A radio alarm crackles to life with an uplifting melody played by a string quartet. The clock reads 8:00 a.m., much later than the normal 6:00 a.m. wake-up time to which the 30-year-old New Zealander is accustomed.
It is Saturday, he thinks, happily remembering that his Sabbath schedule is markedly different from the hurried routine he follows during the rest of the week.
After a cup of coffee and morning prayers, he sits down with his Bible and Hebrew concordance to continue a long-term project of studying the book of Psalms.
He enjoys a leisurely lunch and then changes into a different outfit: a pressed white shirt, navy blue tie, charcoal-colored suit, and freshly shined shoes. He then sits down in his neatly kept home office and, at 1:00 p.m. sharp, begins singing a hymn for services, his lone voice filling the small room…
Across the globe, a Virginia woman sits at Sabbath services with her children, a two-year-old and four-year-old, quietly napping at her feet. Her husband, who is serving as the day’s song leader, returns from the front of the room after announcing what sermon will be played. Eagerly listening, she takes detailed notes to review later.
After the closing prayer, a flurry of activity begins. The men set up the hall for a potluck, while the ladies arrange a spread of food.
Throughout the evening, the woman joyfully converses with her Christian brothers and sisters—sharing humorous stories about her children, discussing the contents of the sermon, and bringing up pertinent news stories from the previous week…
As the evening sun starts to descend toward the horizon in Zimbabwe, a man prepares for a bus ride home over unpaved, rut-filled roads. He arrives at his modest abode, with 45 minutes left before sundown, and sits outside his front door to observe Creation and meditate on the day’s events…
Just as with each of these three fictional examples, each of us has our own Sabbath routine—a series of physical activities performed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset—that we follow in accordance with God’s command in Exodus 20:8: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Among the almost 52 local weekly Sabbaths a year, most of them have a set pattern. For example, some families regularly gather on Friday nights to listen to beautiful instrumental music. Other individuals almost invariably drive one-and-a-half hours to services that occur at 10:00 a.m. on the dot. Still others, who do not live near Church members, have a set time they call other brethren for fellowship.
As we observe the weekly day of rest, these routines can become habitual. Without diligent effort, we can begin to “go through the motions” with some of our tasks for this weekly festival. Yet, by re-examining the purposes for this day, a single point becomes clear: God wants it to have deep meaning—He wants us to think BIG on the Sabbath!
Day to Remember
Look again at verse 8 of Exodus 20. Because we observe the Sabbath every week, the human mind can easily oversimplify its meaning. Read slowly: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
At first glance, these eight words seem to have a single meaning: “Remember each week to keep the Sabbath holy by not working.” Continuing this line of reasoning, by merely not working from Friday night to Saturday night, you have done your part in keeping the command.
Not so fast! This verse means much more than simply resting for 24 hours.
A key to this scripture is the word “remember,” which in Hebrew is the word zakar. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon defines this term as “to remember, to recollect, to bring to mind,” “recall,” “to be mindful,” “retain in memory,” and “to bear something in mind, to account, to consider.” It also means “to contemplate things brought back to memory.”
So, what “things” are we supposed to bring back to memory and contemplate on the Sabbath?
This question begins to be answered in Exodus 20: “Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates” (vs. 9-10).
Now comes a main point to remember!—“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (vs. 11).
When God handed the Ten Commandments to ancient Israel, He was essentially telling them to recall the Sabbath He instituted 2,500 years earlier at the end of the re-Creation week.
As spiritual Israel today (I Pet. 2:9), we must also zakar—“remember,” “recollect,” “bring to mind,” “recall,” “be mindful,” “retain in memory,” and “contemplate”—events that led up to and occurred on the very first Sabbath.
Remembering the week in which God renewed the face of the Earth and day of rest He created makes clear what we should bring to mind, and why.
Sabbath Number One
The Word, who later became Jesus Christ, looked over the waters that covered a dark and vacant Earth, which had been ruined by Satan’s way of get. He declared, “Let there be light!”—and there was (Gen. 1:3).
Over the following days He made sure the atmosphere could support life, separated the oceans from landmasses, brought forth plants from the soil, and set the orbit of Earth around the sun and moon around Earth. Next, He created animals: birds for the air and sea creatures for the water. On Friday, He made wild beasts and reptiles, everything from elephants to iguanas.
Let the gravity of these statements sink in. Psalm 33 states that God “spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (vs. 9). Think. When the Creator spoke—these all existed!
This is where the story gets even more interesting. The Word and the Father said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness: and let him have dominion” over Creation (Gen. 1:26). Just as each animal was created after its own kind, mankind was fashioned in the “image of God”—“male and female created He them” (vs. 27).
