The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew shabbath, meaning “day of rest”. Flavius Josephus (37 – 100 AD) an oft-quoted scholar who lived during the first century after Christ, stated that the Sabbath was a day “set apart from labour [and] dedicated to the learning of our customs and laws so that the people might learn a good thing and avoid sin” (see The Complete Works of Josephus) It is interesting to me how closely this definition parallels the scriptural basis for honoring the Sabbath.
In 1995 while speaking at a regional conference in Heber City, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910 – 2008) expressed to the priesthood brethren some of his concerns about members of the Church. One of his concerns was “our tendency to take on the ways of the world.” He then said:
“We don’t adopt them immediately, but we slowly take them on, unfortunately. I wish I had the power to convert this whole Church to the observance of the Sabbath. I know our people would be more richly blessed of the Lord if they would walk in faithfulness in the observance of the Sabbath”
What is the origin of the Sabbath Day? We all might think of Moses carrying the Ten Commandments down to the children of Israel from Mount Sinai. The Sabbath Day was #4 on the list:
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work…” – Exodus 20:8
However, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that Sabbath observance did not begin with Moses, it is actually an eternal principle. He noted five examples in the scriptures when observance of the Sabbath day was required by the Lord:
- “From the day of Adam to the Exodus from Egypt, the Sabbath commemorated the fact that Christ rested from his creative labors on the 7th day (Ex. 20:8–11).”
- “From the Exodus to the day of [Christ’s] resurrection, the Sabbath commemorated the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage (Deut. 5:12–15).”
- “From the days of the early apostles to the present, the Sabbath has been the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, in commemoration of the fact that Christ came forth from the grave on Sunday (Acts 20:7).”
- “The Latter-day Saints keep the first day of the week as their Sabbath … because the Lord so commanded them by direct revelation (D&C 59).” This revelation was given on Sunday, 7 August 1831.
- “Sabbath observance was a sign between ancient Israel and their God whereby the chosen people might be known (Neh. 13:15–22; Isa. 56:1–8; Jer. 17:19–27; Ezek. 46:1–7)”
Latter-day Saints focus on Sabbath reverence in three areas:
Attitude, Appearance, and Activity.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895 – 1985)reviews some excellent suggestions on what types of activities we might consider doing on the Sabbath:
“As we plan our Sunday activities, we may want to set aside time for our family to be together, for personal study and meditation, and for service to others. We might want to read the scriptures, conference reports, and Church publications; study the lives and teachings of the prophets; prepare Church lessons and other Church assignments; write in journals; pray and meditate; write to or visit relatives and friends; write to missionaries; enjoy uplifting music; have family gospel instruction; hold family council meetings; build husband-wife relationships; read with a child; do genealogical research, including the four-generation program and family or personal histories; sing Church hymns; read uplifting literature; develop our appreciation for the cultural arts; plan family home evening study and activities; plan other family activities; friendship nonmembers; fellowship neighbors; visit the sick, the aged, and the lonely; hold interviews with family members’” (Teachings, 217).
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899 – 1994) gave some similar counsel:
“—Engage in activities that contribute to greater spirituality.
“—Attend essential Church meetings in the house of prayer.
“—Acquire spiritual knowledge by reading the scriptures, Church history and biographies, and the inspired words of our Church leaders.
“—Rest physically, get acquainted with your family, relate scriptural stories to your children, and bear your testimony to build family unity.
“—Visit the sick and aged shut-ins.
“—Sing the songs of Zion and listen to inspiring music. [a personal favorite of MoSop :) ]
“—Pay devotions to the Most High through prayer (personal and family), fasting, administration, and father’s blessings.
“—Prepare food with a singleness of heart: simple meals prepared largely on Saturday.
“—Remember that Sunday is the Lord’s day, a day to do his work.”
The above suggestions of the prophets, on how we may observe the Sabbath, are modern-day applications of ancient scriptural admonitions. We ought to start by selecting the one or two suggestions that best accommodate our needs and then incorporate additional suggestions, to the point where we can more completely keep the Sabbath Day a holy day.
