A Response to “Should You Dine Out on the Sabbath?”

This article is a defense of the idea that believers shouldn’t eat out or do other things that cause unbelievers to do work on that Sabbath based on the fact that we have both command and example to do so. It will also respond to Andrew’s article (found here) where he responds to my view and presents his own view of who needs to keep the Sabbath. Note that this is not a defense of the belief that believers in the New Covenant should be keeping the sabbath day. That understanding of the sabbath as moral law will be assumed.

Moral law

The sabbath commandment is part of the moral law. It is found in the Ten Commandments, the summation of the moral law:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 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.

Exodus 20:8–11 (KJV):

Note that the sabbath command is not merely for the individual to keep for himself, but also that he should not make those around him and in his employ work. The term stranger is especially interesting. The underlying Hebrew word is defined as:

גֵּיר a guest; by impl. a foreigner:—alien, sojourner, stranger.

Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 2, p. 28). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The same term (and Hebrew root) is used in Leviticus where the context clearly shows this is referring to a gentile.

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. 34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:33 (KJV)

Thus, the command would tell us that everyone whom we have the power to make not do work for us, we should do so, regardless of their status with God. It is in our power to make those who serve us at restaurants not do additional work. When you go out to eat on the sabbath day, you are making cooks cook for you, servers serve you and bus boys clean up after you, and this would thus be a violation of this command. Neither would the fact that they would be working anyways be a valid excuse. Even if they are working we should not add to their load, and also if it is sinful in its own right we should not participate in it. Just as we would recognize that a person who drives a pregnant mother to an abortion clinic has no excuse for their participation in the sin of the mother, even if the mother would have found another way to get there, we should be careful not to make excuses if indeed it is a sin for an unbeliever to work on the sabbath.

Responses

Getting into some interaction with Andrew’s article, I agree with Andrew (and the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith) that the sabbath is both positive and moral in its character. Positive here means that something is commanded but is not universally moral in nature. For example, the command to not commit adulatory is moral in nature, it is universally wrong for all time. The command to keep the feast days of the Mosaic Covenant are positive, as they are not binding on the conscience of believers today, but were only for the people of that time. It would have been wrong for the Jews to ignore the feast days, but it is not wrong for us not to keep them. The Sabbath is both moral in that it is a creation ordinance designed for the worship and remembrance of God, and positive in that it was initially enacted on the 7th day of the week, and now is enacted on the 1st day. However, just because something is positive in its character doesn’t inherently mean that all men aren’t obliged to follow it. God has given all creatures to eat as food (Genesis 9:3). This is a positive command as prior to the fall where there was no death, and thus humans would not have eaten animals. It would be wrong for someone today to insist meat couldn’t be eaten despite the fact that this is positive law, because that positive law is given for all men, and it lays on the foundation of moral law (it’s wrong to force someone to do what God has not commanded). So the question then becomes is the Sabbath for all or just believers? Paul reminds his gentile hearers in Galatians that:

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith

Galatians 3:10-14

Thus even the Gentiles were under the curse of the law, although they were not underneath that Covenant. How else would Christ be able to redeem them (us) from the curse of the law if they were not under that curse? The curse is for “all the things which are written in the book of the law,” which is a quotation that comes from Deuteronomy 27:26. Thus, by the Apostle Paul’s inspired interpretation, the Gentiles were cursed because they too did not keep the whole law as contained in Deuteronomy. If this would apply to the ceremonial laws, how much more the moral like the sabbath command?

Andrew also views the sabbath command as having a twofold purpose, for acknowledging God and His work of creation and proclaim by type the true rest that one has in Christ. To these, I’d like to add a third. The sabbath command has the purpose of giving physical rest to those who are weary. The version of the 4th commandnet in Deuteronomy reads as follows:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. 15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.

Deuteronomy 5:14-15

The sabbath is not merely for worship of God (although its more important aspect is about that). It is also about achieving physical rest for those who labor. The reason God gives here for the sabbath command is so that servants can rest physically. He even reminds the Jews of their time in Egypt, when they needed rest and were not given it out by Pharaoh (Exodus 5:5-23). Thus we should remember those around us and make sure they are able to rest physically. When we go out on God’s appointed day for rest, we are preventing those that serve us (at least in part) from having the rest that they need. Another example that the concept of sabbath is also about rest is the land sabbath that Israel was supposed to keep. Although not the same as the weekly sabbath (and not moral law), it is still useful for our understanding of the sabbath. God tells the Israelites if they don’t obey the land sabbath command he will remove them from the land with the the result that:

Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. 35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

Leviticus 26:34-35

God cares about even the land getting its rest. If he cares about the land getting its rest, surely he cares about those made in His image to get theirs.

