Sabbath Food: Part 7

John Plunkett
August 10, 2013

This is a very big subject; and for those of you who have been with us from the beginning, I hope you are not getting fed up with it.  I believe that God has scattered the mentions of this subject all the way through His written Word.  And for good reason.  I believe that He really wants His people to take notice of what He says here.

Last month I promised you that we would get into the Sabbath Food scriptures in the book of Nehemiah, who wrote after Judah’s return from their exile in Babylon. 

Before we go there, let us take two pre-exile looks at why God gave Israel and Judah into their captivities.  One of my looks is in the book of Jeremiah and the other is in the book of Isaiah.  Let us look at Isaiah's account first:

Isaiah 1:
1: The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2: Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
8: And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
9: Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we
(Judah and Israel) should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah...

In other words, torched and obliterated, as those cities were.

10: Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah...

The twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were virtually gone, of course, at the time of Isaiah's writing.  Right here, the LORD is actually talking to the leaders and the peoples of Israel and Judah, who had been acting like the leaders and peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah, and thus deserving of the same punishment.

11: To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?  saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats...

YHVH was telling them here that their thousands even millions of sacrifices were of no use to Him.  They had been intended for their benefit – for the people’s benefit.

12: When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?...

He is saying, "Who asked you unrepentant sinners to come before me in my temple?"  He doesn’t want them there if they are going to continue in all their sin.  He doesn’t want them near Him.  He doesn’t want them desecrating His holy temple.

13: Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
14: Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them...

The Sabbaths, the new moons, the feast days, the oblations, the assemblies and the solemn meetings are all good and right, of course; but not vain ones, and not when coincident with ongoing, unabashed iniquity.  They cannot go together.  The sin has to stop; otherwise the keeping of these days has to stop.

15: And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

It is likely that some will quote these verses and claim that this is where YHVH cancelled His requirements for us to keep His Sabbaths and Holy days.  But we know from God's requirements at subsequent times that is not true.  

The mention in verse 15 of their hands being full of blood gives us an inkling of what He was meaning here.  Another clue is in the more modern translations of verse 13.  Here is one from the New King James Version:

13: Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me.  The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.

Sin is one thing.  Hypocrisy is another.  Unrepentant sinners will be dealt with later by God.  But one thing that the Eternal cannot endure is hypocrisy.  He cannot endure professing Christians pretending to be righteous when they continue with their unrighteous ways – supposedly, on the surface, keeping God’s Sabbaths and Holy Days, while their old iniquity continues. 

When you have time, please do a search on the words "hypocrite" and "hypocrisy."  See how many times it is brought up and the way in which it is brought up, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  I found forty mentions of those two words, applying to both Old Testament physical Israel and the New Testament "Israel of God."

How can we know that the LORD still wanted His people to respect and to keep His Sabbaths correctly and unpolluted, despite what we just read at the beginning of the book of Isaiah?  Let us look at what Isaiah wrote close to the end of his book:

Isaiah 56:
1: Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
2: Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
3: Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree.
4: For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5: Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
6: Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7: 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 upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.

This is for Israelites and for Gentiles too, if they will keep God’s Sabbaths and His other laws.  Yes, even Eunuchs.  God promised them that they would be richly blessed if they kept the Eternal’s Sabbaths as He commanded them to be kept.

So, this begs our next question: "How are they to be kept?"

Isaiah 58:
13: If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
14: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

What is your pleasure?  What is your pleasure, for instance, from the first day of the week to the sixth day of the week?  What does it include?  What is your pleasure in the living space that you have authority over?  Because that small space is all we have authority over.  We can’t go out and tell the people in our neighborhoods that they should be keeping the Sabbath.  We can’t even tell our fellow church brethren to keep the Sabbath exactly the way we do. 

God gives us these instructions and we have to follow them not just to the best of our own human ability; but also as empowered by the Holy Spirit that is within us.

The Eternal clearly commands here that one's pleasure on the seventh day of the week must be different from that on the other six days. 

Now let us move over to Jeremiah's pre-exile warnings to the Jewish people and their rulers. 

We tend to looks at the contents of Jeremiah’s books as being a real "downer"; but he gives much more than just warnings.  He repeats instructions that the Jews should already have known – and that we should already know.  He clearly passes on to them and to us the offers from God of wonderful, positive blessings if the Israelites, Jews and we would only obey them; and warnings of the curses that would happen for disobeying them.  

