Origin of the Sabbath – The Biblical Account.
The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew word שׁבת shabath (shaw–bath’), which was later translated to the Greek σάββατον (sábbaton), and τὰ σάββατα, (tá sábbata).
The root shabath in Hebrew means “to desist,” “cease,” and “rest”.
Often there is also spoken of the “holy sabbath”. The word holy means “set apart”, or “separate” (from the other)
The Sabbath was the day on which man was to leave off his secular labors, and keep a day set apart ( = holy) to Yahweh.
The sketch of creation in Genesis 1:1 through 2:3, closes with an account of the hallowing ( = “to render or treat as holy,” – holy = set apart as distinct from the other) of the 7th day, because on it God rested from all the work which He had made creatively.
Genesis 2:2-3 (KJV)
²And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. ³And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
The word “rested” in verse 2 is translated from the Hebrew word שׁבת shabath (shaw–bath’) which indeed means “to cease” (in this case working), desist, or rest (from work).
An other meaning of the word “shabath” is “put an end to”.
In this case God was putting an end to His creation work
Although the word “Sabbath” is not translated as such in these verses it does appear in the word “rested”, and it is recognized by critics of every school, that the author means to describe the Sabbath as primeval.
In Exodus 20:8-11 (NASB) we read:
⁸Remember the sabbath ( = rest) day, to keep it holy ( = set apart). ⁹Six days you shall labor and do all your work, ¹⁰but the seventh day is a sabbath (rest day) of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male, or your female servant, or your cattle, or your sojourner who stays with you. ¹¹For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
The reason assigned for keeping the 7th day as a holy Sabbath (a set apart resting day), is the fact that Yahweh rested after the six days of creative activity.
In Exodus 31:15-17 we read:
¹⁵For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath (rest) of complete rest, holy (set apart) to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. ¹⁶So THE SONS OF ISRAEL SHALL OBSERVE THE SABBATH, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ ¹⁷IT IS A SIGN BETWEEN ME AND THE SONS OF ISRAEL forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor ( תבשׁ shabath) and was refreshed.” (to take breath, refresh oneself)
Exodus 31:17 describes Yahweh as refreshing Himself (“catching His breath”) after six days of work.
Many modern scholars challenge the statement that God set apart the 7th day for holy purposes, IN HONOR OF HIS OWN REST after six days of creative activity. They see this as merely the pious figment of a priestly imagination, of the exile.
There are so few hints of a weekly Sabbath before Moses, that argumentation is almost excluded, and each student will approach the question with the bias of his whole intellectual and spiritual history.
There also is no distinct mention of the Sabbath in Genesis, though a 7-day period is referred to several times (Genesis 7:4, 10; 8:10, 12; 29:27 etc.).
The first express mention of the Sabbath is found in Exodus 16:21-30 , in connection with the giving of the manna. Yahweh taught the people in the wilderness to observe the 7th day as a Sabbath of rest by sending no manna on that day, a double supply being given on the 6th day of the week.
Here we have to do with a weekly Sabbath as a day of rest from ordinary secular labor.
A little later the Ten Commandments) were spoken by Yahweh from Sinai in the hearing of all the people, and were afterward written on the two tables of stone (Exodus 20:1-17; 34:1-5, 34:27).
The Fourth Commandment lays upon Israel the observance of the 7th day of the week as a holy (separated) day on which no work shall be done by man or beast. Children and servants are to desist from all work, and even the stranger within the gates is required to keep the day holy. The reason assigned is that Yahweh rested on the 7th day and blessed it and hallowed it.
There is no hint that the restrictions were meant to guard against the wrath of a jealous and angry God. The Sabbath was meant to be a blessing to man and not a burden.
After the sin in connection with the golden calf, Yahweh rehearses the chief duties required of Israel, and again announces the law of the Sabbath.
Exodus 34:21 (KJV)
Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest (the Hebrew word שׁבת shabath (pronounced as: shaw–bath’)): [even] in earing time ( = ploughing time), and in harvest [time] thou shalt rest (the Hebrew word תבשׁ shabath.
In the Levitical legislation there is frequent mention of the Sabbath (Exodus 31:13-16; 35:2 f; Leviticus 19:3, 19:10; 23:3, 23:18 ). A willful Sabbath-breaker was put to death (Numbers 15:32-36 ).
In the Deuteronomic legislation there is equal recognition of the importance and value of the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Here the reason assigned for the observance of the Sabbath is philanthropic and humanitarian: “that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou.”
It is thus manifest that all the Pentateuchal codes, whether proceeding from Moses alone or from many hands in widely different centuries, equally recognize the Sabbath as one of the characteristic institutions of Israel’s religious and social life.
As we cannot point to any observance of the weekly Sabbath prior to Moses, we can at least be sure that this was one of the institutions which were given through him to Israel.
From the days of Moses until now the holy Sabbath (the separated day of rest) has been kept by devout Israelites.