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    "If I shut up the heavens and there is no rain; if I command the locusts to ravage the land; or if I let loose pestilence against My people, when My people, who bear My name, humble themselves, pray, and seek My favor and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear in My heavenly abode and forgive their sins and heal their land." II Chronicles 7:13-1
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    Note: Scriptures are blue.

     


    Sabbath, an Offer We Should Not Refuse.

    Has the church 1   upheld its part of the Sabbath Covenant?

    By Tom Glover

    Of all the doctrines that serve to showcase our differences with mainstream Christianity, Sabbath keeping stands preeminent. It is at the heart and core of our belief system. It is our outward identifying sign and our test of conversion. We have valiantly defended it against the vitriolic onslaught from our mother church. It is safe to say: we are Sabbath keepers - and proud of it!

    So do we of all people, really need any further study on this matter? After having read scores of articles during our WCG ("Worldwide Church of God") years, do we not have this essential doctrine very well understood? After studying, testing, and proving the reams of material attacking and defending the Sabbath over the last five years, can we not with confidence, rightly divide the word of truth on this subject? And after all our praying, fasting, meditating, and finally settling into one of the many Sabbatarian camps, are we not thoroughly acquainted with the biblical requirements for actually keeping this Commandment?

    The scriptures say, "a good understanding have all they that do His Commandments" (Ps. 111:10). It would logically follow that the better we do His Commandments, then the better the understanding we will have. These days the many "Church of God" groups believe in doing His Commandments, but their fractured and isolationist existence, their political squabbles, their errant predictions, and their overall decline betrays a marked lack of "good understanding."

    If we are to be growing in grace and knowledge, but good understanding becomes increasingly elusive, perhaps there is still more we can learn about basic Commandment keeping. After resisting our anti-Sabbath enemies with steadfast resolve, maybe we should now reexamine our personally determined approach, as to just how we keep the holy seventh day. There should be no fear of being accused of "legalism" among us.

    The church has always resisted producing a list, with regard to the Sabbath, of "things to do" and "things not to do." And no such list will be suggested here. Instead, we will reevaluate one basic concept that we have always understood to a point, but one that has been clouded by our institutional traditions. We will focus some light on an old idea that will reveal sharp contrasts in what were formally "gray areas." We shall take a closer look at what seasoned Sabbath keepers like us may at first, regard as "old news," but will reveal a simple and refreshing way of "turning away our foot" from trampling on eternal holy time (Isaiah 58:13).

    Buying, Selling, and Serving Food

    It only takes one day of fasting for us to realize just how much of our life is centered on obtaining food. In fact, even the slightest restriction or limitation on eating--observing Unleavened Bread, adhering to the laws of unclean meats, or just maintaining moderation in our diet--serves to remind us of a host of spiritual concerns. Perhaps this is one reason why so much of the ETERNAL's way of life involves eating and/or not eating. It should be little wonder then, that food is the focus in at least two major areas of scripture where the Sabbath Commandment is expounded.

    Most of us would not go "shopping," do our banking, take our dry-cleaning in, or do any of our mundane errands on the Sabbath (at least, we would never be caught doing so). We would not take our car in for an oil change where other "servants" do that dirty chore for us. Many will not even open bills that arrive in Saturday's mail, preferring instead to deal with "business" on another day. Nevertheless, because the Sabbath is most definitely a Feast Day, and meant to be a joy, we tend to wink at the purchasing of food and drinks on that day. We feel that dining out has been tacitly approved by the church for so many years, and because it is such an integral part of our celebration. We have the deeply etched impression that it is perfectly acceptable to take whatever steps necessary to make our "physical" Sabbath feast a delight.

