POSTED 28 OCTOBER, 2017
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who takes hold of it; who keeps from profaning the sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.’ Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from His people.’ Nor let the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the LORD, ‘To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.’ The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, ‘Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.’”
The statements appearing in Isaiah 56:1-8 have some critical points to convey not just about the seventh-day Sabbath and its importance for salvation history, but also the inclusiveness of the Kingdom of God.
There are, to be sure, some differences in the vantage points of interpreting Isaiah 56:1-8. Liberal interpreters, who divide the Book of Isaiah between multiple prophets or authors, tend to conclude that the setting of this prophecy is post-exilic, representing the scene of the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to the Holy Land in the Sixth Century B.C.E., and how various foreigners were attracted to Judaism. Positing that this passage originates from a Deutero- or Second Isaiah (often thought to be Isaiah chs. 40-55), Benajamin D. Sommer concludes in The Jewish Study Bible, “Deutero-Isaiah assures the foreigners that through full observance of the covenant they can become like members of the Judean community. This passage shows the beginnings of the religious institution that later came to be called conversion, and rabbinic commentators understand the passage as referring to converts.” Others, holding to this material being the product of a Tritio- or Third Isaiah, may conclude that the tenor of passage conveys the returned exiles needing to compose a community mainly defined by those who seek after the Lord and are willing to obey.
Conservatives, who will ascribe a unified prophetic ministry of Isaiah son of Amoz (1:1) to this oracle—one that is notably pre-exilic to the Eighth Century B.C.E.—necessarily have to argue that while a return of the exiles to the Holy Land, and them being a community that will welcome in non-Jewish outsiders is going to be important, that it conveys something most imperative about the mission of God. In the estimation of John N. Oswalt, “What could be added to the promises of the return to the land and the forgiveness of sin, both by the pure grace of God? It is not enough to say that chs. 56-66 were written to address a new historical situation, the one that existed after the return, and so were appended to what was written before. For the historical setting was clearly of little importance to the writer(s)…There must have been some other reason why the author(s) felt something more needed to be said.” Noting some of the major themes of Isaiah, Oswalt goes on to conclude for chs. 56-66,
“[They are] a synthesis of what seem to be conflicting points of view in chs. 7-39 and 40-55. Chs. 7-39 call people to live righteous lives in obedience to the covenant, with the threat of destruction if they fail. Chs. 40-55 seem to speak of grace that is available to the chosen people and depends on nothing but receiving it. These two ideas seem irreconcilable. This final division of the book shows that is not the case. It it as people, any people, choose to live the life of God as he graciously empowers them that they come to know the true meaning of being the servants of God.”
The instruction to remember the Sabbath is the Fourth of the Ten Commandments: “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” (Exodus 20:8-10a). The seventh-day Sabbath or Shabbat is widely associated with God’s creation of the world (Genesis 2:2-3) and the Exodus of Ancient Israel from Egypt (Deuteronomy 15:15). The Sabbath is one of the Torah’s moedim or appointed times (Leviticus 23:3). Desecration of the Sabbath actually brought judgment to Ancient Israel (Jeremiah 17:19-27), but blessings are offered to those who value and honor Shabbat (Isaiah 56:1-8), with a universal observance for the entire world anticipated in the Messianic Age (Isaiah 66:23).
Today’s Messianic movement is different from evangelical Christianity, in that while it affirms the Messiahship of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, it continues to observe the seventh-day Sabbath along with Judaism, in fidelity to the Torah or Law of Moses, and in conjunction with the example of the First Century Believers. Certainly, holding services on the seventh-day (commonly called Saturday), can be viewed as appropriate for a faith community identifying with the Jewish Synagogue, but it also raises many questions. Inquiries abound pertaining to the ongoing validity of the Sabbath in the post-resurrection era. Was not the Sabbath transferred to Sunday, in honor of the Messiah’s being raised from the dead? Was the Sabbath actually abolished by the Messiah? Inquiries abound pertaining to the observance of the Sabbath. Should not the Sabbath be kept according to the Scriptures only? Should not mainstream Jewish tradition and custom play some role in honoring the Sabbath? What does it mean to not “work” on Shabbat?
The Messianic Sabbath Helper includes a wide breadth of material, addressing a wide array of topics associated with Shabbat. This publication has been divided up into two main parts: The Significance of Shabbat and A Theology of Shabbat. You will be able to detect a progression of sorts, in our family’s own approach to the subject matter, as some things are addressed first more generally and then more specifically. In our experience, we ourselves have certainly had to move from a more elementary view of the issue of the seventh-day Sabbath, to a more developed view, and we recognize how the Messianic community needs to do the same.
This is a massive collection of material, well needed for every Messianic home and congregational library!