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Leviticus 23:1-3 (NIV) says:

The Appointed Festivals

23 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.

The Sabbath

3 “‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.

The chapter then continues listing other feasts / sacred assemblies:

  • The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:4-8)
  • Offering the Firstfruits (Lev 23:9-14)
  • The Festival of Weeks (Lev 23:15-22)
  • The Festival of Trumpets (Lev 23:23-25)
  • The Day of Atonement (Lev 23:26-32)
  • The Festival of Tabernacles (Lev 23:33-44)

Similarly, in Numbers 28 and 29 we find a similar list:

  • Daily Offerings (Num 28:1-8)
  • Sabbath Offerings (Num 28:9-10)
  • Monthly Offerings (a.k.a. New Moons) (Num 28:11-15)
  • The Passover (Num 28:16-25)
  • The Festival of Weeks (Num 28:26-31)
  • The Festival of Trumpets (Num 29:1-6)
  • The Day of Atonement (Num 29:7-11)
  • The Festival of Tabernacles (Num 29:12-40)

Are Leviticus 23, Numbers 28, 29 telling us that the weekly sabbath is just one of many appointed festivals / holy convocations? Doesn't this contradict positions that uphold the weekly Sabbath as "special" and of a higher "status" among the many feasts?

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There are four places where the annual Israelite festivals are described and commanded:

  • Ex 23:10-19 - weekly Sabbath plus three annual festivals
  • Lev 23 - weekly Sabbath plus the annual festivals including the appointed days
  • Num 28, 29 - same as above but including the offerings for each
  • Deut 16 - describes the three annual festivals but not the weekly Sabbath

Now, there are several ways to understand what position the weekly Sabbath occupied in the cultus and understanding of the Israelites - I will cite a few:

1. Language

There are several words and phrases associated with these as follows:

  • מִקְרָא (miqra) = convocation/assembly occurs 23 times in the OT and always refers to one of the annual festivals. Only once does it specifically refer to the weekly Sabbath (Lev 23:3) - the remainder all refer to annual events, Ex 12:6, Lev 23:2, 4, 7, 8, 21, 24, 27, 35, 36, 37, Num 10:2, 28:18, 25, 26, 29:1, 7, 12, Neh 8:8, Isa 1:13, 4:5. That the weekly Sabbath is described thus is not surprising regarless of what status it id given by modern interpreters.
  • חָגַג (Chagag) = feast/festival occurs 16 times of which 14 times it refers to an annual festival (Ex 5:1, 12:14, 23:14, Lev 23:39, 41, Num 29:12, Deut 16:15, Ps 42:4, Nah 1:15, Zech 14:16, 18, 19) and twice it refers to a pagan revelry or a drunken feast (1 Sam 30:16, Ps 107:27). This word never refers to the weekly Sabbath; that is, the weekly Sabbath is never described as a feast or festival.
  • מוֹעֵד (moed or moed or moadah) = appointed time occurs 223 times and mostly refers to "seasons", "times" but in about 20 places specifically refers to one or more of the annual festival as "appointed times" (Ex 23;15, Lev 23:2, 4, 37, 44, Num 28:2, 29:39, Deut 16:6, 1 Chron 23:31, 2 Chron 2:4, 8:13, 31:3, Ezra 3:5, Neh 10:33, Isa 1:14, 33:20, etc). The weekly Sabbath is never directly described thus.
  • "my holy day", "LORD's holy day" is only ever used to described the weekly sabbath in Isa 58:13. [This may have been the origin of Jesus remark about being "Lord of the Sabbath in Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5.]

2. Status

The weekly sabbath is included in the 10 commandments (Ex 20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15, see also Ex 34:28, Deut 4:13, 10:4); the annual festivals were not part of the 10 commandments.

3. Function

The weekly sabbath had three functions:

  • as a memorial of God's creative efforts, Gen 2:1-3, Ex 20:8-11
  • as a memorial of Israels manumission, Deut 5:12-15
  • As a memorial of God their Savior and sanctifier, Ex 31:12-17 (See also BDB and Eze 20:12, 20)

By contrast, the annual festival were memorials of a combination of farming seasons and events in Israel's history which were unique to Israel.

