NOÁCH AND THE SHABBAT

alternate textThe Parashah called Noách covers one of the most dramatic series of events found in the entire Scripture. Noah, the ark, the flood, the pairs of animals, the mountain of Ararat, the tower of Babel. Gen 5:29 tells us that when Lamech’s first son was born, he called him Noách, because he believed that this son would comfort people concerning the work and the toil of their hands, because of the ground which Yahweh had cursed. The word translated here with “comfort” is “nacham”, which in Hebrew is very similar to the word “noách”, which means “rest” – related to the concept of “comfort”. That this intended meaning of the name of Lamech’s son, Noách, was eventually fulfilled, is confirmed by Gen 8:21, where Yahweh declared that after the flood He would never again curse the ground for man’s sake, and that He would never again smite every living thing (for man’s sake) as He had done with the flood. The picture that we need to see here is that during the early years of Noách, the people of the earth felt the curse that was announced after the episode in the Garden of Eden, pressing very severely upon themselves. To make a living was not easy. Everyone had to toil and work extremely hard to make ends meet. Suffering and exhaustion and fatigue was the order of the day. Noách’s birth and the announcement of his name, was very much a prophetic breath of fresh air to the people of that time. Yahweh would comfort them again (“nacham”). Yahweh would bring rest again (“noách”). This rest was going to be a rest in the fullest sense of the word and no less than three times in this Parashah we come across a different variation of the word “noách” (apart from the name of the person, Noách) to emphasize how important the aspect of rest has always been in Yahweh’s eyes. (1) Gen 8:4 “In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested (“nuách”) upon the mountains of Ararat (“rest” is here connected with the number seven); (2) Gen 8:9 But the dove found no rest (“manoách”) for the sole of her foot (the word for “foot” is the same as the one used in Isa 58:13, “if you turn back your foot from the Sabbat”) and (3) Gen 8:21 And Yahweh smelled a soothing fragrance (“riách ha-nichoách”), and Yahweh said in His heart, Never again shall I curse the ground because of man… (this looks like a literal fulfilment of the prophesy of Lev 26:31-35 where Yahweh promised that the “soothing fragrance” (“riách ha-nichoách”) will return to the land when He shall restore the rest of the Shabbat for both man and earth). The word “sheva” / “seven”, in some form or other, occurs no less than 13 times in this Parashah. Furthermore, this Parashah as a whole follows shortly after the announcement in Gen 5:31 that Lamech, the father of Noách, died when he was 777 years old (a Hebrew number containing three “sheva’s”).

So, beneath the surface, although no direct mention is made about the day of Shabbat in this Parashah, it seems that the prophetic figure of Noách was not only destined to be a source of comfort and protection and restoration through the flood, and a type of the difference between belief and unbelief in Y’shua (Luk 17:26-27), but also a banner signifying the importance of the rest and refreshment of the Shabbat. In the Hebrew Scriptures, not only the word “shabbat”, but also the word “noách” is used to refer to the rest of the seventh day (see Deut 5:14). This brings us back to the question we asked last week when we spoke of the importance of the beginnings of things, and how crucial it is for us today to hold fast to the pattern of belief that was entrusted to us, right from the very beginning. One of the areas in which the major part of the global body of believers in Y’shua as the Messiah has moved away form the original pattern of belief, is in the observance of the Shabbat. Let us try to establish what was the pattern concerning the observance of Shabbat in the beginning.