    Again, it seems so elementary, almost trivial, to now be discussing how to obey the one basic Commandment that for so many of us has been the "line in the sand" between a job and unemployment--between peace and contentious family relationships--between whether we stay with our church or leave it. We have all long ago outgrown the milk of the word, and now seek the deep and far more satisfying things that come from the meat. Yet, because of the lust of the flesh, we may have allowed ourselves to be deceived into breaking this law--sinning--and thus, forfeiting the understanding that comes from simple childlike obedience. In doing so, we may have refused a profitable offer made to us by the ETERNAL Himself. Moreover, if we have been sinning, even if inadvertently, we may have been suffering the natural consequences, if not outright punishment as a result.

    People will only learn what they are willing to know. Most of us are probably happy enough with the hazy impression we have that the bible somehow allows for buying food on the Sabbath, and we embrace the exemption with supposed impunity. However, if we were willing to know for sure, if we were really looking for a bible definition of how to keep the Sabbath holy, that is, how to keep from profaning it, we should want to consider Nehemiah 13:15 - 22 2 as a fundamental example of inspired instruction. This passage is as plain as any scripture can be, unencumbered by difficult translation problems or obscure Hebrew idioms. It is the kind of passage that we are taught to go to first when seeking to establish doctrine. It is the easily understood, straightforward report of how, during the days of Nehemiah's reforms, some merchants were selling (and therefore someone was buying) merchandise--particularly and most notably food--on the Sabbath day. Nehemiah's reaction to this is not mysterious or vague in any way. There is nothing in his response to indicate that there might be mitigating circumstances to justify such a transgression. His censure is quick, sure, blunt, and direct. He clearly and unequivocally condemns the practice as evil and profane (vs.17).

    Now, before going on, let us honestly examine our reaction to that statement. Even among us ardent Sabbatarians, the likely tendency is to refuse to accept this black and white declaration at face value. Surely, there must be more to the story. This has to be specific to Nehemiah's day and time or some "old covenant" or special law that only they were under. There must be mitigating verses, say, in the New Testament, which should be brought to bear on this. The church has always allowed for this custom, indeed encouraged it, so until someone in authority (the bible not withstanding) declares otherwise, this is a non-issue. Some may tell you, "There is NO WAY dining out on Friday night after a tough week, picking up a coffee on the way to services, or buying an ice cream cone on a warm Sabbath afternoon is evil or profane!"

    Right here, if we are not careful, is where communication may break down and growth in knowledge (the sharing of ideas) could be stunted. From this point, the rest of this paper may likely be viewed from a defensive posture, if read at all, and the writer dismissed as a pharisaical fanatic. However, what is the point of bible study if we are unwilling to consider what we do not already believe is true? What profit is there in "searching the scriptures," if we are not looking for anything we do not already have? PLEASE be assured that the intention here is not to spoil our sacred Sabbath traditions or heap burdens upon our day of rejoicing. There is no presumption here to usurp authority or administer correction, but to simply point out a possible blind spot that may have been hindering our overall understanding.

    Continuing, then, in Nehemiah, we find an ancient example of a modern day technique for thwarting human nature--morality legislation. Nehemiah orders the gates to the city shut from sundown to sundown during the Sabbath, and posts guards to forcibly prevent any trafficking of goods into the city (vs. 19). He threatens to bodily harm some straggling peddlers who were just "hanging around" outside the city (vs. 20 - 21). And finally, he sets priests as Sabbath day gatekeepers, as symbolic reminders that buying and selling (in other words, doing business) on the Sabbath is against the law (v. 22). End of story.

    Could anything found in the writings of ancient Israel, ostensibly written for our example, be any plainer than this? An inspired bible student may well find a dual meaning to this story. Some learned scholar might well be able to peal back layers of esoteric Hebrew nuances and find here something of profound prophetic significance. Nevertheless, the primary meaning, the top layer, seems to be as clear as it gets--a textbook example of the Bible interpreting itself. Buying and selling on the Sabbath is profaning it.

    Still, as mentioned earlier, there are arguments that can be posited to negate this instructive story. In fact, most of us from the WCG have for years based our Sabbath keeping on such objections. It is truly amazing, the extent to which we humans can rationalize. We will now closely examine these arguments and determine if there really are any legitimate loopholes through which our own traditions may emerge justified.

