Observing the Sabbath in Your Home
If your Sabbath gathering has been cancelled due to COVID-19, take heart – you can still keep the Sabbath! Once you’ve kept the Sabbath for any length of time, it is truly painful when you can’t. Somehow your physical and spiritual clock knows when the Sabbath is and longs for it when you cannot observe it in your normal custom. Don’t let the disruption of a cancelled gathering take away your Sabbath peace and joy. Continue to guard that time and begin your own traditions and routines in your home that bring that same spirit and refreshment to your island of sacred time with the Lord.
There are so many ways to be with God and enjoy his special day: Study, worship, reading his word, praying – and don’t forget actually resting, doing nothing is okay on this day. I find that it’s sometimes easier to do if I get out of the house, physically away from the distractions. Walking, driving to a beautiful scene, sitting in a peaceful or joyful place can be wonderful ways to be with God.
Here are some resources I recommend to enhance Messianic study and Bible reading. And following are some things I’ve found helpful when I cannot spend the day with other believers. I encourage you to share your favorites in the comments as well.
Biblical Guidance for Keeping the Sabbath
There are many things man has created to honor this special day. Begin with keeping the Biblical commands for how to observe the Sabbath. Keep as many of the Bible’s commands as you can, but then be free to find your own “tradition”, things meaningful to you that you can weave into your day.
The most concise instructions are in Leviticus 23:3:
“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.”
These instructions are repeated, specified and illustrated over and over throughout the Bible and include:
- Set apart the seventh day of each week as a holy day – Exodus 20:8-11, 31:13-16, 35:2, 5:14, Genesis 2:3
- Rest from your work and producing/production – Exodus 16:23-29, 5:14-15
- Refrain from pursuing your own interests – Isaiah 58:13-14
- Assemble with other believers – Leviticus 23:3
- Give an offering – Numbers 28:9-10, Nehemiah 10:32-33
- Refrain from buying and selling / conducting commerce – Jeremiah 17:19-27, Amos 8:5, Nehemiah 13:15-22
While other instructions for keeping the Sabbath can be inferred from scripture, these are the most straightforward and foundational components.
Bringing an offering is easily done in your home. Look at all the examples we have in the Bible of various offerings:
- Praise and prayer (Psalm 141:2)
- Justice and righteousness (Amos 5:24)
- Justice and charity (Proverbs 21:3)
- Fasting (2 Kings 18:5-7)
- Thanksgiving (Psalm 116:17)
- A broken spirit (Psalm 51:17)
- A contrite (repentant) heart (Psalm 51:17)
- Money or something with monetary value (Matt. 2:11)
- Mercy and acknowledgement of God (Hosea 6:6)
- Spend additional quiet time in His presence (Psalm 48:9)
- Rededicate your life in service to Him (Rom. 12:1; Matt. 6:24-27)
- Praises (Heb. 13:15)
- Doing good and sharing (Heb. 13:16)
Assembling with other believers can now be done virtually in your home. While it doesn’t meet the full intent of joining with other believers, many online meetings can provide virtual experiences that build our faith, broaden our perspective and increase our sense of community. Some I recommend are:
- bnaishalom.tv – A Messianic service including worship and teaching, recorded each week live, then available on demand until the following Sabbath.
- Lion & Lamb Ministries Podcasts – Two messages per Sabbath, one Friday night and one Saturday.
- Hebraic Roots Network – A collection of Messianic teaching from reputable teachers, updated weekly with the Torah portions.
Additional Ways to Celebrate
While not commanded in the Bible, many traditional customs for observing the Sabbath can also enhance your experience.
Setting Apart the Sabbath
As we said earlier, setting apart the Sabbath from the rest of your week is commanded in several places in scripture. However, there are no specific instructions for doing so. It is customary to mark the beginning and end of the Sabbath with a bit of ceremony that encapsulates the spirit of the Sabbath. These rich traditions have been passed down through the centuries and, in some cases, slightly modified for Messianic believers.
On Erev Sabbath, Friday night, traditionally the shofar is blown and two candles are lit to mark the beginning of the Sabbath. A meal is shared, bread and wine/juice are offered and blessings are recited over the Sabbath, the food and each other. (A link to traditional blessings is included below.)
Likewise, just before sundown on Saturday, there is a short ceremony called Havdalah (meaning to differentiate or separate). It consists of overflowing wine/juice and the scent of spices representing the overflowing joy and sweetness of the Sabbath.
Prayers & Blessings
- Restoration Ministries has prepared a reference guide (siddur) containing the traditional prayers and blessings from a Messianic perspective. Erev Sabbath starts on Page 11, Sabbath starts on Page 40, and Havdalah is on pages 88-89.
- Don’t miss the Aaronic Blessing from Numbers 6:24-27. God commanded the priests to say it over the Israelites, so he could put his name on them and bless them.
Weekly Bible Portions
Most of Judaism and most Messianic congregations throughout the world follow a Bible reading schedule. While not one of God’s commandments, this unifying practice can be a powerful way for God to speak to his collective people each week.
- Lion & Lamb Ministries provides the annual cycle of readings.
- Restoration of the Torah provides insightful, Messianic commentary on each of the weekly portions.
Guard Your Sacred Time
Observing the Sabbath at home sometimes requires extra measures to ensure your sacred time is not mingled with the ordinary. Here are some tips that have helped me:
- If everyone in the house is not joining you, be sure to tell them you’re taking a day off and invite them to join you in doing so for whatever portion of it they can.
- Make a plan for your 24 hours. Decide what you’ll do with your time beforehand. If you have no plan, it’s easy to get pulled into other peoples’ plans or let other projects creep in.
- Turn off your phone and check it only once or twice for the most urgent issues. (Treat this like a date day with the Lord.)
- Anticipate what might come up to pull you away from your time with Yeshua, and do whatever you can to pre-empt it beforehand.
- Plan your offering and be deliberate about the giving of it (as you would to give someone a gift).
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
May the peace and joy of the Lord be yours this Sabbath.