We’re in a series about non-Jews and Torah. At least one reader asks why I am not discussing Jews in MJ at the moment. Well, that is an important topic. As it happens, non-Jews in MJ is also an important topic. As I am not HaShem, I can only discuss a limited number of things at once. Ah, but someday, in the World to Come, maybe our Torah discussions will be more complex. Perhaps we will be able to simultaneously discuss dozens of topics.
Anyway, for the moment, since non-Jews in MJ is an issue affecting our movement with some urgency, I thought it might be good to spend a few weeks on the subject.
We are working through a list of ten scriptural considerations that I listed under “Torah, Israel, and the Nations: Part 1.”
It is commonly held in the Torah-revival movement that the Sabbath is a “creation ordinance” and that all of God’s people, Jew or non-Jew, should be keeping it.
There are so many problems with this assertion and too many are willing to overlook the problems and eagerly plow ahead.
In the first place, what does it mean to observe the Sabbath. Many think it has something to do with attending worship. Not true. Israel did not have a weekly worship service. (Leviticus 23:3 does not contradict what I am saying. The translations that render it “holy convocation” or something similar are missing it. The Sabbath is a sacred proclamation, referring to the priests declaring the time of the Sabbath’s beginning and ending. I suggest reading Jewish commentaries or the work of Jacob Milgrom in the Anchor Series.)
So what does it mean to observe the Sabbath? It means rest. Literally, the word Sabbath (Shabbat) is the Hebrew for rest.
But how will you observe the Sabbath in a non-Jewish way, those who say the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. What time does Sabbath begin? When does it end? How do you sanctify it?
Those answers come from Jewish tradition (rabbinic tradition). And when you consult the rabbis, what do you find? Sabbath is not for non-Jews.
Now, before you engage in a tirade against those “stuffy rabbis,” consider what God has to say about it:
You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. Exodus 31:13.
I direct your attention to several phrases in this verse:
1. Between me and you.
2. throughout your generations.
3. I, the Lord, sanctify you.
Many could easily dismiss these phrases and engage in sloppy hermeneutics. We are so used to people not believing the God actually means Israel when he says Israel, it is easy for those with a Christian background to make the same mistake as thousands of Christian interpreters have in the past. What mistake do I refer to? The mistake of assuming that everything in the Bible is addressed to you. The mistake of failing to realize God does not always speak to everyone.
The Sabbath is between God and Israel. It is intimate. It is like something between a man and wife.
The Sabbath is for all Israel’s generations. Israel is still here. The Sabbath is still vital and still for Israel.
Yet the clincher would have to be the last phrase. The Sabbath is to sanctify Israel, to set Israel apart. From whom? The nations.
Besides all this, it turns out the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance at all. The text usually cited to prove this is:
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. Genesis 2:2
Many have observed that “rested” is from the same root as Sabbath. Thus, it is argued, the Sabbath comes from creation. No it doesn’t. The noun Sabbath is from a verb that means to rest. God rested on the seventh day, but he did not establish the Sabbath or command it to Adam or Noah.
Others will cite Exodus 20:11:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.
God used this example from creation to give a foundation for the Sabbath command. How should we take this fact? Was God saying in Exodus that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance, binding upon the whole world, and thus Israel should keep it?
That is understanding God’s reasoning backwards. God wasn’t saying Israel should rest because God established the Sabbath at creation. He was saying he rested on the seventh day to anticipate and reveal to Israel how vital the Sabbath is to him. Think about it. I mean really. God had Israel in mind from the beginning.
Sometimes people will argue that Israel, in Exodus 16, where the manna instructions are given and Sabbath is first mentioned, already seemed to know what it meant. Thus, people will sometimes say, Israel must have been keeping the Sabbath all along. Again, not true. They knew what God meant when he said the seventh day was to be a Sabbath because the word Sabbath means rest. Let’s do an experiment. If I said to you, “The seventh day is to be a rest for you,” do you think you would understand what I meant? I thought so.
Later, we will consider Romans 14 and its purpose in the flow of Romans. We will find that Paul was referring directly to the fact that Sabbath is not God’s requirement for non-Jews when he said, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.”