Yeshua and the Torah: Lord of the Sabbath
Want to know how to become wealthy? Don’t win the lottery. A surprising number of lottery winners squander their wealth away. Here are a few of their stories.
Michael Carroll, an unemployed 26-year-old Brit lost a £9.7 million jackpot he won in 2002 (about $15 million) and hopes to get his old job back as a garbageman. At first, Carroll lavished gifts on friends and family, but soon started spending on himself. "The party has ended," he recently told the UK Daily Mail, "That's the way I like it. I find it easier to live off £42 dole than a million."
After winning $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988, William 'Bud' Post might have had it made. He died in 2006 living on a $450 monthly disability check. "His problems," said The Washington Post, "included...a brother who tried to hire someone to kill him and his sixth wife and a conviction after Post fired a shotgun on a debt collector."
Evelyn Adams of New Jersey won the state lottery twice—and used up her $5.4 million on a compulsive gambling habit. She now lives in a trailer.
West Virginian Jack Whittaker won a $315 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas 2002 and lost everything he valued. Everyone around him, including strangers demanded some of his fortune and he retreated into alcohol. He also lavished gifts on a 17-year-old granddaughter Brandi, whose life spiraled out of control. Whittaker's marriage disintegrated as he became a notorious philanderer. Two years after winning his fortune, his granddaughter died of an apparent overdose. With the bulk of his jackpot gone, Whittaker, who had been a hard-working contractor, told reporters: "I wish we had torn the [lottery] ticket up."
What is wealth? I like this definition: Wealth (that is, material wealth) is a measure of your ability to do what you would like to do, when you would like to do it - a measure of your breadth of immediate available choice.
Certainly, by that standard, one of the greatest gifts to humanity came at Mt. Sinai through the fourth commandment:
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Ex. 20:8-11)
God intended the Shabbat to be a day to invest in our spiritual wealth and well-being. This is a weekly gift of 24 hours to be free, totally free, to do nothing else but seek a higher spiritual plane and develop closer relationships with family, friends, and those in our community of faith. Above all, each one is encouraged to apply their heart, mind and soul in freedom to be themselves before God and explore that relationship without any greater effort than the study of God's Word.
The word "Shabbat" comes from the root Shin-Bet-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. The word we translate work is “Melachah”—which generally refers to the kind of work that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over your environment.
This commandment was a transformative gift not just to Israel—but through the influence of the Scriptures, has affected much of humanity, including Christians who have adopted a Sunday Sabbath. No civilization before Israel was ever so generous with its people: giving them one holiday every week. In fact, the Greeks considered this to be a sign of Israel’s laziness.
For Messiah's followers, one of the best ways to honour this gift is to follow Yeshua's example. He attended the synagogue with other Jews. We read in Luke 4:16: “on the Sabbath Day he attended he went into the synagogue which was his custom…” This chapter shows how he attended two different services: one in Nazareth, another in Capernaum. Nor is he simply there as an observer: he reads the Scriptures, he speaks and is engaged with the community.
In Matthew 12, Yeshua is accosted by some of his opponents on the Shabbat. Since he has grown more popular, and as his teaching has grown in authority for the common people, his qualifications as a teacher are being challenged by the P’rushim (Pharisees-who scrupulously adhere to the Torah and the Oral Law, which includes Israel's traditional interpretations of how to practice Torah) and the experts in the law; those we call the Scribes. (The term “Scribe” actually doesn’t refer to those who simply copied out the Scriptures; Scribes were often experts in law, often acting publicly in a legal capacity.)
The challenge to Yeshua is not unusual and could happen among any gathering of Jews when a question comes up and it’s debated—sometimes hotly. After all, on Shabbat, debating the Torah is encouraged.
Among my Christian friends, it's commonly understood that Matthew 12 provides evidence that Yeshua was giving his followers license to dispense with the Jewish traditions of the Shabbat. But I believe that Matthew presents a very different type of issue. He is actually presenting Yeshua’s credentials as an authoritative rabbi in Israel.
Matthew 12: Two Sabbath controversies
"At that time Yeshua went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, 'Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.'" (Mt. 12: 1,2)
At the time of Yeshua, there was an ongoing discussion about the same situation which confronted his disciples. As they walked along, they were hungry. Rather than stopping, they grabbed some fast food: grain off the stalk rubbed with the hand (i.e. with no other tool) and eaten. This was not forbidden, in fact, it was actually prescribed by the rabbis.