    For Nehemiah's Day Only?

    The briefest summation of Nehemiah's time will suffice for our purposes here. The Jews had been allowed to return from exile, rebuild their city of Jerusalem, and rededicate themselves to following the newly discovered laws and ways of their ETERNAL CREATOR. (The parallel to our discovering the truth is already striking.) But Nehemiah, recognizing their wayward proclivities, and wanting to insure the success of the fledgling religious nation, engaged them in a covenant that reiterated obedience to that law, and outlined some specifics in areas that needed special emphasis. 3 Notice the buying and selling clause:
    "And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals [food] on the Sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them 4 on the Sabbath, or on the Holy Day..." (Nehemiah 10:31, KJV

    Now could we conclude from this that it was acceptable for the Jews to buy and sell among themselves on the Sabbath, as long as they did not do business with outsiders? As well-known radio commentator Rush Limbaugh would say, "Let us demonstrate the absurd by being absurd." The parallel to our day would be then, that it is perfectly proper for church members to do business, buy and sell, make deals, and trade with each other on Saturday, but NOT with the outside world in general. Ridiculous! Either way, Dunkin Donuts would still be out!

    More plausible perhaps one could conclude that the notion that the "evil" that Nehemiah condemns the people for in ch.13: 17 is that they broke this specific rule in ch.10; which was only a special covenant for them--to be a kind of schoolmaster helping them to obey "God's" law at that time. However, this cannot be true. Notice Nehemiah's complete thought: "What evil thing is this that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath Day! This is just what your ancestors did, and for it "God" brought all this misfortune on our city..." (Neh 13:17 - 18, Tanakh) Their ancestors also did evil and profaned the Sabbath in the exact same way! Their ancestors could not have had anything to do with this newly ratified and temporary agreement in chapter 10, an agreement that involved only Nehemiah's contemporaries! These ancestors had to be the generation prior to the "misfortune" [Babylonian captivity seventy years earlier 5 ] that was brought upon their city. So what did their ancestors do that was just as evil and profane? The same thing Nehemiah's generation had begun to do--they traded, they did business, they spent money and bought food and other ware on the Sabbath.

    Baking, Boiling, and Heavy Cooking

    As mentioned earlier, one of the most basic of human needs--eating--is used by our CREATOR to demonstrate important spiritual principles. The well-known story of manna in Exodus 16 will immediately be familiar. We need not rehearse here the rudimentary tenets of our Sabbatarian belief this chapter provides. All will agree for example, that this passage shows that keeping the Sabbath has been part of the great spiritual law since creation. It will be noted however, that once again the procuring of food is central to the discussion.

    Embedded in the heart of this story is a simple reference to cooking that has burgeoned into a plethora of differing opinions as to just what is an acceptable level of exertion when preparing or obtaining meals on the Sabbath. Verse 23 seems to say that all cooking, e.g., baking and boiling should be done on the day before and avoided on the Sabbath. (One would presume that roasting, frying, grilling, broiling, toasting, poaching, barbecuing and microwaving would also be restricted or this supposed injunction could easily be circumvented.) Add to this the erroneously applied prohibitions against gathering sticks (Num 15:32), and kindling fires (Ex 35:3), and this view seems well supported. 6 Our interpretation then, has been that verse 23 must refer only to "heavy" cooking. The ideal scenario as taught by the church will be familiar to most. Sumptuous meals for family and friends are an integral part of Sabbath rejoicing and an activity that is strongly encouraged. Of course, careful planning and preparation are necessary to avoid too much work. The unofficial guidelines are to do the shopping and most of the heavy cooking on Friday, presumably leaving only "light" cooking and final preparations to be performed after sundown.

