Holman Bible Dictionary
Old Testament The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew shabbat , meaning “to cease” or “desist.” The primary meaning is that of cessation from all work. Some persons have traced the origin of the concept to the Babylonian calendar which contained certain days, corresponding to phases of the moon, in which kings and priests could not perform their official functions. Such days bore an evil connotation, and work performed on them would have harmful effects. The fifteenth of the month, the time of the full moon in their lunar calendar, was shapattu , the “day of pacifying the heart” (of the god) by certain ceremonies.
Although one can show similarities to the Babylonian concept, the Hebrew Sabbath did not follow a lunar cycle. It was celebrated every seven days and became basic to the recognition and worship of the God of creation and redemption. Regulations concerning the Sabbath are a main feature of the Mosaic laws. Both reports of the Ten Commandments stated that the Sabbath belonged to the Lord. On six days the Israelites should work, but on the seventh, they as well as all slaves, foreigners, and beasts must rest. Two reasons are given. The first is that God rested on the seventh day after creation, thereby making the day holy (Exodus 29:8-11 ). The second was a reminder of their redemption from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ).
The day became a time for sacred assembly and worship (Leviticus 23:1-3 ), a token of their covenant with God (Exodus 31:12-17; Ezekiel 20:12-20 ). Death was the penalty for desecration (Exodus 35:1-3 ). The true observance of not following one's own pursuits on that day would lift a person to God's holy mountain and bring spiritual nourishment (Isaiah 56:1-7; Isaiah 58:13 ), but failure to keep the Sabbath would bring destruction to their earthly kingdom (Nehemiah 13:15-22; Jeremiah 17:21-27 ).
Interbiblical The Sabbath became the heart of the law, and the prohibitions were expanded. Thirty-nine tasks were banned, such as tying or untying a knot. These in turn were extended until ingenious evasions were devised that lost the spirit but satisfied the legal requirement.
New Testament The habit of Jesus was to observe the sabbath as a day of worship in the synagogues (Luke 4:16 ), but His failure to comply with the minute restrictions brought conflict (Mark 2:23-28; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17; John 5:1-18 ). At first, Christians also met on the Sabbath with the Jews in the synagogues to proclaim Christ (Acts 13:14 ). Their holy day, the day that belonged especially to the Lord, was the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (Matthew 28:1; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10 ). They viewed the Sabbath and other matters of the law as a shadow of the reality which had now been revealed (Colossians 2:16-23 ), and the Sabbath became a symbol of the heavenly rest to come (Hebrews 4:1-11 ).
Barbara J. Bruce
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Sabbath'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/s/sabbath.html. 1991.