But some had decided that this was too lax; an example of a standard of holiness that descends into “legalism,” a new rule for the sake of making more oppressive rules. (If you've noticed, the rule-makers usually make these up for other people.) These rules certainly work for those who don't have to travel any distance to a worship service and cannot prepare food before they set out. But it creates an oppressive penalty on those who are not so favoured.
Yeshua later makes a similar point about such increasing legalism in Matt. 23:2-4: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat [i.e. as teachers of the Torah for the people]. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."
Matthew 12 gives Yeshua’s immediate response in some detail:
1) He refuses to have his disciples intimidated by someone else’s standard of Sabbath observance, so he identifies the central issue and gives a comparable situation from Scripture. "He answered, 'Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.'" Matt. 12: 3,4.
2) Continuing on the theme of the Temple and its priests, he then provides an example to supports his disciples' actions: Matt. 12:5: "Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?"
3) He then applies the priestly rule to those who minister to him, and lays out the Messianic priorities for his followers: a) “Mercy, not sacrifice;” b) his status as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:6,7):
"I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice' (Hosea 6:6), you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
This "ruling" or instruction is completely in keeping with the expectations of Israel that when Messiah came, he would indeed provide greater clarity and focus for a proper adherence to the teachings of Scripture and the Law of Moses.
When Yeshua declares that he is “Lord of the Sabbath,” it is comparable to the name of Messiah given in Isaiah 9:6, “Prince of Peace” (Saar Shalom). It does not impose any new authority over Israel, but properly suggests that the Sabbath itself finds a further Messianic fulfillment in him: after all, the Shabbat looks forward to the Messianic kingdom when HaShem, humanity and the natural realm will be at complete peace. Thus Israel is called to look to Messiah in order to comprehend the character, purpose and meaning of Shabbat.
The controversy of the Shabbat is a microcosm of the larger issue: Is Yeshua the Messiah? Having taken a stand against him, even Yeshua's miraculous signs become an excuse for further complaints as we see in Matt. 12:9-12
"Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
Yeshua exercises the power of his Messianic authority through a powerful sign (v. 13): "Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other."
Of course, with their minds already made up, the Pharisees not only reject this sign, but treat his actions as a provocation (v. 14). But nowhere in this chapter does Yeshua deny that he has altered the principles of the Shabbat or no longer respects its importance.
What happened to the Shabbat?
When I was a cub scout, I remember one of my friends complaining to me: “You Jews don’t honour God according to the Scriptures. You're supposed to worship on 'the seventh day' and you worship on the sixth day." I was pretty young at the time—I thought he was right—and so I went home and looked at the calendar and found that the Gentiles' "seventh day" was the first day of the week.
But it’s no accident that Church-goers think of Sunday as their “Sabbath.” The Westminster Confession states that God literally changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.
In most of North America, the battle for the Sabbath has been lost. We’ve largely given up the fight—there's little honour or holiness attached to our Sabbaths. But in Yeshua’s time, Israel was well aware of its importance. After all, squandering wealth is one thing; provoking the Giver is worse. The prophets had warned the nation that God would bring judgment on the land for Israel’s careless disregard of the Sabbath.
Jeremiah 17: 27: "But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.' "
Nehemiah 13: 17: "I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn't your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath."
So, the rabbis had become very scrupulous to safeguard the seventh day. In order to do so they created a “fence around the law” for Shabbat: regulations that were meant to safeguard its holiness.
Using the principle that all work on the Temple in Solomon’s time had to cease during the Shabbat, they developed a list of all actions to be forbidden. Most of us are used to seeing lists like this as a sign of Israel’s overzealous attitude towards Torah; however we would be cautioned instead to see how seriously the rabbis took the warnings of the prophets.
4. Binding sheaves
11. Shearing wool
12. Washing wool
13. Beating wool
14. Dyeing wool
17. Making two loops
18. Weaving two threads
19. Separating two threads
22. Sewing two stitches
27. Salting meat
28. Curing hide
29. Scraping hide
30. Cutting hide up
31. Writing two letters
32. Erasing two letters
34. Tearing a building down
35. Extinguishing a fire
36. Kindling a fire
37. Hitting with a hammer
38. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain.
(Mishnah Shabbat, 7:2)
The Sabbath then became a battle ground for preserving the sanctity of Israel after the Exile. And it was a precious gift to be protected, though sometimes over-zealously. But it was not a gift that the Gentiles, either Greeks or Romans, wanted. The early Church Fathers didn’t want to be people of the seventh day.
