Ten Biblical Purposes for the Sabbath

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MP3 Audio (21.41 MB)


Ten Biblical Purposes for the Sabbath

MP3 Audio (21.41 MB)

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 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).

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 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 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, emphasis in original).

2. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:3).

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, “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).

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 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).

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: “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).

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 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).

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 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).

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).

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). 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).

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).

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).

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 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, 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, 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, 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 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!


  • nawa

    How do we know what day is truly the Sabbath since the calendar we now use was not in use during the times of Genesis?

  • rockerchic

    Personally, I don't think it matters to God what day (whether Saturday or Sunday?) we apply the Sabbath. Calendars are just calendars, but the meaning of setting aside a day of reflection on God, in prayer, in fellowship and with rest is what is really truly important to Him. We should keep in mind that Sabbath days are relative depending on the cultural calendars we use (your point of what calendar was used in Genesis is a valid one). Also, when it is Saturday where you live, it is currently Sunday somewhere else on earth... so do we change our Sabbath day when we travel? This overthinking and legalism can nullify the whole point and becomes rather Pharisee-like. So we should just concentrate on making our personal Sabbath meaningful and authentic, as opposed to legalistic and burdensome, which defeats and cheapens God's purpose for it.

  • Lena VanAusdle

    Hi Marcia,
    I do understand what you are saying, and in some aspects I do agree. We do need to be sure that our focus on the purpose of the Sabbath, rest (as God commanded), and worshipping God. That being said, in John 4:23-24 Jesus Christ says, "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” So yes, the purpose of the Sabbath is important, but so is the truth. God told us when to worship Him, and that is important.

  • Skip Miller

    Hello Marcia, I think we can understand Your point of view. YOU do not see that which day we keep makes much of a difference, to You. I personally believe the same way. But, on the other hand, I honestly believe that the day for congregational worship was set by The Eternal God and that my personal ideas should rank well below God's stated Law. As we research (and I believe we should) we will find that people changed the day for congregational worship. I would like to give you one ludicrous example. Please consider gravity. Scientists tell us that large bodies attract (but they cannot exactly tell us why!) Interesting! So say, since they cannot, I will just float or fly because of my strongly felt, personal belief that I should float or fly!! As I said, that idea is ludicrous! God's Sabbath is incredibly important and was given to humanity as a Great blessing. We will not see its real value until we study it (in God's Word), embrace it, and humbly attempt to keep it.

  • Mario Seiglie

    Hi Nancy,
    Good question! The Sabbath was kept continuously by God's people in Genesis as can be seen by the 7-day weekly cycle mentioned throughout Genesis (7:4, 10; 8:10,12; 29:27-28). Once you get to the next book, Exodus, we see God reminding them of keeping the seventh day Sabbath that He created as a rest for mankind (Ex. 16:23, "Then he said to them, 'This is what the LORD has said: 'Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD.'" Notice the Sabbath is still God's day, and of course, since the time of Exodus, the Israelite people and in particular, the Jewish populace, have faithfully kept the seventh-day Sabbath in this cycle up to today. When we come to the New Testament, we see Jesus keeping the Sabbath as His ancestors had faithfully done and as was His custom, setting an example for us (Luke 4:16). He hearkened back to the original command in Genesis 2 as something to be kept and that the Sabbath was made for man to keep--with Him being the Lord of that day, "And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28). Hope this helps you. Warmly, Mario Seiglie.

  • david from tx

    Hello Nancy. The answer to your question is that it's well documented that the Jews have been observing that same day as the Sabbath for 2,000 years. Jesus never criticized the Pharisees for keeping the wrong day as the Sabbath. So we can be confident that the same day has been kept as the Sabbath since the days of Genesis. I hope this was helpful and God bless.

  • Wendy Englehardt

    Excellent points! Thank you!

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