Then, as the sun slipped below the horizon that Friday, God set an example for Adam and Eve: “…He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” (2:2).
But during this first Sabbath, God did not laze about—He was busy teaching and instructing Adam and Eve!
Mr. Herbert Armstrong explained this in Chapter 2 of his book The Missing Dimension in Sex: “The plain statement is that the man and woman were created as the final act of creation on the sixth day of the week described in the first chapter of Genesis. They had been created, even as we have been born, with human minds as yet unfilled with knowledge. But they were created as adults, with adult-capacity minds, capable of receiving and reasoning from knowledge.
“So their Creator began immediately to instruct them in necessary basic knowledge. And this, it is made plain, included instruction in SEX and MARRIAGE.”
“At this point we must bear in mind that the narrative here is exceedingly brief. It touches only on the high spots. There is every indication that God gave Adam and Eve considerable basic instruction—sufficient for their needs for the moment. Only the high-point portions of this instruction are summarized.
“But sufficient is recorded to show that they were instructed THE WAY to live that would CAUSE every GOOD effect—peace, happiness, prosperity, comforts, interesting life, abundant well-being.”
As the Sabbath immediately followed the creation of Adam and Eve, God, as the Great Educator, filled their minds with how to live. While we cannot know all He taught them on the first Sabbath, we do have an outline of what was taught before the serpent beguiled the first man and woman (Gen. 3).
God taught them about sex, marriage and family (Gen. 1:28). He also taught them there are two ways to live, give and get, represented by “the tree of life” and “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (2:16-17).
Amid all of this, it was likely abundantly clear to Adam and Eve that they had just been formed from “the dust of the ground” (vs. 7) and a rib (vs. 21-22) by the Being who was teaching them.
Just in these first two chapters of the Bible, there is a lot to “call back to memory” and “remember”!
Meaning for Us
Take a look at everything that God instructed Adam and Eve in the first chapters of Genesis. God emphasized the importance of family, drawing close to Him, education and living the way of give. Today, we do the same on the Sabbath through fellowshipping with brethren, making time for extra prayer and study, and hearing messages from the ministry.
Yet each of these has an added spiritual element that should be recollected and called to memory on the Sabbath.
Remember God is a Family: The Creation account shows God is a spiritual family unit now comprised of two Beings: the Father and Jesus Christ. Yet God also revealed His ultimate purpose for mankind—that we may take of the tree of life and be born into that Family.
Keep these points in mind while spending time with physical family and spiritual brothers and sisters on the Sabbath.
On the weekly Holy Day, we should redouble our efforts to create an atmosphere of love, understanding, learning and communication with each other within our families and Church congregations. Families and brethren should share meals together, with conversation that keeps everyone’s minds on the day’s meaning.
This could, on occasion, be a meal in a restaurant. Loud and clamorous restaurants should be avoided as they will distract you from the meaning of the Sabbath.
From time to time, a short visit to a park or beach, with perhaps a picnic lunch, could also be appropriate. Instead of playing games, or doing a lot of physical activity, you should focus on relaxing and taking in nature’s beauty—remembering the Creator who designed everything you see and fashioned you in His image.
Remember to draw close to God: Adam and Eve were able to speak directly with God and knew His voice (Gen. 3:10). Similarly, we are able to come boldly before God’s throne (Heb. 4:16) to speak with Him.
Taking time to talk with God is vital on the Sabbath. This is done through prayer—not just prayer as we would do throughout the week, but a time set aside for special, detailed prayers that tell God how thankful we are for calling us out of this world.
Communicating with God includes listening to His “voice” through studying His Word. While we are, in a certain sense, studying the Bible during Sabbath services, we should also set aside extra time to dig into this Book—both individually and with our families—to call into remembrance the big picture of our place in God’s Plan.
Remember we are spirit beings in training: The fact that God is building His holy, righteous character in us should be at the forefront of our minds on the Sabbath. In addition, what God did on the first Sabbath should serve as a template for us today.
For example, God taught Adam and Eve. We too are learning to be teachers. You should be diligently reinforcing Bible doctrines in your mind. Realize that you will one day teach mankind the truth taught to you via sermons.
A great way to reinforce this is to teach your children on the Sabbath. You will find that having to break down God’s commandments and statutes into terms a young person can understand will also benefit you greatly. (Also, working with children serves as a reminder that we are children learning from the Father.)
These are just a few of the spiritual parallels that should be remembered on the Sabbath day. When God says remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy—there is a lot there!