There are only five references in the New Covenant to the believers worshipping on the first day of the week. None of them refers to it as “the Lord’s Day,” a term which later came into use to suggest that Yeshua had become “Lord” of some other day than Shabbat.
However, it's evident that the Gentiles created a separate custom and tradition, which interpreted New Covenant teachings to suggest that the day of worship for Yeshua’s followers was the first day of the week as a remembrance of the resurrection. Some insist this is a further sign of the anti-Semitism of the Church Fathers. However, in itself, the adoption of another day of worship, which was also done by Islam, is not so much an act against Israel, it only shows a curious but not untypical disregard for the content of the Scriptures. In summary, the Church Fathers dispensed with the Jewish legalities—which they had no interest in following with the insistence that Yeshua himself held that view—and brought in their own.
The Messianic Jewish Problem
So how do Messianic believers celebrate the Shabbat? Do we follow it as Jews or as Christians? There is a variety of perspectives given to us from the leading teachers in our movement.
Baruch Maoz: Don’t have anything to do with the rabbinical teachings and rituals for Shabbat.
Arnie Fruchtenbaum: Focus on celebrating in a way that reflects the Biblical instruction and not the rabbinical injunctions.
John Fischer: We have no other Jewish context except that of the rabbi’s but we can follow their traditions (as Yeshua said) while maintaining the anticipation of Messiah.
Dan Juster: “Shabbat is a special ‘sign of the covenant’ between Israel and God, so it is a priority. We don’t object to the Gentiles having moved it; but it must be a Jewish priority to preserve it and to maintain our Jewish inheritance.
Gershon Nerel: Make the Shabbat priority one of spiritual and personal renewal.
Barney Kasdan: Emphasize Jewish tradition and the freedom of Shabbat and the joy of Creation apart from the constrictions of legalism because our salvation is in Yeshua.
I think that Kasdan's instruction is helpful. We actively participate in both those meanings of Shabbat when we recite kiddush (the prayer over wine sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday). Friday night kiddush refers to Shabbat as both zikkaron l'ma'aseh bereishit (a memorial of the work in the beginning) and zeicher litzi'at mitzrayim (a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt).
We have the freedom to follow our hearts and be faithful to Yeshua without the constraints of legalism, yet understanding that some are uniquely called to express themselves both as voices for the freedom we have in Yeshua and his Jewish identity as Messiah who has fulfilled Torah.
Do we fully grasp the wealth we have been given?
Sometimes, people wonder about the price they’ll have to pay if they give their life to Yeshua. I can tell you—you don’t know what life is until you walk with Him.
But I want you to think for a moment just how much you already owe to God for gift of the Sabbath. When have your best memories been made? Did you build your most meaningful relationships during busy workdays or the weekends?
If you look back into the lives of each of those people who squandered those lottery millions, you’ll find that almost all of them were spiritually hollow. But neither does our society understand how much it has squandered away when it lost sight of the Sabbath rest-days which have now been squeezed out of our lives so that we can keep shopping.
Sometimes people want to know what price I paid for believing in Yeshua. They wonder if I have one of those dramatic testimonies where I was cut off by my family for my faith. As many of you know, the opposite took place. But you also need to know that my parents—both of them traumatized in different ways by the Holocaust—were challenged when I stopped being a young, self-centred agnostic. Out of the blue, they saw me leaving every Friday evening in a clean pair of jeans for Erev Shabat services. Then one night my mother stopped me: “You know, we have Erev Shabbat here, too.”
And so, I watched my parents, who had struggled to communicate with each other over the years, come together over the Shabbat candles, the Kiddush and the traditions. That was how Shabbat came into my parents’ home, and for years afterwards the ritual of Shabbat sustained them. I also saw the healing power of the Shabbat—because they knew so little about spiritual rest—and had suffered such a deep, overwhelming poverty through losses no one could have fully understood. The blessings of tradition reminded them that God is still with Israel in all her trials, all her losses—and they too were linked to generations that kept trusting.
So when we say, "More than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel," I can affirm its truth. And if people want to suggest that Yeshua has in any way diminished the wealth of my heritage—I can tell you plainly—he has given far more to my Jewish identity than I could have ever hoped to acquire otherwise.
You and I have a special call to fulfill in freedom, grace, but also obedience. Yeshua must be Lord of my Sabbath for I have no peace—no true shalom—except in Him.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash