By Jesse ben Yosef.
In the words of the 20th century Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.” I would suggest that in the exact same way as the cultural identity of the Jewish people was preserved for the last 2,000 years, so will the people of Ephraim– a nation which has not even existed for 2,700 years– come back together: by keeping the Shabbat.
Now it is true, that for the last 1,800 years, while the Jewish people were meeting in synagogues all around the world on Saturdays, most Ephraimites were sitting in church pews on Sundays; yet this schism between our two houses did not always hold true. There is significant evidence within the pages of the New Testament itself to suggest that, in the first century following the advent of our Messiah, the early believers met not in “churches” as we envision them today, but in synagogues alongside their Jewish brethren. Evidence of this can be found all throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts, in which it is seen that both Yeshua and the Apostles set a precedent of preaching in the synagogues, on the day of Shabbat. (See Mark 1:21, 6:2; Luke 4:16, 6:6, 13:10-14; Acts 13:14, 18:4, 15:21; and James 2:2.)
When did we, an Ephraimite people, forsake the Shabbat?
After the Messiah Yeshua’s ascension into the heavens to sit at the right hand of the Father, we can see very clearly how the fathers of the early church walked in the footsteps of their Israelite predecessors. One need look no further than Judges 2 to see a prophetic picture of this pattern: “Now when Joshua had sent the people away, the children of Israel went every man to his inheritance to possess the land. The people served HaShem all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of HaShem that he had worked for Israel… Also all that generation were gathered to their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, who didn’t know HaShem, nor yet the work which he had worked for Israel.” (Judges 2:6-7, 10-11)
The comparison between the Israelites of Judges 2 and the early church is confirmed in the words of the early Jewish church historian Hegesippus, who wrote that “Up to that period the church had remained like a virgin, pure and uncorrupted; for, if there were any who were disposed to tamper with the wholesome rule of the preaching of salvation, they still lurked in dark places of concealment. But, when the sacred band of apostles had in various ways closed their lives, and when that generation of men to whom it had been entrusted to listen to the Godlike Wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then the confederacy of godless error took its rise through the treachery of false teachers. They then, seeing that none of the apostles lived any longer, attempted with bare and uplifted head to oppose the preaching of the truth by preaching ‘knowledge falsely so called.’” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastic History 3.32) Hegesippus records elsewhere that up to this point in the history of the early church, “the state of affairs was in accordance with the teaching of the law, the prophets, and the Lord.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastic History 4.22)
According to the testimony of Hegesippus, it was through “the confederacy of godless error” and “the treachery of false teachers” that lead our Ephraimite forefathers, during the days of the early church, to make a national transition away from keeping Shabbat. This was done in an effort to distance themselves and their new religion (Christianity) from all things “too Jewish.”
Shabbat and Zionism
All of that is about to change. A new wind is sweeping through the Sons of Joseph– Christians, Messianics, and Hebrew Roots believers alike, who are returning to the covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What we are witnessing with the rapid and widespread growth of our Ephraimite identity is most assuredly the work of the Father’s Hand, restoring our nation from the ground up.
Why is Shabbat such an important step in our restoration? Let’s put this in perspective from an example in recent history. Prior to the reestablishment of Israel as a Jewish homeland, our Jewish brothers and sisters began a movement in the 1920s and 1930s to promote a resurgence of Shabbat observance throughout American Jewish communities. What happened next was remarkable: “Consumer groups formed, pledging to support businesses that kept the Shabbat; soon Shomer Shabbat (‘Shabbat Observant’) signs were being displayed in shop windows. Shabbat clubs were conducted for Jewish children. Slowly, the momentum built, laying the groundwork for large-scale return to Judaism and Shabbat observance in the decades to come.” (Yanki Tauber, A Brief History of Shabbat on Chabad.org) This momentum was carried over into the establishment of Israel as a Jewish homeland, which, after its formation in 1948, passed official legislation securing Shabbat as an official state-recognized day of rest.