4. Origin

The weekly Sabbath existed before the giving of the law at Mt Sinai (Gen 2:1-3, Ex 16:22-30).

By contrast, the annual festivals were first commanded and implemented at Mt Sinai.

5. NT Status

In the NT, apart from the first Pentecost in Acts 2, there is no record of the apostles ever keeping an annual festival after Jesus' resurrection. By contrast we see a number of places where the apostles kept the weekly Sabbath Acts 13:14, 42, 44 (including Gentiles), 16:13, 17:1, 2, 18:4.

More importantly, the author of Hebrews uses the weekly Sabbath as a symbol of salvation and "rest" that comes from salvation in Christ in Heb 4. The closest we get with the annual festivals is that Jesus is our "Passover Lamb" in 1 Cor 5:7.

Thus, the Sabbath was viewed differently from the annual festivals.

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  • Great answer, +1. I have a few questions: 1) What about New Moons (Num 28:11-15). 2) About NT Status and Gentiles: how can we distinguish between "keeping the Sabbath" and attending a synagogue on Saturday because the apostles were conveniently taking advantage of the platform to preach the gospel? What if the Gentiles went about their normal businesses after hearing the gospel being preached in the synagogue? Would that count as "keeping the Sabbath"? We don't know what Gentiles did before or after the meetings, so can we really affirm that they "kept the Sabbath"? Dec 29 '20 at 23:17
  • 3) Doesn't Colossians 2:16 indicate that some people were still keeping the feasts during NT times? Dec 29 '20 at 23:17
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - You are correct on all fronts - but I would add some comments. (1) New moons, as a feast day, are not really mandated in the Torah and are probably a hang-over from common custom. Thus, God turned a common custom into a Godly offering. They are not mentioned elsewhere except in passing.
    – Dottard
    Dec 30 '20 at 3:01
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - (2) about NT practice - the occasion in Acts 16:13 suggests that, in the absence of a synagogue, Paul and other still sought a place of quite and prayer, in this case outside the city by a river and found others there too. (3) Of course there were some who persisted in maintaining the minutiae of Jewish customs which Paul railed about in order to please God (legalism) but appears to have no problem with those who simply wanted to keep special days as a devotion "to God". Many modern liyrgical Christians still do the same.
    – Dottard
    Dec 30 '20 at 3:06
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - as my weak attempt above tries to point out, the weekly Sabbath had wider application than just Jews; while the annual Sabbaths really only had an application/function for Jews.
    – Dottard
    Dec 30 '20 at 3:08
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Understanding the sabbath can be very helpful for believers - First, it was instigated pre-fall.

GEN 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.

2 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.

3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

But, it has a far deeper significance than just ‘resting’, as in ‘doing nothing’. It is resting in Gods finished work. That is, God is man’s source - man’s only source. So ‘Manna’ was provided for the sabbath - without having to go out and pick it up - without working for it. So, the children of Israel, on the sabbath, would remember who their ‘source’ was. They would ‘rest’ in his finished work. Remembering that although now, because of the ‘fall’, man now had to work - but it was never Gods intention.

Today, through Christ, we have a restoration of the unity between man and God. Through Jesus, we have access to God - as our source. Primarily for righteousness, but through faith, to a source for all our needs. So the sabbath takes on a whole different significance. Not just a day to remember, but instead a ‘rest’ we learn to partake in, to live in, where God is our source! This is outlined in Hebrews ... particularly chapter 4.

HEB 4:1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.

Hebrews 4 reflects how entering Canaan, the promised land, was a ‘type’ of the rest believers can enter, if? they believe, through faith in the promises.

HEB 4:2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.

3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, [snip]

So the sabbath has significance - beyond ‘just’ a day of remembrance. Many festivals are a reminder, to remember, but also, and equally a ‘type’, an ‘outline’ with prophetic significance. But, the sabbath is something that can shape a believers daily life.

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