Colossians states that the Sabbath is “a shadow of things to come” (2:16-17), which means it is a type of what will one day happen. In this instance, the weekly Holy Day pictures the 1,000-year millennial rule of Christ and the saints after 6,000 years of man attempting to govern himself.
This is something we must have firmly in our minds. Yet God knows that the human mind is a sieve and will quickly forget some of the elements of the Christian calling—turning instead to physical things.
How easily can we forget? God put a Sabbath to remind us every seven days. Every Friday evening, God is, in effect, telling us to stop and remember His plan of salvation.
Everything we do on the Sabbath should allow us to keep our ultimate purpose in mind. Doing this helps us to more easily see what we can and cannot do during this holy time.
For example, the television should generally be turned off as the vast majority of programming is not appropriate for any day, let alone the Sabbath. Rare exceptions to this would be shows that enhance your understanding of God’s Creation or news programs (using balance and wisdom).
Also, be sure to do all errands and daily chores before sunset on Friday. This involves planning. Even a “quick stop” at a grocery store interferes with remembering the day of rest.
One of the more important events of the Sabbath is attending services. It is a “holy convocation,” or commanded assembly (Lev. 23:3). With the full meaning of the seventh day of the week in our minds, however, should this be viewed as a hollow command?
No—we are qualifying to be God-beings!
Coming together with those of like minds is the perfect environment “to contemplate things brought back to memory”—and build godly character.
Call these facts to memory any time you feel you should miss Sabbath services for any reason other than a contagious illness or severe emergency. Even if you feel somewhat tired after a hard week, God intends this day to be used to rest from daily work—not for staying in bed all day!
Also, a sick pet is not an excuse to miss Sabbath assembly. While animals should not be neglected, common sense and right priorities should be the focus.
A list of such excuses could go on and on. But our attendance at services should always be foremost in our priorities!
Church services should be the highlight of the Sabbath. We come before God dressed in our very best, remembering that we are learning to emulate the God of utmost quality.
Every aspect of the service is designed to facilitate growth. Notice Colossians 3: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing [which can mean “put in mind” in the Greek] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (vs. 16).
Even singing hymns should teach us and “put in mind” the truths of God!
Additionally, fellowship should be thoughtful and uplifting. We should be careful to avoid drawn-out discussions about jobs or controversial subjects.
Think. Conversations you have now could be the makings of close friendships that have the potential to last for all eternity!
Carefully consider what you discuss. Ask: Is what I talk about with others helping them to remember the true meaning of the Sabbath?
For more about what is appropriate on the Sabbath, read or review the book Saturday or Sunday – Which Is the Sabbath?. In addition, read “Sabbath Fellowship: More than Conversation,” which can be found in this issue.
Do Not Forget!
Jesus Christ—the same Being who renewed the face of the Earth in Genesis 1—said in Mark 2, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (vs. 27).
This weekly “feast” is not intended to be a burden. Instead, it was created as a blessing for man. Due to this, be careful not to have the attitude of wanting the day to pass quickly because you have some “important” business or activity that you are anxious to begin.
God warns against this type of thinking and explains that the Sabbath should not be approached with a rushed or hurried attitude. Amos 8:5 states, “When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? And the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?”
In contrast, with the big picture in mind, always greet the Sabbath with anticipation and joy, not a haphazard or lackadaisical approach. Remembering the meaning of this day will help allay any wrong attitudes that may crop up.
Do not let yourself forget: We are training to help rule the entire universe!
Fully grasping what the Sabbath represents establishes within us the real purpose for our existence. It gives each of us a clearer perspective of the problems, fears and worries of living in this world, and how to cope with them. It prepares us for another week of accomplishment and gives us a real purpose for living. That purpose has never changed, and the reason for observing the Sabbath is the same today as it was when God first rested nearly 6,000 years ago.
Despite all of this, we still do have routines and certain activities we must accomplish between Friday sunset and Saturday sunset. There is nothing wrong with this. Some always have to drive an hour or more to meet with a local congregation, dress their kids for services, help set up snacks, or stay late to clean up the hall, among other duties.
Resolve to not let yourself become blinded by these smaller physical tasks, or let weekly Sabbath services and fellowship become “old hat.”
Instead, when each week draws to a close, remember the purpose of God’s day of rest. As you change into your Sabbath attire, “recollect” the true meaning of your calling. As you drive to services, “bring to mind” why you were born. As you sing hymns, “contemplate” the words and think about how you will one day teach others God’s Way. As you take notes during the sermon, “retain in memory” that God is instructing you through His ministry. Each Sabbath day, “bear in mind,” “take account,” and “consider” all you do and how it relates to your incredible future.
Remember: Think big on the Sabbath!