Some may ask, What about the Sabbath and television? Is it right or wrong to watch television on the Sabbath? Speaking to fathers, President Harold B. Lee (1899 – 1973) once said, “The most important of the Lord’s work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes”. The Lord and the church does not dictate each “do” and “don’t”. We are allowed to make our own choices based on gospel principles and using the Spirit as a guide. We can ask ourself, ‘Does this help me remember the Lord, honor His day, and keep the Holy Spirit in our home? Is something more appropriate for other days of the week?”
One thing that has been discussed and defined by our leadership over the pulpit as unnecessary and inappropriate on Sunday is going shopping.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks currenlty of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:
“Modern-day prophets have encouraged us not to shop on Sunday. … Those of us who shop on the Sabbath cannot escape responsibility for encouraging businesses to remain open on that day. Essential services must be provided, but most Sabbath transactions could be avoided if merchants and customers were determined to avoid doing business on the Lord’s day” (“Brother’s Keeper,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 21).
One way we avoid this is by planning ahead. Fill up the gas tank of your car on Saturday. Acquire the needed groceries for the weekend on Saturday. Don’t be the means of causing someone to work on Sunday by patronizing their establishment. Of course, we know that there are essential services that must be open on Sunday, such as those serving emergency, medical, and transportation needs.
Elder Mark E. Petersen (1900–84) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained why it so important to keep the Sabbath Day a holy day:
“Our observance or nonobservance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us” (“The Sabbath Day,” Ensign, May 1975, 49).
The holy scriptures are a teaching tool to show examples of how people suffer when they do not keep God’s commandments. I personally believe that a large portion of the suffering we see in the world today is the result of a people who mock God and who do not keep His basic commandments, such as honesty, chastity, honoring our parents, caring for the poor and needy, and properly observing the Sabbath day. President George Albert Smith (1870 – 1951) stated “much of the sorrow and distress that is afflicting and will continue to afflict mankind is traceable to the fact that they have ignored his [God’s] admonition to keep the Sabbath day holy”.
When I was a young girl I loved to sing the Primary song called “Saturday“. My mother was our music leader. She would take out a long rope and choose two children to each hold an end and then stretch it tight across the front of the room to act as a clothes line. Then, as we sang the words of the song, each child would bring up an item or picture and hang it on the rope.
Saturday is a special day, It’s the day we get ready for Sunday!
We clean our house and we shop at the store so we won’t have to work until Monday
We brush our clothes and we shine our shoes and we call it our get-the-work-done day.
The we trim our nails and we shampoo our hair, so we can be ready for Sunday!
Now, all of these thoughts are meant to help us ponder and improve, but are not meant as a judgement statement. There are people who have to work on Sunday, there are occations when we decide the “ox is in the mire” and have to go to the store [like when a child needs medicine, etc...although we have to be careful, because it's easy to use the "ox in the mire" as an excuse a bit too much]. No one should be pointing fingers at others and clucking our tongues. I’ll never forget the time I ran out of diapers on Sunday [which I admit was totally my fault for not noticing how low we were, but what do you do?]. OK, I admit I drove to a grocery store a little farther from our home, hoping that no one I knew would see me go inside. While walking down the dairy aisle, I noticed a woman wearing a big hat and dark sunglasses that looked a bit familiar. Sure enough, it was our bishops wife choosing a gallon of milk incognito. I walked up next to her and said “Hi there! I guess both of our oxes were in the mire today!” She didn’t laugh. But, I still chuckle every time I think of that. Hey, I am not advocating breaking the Sabbath, but I do encourage all of us to not become so rigid [or hypocritical] about it that we lose the Spirit of the Law. In closing, I was inspired by the quotes from our prophets as I studied for this blog post. I want to try to apply some of the suggestions above, because I know that it will help my family and home to be a little closer to God. The real reason we follow God’s “rules” by honoring His commandments is ultimately so that He can bless us!
“If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
“Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase. …
“… And ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.
“And I will give [you] peace in the land, … neither shall the sword go through your land. …
“For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, … and establish my covenant with you. …
“And I will set my tabernacle [that is, my temple] among you. …
“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” (Leviticus 26: 2-12)
Have a beautiful Sabbath! [P.S. Just for the record, I wrote this on Saturday and scheduled it to publish on Sunday]
Resource and Inspiration For This Post
- Keeping The Sabbath Day Holy Earl C. Tingey, February 2000