I want you to notice, as we go through here, that there is quite an accent on the city gates of Jerusalem.  When we move on into our Nehemiah scriptures, I think you will see that this is quite significant:

Jeremiah 17:
19: Thus said the LORD unto me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by the which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem;
20: And say unto them, Hear ye the word of the LORD, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates:
21: Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;
22: Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers...

I want you to notice that YHVH had made no changes to His Sabbath law going all the way back to Sinai and even back to creation.  "As I commanded your fathers" was how they were supposed to keep His Sabbaths, and how we are too, because to this day, no changes have been made to it.

23: But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction...

Whenever I read this, I think of little children, when they don’t want to listen to what a parent is telling them usually because they don’t want to obey an instruction how they clamp their hands over their ears and loudly sing, “La, La, La.” 

Are we happily and willingly receiving and inclining our ears to the LORD's instructions?  Are we listening out for them through His Holy written Word, specifically those instructions concerning His Sabbaths?  Or are any of us being disobedient to God’s Sabbath laws?  Are any of us plugging our ears so that we can’t listen?  Are any of us to be included with the stiff-necked Jews and other Israelites?  We certainly don’t want to be included in that way.

24: And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the LORD, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work therein;
25: Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever.
26: And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the LORD...

As we saw in last month’s sermon, bringing this kind of burden through the city gates en route to the temple for an offering would be good and right and acceptable.  This kind of burden would be by God’s people in a selfless desire to worship Him; and not by selfish Gentile merchants who are just interested in lining their own pockets at the expense of the wayward Jews.

27: But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.

It is interesting that God would inspire Jeremiah to write here about the kindling of a fire, and tie it in with the bringing in of unapproved burdens on His Sabbath Days. 

A few months ago, we looked at YHVH's prohibition against the collection of firewood and the kindling of fires on God's holy Sabbath Days. 

Because the kindling of fires is not something that we find mentioned very often throughout the Bible, when I see it mentioned again here, I am wondering if the kindling of fires was perhaps coincident with these "markets" that were being permitted by the Jews on God’s Sabbaths.  Did this also, perhaps, include the cooking of food in the market cafes?

Please keep all of this in mind now as we go into the book of Nehemiah. 

Into the Book of Nehemiah

In their familiar order, the books of the Bible are terribly mixed up.  We have the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, who wrote after the Jewish exile, way on back in the Bible before the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah who wrote before and during it.

We are going to "fast-forward" now to the time following the Jews' return from their captivity in Babylon.  Ezra the priest returned to Jerusalem with an advance party of Jews thirteen years before Nehemiah arrived there.

When Nehemiah arrived, a new temple had been built
but not a very impressive one.  From what we understand, it was pretty makeshift when compared with Solomon’s original.  Now, at the time of Nehemiah's arrival, the construction of a new city wall had been initiated.  This wall was very important to the Jews of Jerusalem as it was to all of the cities at that time to be fortified for protection.

We will now go through a couple of significant chapters in the book of Nehemiah, who appears to have been writing in a kind of diary-format here:

Nehemiah 4:
6: So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.

If we go into the history of this post-exilic building boom, we find that the people had previously built the temple, but had seemed to have fallen into a lethargic mood, almost like a funk. Perhaps this was due to the ongoing opposition of some Gentiles to the Jewish building projects.  But now, with the infectious courage and the zeal of Nehemiah, “the people had a mind to work."  And work they did on this new city wall.

7: But it came to pass, that when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth,
8: And conspired all of them together to come and to fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it.

It is interesting that these wicked Gentiles, who were enemies of the Jews, were hindering the Jews from performing the righteous, commanded work, which was being done on the first six days of each week – not on the Sabbath days. 

Later we will see more Gentiles encouraging the Jews to approve of, an d to participate in forbidden and unrighteous work on the seventh day of the week. 

11: And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.

The Hebrew word for “cease" here is "shabbath."  But God did not let the Gentiles succeed in their promotion of this wrong type of "shabbath-ing" and the "melakah" work continued:

15: And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work.

Now let’s see how these same wicked Gentiles then tried some time-wasting tactics on the zealous Nehemiah, and even wanted to do him harm in order to get his godly influence out of the way.  But, again, they were unsuccessful:

Nehemiah 6:
1: Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;)
2: That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono.  But they thought to do me mischief.