    The intention here was always right and good, and in a perfect world, would without objection be the best and preferred Sabbath dining custom. But as all who have ever attempted to do this can attest, it is not without its little nagging difficulties. Just when does cooking become "heavy"? At what point will our guests "decide" we are doing too much? How much work can be done ahead of time and still yield a freshly prepared meal? Also what about clean up? Certainly many husbands feel that ANY participation in this area would be "breaking" the Sabbath. Add to this the fact that most people today are stretched to the limits of their time. We have busy households where most family members are at work or school all week. Then there are endless chores and errands leaving precious little if any "preparation" time on a typical Friday. The Sabbath is upon us before we know it, and the lure to just go out to eat and enjoy the fruits of someone else's labors is a strong one.

    A careful reading of Exodus 16 however may ease our apprehension. The ETERNAL here, as in Nehemiah, uses the acquisition of food, not its preparation, to demonstrate Sabbath keeping. In a sense, He made a deal with the people of Israel. If they would go out and gather manna six days a week, He would provide manna enough for seven days. To put it in other words, the Israelites were to work and do all their business in six days (Ex. 20:9). That was their part of the bargain. They could not hoard food in order to skip a day's labor because manna would rot by morning. Also if they decided to work (do business) on the Seventh Day, their efforts would prove fruitless, and eventually bring divine disfavor. If they did their part, the ETERNAL would not only provide food everyday, but would allow them to gather two day's worth on day six, thus ending the day's business.

    Verse 23 is the explanation of the latter part of the deal. It describes what to do with the double portion an Israelite would have at his disposal on Friday. This is how they would be conditioned to keep the Seventh Day holy. They were to learn from this not only which day was number seven, (that could have easily been learned by simple counting), but how to keep from profaning it as well.

    Whatever manna was, it apparently had to be cooked or prepared in some way before being consumed. Notice that Moses relays specific instructions from the Eternal as to how to deal with the double portion: "This is what YHWH has said: 'Tomorrow is the Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to YHWH. Bake what you will bake today and boil what you will boil [in other words, cook today's portion] and lay up for yourselves all that remains [set aside tomorrow's portion of fresh, uncooked manna] to be kept until morning'" (Ex. 16:6 NKJV)" 7 The One who created the manna would see to it that this remaining portion would not rot overnight, and thus graphically demonstrate that the Sabbath, like that laid up manna was to be "sanctified," or kept "holy"--set apart for a special purpose. Once the Sabbath morning arrived, the people would see that their "sanctified" portion of manna was still good and ready to prepare and eat.

    There are no restrictions on cooking here at all. Indeed, precisely the opposite seems evident. There is no indication that Israelites would be expected to eat raw manna on the Holy Feast Day. They were to gather a double portion on day six, bake and boil ONLY what they would eat that day, and "sanctify" the rest. Then on the next day, the Sabbath, they could bake and boil and eat that miraculously preserved portion to their heart's content.

    This is not to suggest that "heavy cooking" is not also work. We should not expect a homemaker for example, who cooks all week long, to happily prepare a huge feast on the Sabbath. We should rest from intensive domestic labors as well. However, the point is that this verse does not ban all Sabbath cooking or meal preparation. The Israelites were essentially camping in a primitive wilderness. Moreover, as anyone who has done any camping knows, a certain amount of unavoidable "work" is necessary just to meet basic survival and hygienic needs. The Sabbath law commands rest from is plying one's trade, whether it is cooking and homemaking, or as in this case, trading time and energy for manna.

    The crux of the whole matter is this. The chosen people were to do something very different from what they were used to--very different from what the rest of the world did. They were not to expend their time and energy acquiring food on the Sabbath day. Just as the Jews in Nehemiah's day were not to expend their time and energy (or that which their time and energy earned--money) acquiring food on the Sabbath.

    Again, there are certainly symbolic implications to the manna example that can teach great spiritual lessons. But surely, we would never say the spiritual nullifies the physical. We would never say that one could keep the spirit of the law without keeping the letter. Remember; we are the ones who defended the Sabbath command from those who used just such logic to do away with it.

    Hiring Servants and the Electric Company<

    If our CREATOR had not endowed us with rational, logical minds capable of seeing our own folly, we would of all creatures, be most miserable. Yet, it is precisely our ability to rationalize that causes our folly in the first place.

    Think back to when we first heard about the great eternal law. Think back to the time when we were willing to make whatever changes necessary to comply with the CREATOR's true Way of life. One of the first questions we may have had as a wide-eyed, newly converted babe in the church was about waiters in restaurants. "Are they not just like our servants? Is it alright to pay them to serve us on the Sabbath"? A fair question given the rather explicit instructions regarding servants in the forth commandment. "Not a problem!" was the reply from those more knowledgeable and mature than we, "you see, they are not 'really' our servants, they are the restaurant owner's servants."

    The following was the official church position (and no doubt still is among most splinter groups) as stated in a Personal Correspondence Department letter of October 1988, under the supervision of none other than Pastor General Joseph W. Tkach:

    The Church has long taught that it is not wrong to eat out on the weekly Sabbath... Those waiters, waitresses, chefs, and the like, who may serve in a restaurant, are not our "servants" in the same way described in the Fourth Commandment. They are employees of the owner of the restaurant. They would be working regardless of whether or not we ate there. "God" does not hold us responsible for their working on the Sabbath just because we use their services--unless we were the only ones who ever ate in that restaurant. Obviously, we make up a very small portion of the customers served in restaurants on the Sabbath or Holy Days.

    No chapter, no verse, just pure human reasoning. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us will admit that because this was official church policy, proclaimed by those in authority, and because eating out is a particularly enjoyable and readily available pastime, this arbitrary decree is good enough.

    Also if we needed further convincing, there was always the local electric company to bolster the argument. "We all use electricity on Saturday, and someone has to be working on Saturday to make that possible, and they are going to be working on Saturday whether we use power or not, and "God" would not expect us to be like Jews and not use power on the Sabbath, and on, and on, and on."

    If our mindset had been as focused on Sabbathkeeping,as it has been recently on defending the Sabbath itself, we might have countered these assertions with equally logical rationale. No, we cannot control whether a restaurant "server" works on Saturday, but we can control whether we pay him or her to serve us,which is hiring a servant, albeit indirectly. And no, we cannot control the shift scheduling at the electric company. But we get our electricity "served" to us simply by plugging into the power grid. The power grid is a huge, automated, technologically marvelous machine. It is the machine that actually serves us, just as our automobile or heating furnace serves us. And just as the car and furnace need maintenance and repair, so does the power grid. We cannot control how or when the power grid that serves us is serviced. A fine line maybe, in our modern age, but it's not as though we hire someone to run on a treadmill hooked up to a generator which supplies electric power to our own home all day Saturday! In addition if, we had to feed money into a meter daily to obtain that day's electricity then yes, it would be wrong to buy electricity on the Sabbath. However, the electric company "charges" our electricity usage and we pay on some other day than the Sabbath.

    HOWEVER, ALL THIS IS ALL BESIDE THE POINT ANYHOW! In this miasma (swamp) of human reasoning, logical deduction and intellectual justification, we have completely lost sight of the issue at hand. The problem is not one of defining who our servant is (this will be made clear later). The problem is whether we are buying anything on the Sabbath or not! When we order electric service for our home, we discuss rates and terms and do our business that day. When we pay our electric bill, we write our check and conclude our business that day. Also when we buy food in a restaurant, in a grocery store, at a roadside stand, or from the pizza delivery boy, we are doing business that day.

    It is difficult to see here any difference from the situation in Nehemiah's day. We do not recall Nehemiah saying, "These merchants would be selling their food on the Sabbath anyway, so "God" won't hold us responsible for partaking of their services on the Sabbath." No, the only difference is that we do not have Nehemiah here to throw them out and shut them down. Too bad.