Andrew’s main argument is that the command to keep the Sabbath can only be kept by the covenant community, and thus shouldn’t be applied to unbelievers working on the Sabbath today. In his view the sabbath is to be kept holy and the means of doing so is by resting so that the day can be devoted to God. Unbelievers aren’t resting for the purpose of keeping the day Holy unto God, so even if they were to rest, it wouldn’t be fulfilling the command. In talking with him, he also makes it clear that those on the covenant land were also supposed to keep the command to not do work as this foreshadows the rest all will have in Christ. Ultimately I think this is contradictory, if the sabbath is solely about the worship of God, how is it that the sojourner in Israel must not work when they don’t worship God? Why is that tied to the moral law in the ten commandments, if the part about having others rest can only be fulfilled in the Old Covenant, as there is no covenant land today? If they are to rest regardless of their status towards the covenant, then why would we in the New Covenant not care if those outside the covenant get their rest? Any stranger coming into the land would know God’s requirement to rest on the seventh day (assuming the Jews were actually keeping the practice at the time). It would have been hard for them not to:

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. 16 There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17 Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. 19 And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. 20 So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21 Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.

Nehemiah 13:15–21 (KJV)

Notice some important things about this passage. First it is explicitly mentioned that there were merchants from Tyre coming to Jerusalem. These men as gentiles would not have been part of the covenant community. Second it explicitly mentions that the traders from Tyre were bringing in their wares and selling them. This highlights what their sin was as they were both working and causing the children of Israel to sin by engaging in unneeded commerce. Third, Nehemiah puts guards around the city gates permitting no one to come in with a burden. The gentile traders weren’t excluded from this. Finally, Nehemiah says the traders still lodged outside the city walls and that he threatened them with violence because of this. These traders in context would have still included those from Tyre, so clearly those outside the covenant community can be condemned for violating the sabbath command. In all of this, Nehemiah in his writings didn’t need to include the details about the sellers of Tyre and what they were doing, but he did to make the point clear that they were also involved in sin. When the traders returned to Tyre, were they now no longer obliged to keep the sabbath, after having been exposed to the fact that God commands rest and worship on that day? How is this different from the person who knows the Church meets on Sunday, yet decides to work that day instead? If the Jews who were exiled from the land still would have had to keep the Sabbath, then the commandment is not about the land. If the gentiles were required to keep the law (even if we only have example doing so when on the land), then its not only about the covenant people keeping the Sabbath.

Andrew brings up the point that because the word “gates” in Exodus 20:10 is only ever used for gates of city and never private property, this was something to be exercised as part of the national covenant. While it is true, in the Old Testament (although not the New), the word “gate” only ever refers to city gates, I’m not sure that matters. We’re told the Sabbath is to take place in “all your dwellings” (Levitcus 23:3). Should we therefore conclude that when the Jews were exiled in Babylon, they could make any Babylonians work for them in their homes on the sabbath? The command surely would extend beyond the physical borders of the covenant community to any gentiles the Jews came in contact with. And if, as Andrew rightly points out, the application of the fifth commandment (honor your mother and father that it may go well with you in the land) changes from the “land”, to the “earth” (Ephesians 6:3) why would we not expect that the application of the “stranger that is within your gates” to apply more universally as well? To say otherwise would make this the only commandment that had a portion of text in no way apply today, which would be odd for something that’s supposed to be the summation of the categories of the moral law.

I would also be remiss if I did not bring up the New Testament commentary on the Sabbath. Jesus tells us:

And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath

Mark 2:27 (KJV)

The Sabbath was made for man in general. There’s nothing in the context that would make us conclude this was something for the Jews only. In its original purpose, all were to be blessed by it.

Application

Andrew does bring up a very important point and the end of his article that I want to highlight here:

Our message to unbelievers should be this: repent and believe, be baptized, and keep the Sabbath — in that order. We should no more want them to keep the Sabbath before joining the covenant than we should want them to be baptized before professing faith.

https://theparticularbaptist.net/2021/03/13/should-you-dine-out-on-the-sabbath/

Amen. To those reading that are not in Christ I implore you not to come away from this article with the idea that sabbath keeping will make you right with God. By works of the law no man will be justified in His sight (Romans 3:20). Even if you were to keep the sabbath command perfectly from now on, you still would not atone for your past Sabbath breaking, nor would you atone for your other sins (James 2:10-11). In order to have your sins atoned for and be in right relation to God, you must put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, Romans 3:25-56). His death on the cross for sin and righteous life are applied to our account when we believe. The Scripture says any other path to God will lead in your condemnation. Neither will it be that only those who have my view of the sabbath will be in heaven. Perfect understanding of the moral law and its application is not a requirement for salvation.

However all that being said, just because we aren’t seeking people to follow the law apart from Christ, it doesn’t mean that we should participate in their sin. Just as we wouldn’t sell a gun to someone we know intends to commit murder with it, we also would not want to go and cause someone to sin by working on the sabbath, even if they don’t recognize it as sin. I would implore the reader to think through these issues carefully, as no believer should desire to cause a neighbor to live in sin.

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