Lou: When we talk about the seventh day, we’re talking about thousands of years, and the question has been asked, “How do you know what day is the seventh day? Could we be mistaken?”
Graham: One thing is for sure, nothing has meant more to a devout Jew than the seventh-day Sabbath. Jews can certainly look back to when the manna fell, double on Friday and none on Saturday. When that happened, everyone knew that was the seventh day—by God’s direction. And no devout Jew has lost track of the weekly Sabbath since that time. I would say that’s not debatable. We definitely know.
Lou: Jesus didn’t seem confused about it when He was here, either, and even the idea of Sunday as a day of resurrection would confirm the consistency of the weekly cycle.
Now the Sabbath command says, “Thou shalt not do any work, thou nor thy manservant. . .” and so forth (Exod 20:10). Is the Sabbath a day to just sit in a rocking chair in total idleness? What is the meaning of the phrase “Thou shalt not do any work?”
Graham: I’m curious that God would say, “In it thou shalt not do any work,” yet not tell us what work is. I take that as a compliment. God says, “The day is yours. I have suggested its many meanings. Just to sit there under duress and do nothing all day is not keeping the Sabbath. It’s supposed to be a delight.” And so God leaves it up to us to decide what work is. But many devout people through the years have consulted their theologians to determine what work is. In fact, I have a very large volume which describes Sabbath work. This book, called the Mishnah, says, “There are forty kinds of work save one.”
There are thirty-nine kinds of work, in other words, and each of the thirty-nine is broken down into many sub-categories. How far may you walk on the Sabbath? May you carry a pencil on the Sabbath? How many letters can you write on the Sabbath? I don’t mean epistles, I mean letters of the alphabet, all spelled out. The beauty of that system is, you always know whether you’re keeping the Sabbath or not. On the other hand, those rules also leave you fearful that you may have broken the Sabbath. That is why Jesus said, “You have placed burdens on people that are too heavy to bear.” The God of the Sabbath intended it for us to remember Him. But just how to do that is left up to us, and I like that.
Lou: A “Dear Abby” column once responded to a girl who wrote in saying she was going to marry a Seventh-day Adventist, and she wondered what that might mean. Abby suggested that she ought to talk to the man’s pastor and find out. But then another person wrote in and said, “I know about Seventh-day Adventists. If you marry a Seventh-day Adventist, there a whole lot of things you won’t be able to do.” Among these, the person suggested that the girl and her husband would never have any kind of marital relationship on the Sabbath. Some think Isaiah 58 says you shouldn’t do anything that’s your own pleasure on the Sabbath. Is God wanting us to be unhappy on the Sabbath?
Graham: When I heard about that column, I did a little research on the meaning of Isaiah 58:13. It really reads, “If you restrain your foot on the Sabbath from doing your business on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath delightful and Yahweh’s holy day honorable, if you honor it by refraining from business, from pursuing gain and from excessive talk then you will delight in Yahweh, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth” (The Anchor Bible).
Many other versions agree that the word “pleasure” is better translated “business.” You are invited on the Sabbath to enjoy yourself all you like, but don’t do your own business on that day. You don’t pursue your own interests on that day. It even says, “Value My holy day and honor it by not traveling, working or talking idly on that day.” Or as The Jerusalem Bible puts it, “Abstaining from travel, from doing business and from gossip.” But the main point there is, “Call the Sabbath a delight.” We’re supposed to enjoy the day, rather than pursue our own business or our own worldly gain on that day.
Lou: How can you command someone to “call the Sabbath a delight?”
Graham: Now we know from experience you can’t do that. When your girls were growing up, did you ever say to one of them, “Now look, don’t make any more faces. I want you to eat your spinach?”
“Yes, but I want you to enjoy it.”
“I want you to tell me how delicious it is.”
“Daddy, I’d be fibbing if I did, and I’d be breaking one of the commandments.”
There’s no way you can order somebody to enjoy something. But consider the things that God desires the most: Love? You can’t command it. Trust? You can’t command it. The enjoyment of the Sabbath? You can’t command it. It’s an invitation. We either do it or we don’t, and if we really observe the day, we do it in the highest sense of freedom and it is truly a delight.