide, gives off oxygen, acts as a windbreaker and adds beauty to the world.

Let’s consider another of God’s creations that is not so tangible. It too fulfills many purposes for the benefit of mankind. This creation, a recurring period of time, is the Sabbath day that ends every week. We’ll look at 10 of the reasons found in the Bible for God’s creation of the seventh-day Sabbath.

At the beginning of Genesis, where the Sabbath is established, we find three of those purposes spelled out by God. Genesis 2:2-3 Genesis 2:2-3 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
states: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (emphasis added throughout unless otherwise noted).

Let’s take a closer look at the purposes of the Sabbath mentioned here and others given later in Scripture. 

1. “Then God blessed the seventh day” (Genesis 2:3 Genesis 2:3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
).

The first purpose is found in the fact that the Sabbath is a day blessed by God—it was intended to be a blessing. And a blessing by God in the Bible is not merely good wishes. It means miracles in our lives to make them better—physically and spiritually.

Isaiah 56:3-7 Isaiah 56:3-7 3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that has joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD has utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. 4 For thus said the LORD to the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; 5 Even to them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. 6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keeps the sabbath from polluting it, and takes hold of my covenant; 7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
American King James Version×
describes such joyful promises and blessings: “Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’ For this is what the Lord says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me. I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than [having] sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!  

“I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (New Living Translation).   

God also promises great blessings now and in the future. As Isaiah 58:13 Isaiah 58:13If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words:
American King James Version×
says, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Remarking about these physical and spiritual blessings, The Bible Knowledge Commentary states: “By putting God first and not seeking to do as he wished, a person would have joy, not only in spiritual salvation ( ride on the heights ) but also in prosperity ( feast on the inheritance ). All this was certain because the Lord has spoken” (note on Isaiah 58:14 Isaiah 58:14Then shall you delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.
American King James Version×
, emphasis in original).

2. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:3 Genesis 2:3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
).

The second purpose for the Sabbath is its sanctification, meaning it is a day set apart by God for holy use. God says it is His day and calls its occurrences “My Sabbaths.”

As He says in Leviticus 19:3 Leviticus 19:3You shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×
, “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.”

This principle is enshrined in the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy . Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
).

God alone is the source of holiness, and He is the only One who can make something holy. Likewise, only God and not man can nullify what He previously declared holy. As Revelation 15:4 Revelation 15:4Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? for you only are holy: for all nations shall come and worship before you; for your judgments are made manifest.
American King James Version×
says: “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy . All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (New International Version).

3. “And on the seventh day … He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3 Genesis 2:2-3 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
).

The third purpose of the Sabbath found in Genesis is that it’s a day of rest . Here is the first time the Hebrew word shabath, meaning “rest,” is found. “It is from this root [of shabath ]that the noun for Sabbath originates, a word designating the time to be set aside for rest” (Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament, 2003, p. 1098).

It’s a day of rest to be refreshed from toil. As God explains in Exodus 31:17 Exodus 31:17It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
American King James Version×
: “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed .”

Similarly, God wants us to be refreshed, to recuperate on that day from our labors, as He declares: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12 Exodus 23:12Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest: that your ox and your ass may rest, and the son of your handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.
American King James Version×
).

Throughout the Bible, the Sabbath as God’s Holy Day of rest and worship is reinforced. For example, Jesus Christ kept God’s Sabbaths. As Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
American King James Version×
tells us: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was , He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day , and stood up to read.”

4. “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever” (Exodus 31:17 Exodus 31:17It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
American King James Version×
).

A fourth purpose of the Sabbath is that it is a covenant sign between God and His people. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments singled out this way as a sign or a marker.

As Exodus 31:16-17 Exodus 31:16-17 16 Why the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
American King James Version×
says: “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.”

The Hebrew word oth, here translated “sign,” means “a signal as a flag, beacon, monument” ( Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, No. H266). Just as a flag identifies a people, and a beacon draws attention and a monument points to a special place, person or occurrence, so God set the Sabbath as a sign to identify His people. It is also a perpetual covenant or lifelong agreement and relationship between God and the person who keeps the Sabbath.

5. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them …” (Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
).

The fifth purpose of the Sabbath is as a reminder of God as our Creator and Maker. The word translated “made” here means “fashioned” or “set in order”—as God reformed the world and its environs in the course of a week. This was after having initially created everything out of nothing. Thus, the Sabbath is a monument to God’s awe-inspiring power to have brought into existence all we see around us—including ourselves!

Too many people simply take so much for granted—life, food, water, air, light, heat, seasons, animals, birds, trees and flowers—things that sustain and delight us.

As Psalm 92, a hymn dedicated to the Sabbath, proclaims:

“O Lord, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man does not know, nor does a fool understand this” (verses 5-6). 

6. “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15 Deuteronomy 5:15And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
American King James Version×
).

The sixth purpose of the Sabbath is about redemption, the paying of a ransom for a slave. This is a key biblical concept that deals with physical and spiritual salvation. So God is not only our Creator, but also mankind’s Redeemer —by making salvation possible through His Son’s sacrifice so as to release us from spiritual slavery.

He began His plan of salvation with one nation, Israel, but has now extended redemption to all people who respond. They can all be part of Abraham’s inheritance through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice.

As Paul said, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29 Galatians 3:26-29 26 For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
American King James Version×
). It’s noteworthy that Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, further showing it to be a day of liberation.

7. “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3 Leviticus 23:3Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×
).

The seventh purpose of the Sabbath is as an appointed time to gather together for worship. It is interesting that God calls the Sabbath one of His Feasts “which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Leviticus 23:4 Leviticus 23:4These are the feasts of the LORD, even holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons.
American King James Version×
).

The term “appointed times” in Hebrew means setting a date to meet, just as today we have an “appointment” with a doctor. It is important to note it is God who sets up the appointment and sends out the invitation. Whoever answers the invitation will then show up at this appointment. And whoever ignores it ignores the divine appointment God has set to meet with us!

8. “‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:2-3 Leviticus 23:2-3 2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. 3 Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
American King James Version×
).

The eighth purpose of the Sabbath is to fellowship with others of God’s people. The term “convocation” means a commanded assembly. So, when possible, we are to meet together on the Sabbath and not remain alone on that day.

Hebrews 10:24-25 Hebrews 10:24-25 24 And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
American King James Version×
tells us about the importance of having fellowship when gathering together: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

For more about this, see “The Church: Help for Greater Growth ” in our free study guide Tools for Spiritual Growth .

9. “One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue …” (Luke 13:10 Luke 13:10And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation).

The ninth purpose for the Sabbath is for us to receive instruction from God’s Word. So the Sabbath day is not only for fellowship but for spiritual learning.

In addition to Jesus teaching on the Sabbath day, we see the apostle Paul teaching on the Sabbath: “After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth … And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks … And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:1 Acts 18:1After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth;
American King James Version×
, 4, 11). Assuming that Paul continued to teach literally “every Sabbath” he was there, this would have meant Paul taught during more than eighty Sabbaths while at Corinth!

10. “So that there is still a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9 Hebrews 4:9There remains therefore a rest to the people of God.
American King James Version×
, Bible in Basic English).

A 10th purpose for the Sabbath is as a reminder of the glorious future rest and restoration of the earth.

In the book of Hebrews, one of the arguments made for the Hebrew Christians to remain faithful in the Church was for them to remember the coming Kingdom of God, which the Sabbath portrays.

As Hebrews 4:8-11 Hebrews 4:8-11 8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
American King James Version×
tells us: “For if Joshua had given them rest [in entering the Promised Land], God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (English Standard Version).

Sabbath-keeping, therefore, also points to the future and not just the past or the present. It is a reminder of the past as we honor God for His Creation. It reminds us in the present of God as our great Redeemer. And it looks to the future as we anticipate the coming millennial reign of the Kingdom of God on earth—with Jesus Christ as King of Kings. 

So God reveals in Scripture at least 10 purposes for the Sabbath. Let’s be thankful for each of them and use this wonderful gift from God for the many purposes He intended!