    Plucking Corn and Buying Spice

    We now turn to the New Testament where, one may hope we are sure to find the key verse or example that finally frees us from this "oppressive" regulation against profaning the holy Sabbath. We search with anticipation to find that one principle or truth that has been revealed only to those of the church age, which affords us certain "liberties" denied to our forefathers. The many verses that support the validity and binding force of the Sabbath will quickly come to mind. Descriptions of Sabbath mercy, tending to emergencies and general well doing are easily recalled. But alas, if there is to be found here such an example that mollifies or diminishes the Christian dispensation of the Forth Commandment, it is indeed well hidden between the lines of what the document actually says.

    Again, for those of us who have in recent years striven to defend the veracity of New Testament scriptures which support the Sabbath from the interpretations and traditions of men, it is disconcerting to now be looking for mitigating scriptures ourselves, in order to defend our own traditions.

    Finally, we fix upon Matthew 12, where the only incidence of acquiring food on the Sabbath in all the New Testament writings (with abridged versions in Mark 2, and Luke 6) occurs. It is the often referenced story about the disciples picking and eating grain as they walked through the field on the Sabbath, and being accused of "doing that which is unlawful to do upon the Sabbath" (verse 2, KJV). This enigmatic passage has been used and misused, magnified and maligned, by Sabbatarians and non-Sabbatarians alike as a proof text for whatever cause might be convenient. The very general statements: "For the Son of man is 'Lord' even of the Sabbath day" (Mat. 12:8, KJV), and, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27, KJV), have been quoted again and again by religionists of all sects, to say to the willing ear anything that it wants to hear. However, for our purposes here, we will remain tightly focused on what this passage specifically has to say, if anything, about doing business to obtain food on the Sabbath.

    What was the disciples' perceived crime for which the Son of man found them guiltless? No one would suppose that they were stealing this grain from the field owner. It is safe to assume that "Jesus" would not have condoned the outright breaking of the Eighth Commandment no matter how hungry they were. Besides, that would have been an unlawful deed on any day, not particularly the Sabbath, which was the reason for the Pharisees' complaint. Nor could it be construed that this was in some way an infraction of the ancient restriction against gathering manna, and by reversing this, "Jesus" sanctions food buying on the Sabbath. As shown earlier, the miraculous manna episode was a special and temporary (forty year) deal designed to teach the newly delivered but naïve and stubborn Israelites how to keep the Sabbath holy from the rest of the week. The disciples knew what day it was, and were clearly not gathering or harvesting. They were just plucking and eating what was available for the taking.

    We can conclude from this that the disciples had a right to this food. In a certain sense, it already belonged to them. This would be a practical example of the directive that landowners were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested, so as to provide food for the needy or hungry traveler (Lev 19: 9-10, Deut 23: 35). The disciples, finding themselves hungry, and not abusing the precept, simply took advantage of this divinely bequeathed provision and had lunch.

    The most obvious point to which our attention must be drawn is the fact that there is absolutely no business being done here at all--no deal being struck--no buying or selling of any kind--not the slightest hint of a commercial transaction! Whatever the Pharisees were condemning the disciples for, it could not be that they were doing business on the Sabbath. This indisputable fact alone should be enough to tell us that whatever other lessons this example has to teach, they are not relevant to the issue at hand.

    We are left to conclude that "plucking" the grain was probably against some ritualistic, pharisaic rule regarding reaping on the Sabbath. The references to the ceremonial laws and temple ordinances cited in verses 3-6 would seem to bear this out. The Pharisees were being told that their rules, their regulations, and ultimately their authority could be and would be overridden. Indeed, this is what the church has taught, and it is well backed up by credible scholarship. 8 Of course, some have inferred from this that by absolving the disciples from breaking the Pharisees' law, "Jesus" was, in effect, giving them, and all Christians, carte blanche with respect to ALLSabbath behavior. To justify such a broad inference requires mental gymnastics of Olympic proportions. If one can make such a stretch from these few verses, one can for all intents and purposes, do away with the Sabbath altogether from them. We probably all know someone who has tried.

