What’s the Real Purpose of the Sabbath?

Wheat grains

(The Problems With Tradition: Part 3)

Mark 2:23-27 tells us that on one Sabbath, Jesus and company were walking through the grain fields. As they made their way through, Jesus’ disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees then asked Him, “Look, why are they doing what’s unlawful on the Sabbath? Jesus replied, “Have you never read what David did? When he and his companions were hungry and needed food, David entered the House of God. This was when Abiathar was High Priest. David then ate the (consecrated bread), which isn’t lawful for anyone but the priest to eat, and he gave some to his companions. The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

There’s a lot in here where if you don’t understand or know the old Hebrew traditions or Law, it doesn’t seem like all that big a deal. But to the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, to them it was huge.

By Jesus’ time, the Jewish tradition had multiplied the requirements and restrictions for keeping the Sabbath by so much that the burden had become pretty outrageous. For example, “plucking grain”: the reason this was such a big deal was because the Jewish Tradition forbade people from “harvesting” on the Sabbath, which is what the Pharisees were accusing Jesus’ disciples of doing. Sounds crazy, right? How did all this come about? Well, after the Babylonian exile, the Jewish Rabbis began to make crazy rules and regulations governing the daily life of the people. These were interpretations and applications for the Mosaic Law, handed down from generation to generation. (I’m guessing here, but it may have had something to do with the fact that their sin and lack of repentance led to the exile in the first place, so to be sure there are no questions about what’s considered as sin, they dissected the Law and made all these standards…just to be sure it doesn’t happen again?) So the Scribes and Pharisees had established elaborate and (crazy) rules that attended to fine points on less important matters, but that ignored weightier issues.

Even today if you meet an Orthodox Jew in an elevator on the Sabbath, he (or she) will stand there and wait for you to push the button. Why? Because their tradition has evolved so much that even pushing the button on an elevator to get them to where they want to go is considered as “work”, and “work” is forbidden on the Sabbath. Crazy, right? Makes me wonder how then they eat, I mean, I know they make their food the day before, but if they can’t even push a button, wouldn’t raising a spoon or fork be considered as work? Or even sitting up in bed, standing up, showering, getting dressed…if you do that for work, then why wouldn’t such be seen likewise on the Sabbath (as according to their evolved tradition)? Heck, if they’re going to go to such a distance, they might as well say that one must remain in bed, laying on their back, and treated as a paralytic by a Gentile health-taker on the Sabbath in order to keep from sinning by doing any “work” on the Sabbath…but then that would just be crazy, right? But I digress.

Now, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ accusation was all in order with what He explained afterward: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” Basically, when we read about the Pharisees, we need to remember that they almost always focused on how they look among the other people. But that’s not what the Sabbath was made for. God made the Sabbath and declared it Holy in order to be for the sake of His creation (rest from work, focus onto spiritual health, mental health, physical health, emotional health, family health…), inwardly, not outwardly. David and his men were hungry…famished, and needed some food. They were also doing the Lord’s work while being on the run from Saul. So the only chance of eating was to eat the food from the Temple. Granted it was illegal to their Tradition, and he tricked the priest into giving him the bread, but this was a situation of life and death, which in God’s “book”, comes first before tradition.


  1. Every church or denomination has traditions. What are the traditions in your church? How are they seen/practiced today? By doing them, are you glorifying God inwardly, or just outwardly?
  2. Every church also has traditional events…something that’s done every year only in that congregation…an event that’s been grandfathered into the calendar. What are some traditional events in your church? How were they started? Reflect/discuss the origins of these traditional events, their original purposes. How if at all did they glorify God in the beginning? Do they glorify God still? If so, how, and if not, then what do they glorify?
  3. One of the main points being made in the argument was that all this was on the Sabbath. In a nutshell, the Sabbath is a day to spend time with and glorify God. To do so, we’re to “deny ourselves”, or our insisting conscience to work every day and rest instead, and also to Glorify God. Do you have a Sabbath Day? I don’t mean a day you go just to church, but a day that you actually stop working (homework included) and spend the whole day focusing on God? How do you spend it? How can you glorify God better on it?

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