What Work Is Forbidden on the Sabbath?

In my last post, we saw that the man supposedly killed by God for picking up sticks on the Sabbath was actually a picture of Jesus. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus, that is God, heals rather than kills on the Sabbath. Jesus, that is God, gathers his people rather than casting them out on the Sabbath. Instead, it was Moses, Aaron, and the congregation that stoned the man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. While there was no specific law against gathering sticks on the Sabbath, Numbers 15.32-36 indicates that Moses, Aaron, and the congregation came to a mutual decision that the man should be killed.

How did they determine that the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath should be killed?

They based their decision on what Moses thought he heard from God.

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”(Exodus 32.12-17)

Moses, Aaron, and the congregation deemed that gathering sticks on the Sabbath was doing work. Working on the Sabbath profaned the Sabbath as the Sabbath was to be a day of solemn rest. The Sabbath was a day of solemn rest because the Lord made the heaven and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. By working on six days and resting on the seventh day, Israel would be imaging, emulating, mirroring God. If one’s life did not image God, then their soul should be cut off from the people and they should die.

But, is this what God really instructed Moses and Israel to do?

Did God really say to Moses that anyone who gathered sticks on the Sabbath was profaning the Sabbath by working on it and should be put to death?

Or, did Moses misunderstand God?

Does Jesus help us understand God, work, and the Sabbath differently?

In John 5.1-17, Jesus comes across a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Every day the man would lie by the pool at the Sheep Gate so that when the water was stirred he could get in the pool and be healed. But, you had to be the first one in the pool, and someone always beat him into the pool. Even though it was the Sabbath, Jesus told the man to get up, take his bed with him, and walk. At once the man was healed, but carrying his bed on the Sabbath was against the law. This man was profaning the Sabbath by doing work. Further, Jesus was profaning the Sabbath healing the man. Verses 16-17 say, “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Jesus is clearly saying that the Father works on the Sabbath. “He is working until now.” Therefore, because the Father is working on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “I am working.”

What is going on here?

Exodus 32.12-17 is clearly referring back to the creation accounts in Genesis 1-3. Verse 17 says, “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh he rested and was refreshed.” Genesis 2.1-2 says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” The two passages are quite similar.

But, there is something very interesting about the seventh day of creation that you might not have noticed.

It never ended.

Each of the first six days of creation had a clear ending.

  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1.5)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1.8)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1.13)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.” (Genesis 1.19)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” (Genesis 1.23)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1.31)

But, in Genesis 2.1-3, this phrase is not stated regarding the seventh day. In other words, for God the seventh day, the day of solemn rest, the Sabbath, has continued forever without end. So, Jesus said that even though it is the Sabbath, and always has been the Sabbath for God, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” because I am the image of my Father.

Hold on.

Genesis 2.1-3 says “on the seventh day God finished his work…he rested on the seventh day from all his work…God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

So, which is it?

Did God stop working or not?

In Genesis 2.1-3, the Hebrew word for work is melakah. This word does mean work. But, it can also mean possessions, or what is owned by the expenditure of work. The idea behind melakah seems to be that when you work to create something you own what you have created. God worked to create for six days. At the end of six days, God rested from the kind of work that creates. There was nothing left for God to create and own. All of it had been made. And, God owed all of it. But, God did not stop working altogether.

Exodus 32.14-15 says, “Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath shall be put to death.” Three times the word work is used and three times it is the word melakah. Therefore, the work that is forbidden on the Sabbath is the work of creating to take ownership of what is created.


Because God had created and owned everything on the first six days of creation. As the seventh day of creation never ended, there was nothing left to work to create and own. God had created the earth, all the land, and given it to man. Man was merely a steward of what God had created. Man did not own the land himself. Therefore, for man to work to own the land on the Sabbath would profane the Sabbath, or profane the work God had already done in creation and rested from.

When man was created he was living in the seventh day, the day of rest that never ended. Yet, man was given work to do. Genesis 2.15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Wait a minute.

How did God put the man in the garden “to work it” when God had rested from his work?

The Hebrew word for work in Genesis 2.15 is not the same as in Genesis 2.1-3. Here the Hebrew word for work is bod, which primarily means to serve. Also, the Hebrew word for keep is samar, which also means to watch over or guard. In other words, man was to serve and keep, guard, or watch over what God had created as his own possession. Again, man was a steward not an owner.

Some food for thought. These two Hebrew words, bod and samar, are regularly used of the priests serving in the Tabernacle. The priests, by the way, worked on the Sabbath as sacrifices still had to be offered. And, Jesus tabernacled among us (John 1.14) and was always working as God’s servant.

In a restatement of the 10 commandments, Deuteronomy 5.12 says, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The word observe is the Hebrew word samar. Also, Exodus 32.12-17 says, “you shall keep my Sabbaths…you shall keep the Sabbath…the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath.” Each time the word keep is the word samar.

Therefore, on the seventh day, the Sabbath, Adam was to serve and keep, guard, or watch over the garden. Similarly, Israel was to keep the Sabbath in the same way as Adam. There was still work to be done, just not the kind of work that would take ownership of what the work produced.

Exodus 32.12-17 says “everyone who profanes it shall be put to death” and “whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” The phrase “shall be put to death” is the same phrase that we find in Genesis 2.16-17 after Adam was given the command to bod and samar the garden of Eden in Genesis 2.15. Genesis 2.16-17 says, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

So, Adam was to work and keep the garden. As long as Adam did that, he could eat from everything in God’s garden, including the tree of life, which meant he could benefit from what God created and owned. But, if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life, then Adam would surely die. In other words, Adam was to work and keep the garden to extend it throughout the earth. And, he would do this as long as he did not try to own anything himself. In this way, Adam would spread life throughout the earth. But, if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge good and evil, if Adam stepped outside his role as steward so as to make his own judgments and own what was not his, then he would surely die.

Perhaps, this is why in the beginning of Solomon’s book on wisdom, which is Jesus, who is the tree of life, Proverbs 1.18-19 says, “But these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” To be greedy for unjust gain is to work to own that which is not rightfully yours. As we have seen, that is what is meant by working to create on the Sabbath, which profanes the Sabbath. Men that try to possess land that is not theirs through violence are working to own that which is not theirs. It results in death.

Further, we see an allusion from the life of Jesus back to the command God gave Adam to work and keep the garden to spread life throughout the earth and the command to keep the Sabbath. However, if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then he would surely die.

“On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ And after looking around at them all he said to them, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

Jesus’s work of healing on the Sabbath was an one of working, or serving, and keeping the garden of God by restoring or extending its life. Because the man’s hand was withered, he was not able to fulfill the command God gave to Adam. Therefore, the man was not able to image God, which meant that he could not express God’s life. Knowing that the scribes and Pharisees believed it was wrong to heal, to work, on the Sabbath, Jesus asked if he could do good or give save life on the Sabbath. He was asking not if he could work to create so as to own the fruits of his labor but if he could work and keep the life that God had created and owned. Jesus was seeking to liberate the life that God had created. To not do this kind of work on the Sabbath, to not extend God’s kingdom and the life it brings, would be to do harm and to destroy life, to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So, through the lens of Jesus, I think we can see that not all work was forbidden on the Sabbath. Working to own the produce of our work was forbidden. But, if that work was the kind of work that saved life, restored life, and extended God’s kingdom then that work was not only allowed but actually commanded by God to be performed. This is the kind of work that God still performed on the Sabbath according to Jesus. Therefore, it was the kind of work Jesus did on the Sabbath since he only did what he saw his Father doing. In this way Jesus imaged God. As we enter back into that day of rest, the day of rest without end, meaning every day is a day of rest, this is the same kind of work that we are to do. And, we are to do everything as if we are doing it for the Lord. In other words, everything should we do should be an act of serving and keeping God’s garden. It’s all work on the Sabbath. Then we to will image God and be his sons.

Rest, Don’t Work; Or, Don’t Whore after Other Gods


“But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his.” – Ezekiel 16:15

The Hebrew root word for whore is zanah. Zanah means to commit fornication, be unfaithful; to abandon someone to fornication. Words derived from zanah mean prostitution, harlotry and fornication. While this is the literal meaning of zanah, it seems to be that zanah is almost always used in the context of whoring after other gods.

Israel was considered God’s bride. Therefore, when they whored after other gods, it was as if Israel was committing fornication or adultery against God.

Although not necessarily the case in Ezekiel 16, presumably Israel, at least at some point, whored after other gods for what the other gods could potentially give them. But, these other gods require you to work for what you can get from them.

This reminds me of Adam of Eve. God had provided them everything that was good. God had even given them access to his life. Yet, they chose to go after another god. They failed to believe in God’s good provision and sought what they desired from another. They played the whore.

This also reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34. He said we are anxious for our life, what we will eat, drink, and wear. But, Jesus told us to look at the creation and see how God provided for what he created. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and you heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

The implication here is that the Gentiles were seeking after what they should eat, drink, and wear. In their anxiety, the Gentiles sought this from other gods. And to get these things from their gods, the Gentiles had to work for them. But, Jesus told those listening to him to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Don’t whore after gods for what you need. Seek the kingdom of God, and God will give you everything you need for life.

Jesus spoke to this another way in John 6:28-29. “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.'”

Today, I think we have taken this to mean that God simply wants to have an intellectual belief in God and that doing any work is wrong. But, we must remember that Adam worked in the garden before sin. It was only after Adam sin, after he whored after another god, that his work became toil and striving, seeking the things he needed for life.

God wants us to work. But, the works are believing in God when the works are rooted in a trust that God will provide and produce the everything necessary for life. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And, Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

So, we are not to whore after other gods, seeking what is necessary for life. That work is toil and striving. But, we are to work believing that God has provided everything we need. He is in control of the outcome. That work is rest.

Besides what we have seen so far in Ezekiel 16 and the words of Jesus, the book of Ezekiel provides further confirmation of whoring after other gods being a striving work instead of seeking the kingdom and doing a restful work by trusting in the Lord.

The Hebrew root word for whoring is found 38 times in the book of Ezekiel. The number 38 symbolizes work or labor in the Bible. The 38th time the word Elohim is mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 2:7, which says, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” This was the completion of God’s most masterful work.

As we move through the lives of the patriarchs, the 38th mention of their names is often associated with work in some form. Further, Israel wandered in the wilderness for 38 years as they tried to work their way to God. Yet, the promised land was a type of the rest we receive from Jesus. Israel’s work ended after 38 years. We see something similar in the man who was lame for 38 years and was healed by Jesus in John 5.

So, 38 can be a period of striving work that at last becomes rest.

This is exactly what we see the 38th time whoring is mentioned in the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 43:7-9 says, “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies of their kings at their high places, by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. Now let them put away their whorings [the 38th mention] and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.”

This was said speaking from the temple, which was a place of rest. The 38th mention of whorings by Ezekiel said they will be put away, the striving work will end, and God will dwell in the midst of the people forever. There will be rest.

The Tabernacle, the Priests, and the Men of War – Part 2


In Part 1 yesterday, we saw that Jesus is the tabernacle. Also, Moses took a census of the tribes of Israel, except one. To take the census, he got one assistant from each tribe. Then, Moses registered all men who were able to go to war. Finally, Moses told the tribes to camp around the tabernacle according to their armies and their banners.

But, the Levites were excluded from the census. According to Numbers 1:50-51, God told Moses, “But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up.”

And, right in the middle of God assigning the camp positions of the 12 tribes around the tabernacle, he says that the camp of the Levites should be in the midst of the camps. (Numbers 2:17) That meant the Levites would camp closer to the tabernacle than the 12 tribes.


While the 12 tribes camped around the tabernacle were made of men who were able to go to war, the Levites were to minister in the tabernacle. In other words, the Levites are a picture of those who minister the presence of Jesus.

In Numbers 3 and 4, the work of the Levites is described as

  1. Guarding (11 times)
  2. Service (20 times)
  3. Work (1 time)
  4. Duty (10 times)
  5. Bearing burdens (2 times)
  6. Carrying (10 times)

Particularly important are the words guard and service as these come from the root words that describe Adam’s role in the garden in Genesis 2:15, which says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”


All the firstborn in Egypt that did not come under the blood died the night Israel left Egypt. Therefore, all the firstborn in Israel were consecrated by God to be his. But, according to Numbers 3:11-13, God said that he was going to take the entire tribe of Levi instead of the firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. Collectively, the Levites would be as the firstborn to God.


Moses was told to take a census of the 12 tribes. The Hebrew word census literally means head. In Numbers 1 and 2, the idea is that Moses would count the heads in each tribe to get a number of men who were able to go to war.

