Did the Israelites in captivity keep the Sabbath?
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Did the ancient Israelites keep the Bible Sabbath while they were in Babylon? In God's word, the two books that reference the captive lives of those from the Kingdom of Judah are Daniel and Esther. Nothing is stated in the Old Testament as to whether what is known the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel (known as the Kingdom of Israel), which went into Assyrian captivity in 723 B.C., kept the Sabbath or not.
The Bible does teach, though, that neglect of the Sabbath was a major factor leading to the Babylonian captivity (which began in 586 B.C.). The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel state:
"Thus says the Lord: 'Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the SABBATH DAY, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the SABBATH DAY, nor do any work, but hallow the SABBATH DAY, as I commanded your fathers. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.'
"'And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,' says the Lord, 'to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the SABBATH DAY, but hallow the SABBATH DAY, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever . . .'
"'But if you will not heed Me to hallow the SABBATH DAY, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the SABBATH DAY, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.' " (Jeremiah 17:21-25, 27, NKJV throughout) "Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Have you come to inquire of Me? As I live," says the Lord GOD, "I will not be inquired of by you . . . "'"
"'Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness . . . Moreover I also gave them MY SABBATHS, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness . . . '
"But I said to their children in the wilderness . . . I am the Lord your God: Walk in My statutes, keep My judgments, and do them; hallow MY SABBATHS, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.' Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, and were not careful to observe My judgments, 'which, if a man does, he shall live by them'; but they profaned MY SABBATHS . . .
"Also I raised My hand in an oath to those in the wilderness, that I would SCATTER THEM AMONG THE GENTILES and DISPERSE THEM THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRIES, because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned MY SABBATHS, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers' idols." (Ezekiel 20:2-3, 10, 12-13, 18-21, 23-24)
| |Ezekiel the Prophet
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Since Daniel knew and was responsive to Jeremiah's message (Daniel 9), it is reasonable to infer that Daniel observed the Sabbath. He, however, was not the only person who heeded the Old Testament prophets. Nehemiah, leader of a community in Jerusalem that had returned from captivity, stressed faithful Sabbath observance in the 13th chapter of his book. He understood the significant role that Sabbath-breaking had played in the spiritual problems culminating in their expulsion from the Promised Land:
"In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the SABBATH, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the SABBATH DAY. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the SABBATH to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.
"Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, 'What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the SABBATH DAY? DID NOT YOUR FATHERS DO THUS, AND DID NOT OUR GOD BRING ALL THIS DISASTER ON US AND ON THIS CITY? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the SABBATH.'" (Nehemiah 13:15-18)
Keeping the Bible Sabbath would have helped those in captivity maintain their identity in the midst of a pagan world. Israelites that neglected the Sabbath lost their connection with God and became assimilated into the current culture within a few generations or so. Some strong, lasting communities formed in Babylon and Media, however, so the Sabbath was undoubtedly an integral part of the lives of those communities.
A popular story written before 200 B.C. about a man named Tobit encapsulates the values of faithful Israelites in foreign lands. Tobit was part of the earlier Assyrian captivity that took the northern ten tribes of Israel out of Palestine. Keeping the Feast of Pentecost was part of his obedient lifestyle while a captive. The fact that Israel kept its identity despite captivity may be the best evidence of keeping the Sabbath while captive.
Adapted from article by: Doug Ward