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Murder on the Sabbath

Murder on the Sabbath

If nothing else, the Sabbath is intended as a day of rest, a day for family, and a day of communal worship. Both for the Jewish people and for those Christians who adhere to Sabbathkeeping, the seventh day of the week is one of gladness. It is the day the other six days of the week point toward.

Tragically, not everyone has respected the “oasis in time” that the Sabbath represents. People across the United States were stunned to learn this on October 27 when a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire on worshippers gathered there. By the end of his rampage, eleven were dead and six more were injured, including four police officers.

All the homicide victims were Jewish individuals attending weekly worship, which on this day included a baby-naming ceremony. The alleged gunman (though charged, he has not yet been convicted as of this writing) expressed vile hatred for Jews. Ironically, the doctors and nurses on duty at Allegheny Medical Center, where the suspect was taken after he was shot, are all Jewish. They did not consider their patient’s alleged crimes and did their best to help him.

The attack in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, a center of Jewish life in the area, is just the latest in a series of attacks on Sabbathkeepers around the world. The vast majority of those victims are Jewish, but there also have been violent attacks against Christians who observe the Bible Sabbath. One such attack took place in Orissa State in India in August of 2008: Christians of all stripes were killed, among them a number of Seventh-day Adventists.

Roughly three months later, another group of terrorists attacked numerous sites in Mumbai, India, including the Chabad House, an outpost of orthodox Jews from the Lubavitcher movement. Six Sabbathkeepers were among the 166 people killed that day.

The late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress, once noted, “The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.” Perhaps this has never been as true as it is now, in a day and age when attacks on people of faith have become all too common, and where hostility toward those who keep the Sabbath holy is growing. Hatred of Jews comes from many sad motivations, of course, but the “separation” of keeping the seventh day might well be a part of it. It seems bigotry focuses on what’s “different” about the “other,” and worshiping God on the day He designates as set apart is different enough from the world’s patterns to draw notice.

Jesus, in some of His last words to his followers, suggested this: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18, 19).

Satan hates the Sabbath because he hates anything that affirms Creation and the Creator. It was after that first Sabbath in Eden that the adversary, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve by questioning God’s Word and His character. The devil challenged God’s prohibition against eating the fruit of that one tree in the garden: “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4, 5).

Because the devil hates God, he also hates those who choose to follow God—particularly in observing the commandments that separate believers from “the world,” as Jesus noted. That such hatred would be manifest in attacks on Sabbathkeepers down through the centuries should come as little surprise.

What should a Sabbathkeeping believer do? We would do well to express solidarity with all victims of terror and murderous attacks such as the one in Pittsburgh. Evil is evil, and those of goodwill must condemn it.

But we should also “keep on keeping on”—that is, we should continue to observe the Sabbath and do so without shame. (Circumstances may dictate caution and prudence in societies where legal barriers or other persecutions may exist, however.) We must not—indeed, we cannot—allow hatred to gain the upper hand. The simple act of going to church on the Sabbath for Christians who observe the seventh day is a gentle, public rebuke of those who hate and seek to kill any Sabbatarian, Jewish or Christian.

Above all, we should remember that following Jesus may well have a high price in this life. We can hope, expect, and pray for God’s protection—and we rejoice when we have it—but we also know that our ultimate reward is not in avoiding the evil in the world, but in being in God’s presence when evil is ultimately vanquished and the redeemed can enjoy paradise forever.

Knowing the truth about the Bible Sabbath can be liberating. Read Early Christians Kept Sunday in Honor of the Resurrection on this website to learn whether this means the seventh-day Sabbath no longer matters to Christians today.