    If we are honest with the scriptures, we must admit that biblical authority for buying and selling on the Sabbath continues to elude us. We see there is nothing in the New Testament, explicit or implicit, that nullifies the clear, basic, and unambiguous instruction given to us in scriptures like Exodus 20, Nehemiah 13, and Isaiah 58 (to be discussed shortly). But, if the gospels and epistles are silent on the subject of buying and selling food on the Sabbath, they definitely do have something to say about buying and selling another commodity on the Sabbath--spices.

    We turn to the seldom-referenced prelude to the most celebrated event in the New Testament. It is this one weekend and/or week beginning that is at the crux of all Christendom's chosen day of worship. Odd, almost inappropriate, that we find here in the crucifixion account, the only reference to the Sabbath and business, but here nevertheless, it is.

    In Mark 16, three grieving women had brought their funeral preparations to the sepulchre early Sunday morning. We know that these burial spices must have taken a good amount of hard work to prepare. We are told in Luke 23:56 that these women rested on the Sabbath. So when did they prepare them? And more importantly to our point, when exactly did they buy them? Luke seems to indicate that the women hurriedly returned and prepared spices on Friday before sundown, so they must have purchased them on the way home on Friday. Or, it could be that Luke only states what the women did, but not necessarily in chronological order. They returned, they prepared spices, they rested. However, Mark is much more specific as to the timing. He tells us when they actually purchased the needed ingredients. It was not until after sundown. "And when the Sabbath was past...[these grieving, distraught women--heartsick, stressed, and pressed time] ...bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him" (Mark 16:1, KJV). 9

    How many of us would put off making funeral arrangements, and "rest" on Saturday if we had lost a loved one late the Friday before? If there was ever an "ox in the ditch" situation, this would be it, and yet these women declined to avail themselves of the provision. In this, the only New Testament mention of buying or selling in relation to the Sabbath, we see that it was not done. Instead, we see only commitment by the obedient and faithful to a well-learned and long-lived principle for which they were certainly blessed.

    Business as Usual IS Biblical Profanity

    Working to make money, and spending that money, are opposite sides of the same coin of commerce. There can be no business without both. A salesman once said, "Nothing happens until something is sold." If something is not bought, nothing happens--no work! And that is exactly what is supposed to happen on the Sabbath--nothing, no work--neither you NOR your servant should work, according to the Fourth Commandment.

    We tend to think of servants as people employed only by the wealthy to cook their meals, drive their cars, answer their doors, etc. But in a very real sense, we are all servants whenever we work. If you work for someone or if you are self-employed, you are the seller--the servantin the equation. You are either selling a product, a service, or like most of us, selling your time and labor, just as a servant does, for money. When you spend that money, you are the buyer in the mix. In essence, you pay another servant--your servant--for the work he performs for you or product he sells to you. You are either the servant or the one being served--the seller or the buyer! It is, as the expression goes, what makes the world go around. It is the rat race. It is what most of us do most of our waking hours. It is what makes one day just like another day--customary, ordinary, and common. And it is ALL SUPPOSED TO STOP FOR TWENTY-FOUR HOURS every week so we can collect ourselves and rehearse what this life is really all about!

    Six days were allotted to us to be ordinary and common. The Sabbath was set apart (made holy) from the other six days to be extraordinary and uncommon, and the command is to KEEP it that way. The Jews of Nehemiah's day did not keep it holy. They made it common by doing what they commonly did every other day - they bought food and other merchandise. And that is how they profaned it - by tending to their affairs and doing their business.