But, in Numbers 1:49, God expressly told Moses not to take a census of the Levites. Instead, Moses was told to list the Levites. But, the meaning of the Hebrew word translated list is to see to, tend to, to fulfill an assigned task. The idea here is that the Levites were appointed to certain obligations, which were to minister the fabrics, frames, and furniture of the tabernacle.


When we compare the Levites to the 12 tribes of men who are able to go to war, I believe we see a contrast between the spiritual and the carnal believer.

Numbers 1:52-53 says, “The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony.” The men who were able to go to war in the 12 tribes camped in their own camp and by their own standard, which is to say they were divided. But the Levites, camped around the tabernacle only, which is to say they gathered around the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only.

Paul describes just this in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13. “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The Corinthian church was camping according to their own camps and standards. And, it is the same today with all those who camp according to their denomination.

Later, in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul explains exactly why these divisions were happening. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” The divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by strife and jealousy.

James 3:14-16 says that it is jealousy and selfish ambition that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. Where these two things exist, so does disorder and every vile practice. Then in James 4:1-3, James explains where quarrels and fights come from. “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder.”

Because the 12 tribes were carnal, divided according to their own camps and standards, they were men who were able to go to war.

But, the Levites camped around the tabernacle. They were not divided. In effect, they gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only. The Levites were the ones who ministered in the tabernacle. As spiritual believers, the Levites were presenting their bodies a living sacrifice. They were following what Paul said in Romans 6:13, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.”

As spiritual believers, the Levites picture those who no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh. They provide a picture of those in intimate fellowship with Christ that recognize the old has passed away and the new has come. Dwelling between the tabernacle, Jesus, and the men who were able to go to war, the carnal believer, the Levites were the spiritual believers who were given the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says of these spiritual believers, the Levites, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Jesus, the tabernacle, was the firstborn among many brethren. 1 Corinthians 15:20 says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The Levites, collectively taken as the firstborn of all Israel instead of the firstborn that opened the womb, are a picture of the spiritual believer that is a kind of firstfruits, like Christ. James 1:18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” But, the carnal believer will be made alive too, just not until Christ’s second coming. 1 Corinthians 15:23 says, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

After 40 years wandering in the wilderness, Israel finally made it to the promise land. This is a picture of the Christian that enters the rest and abundant life that Christ gives. But, the carnal believer, the men who were able to go to war, don’t make it there. Joshua 5:4, 6 says, “And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way after they had come out of Egypt…For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.”


The distinction of the Levites from the rest of Israel is important because today all of God’s people are priests.

1 Peter 2:9-10 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Revelation 1:6 says that Christ loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, making us priests to God. Other passages in the New Testament make it clear that all God’s people are priests. And, there are a number of passages towards the end of Isaiah that prophesy that God’s people will one day be priests.

Today, all of God’s people are priests. These people are God’s possession. The Lord says these people are His, just like He did of the Levites in Numbers.

Because God’s people are all priests today, God’s people are not numbered among those able to go out to war. Rather, God’s people proclaim the excellencies of Him who called out us out of darkness into the His marvelous light.

God’s people do not do violence but minister the very presence of Christ, proclaiming the mystery of the gospel and the power of the cross. God’s people proclaim a suffering servant, Jesus Christ, that defeated fear and death through His own death. God’s people perform the ministry of reconciliation, which is not brought about through war and violence but by loving their enemies.

This is why the weapons of God’s people are spiritual and not carnal.

Let us hear the voice of Christ and no longer be men who are able to war. Let us turn our swords into plowshares. Otherwise, we will be the carnal believer that never that enters the rest and abundant life of Christ. This should be a significant warning to who profess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that are part of the wars of this world.

So, Jesus is the tabernacle. The question is – how do we camp, how do we gather, around Jesus?

The spiritual believers, the Levites, those that are priests, gather around the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. They are followers of the Prince of Peace and obey his voice and none other. Their war is spiritual in nature and uses only spiritual weapons.

The carnal believers, the 12 tribes, are around the tabernacle but further away. They gather according to their own camps, their own standards, their own banners, their own doctrines, their own traditions, dead letters (2 Corinthians 3 and 4), their own denominations. They are spiritual infants full or strife and jealousy, which lead to fighting and wars and murder so that their desires can be fulfilled. Their wars are natural, carnal, physical and the weapons they use are the same, resulting in death.

Let us turn to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. He is the way, the truth, and the life.