POSTED 28 OCTOBER, 2017
“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The themes expressed in Isaiah 58:13-14, as well as in the verses preceding—in particular the emphasis, “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell” (58:12)—tend to be appealed to in a wide selection of Messianic teaching and preaching. However, while Isaiah 58:13-14 are appreciated verses, there is some room for improvement, as we examine the significance of the statements issued, and how the institution of the seventh-day Sabbath or Shabbat is held by God to be just as important as caring for the poor and destitute. Placing the Sabbath at the same level of what many would classify as social justice issues, is not often weighed by readers. Many of us may indeed be friendly to God’s people in the post-resurrection era keeping Shabbat, but we need more refinement so we can recognize how important the Sabbath is as far more than a “religious” observance.
There is disagreement for sure, as to whether this prophetic oracle was issued from a pre-exilic Isaiah son of Amoz (1:1), or some other figure. Liberal interpreters tend to be those who posit a post-exilic setting for this word, tending to conclude that the Jewish returnees from Babylon needed to not be dismissive of the Sabbath. In the estimation of Benjamin D. Sommer in The Jewish Study Bible, “Deutero-Isaiah does not reject ritual in favor of ethical action but calls on the nation to attend to both, and focuses especially on the observance of the Sabbath. Cf. 56.6. These vv. borrow vocabulary from Deut. 32.9-13.” Some have even thought that Isaiah 58:13-14 may be addressing a similar situation as seen in Nehemiah 13:15-22. Furthermore, searching for a more historically-rooted setting for Isaiah ch. 58, some have even interpreted the subject of v. 12 preceding to be the Persian King Artaxerxes, who is to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. While the following analysis will be considering the thoughts of those who hold to critical presuppositions surrounding the Book of Isaiah, nothing in the oracle requires it to have been composed after the Babylonian exile, as it indeed does have wider reaching implications for those who are to correct mistakes of the past, and properly keep the Sabbath for the future.
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!