Lesson 39—November 2, 2014
Background Study of the Sabbath
Scripture: Mark 2:23-3:6; Matthew 12:1-14; Luke 6:1-11
To learn and grow in our biblical understanding of the Sabbath and the history and tradition associated with it.
Introduction to the Sabbath-A Background Study
In the verses of Mark 2:23 through 3:6, we find two controversies about the same subject: the Sabbath and its proper use.
The Pharisees, because of their traditions to the law and ritualistic human traditions, had turned the Sabbath into something God never intended. Jesus confronts their misuse and restores the Sabbath to its proper state. He also confronts the Pharisees concerning their insistence on the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. God made the Sabbath so that man could cease from his labor and find refreshment. The Pharisees had turned the idea of refreshment into something very restrictive, so restrictive that even sustaining life and doing good were questioned. The concept of Sabbath comes from the early chapters of Genesis when God ceased His creative activity, not because He was exhausted but because His work was complete (Genesis 2:1-3). Sabbath rest, then, is the ceasing of normal pursuits to find refreshment in the worship and service of God. The Pharisees insisted on total inactivity and made the Sabbath a burden rather than refreshment. The Sabbath was a “sign” between God and the nation Israel (Exodus 31:17), and is therefore a Jewish observance. Indeed it is the only commandment of the Decalogue not reaffirmed in the New Testament. Because of the resurrection, the Christian day of worship is the Lord’s Day (Sunday, the first day of the week) rather than the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday, the seventh day of the week) (Believer’s Study Bible, NKJV).
Charles Swindoll offers some very practical words concerning Mark 2:23-3:6:
The Pharisees never doubted their self-appointed role as God’s judge, jury, and executioner in all things related to the Torah (Law). As a result they expected Jesus to agree with them—to join their ranks, honor their customs, earn their respect, and lead Israel as the greatest Pharisee of all time. But the relationship between Jesus and the religious authorities in Israel started out strained and only grew worse with time. He never did fit into their ranks.
In previous lessons, our attention has been called to the increasing opposition and intensity of this opposition.
Jesus claiming to be the Messiah rubbed them the wrong way, but they couldn’t deny His miracles. He treated them dismissively, brushing aside rabbinical teaching to stand on His own authority when expositing the Scriptures. He healed the kind of people they felt sure God had censured with disease or disfigurement (Exodus 20:5; Luke 13:2; John 9:1-2; 9:34; Acts 28:4). He exercised authority over demons, diseases, and sin. He forgave sin, which seemed more than a little presumptuous to them; on top of all that, He enjoyed the company of sinners. Then one day, He did the unthinkable. He defied their authority by challenging their interpretation and application of God’s law.
God had intended the Sabbath to be a blessing. The Pharisees had made it a burden. “Nothing stirred the Pharisees to wrath more than the Lord’s attitude toward the Sabbath” (Phillips).
“There is no record in Scripture that God ever gave the Sabbath to any other nation. So, when Jesus began openly to violate the Sabbath traditions, it was like declaring war against the religious establishment”
(Wiersbe). Because of the increasing Sabbath traditions detailed by the Pharisees, the Sabbath day had become “a crushing burden, a symbol of the galling religious bondage that had captured a nation” (Wiersbe).
J. Vernon McGee adds:
In the last part of this chapter [chapter 2], we come to a Sabbath Day in the fields. Then in chapter 3, it begins with the Sabbath Day inside the synagogue. We see these two incidents in Matthew and Luke. It is very important because it was on the question of the Sabbath Day that He broke with the religious rulers. From this time on, they sought His death (3:6).
The Life Application Bible Commentary tells us:
The way Jesus kept the Sabbath irritated His critics to the point of fury. We must remember that the religious leaders, by imposing a bewildering system of Sabbath laws, had in fact made themselves lords of the Sabbath and thus lords over the people. They made the seventh day dreaded rather than enjoyed (Barton).
Hershel Hobbs writes in An Exposition of the Four Gospels:
The Sabbath day was the most sensitive nerve in
Pharisaism. There were certain key points in Judaism: the temple, the Scriptures, the traditions and the Sabbath. However, other religions had their temples, scriptures, and traditions. But only Judaism had the Sabbath. So, more than any other, the Sabbath was the distinctive element in the Jewish faith. However, it would be difficult to identify the simple commandment concerning the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-12) with the elaborate system of Sabbath observance in Judaism. The fourth commandment simply forbade work on the Sabbath. But Jewish interpreters had defined work. In so doing, they laid down thirty-nine basic actions (oral laws) and then subdivided these into hundreds of prohibitions. For instance, no burden could be borne on the Sabbath, a burden being defined as anything which weighed as much as two dried figs. A man gets off his donkey just at sunset on Friday, should he take the saddle off the donkey? If so, he was working. If not, the donkey was working. Should one eat an egg laid on the Sabbath? For in laying it, the hen worked. Drawing a stick across the ground was considered plowing, pulling a hair out of one’s head was shearing. Jesus never broke the fourth commandment. But He refused to be bound by man-made laws of the Jews. Nevertheless, it was on this issue, more than upon any other, that the Pharisees constantly hounded His steps.
• Please explain the following statement: It is very important that we (followers of Jesus) know why we do what we do.
• The Pharisees thought they were safeguarding the Sabbath, but what were they really doing?
Notice that while the Pharisees were so intent on keeping the holiness of the Sabbath, they did not seem to mind plotting a murder while keeping their legalistic vows to keep the Sabbath holy (Mark 3:6).
• What are some truths that we can gain from our background study on the Sabbath?