    The Offer We Shouldn't Refuse

    Isaiah 58:13 -14 is one of the best known and oft-quoted passages regarding the Sabbath, and in particular, its proper observance. Notice how this is actually a two-verse contract between the Sabbath Creator and the Sabbath keeper. In verse 13, the conditions are proposed, and in verse 14 the rewards are offered--a classic cause and effect scenario--IF you will do, THEN I will do. We will look at the refreshingly clear rendering found in the Tanakh:

      If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
      From pursuing your affairs on My holy day;
      If you will call the Sabbath "delight,"
      The "Lord's" holy day "honored"
      And if you honor it and go not your ways
      Nor look to your affairs, nor strike bargains...."
    Striking a bargain is when a buyer and a seller agree on a price to be paid for a service or product. In older times and other cultures, it may have taken considerable time and many "idle words" before reaching such an agreement. Dickering is still something we do today when negotiating a deal for a large, important purchase such as a house or car. However, in our streamlined economic system, most of the "bargaining" for everyday purchasing is already done by simple common consent. We "strike" a bargain every time we buy something. By laying down our money or credit card, we are agreeing to pay the seller's price.

    The Moffatt translation states the conditional requirement at the end of verse 13 even more bluntly as, "not doing business, and not talking idly". Any time we spend money, we are doing business. This whole discussion inescapably leads us to a very simple formula for determining what is and is not appropriate to do on the Sabbath without drawing up arbitrary and subjective lists of do's and don'ts. We can forever eliminate most of those troubling "gray areas" by applying this elementary principle. If it costs money, do not do it. And that includes the food service industry.

    We will let Mr. Moffatt state the promissory portion of this covenant (v.14) with his unique and inspiring rendition:
    then you shall have delight in the ETERNAL's favour, [compare Ps 37:4] for He will let you hold the land in triumph, enjoying your father Jacob's heritage: so the ETERNAL Himself promises.

    Now here is a deal not to be passed up! Here is an opportunity where the return on our investment of some planning and preparation is guaranteed by the ETERNAL Himself. Here is the offer we should not refuse--the ONLY "business" we ought to do on the Sabbath.

    We have all spent many years defending and upholding the Sabbath day as one of our most important doctrines and distinguishing beliefs. Nevertheless, is it possible that in our zeal to acknowledge and promote the Sabbath command as essential to the ETERNAL's true way of life, we have actually overlooked a vital component of its observance? Could we have allowed a certain confidence in our own understanding, and the comfort of our time honored traditions to stunt our spiritual growth? The reader will have to answer for himself. But it is sincerely hoped that we will never feel there is nothing more to learn from revisiting the very basics of the faith.

    Tom Glover
    Boston
    May, 00

     

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    Footnotes

    Up1. Editors Note: The author was a long time member of WCG or one of the COGs. While we may not agree with his perception of what the church is, his view of the Sabbath is right on.

    Up2. For space consideration, most scriptures will not be printed here. Please read them for yourself in any translation you like

    Up3. Bruce, F.F., The International Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p. 505.

    Up4. Unless noted all empjhasis is the author's.

    Up5. Armstrong, Herbert W., Which day is the Christian Sabbath (Pasadena, WCG, 1976), p. 76.

    Up6. To be fair, the church has taught, and most commentaries will agree, that these two verses have nothing to do with cooking at all. The context has to do with some who defiantly gathered building materials and /or made smelting fires in order to ply their regular trade on the Sabbath. There are, of course, many Sabbath traditions of Judaism that have sprung from these verses, and it is suggested here that those traditions have colored our thinking.

    Up7. Voss, Charles, Q&A on Sabbath Part 2; Open Scripture Study Tape, (UHC, 1997).

    Up8. For a thorough discussion of this passage that upholds the sanctity of the Sabbath, the reader is referred to From Sabbath to Sunday by Samuele Bacchiocchi. The concepts of mercy over sacrifice, human need, Jewish Sabbath prohibitions, etc., are all covered in detail. However, the validity of the Sabbath commandment is completely defended.

    Up9. The King James renders the tense here awkwardly, using the past perfect "had bought". But every other translation consulted by this author (over 12 in all) renders the verb as "bought" in the simple past tense. We will assume that the majority has soundly decided which is correct.

     
     

     
     

     
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