Seventh-Day Adventists/Isaiah 56 Gentiles and the Sabbath
Dear Sal: You often say the Sabbath was never meant for Gentiles. God’s word differs. In Isaiah 56 we read the Sabbath was for the Gentiles also.
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….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. (Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-7).
So how do you deal with this passage from God’s word?
Hope to hear from you soon!
Dear Sister Martha:
Let’s look carefully and contextually at this interesting text. Isaiah wrote this text to give comfort and assurance to the Gentile who had accepted the God of Israel while Israel was in captivity. Those Gentiles feared that once the Israelites where back in their own land they would reject the Gentile converts. As long as the Gentile was a faithful Old Covenant believer keeping the sign of that covenant as well as all the other laws he would not be rejected was the message of Isaiah. I know that you will be amazed and excited with God’s word if you read it without trying to support an already held doctrine. I ask you to carefully and prayerfully examine the text in question. Please don’t begin by trying to support your SDA belief just read the text in context. Here is the text you wanted to discuss Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-7 in the New International Version (NIV) of the Holy Bible.
56 This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. 2 Blessed is the one who does this-the person who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.” 3 Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”…6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
In v. 2 we have the first of two mentions of keeping the Sabbath without desecrating it. It is mentioned again in v. 6 specifically of the foreigner or Gentile. Why was it important to not desecrate the Sabbath? The answer is simple: the Sabbath was the sign that one was under the Old Covenant (cf. Exodus 31:13, 16-17; Ezekiel 20:12, 20). Was it important for a Gentile to observe the Sabbath without desecrating it? No, because the Gentile was not generally under the Old Covenant. However, if he became a party to the Old Covenant then he was just as obligated to observe the Old Covenant sign as was the Israelite.
How did a Gentile bind himself to the Old Covenant? The text above says, “all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and hold fast to my covenant” (v. 6b). He had to keep the sign and all 613 commandments. In order to do this he had to accept the entrance sign into the Old Covenant. Then he had to observe the remembrance sign of the Old Covenant.
The entrance sign was circumcision. In order to be eligible for the blessings of the covenant one had to be circumcised. If a Gentile was uncircumcised he could not participate in the rituals of the covenant. “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you” (Exodus 12:48-49 NIV). Once one was circumcised he was obligated to keep all 613 Old Covenant laws. Paul explained this truth to Gentile Christians who were being tempted to accept circumcision. “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3 ESV).
The remembrance sign was the 7th day Sabbath. “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you’” (Exodus 31:13 ESV). According to the rabbis, an uncircumcised Gentile would desecrate the Sabbath if he attempted to observe it. This is supported by the Scripture against an uncircumcised male, Gentile or Israelite, participating in the Passover. The uncircumcised Gentile would not be bound to the Lord’s covenant with Israel. Therefore, he could not keep the Sabbath without desecrating it. The Gentile that Isaiah is referring to has bound himself to the Old Covenant (v. 6). In other words, he was now under the Law.
This passage has nothing to do with Gentiles in general because they were not under the Law. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14 ESV). Gentiles who convert to the Israelite religion and keep the Sabbath, the sign of the Covenant, will be blessed. In a typological sense Isaiah is saying that God will include all people in the messianic kingdom to come. Whether one is an Israelite or a Gentile one who does what is pleasing to God will be included. Paul picked up on this in Galatians when he said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6 NIV). Pleasing God is the important thing not what nation one belongs to. In the Old Covenant one thing that pleased God were members of the Old Covenant keeping all the Law including especially its sign-the 7th day Sabbath. In the New Covenant what pleases God is having faith in the finished work of his Son Jesus Christ. “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’” (John 6:28-29 NIV). “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV). The keeping of the Sabbath is now an obsolete practice in the New Covenant.
Remember, too, that Old Covenant prophets spoke in Old Covenant terms. We cannot take these terms and apply them directly to the Christians age in a strictly literal sense. The Old Covenant prophets were inspired, but God chose not to fully reveal the gospel to them. “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness- the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people” (Colossians 1:25-26 NIV; see also Ephesians 3:4-5 & Hebrews 1:1-2). If one believes that in the New Covenant the Sabbath is to be kept as a literal weekly rest as in the Old Covenant then we must be fair and apply the other things mentioned by Isaiah literally as well. Accordingly, we would have to worship on a literal holy mountain. Yet we read that Jesus said, “Believe me woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21 NIV; cf. Hebrews 12:18-23). We would have a literal temple (“house of prayer”). Yet we read that we have spiritual temples (1 Peter 2:5). We would have to offer literal burnt offerings. Yet we read, “offer spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5). We would have a literal altar. Yet we read that we have a spiritual altar (Hebrews 13:10).
In conclusion, Isaiah 56:1-7 has nothing to do with Christians observing the Sabbath today. The Gentiles Isaiah was speaking of were converts to the Israelite religion not New Covenant Christians. Those Gentiles had put themselves under the Law covenant by the acceptance of circumcision and Sabbath keeping. We Christians realize that those Old Covenant rituals are obsolete for us (cf. Hebrews 8:13). Our entrance sign is baptism. “In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12 NIV). Our remembrance sign is the Lord’s Supper. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25 ESV).
The text in Isaiah has nothing at all to do with Gentiles living outside of Israel. The Sabbath was a necessary practice only for Gentiles who through circumcision entered and bound themselves to the Old Covenant. Praise be to God that we have “a better covenant which has been enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6 NASB). Our covenant has no circumcision or Sabbath requirements. Our better rest is a spiritual rest found in Jesus. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).
God Bless You,