For the last 1,800 years, we as an Ephraimite people, unaware of our Hebrew origins, have proclaimed our national identity to be not that of God, but that of the church fathers. This was done with the best of intentions, to bring honor to Yeshua by commemorating the day of His resurrection, although this was not an observance which has ever been asked of us; after all, it was not from the pages of the Scriptures themselves, but from their own authority that the church decreed the transference of the Shabbat to Sunday. But now, with the national institution of keeping the Shabbat, we are proclaiming our national identity to be based solely upon the God who created the heavens and the earth, and commanded the patriarchs of the Hebrew faith to walk in accordance with this memorial of the Creation.
It is my conviction that this return is going to be enhanced by the National Shabbat program. In a recent conversation with some fellow Ephraimites, Tzefanyah Pappas shared with us the success and implementation of the first National Shabbat event. What began as a gathering in the state of Georgia has now spread to South Carolina as well, where two separate, though connected groups are meeting. There are currently talks of launching National Shabbat gatherings elsewhere in the United States, and even in Europe. And the people participating in these events– these Ephraimites– are not meeting to discuss doctrine, which calendar they follow, or how they pronounce the sacred name; rather, they meet to honor the Father’s commandment to set apart the day of Shabbat as a unified people group, as the Sons of Joseph, and as inheritors of the covenant of the patriarchs.
And this, my friends, is how our nation is growing: by gathering together not to convince others of our own personal interpretations, but by gathering together and simply being who the Father has called us to be; by gathering not as a religious sect, but as a people group; by gathering not as gentiles, but as the Sons of Joseph. This is how we return home, in covenant with the Father, by walking the way of the patriarchs as a people unified not by our doctrine, but by our identity.
The Principles of Shabbat (from the Scriptures)
The following is a short list of some of the governing principles of Shabbat, and the Scripture passages from which these principles are derived.
- Shabbat was established by God as the seventh day of the week from the very order of Creation. “The heavens and the earth were finished, and all their vast array. On the sixth day God finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because He rested in it from all His work which He had created and made.” (Genesis 2:1-3)
- Shabbat is to be remembered weekly, and set it apart from the rest of the days. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to HaShem your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days HaShem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore HaShem blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11; see also Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
- The Sixth Day is a day to prepare for Shabbat. “HaShem said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from the sky for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My Torah, or not. It shall come to pass on the sixth day, that they shall prepare that which they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily… Behold, because HaShem has given you the Sabbath, therefore He gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days. Everyone stay in his place. Let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:4-5,29-30)
- The Sabbath is a sign of our relationship with HaShem, and breaking it brings separation from Him. “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Most certainly you shall keep My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am HaShem who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death, for whoever does any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to HaShem. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever, for in six days HaShem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed.’” (Exodus 31:12-17)
- Shabbat is not a day for buying, selling, trading, or commerce. “If the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we would not buy of them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day… It came to pass that, when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut, and commanded that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. I set some of my servants over the gates, that no burden should be brought in on the Sabbath day.” (Nehemiah 10:31, 13:19)
- Shabbat is not just for the people of Israel, but for the strangers who sojourn with them as well. “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and hold fast My covenant: to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the foreigners who join themselves to HaShem, to minister to Him, and to love the name of HaShem, to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and holds fast My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:4-7)
- Shabbat is a day to delight in HaShem’s purpose, and not our own. “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of HaShem honorable, and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: then you shall delight yourself in HaShem, and I will make you to ride on the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)
- Shabbat will be kept as a day set apart to HaShem in the last days. “It shall happen, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me.” (Isaiah 66:23)
- Shabbat was made to benefit mankind. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
- It is in accordance with the Torah to do good on Shabbat. “What man is there among you, who has one sheep, and if this one falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, won’t he grab on to it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.” (Matthew 12:11-12)
- Yeshua the Messiah preached in the synagogues on Shabbat. “Yeshua returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding area. He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. He entered, as was His custom, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” (Luke 4:14-16)
- The Apostle James presumed that new believers would learn the Torah on Shabbat. “Therefore my judgment is that we do not trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19-21)
- The Apostle Paul preached in the synagogues on Shabbat. “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. Paul, as was his custom, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” (Acts 17:1-2)
- Shabbat remains for God’s people. “So then, it remains for the people of God to keep the Sabbath. For whoever enters His rest has rested from his works as God has from His own.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)