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The Shabbat Apology

The Shabbat Apology

The Olympic Games go far back into antiquity. The first recorded and reliable date for them is 776 BC, though evidence exists that they were held even earlier.

Yet, however old the Olympics, they’re not as old as the seventh-day Sabbath. The date of the giving of the Ten Commandments—of which the Sabbath commandment is the fourth—at Mount Sinai certainly predates the Olympics, though it varies anywhere from 1446 to 1290 BC. But even that solemn proclamation was just a reiteration of what Israel had forgotten during its many years of slavery in Egypt.

This truth is seen in Exodus 16, when, weeks before even reaching Sinai, Moses scolded the people for violating the Sabbath by gathering manna on it: “‘Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.’ Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day” (vv. 26–30).

In fact, the seventh day as a holy day, set apart by God, goes way back to the Creation week itself: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2, 3).

In short, the Sabbath was already thousands of years old before the first Olympic javelin had been thrown or the first Olympic medal awarded.


It’s not surprising that two ancient institutions—one God-given, one manmade (pagan, actually)—would sooner or later clash. And that is exactly what happened with the Tokyo Olympic games this summer when former Israeli prime minister and now opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu offered his congratulations to Olympian Linoy Ashram, who won gold in the women’s rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around and was also the first-ever Israeli woman to win gold at the elite quadrennial competition.

What’s wrong with that? Well, Netanyahu posted on Twitter a video and public statement of what he did. That use of modern electronic equipment and technology is, according to some Jews, a violation of the fourth commandment—equivalent to lighting a fire, which God expressly forbade during the Sabbath (Exodus 35:3).

The tweet initiated a firestorm of reactions. Chairman Moshe Gafni, leader of United Torah Judaism, a religiopolitical coalition, said that Netanyahu’s statement had “desecrated the Sabbath.”

Aryeh Deri, leader of another religiopolitical party, Shas, complained that Netanyahu “offended many Sabbath-observing Jews and offended his loyal partners, for whom the holy Sabbath is very dear to their hearts.”

And the list goes on. The outcry was so great, in fact, that after some mild attempts at damage control, Netanyahu finally apologized.

“I am very careful to keep Shabbat,” Netanyahu said. “My staff is very diligent, but they did not understand that what applied as prime minister, applies now as well. These things will not change. … I say this out of respect for Shabbat, out of respect for the Jewish nation.”

What that meant is that Netanyahu “had avoided publicly breaking the Sabbath when he was prime minister.” While he himself is a secular Jew and does not practice the Jewish religion, his goal, as any politician’s would be, is to cultivate the many political ties he has to Orthodox parties, like United Torah Judaism and Shas. And he cannot do that if he does not “respect the values of the Jewish heritage,” as Shas member and “head of the Knesset caucus for observing the Sabbath” Moshe Abutbul said.

Understanding the Sabbath

According to The Times of Israel, “At issue was not the call itself, but the fact that the message was publicly issued before Shabbat was out.”

However, Times also included this quote from Deri, who “noted that the Sabbath is considered so holy that one cannot desecrate it and then ask for forgiveness.”

Confused yet? Is the failure to observe the seventh-day Sabbath more of a political gaffe than a sin? Is it relegated to a cultural tradition rather than a command from the Almighty? Can it be kept outwardly but not inwardly? Is breaking it a point of no return in the face of an angry, exacting God?

According to the Bible, the Sabbath is supposed to be “a delight,” a time where we turn from our “own pleasure” (Isaiah 58:13) and seek the Lord’s will. It is to be a day where we repair that broken connection with God that sin has caused (v. 12); where we “satisfy the afflicted soul” (v. 10), demonstrating to others of God’s unending love for us; where we heal and are healed by this Great Physician (Matthew 12:9–13); where we come together to worship Him (Leviticus 23:3). This is the rest that God invites us to on the seventh day—a rest from this wearisome world, a rejuvenation in Him. That certainly sounds different from how these articles portrayed the Sabbath day, doesn’t it?

Would you like to know more about this seventh day? Then, we invite you to listen to this powerful and informative message “God’s Special Day.” Learn the true meaning of the Sabbath in the best way possible—straight from the Word of God.

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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