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Sabbath

Source:
A Dictionary of the Bible What is This? Contains accessibly written entries for topics covering the religious, historical, and social aspects of the Bible.

    Sabbath

    A word meaning cessation (from work): the weekly seventh day of rest, fundamental in Israelite life, sanctioned by God's rest from the work of creation (Gen. 2: 1–3) and accepted as such in all parts of the OT (though not mentioned in the Wisdom literature). Legislation for the Sabbath is outlined in Exod. 20: 8–11; 31: 12–17; 34: 21; Deut. 5: 12–15. It was a day for rejoicing (Hos. 2: 11) and for visiting the Temple (Isa. 1: 13). Before the Exile the discipline was not absolute, and it is recorded (2 Kgs. 11: 5–9) that Athaliah was arrested and executed on a Sabbath. Indeed the regulations could hardly go back to the time of Moses, since they assume an agricultural society, not a heterogeneous collection of nomads. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel insisted on strict observance of the Sabbath (Jer. 17: 19–27; Ezek. 20: 11–24) and it was an important aspect of Nehemiah's discipline after the Return (Neh. 13: 15–23). From then on it was an increasingly visible part of the Jewish sense of national identity. Early in the Maccabean struggle, Jews preferred to die rather than fight (1 Macc. 2: 38), but they recognized that if they continued that policy they would become extinct (1 Macc. 2: 41), and they therefore resolved to defend themselves on the Sabbath.

    A Sabbatical Year was ordered every seventh year when the land was to lie fallow (Lev. 16: 31; 26: 34, 43) and ‘enjoy’ its rest. It deserved and needed a period of recovery after the strain on it through the people's sins.

    Jesus worshipped in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4: 16) but the tradition of his ambivalent attitude to the Sabbath (Mark 2: 28), combined with the belief in his resurrection on the third day (our Sunday), soon turned the first day of the week instead of the last into the Christians' day of liturgical observance (1 Cor. 16: 2), which George Herbert (d. 1632) celebrates in his poem Sunday:

    As Sampson bore the doors away,

    Christ's hands, though nailed, wrought salvation,

    And did unhinge that day.

    Nevertheless in modern popular non-Jewish usage ‘Sabbath’ is often made to refer to Sunday rather than Saturday.

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