The “beginning” that we are looking at here, is the beginning of the movement that came into being after the death and resurrection of Y’shua of Nazareth, consisting of men and women who believed that this Y’shua was the Messiah promised by the Hebrew prophets. Let us try to establish what happened during the first centuries after Messiah. Space and time are limited, so we will not look into any other report of the 1st Century, accept those reports contained within the books of the New Testament, and more specifically, the four “gospels”, the Book of Acts, the Epistle of James and the letters of Shaúl (all of which were written in the 1st Century). In these writings we have numerous proofs that Y’shua and his followers fully endorsed and kept the Shabbat and that neither He, nor any of his early disciples, ever mentioned a single word about the Shabbat being scrapped from the Ten Commandments or replaced by another day or discontinued because it was “too Jewish”. Even Shaúl, who is often credited for discrediting the Shabbat, did no such thing. He never once mentioned the word “Shabbat” in any of his letters and made statements like “The doers of the Torah, not the hearers, are righteous in the sight of Elohim” (Rom 2:13); “I delight in the Torah of Elohim” (Rom 7:22); “Is the Torah against the promises of Elohim? Certainly not!” (Gal 3:21); “Do we then nullify the Torah through the belief? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the Torah” (Rom 3:31); “Shall we say that the Torah is sin? By no means!” (Rom 7:7); “With the mind I myself truly serve the Torah of Elohim” (Rom 7:25); “The circumcision is naught, and the uncircumcision is naught, but the guarding of the commands of Elohim does matter!” (1 Cor 7:19); “I believe all that has been written in the Torah and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14); “I am saying none other than what the prophets and Mosheh said would come” (Acts 26:22); “(In my preaching of the Good News) I never committed any sin against the Torah” (Act 25:8).

By the 2nd Century the tune of the so-called “Church Fathers”, with regards to Shabbat, has changed considerably, compared to the picture of the 1st Century – although there is clear evidence in the history of the church that a significant number of groups and assemblies remained faithful to the 4th commandment during the 3rd and 4th centuries, and even beyond that time. But the majority of the church fathers singled out the keeping of the Shabbat as a “Jewish ritual” that had to be abandoned completely. Ignatius said, “It is utterly absurd to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism (and observe the Sabbath)”. In the Epistle of Barnabas it is written that the Almighty “has abolished these things, in (favour of) the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is free from the yoke of compulsion”. Eusebius declared, “Such things as these (like the Sabbath) do not belong to us Christians” and Justin is recorded to have said, “If there was no need of the observance of Sabbaths before Moses, no more need is there of them now.”

The view of Justin is quite interesting, that we do not need to keep the Shabbat because no-one before Mosheh kept the Shabbat. One may be tempted to answer: Does that mean then that we do not have to follow Y’shua, because no one before Mosheh followed Y’shua, or that we do not have to be baptized because no one before Mosheh was baptized, or that we do not have to leave Egypt (physically or spiritually) because no one before Mosheh did that? What makes the time and practices before Mosheh more binding on us today, than the time and the practices after Mosheh, especially in the light of the fact that Y’shua clearly declared that He did not come to destroy the Torah, but to fulfil and fully obey the Torah and to show others how to do it?

There was no Shabbat when Yahweh created the heaven and the earth, but still He rested (Hebrew: “Yishbot” – notice the root “shabbat”) on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. When Exodus 20:11 refers back to this rest after the six days of creation, it adds that Yahweh blessed that specific day and set it apart. When Exodus 31:17 refers back to the seventh day of creation, it says that the seventh day will be a sign between Yahweh and his people forever, because Yahweh rested and refreshed Himself on that day.

There was no Shabbat when Noách took a remnant with him on the ark and survived a flood that took the lives of thousands of people. However, not only his own name, Noách, but also the situation within the ark (the experience of a supernatural calmness in the midst of a major catastrophe) and the repeated mentioning of the number seven, demonstrate that the true significance of the figure of Noách is to remind us of the fact that in this world there will always be two kinds of people: Those, in the words of Jer 45:3, who find no rest (“menuchah” – from the same root as “noách”), no matter what they do – they will even reject the rest that Yahweh had offered to them; and those, in the words of Isa 11:10, who will take hold of the root of Jesse, the One upon whom the nations of the world had been waiting for a very long time, and in Him they will find a rest (“menuchah”) that is filled with “kavod” – that is: honour and esteem and significance. Looking at Y’shua, the fulfilment of this prophesy, and listening to his words – even when He said in Mat 11:28-29, “Come unto me, all who are labouring and burdened, and I will give you rest, take up my yoke upon you, and learn from me, because I am meek and humble in heart, and you shall find rest to your souls” – the way that He added “kavod” to the “menuchah” of Yahweh, was not by depreciating and neglecting the Shabbat. On the contrary, he demonstrated the deepest sense of the aspect of rest that is so central in the Shabbat, while physically and consistently observing the day of the Shabbat and even bringing the day of the Shabbat into the picture when talking to his followers about the time of the end (Mat 24:20). There are two kinds of people in this world. We can choose today (once again) to be part of those who follow after the rest of Yahweh!

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