Nehemiah knew that there was a plan in the works to get him out of the way.  Nehemiah didn’t pull any punches:

3: And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?

The two points here were that the Jews were engaging themselves in a proper, godly work, during the first six days of the week.  But, their Gentile enemies were conspiring to prevent this.  Please keep all of this in mind, because as we go through it all, the value of the information builds up.

Last month, in Part 6, we read about the northern house of Israel being sent into captivity and scattering, partially because of their breaking of God’s Sabbath commands concerning the weekly, annual and land Sabbaths. 

Then we read about the southern tribe of Judah being sent into captivity in Babylon for the very same sins.  But we must remember that God had warned them first and repeatedly.  God is a merciful God, and He gave them these warnings in advance.  I have just touched today on Isaiah and Jeremiah, but there were many others during that time-frame that God used to warn His people too.

We are going to read now about some Jewish exiles who returned from captivity in Babylon.  These men seemed to initially have learned the corrective lessons from God that He had intended to teach them through their captivity.

Nehemiah 9:
1: Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month
(Tishri) the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.

This was a special fast day and assembly, called on the 24th day of Tishri.  It is almost immediately following the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day which, of course, ran from the 15th to the 22nd inclusively.  So they had something of "a day off" on the 23rd and, as they were all still there, Nehemiah took advantage of that fact to call this very special fast day and assembly on the 24th day. 

Amazingly, Nehemiah tells us in chapter 8 that this Feast that they had just kept was the first full and proper keeping of the Feast since the time of Joshua!

2: And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.

The purpose of this fast day was a day of confession and repentance of their own sins and the sins of their forefathers; specifically those who had been the cause of the Babylonian captivity.

5: Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.

If we read on from verse 6 to verse 12, these same eight men continue their humble prayer; and in that prayer they give a history of the important events from creation all of the way up until the Israelites arrival at Sinai.  So then in verse 13, as they are still praying:

13: Thou (YHVH) camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:

If you don’t remember anything else from this sermon, please remember this verse – and that God’s statutes, laws and commandments are good!

So, if those statutes, laws and commandments were good all of the way back at the time of Sinai, have they somehow changed since then?  Have they been down-graded?  If so, who down-graded them, and when?  Also, if they have been down-graded, just where is that important event recorded? 

I am going to ask these same questions a couple of times as we go through, because in the same way that it applied to the Jews back then, it applies doubly so to God’s people today, on whom the ends of the world are come (I Corinthians 10:11).

Before we read verse 14, let us ask an advance question: “Of all of these right judgments, true Laws, good statutes and commandments, which one did these men specifically home in on in their prayer of contrition?

14: And madest known unto them thy holy Sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:

They singled out the Sabbath Commandment!  And why?  Because the breaking of the weekly Sabbaths, the annual Sabbaths and the land Sabbaths were largely – even primarily – to blame for the captivities of the Northern and Southern houses of Israel and Judah. 

Is this an appropriate warning for spiritual Israel?  For God’s church today?  Yes, of course it is!

38: And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.

The Jewish leaders and the people actually signed off on this special covenant with YHVH in which they promise to take proper action on the lessons that He taught them through their seventy year captivity. 

This special covenant was kind of a partial repetition of the covenant that was made between YHVH and the Israelites, through Moses, at Mount Sinai.

A long list of nobles agreed to this covenant and added their seals to it:

Nehemiah 10:
1: Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah...

The list of leaders that signed off on this covenant goes on and on, all of the way up to verse 27.  Then in verse 28, the people that these leaders represented also agreed to the covenant:

28: And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding;
29: They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;

Once again, what were among the very first items that they agreed to?

31: And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the Sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the Sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.

First, they promised to do no business with the Gentile merchants on the weekly or annual Sabbaths. Second, they promised to keep the seventh-year land Sabbaths.

Did the Jewish nobles and people keep their promises?  They made a very serious set of promises on this fast day, and they sealed it in writing. 

But did they keep it? 

We shall see!

If we were to read all of the way through chapters eleven and twelve into the beginning of chapter thirteen (which we won’t, due to time constraints), we would see that, after the initial rejoicing at the set-up of the rebuilt Temple and city walls, Nehemiah seemed to be fighting a losing battle.  He experienced quite a lot of ups and downs in his leadership. The leaders under him appeared to be lacking in strictness.  Nehemiah was a really sharp man and he quickly recognized the problems and dealt with them.  But then, he came face-to-face with the huge problem that we read about in chapter 13:

Nehemiah 13:
15: In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.

It is hard to jump from chapter nine and all that they promised to chapter 13 where they were so quickly throwing those promises out of the door. 

Please notice first that he saw this "in Judah."  When we read this account we tend to home our thoughts onto Jerusalem specifically; but I believe that it was also happening in other towns and villages in Judah as well.

What was happening here?  What was the problem?  I ask this because I know that there are Christians out there today who would ask, “What’s the big deal?” 

The big deal was there was selling, there was marketing and there was heavy work being done on God’s Holy Sabbath days.  Some people were treading grapes for wine.  Some people were bringing grain sheaves into the towns.  Some people were loading heavy cargo on to donkeys. This was all taking place all on God’s Holy Sabbath days.

In Jerusalem specifically, where Nehemiah was at the time, he witnessed wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of other goods ("victuals") being transported into the city for sale on the Sabbath days.

Was this a problem?  We might have thousands of our brethren who might say, “That wouldn't be a problem today.  That was then; this is now.” 

But it was a problem.  Nehemiah testified against the participants and gave them strict warnings against continuing with these things.

16: There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.

The word “also” implies that some of the sellers may have been Jews.  Some of the Gentile men of Tyre, who were resident in Judah, were bringing fish and all kinds of other goods into the cities of Judah to sell to the Jews. 

We might tend to put the blame on the Tyrian merchants.  But please note that, for the most part, it was the Jews who were doing the buying. 

Again, the grammar of verse sixteen implies that this was happening in the cities of Judah, and that Jerusalem was probably just one of many Judean towns where this was happening.

17: Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day?

Nehemiah acted right away.  First he contended – not with the Tyrian sellers and not with the Jewish buyers – but he started off by tackling the Jewish nobles.  He put the main blame squarely on their heads, where it belonged.  

As long as the Jewish leaders were encouraging and allowing it, the Jewish people thought that it was acceptable; and the Tyrian traders obviously thought, "If these guys are not strict enough with their religion, why shouldn’t we ply our trade and make a few extra bucks?" 

It is possible that some of the Jewish nobles were amongst those who were doing the buying as well.  The people were receiving their lead and possibly even their example from them.  Monkey see, monkey do!  

The Jews might excuse their own actions by saying, "Those Gentile traders are unconverted.  They don’t know any better; and they are not subject to our religious laws.  Surely, if our nobles are permitting it and doing it, it must be okay."

This is exactly what is happening in spiritual Israel –  in God’s New Testament church today! Despite God’s instructions and the clear examples we have seen in this extensive study so far, some of today’s Church of God ministers buy food and drink on the Sabbath days, both in stores and in restaurants.  The members follow suit.  Monkey see, monkey do!

The justification today is the same as that of Nehemiah's time: "Those store clerks and restaurant employees are unconverted.  They don’t know any better.  They are not subject to our religious laws.  Surely, if the minister is doing it, it must be okay."

But is it okay?  It might be okay with those ministers; but is it okay with God?  Let’s see if it is okay with God:

18: Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city?  Yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath.

Nehemiah reminded them that this kind of Sabbath-breaking was one of the main sins of their forefathers, which had caused the Eternal to send them off into captivity for seventy years. 

So was it okay with God?  Was God okay with it?  No, of course He wasn’t!  Nehemiah knew that God was full of wrath because of what was going on there amongst His people. 

Nehemiah perhaps feared that, if a change did not take place immediately, another period of captivity, perhaps a permanent one, was a real possibility. 

I will just interject here to admit that I have been guilty of this too. and hopefully repented of it.

I believe that, if we dig into God’s Word, He will gladly reveal to us what He wants. A lax approach to Sabbath keeping is not what He wants. 

What terminology did Nehemiah use for what was going on here?  In verse 18, he referred to what they were doing as profaning His Sabbath. 

The Hebrew word for "profane" and "profaning" is "chalal" (Strong’s 2490) and it can also be translated as pollute, defile, break, wound, stain, desecrate, treat as common, violate the honour of and, worst of all, prostitute!

Please consider these words when you think about your treatment of God’s Holy sacred Sabbaths and Holy days.

I want to repeat some questions and to add some more to what I've already said:  

Has God changed since Sinai?  

Has He changed since Nehemiah’s time?  

Is His Sabbath time still holy?  Or not?  

Has it been down-graded?  

Is it now permissible to break God’s Sabbaths and Holy Days without God considering such breaking to be profane? 

Has the meaning of the word "profane" somehow been changed since Nehemiah's time? 

Why would God cause this account to be recorded in His written word if He didn’t want us to take it seriously and act upon it? 

After Nehemiah's dressing down of the Jewish nobles, he had not finished with them yet.  He did act upon their sin in a righteous way. 

Back in verse 17, we read that he testified against the sellers.  He gave them strict warnings against continuing with what they were doing.  Now he took even further action – practical action:

19: And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the Sabbath day.

Please remember Jeremiah’s gates that we read about earlier.  To make sure that no goods could possibly be brought in for sale on the Sabbath, Nehemiah arranged for the city gates to be closed, barred and guarded before sunset on what we call Friday evening and re-opened again after sunset on what we call Saturday evening.  Neither he nor God had anything against legitimate buying and selling during the other six days of the week.  

After all of this preventative action, did the Tyrian merchants begin to behave themselves?

20: So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.

No!  They did not begin to behave themselves!  They camped outside the city walls and gates during the Sabbath hours, evidently waiting for an opportunity to get in and do business with any willing and wayward Jews.

As Nehemiah tells us that they did this "once or twice," we can assume that, if he would have allowed it, they would have continued to do so on more occasions if they felt that they could have gotten away with doing so.  Once again, Nehemiah took firm and proper action to stop them:

21: Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you.  From that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath.

So Nehemiah warned them of arrest and imprisonment if they continued.  Nehemiah took righteous action to keep holy the twenty-four hours that God had sanctified way back at creation.  Please notice that Nehemiah had no fear – no problem at all –  with unifying God’s holy law with the civil law.

22: And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day.  Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.

Nehemiah instructed the Levites to take charge of the city gates so that these dangerously illegal practices should be prevented. 

O that we today, in God’s church, would rebuild strong walls around our household's keeping of God’s holy Sabbath time!

O that we today would keep our gates, as they did, and be actively protective of God’s Sabbaths in our homes!

O that we today had some leaders like Nehemiah!

On this last point, if we did have leaders like Nehemiah, would some of our brethren complain? 

One day these things will be reintroduced and properly enforced in the World Tomorrow.  Will some people complain even then?  There are prophetic scriptures that strongly indicate that there will be some resistance to God’s holy laws – yes, even in the World Tomorrow –  both at the beginning of the Millennium and at its end.  (Isaiah 31:21; Ezekiel 38 & 39; Revelation 20:7-10).

I have heard brethren say that this Nehemiah account does not apply to us today – that it doesn’t apply to eating out at restaurants on God’s Sabbath days, or brief shopping trips for emergencies –  emergencies such as "we forgot the cream for the coffee" or "we need to get a bottle of wine to take to dinner at somebody’s house."  I am sorry to admit it; but I have done it; and I am sorry that I have done it. 

Also, some say that this restriction is referring only to doing our main shopping for food and other things.  Some people say that there were no restaurants in Bible times –  especially in the town markets.  But accurate historical and archeological accounts very much prove that they did have cafes, restaurants – even fast-food ones – in those days. 

Even if it were true – which its is not – that they didn’t have those things, please look at the spirit of what is being said here.  Is there any real difference between shopping for food to take home and buying cooked food in a café or restaurant? 

If you look at the logic of it, a restaurant meal may be even more of a Sabbath violation than a shopping trip because, as well as the monetary transaction, and the temporary employment of the person who takes your money, in the case of a restaurant visit, there is also the added employment and prohibited work of the cooks and the waiters who prepare and serve the meal.

As we conclude this account in the book of Nehemiah, let’s once more ask this very valid question for the third time today: Is Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and for ever?

If Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever, let me ask you to consider these questions:

Has He changed, liberalized or down-graded His Sabbath laws from the time that He originally made them at creation?

Has He changed them from the time that He cast them in stone at Mount Sinai?

Has He changed them since He forbade seething and baking during Sabbath hours?

Has He changed them since He chastised the Israelites for gathering manna on the Sabbath days?

Has He changed them since He instructed Moses to have a man executed for gathering firewood on His holy Sabbath day?”

Has He changed them since the righteous judgment, action and writing of Nehemiah?

If YHVH did make such changes or downgrades, please tell me when did these changes take place, and where are they recorded in the scriptures?