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Should the Sabbath Be Observed Today?

Perhaps no other subject has caused more dispute and controversy among God's people than the subject of the Sabbath. I am constantly being asked the question, "Should we keep Saturday or Sunday?" Just because I am a Jew, the Sabbath seems to be a favorite topic of discussion. Many people have even asked me, "Why don't you, a Jew, worship on Saturday, the Sabbath day?"

When reading your Bible there are three things you must keep in mind, and if you will keep these three things in mind you will never misinterpret the Scripture and thus never be misled into unscriptural theories. Always find out (1) who is speaking (2) who is being spoken to and (3) what is being spoken about.

Now in order to properly grasp the subject of the Sabbath, we need to consider at least five different questions. First, which day is the Sabbath? Second, what was the purpose of the Sabbath? Third, what was the penalty for breaking the Sabbath? Fourth, to whom was the Sabbath given? And fifth, when was the Sabbath abolished?

Which Day is the Sabbath?

There is only one answer to this question--Saturday is the Sabbath. There never has been any other Sabbath, but Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Notice:

"But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:" (Exodus 20:10).

Many well meaning people make the mistake of calling Sunday the Sabbath. I have even heard preachers get up in their pulpits and say, "We have come together this beautiful Sabbath day." Now beloved, this is an error because there has never been but one Sabbath--Saturday, the seventh day. Nowhere in the Bible is the first day of the week ever called the Sabbath.

Later on, we will notice when and where the Sabbath was abolished, but may I caution all of you to never call Sunday the Sabbath. Nowhere in the Word of God do we ever read that Sunday is the Sabbath or that the Sabbath day was changed to Sunday.

To Whom Was the Sabbath Given?

The Sabbath was given to Israel and to no other nation. This is made exceedingly plain by the testimony of Exodus 31:12-17. Notice:

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for IT IS A SIGN BETWEEN ME AND YOU throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. IT IS A SIGN BETWEEN ME AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL FOR EVER: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed."

Now beloved, it is very plain to see from this passage of Scripture that the Sabbath was given only to the nation of Israel, never to the Gentiles. No place in the Scriptures did God tell the church to observe the seventh day. God tells us here that the Sabbath was to be a sign only "between Him and the children of Israel." See Exodus 31:17 and Ezekiel 20:20.

Incidentally, God gave my people the Jews two signs in order to distinguish them as His separate people--the Sabbath and circumcision. The first was a spiritual sign and the second a physical sign.

Now the Sabbath was a sign to distinguish Israel from all other nations. Just as the wedding ring is a sign or symbol between the husband and wife, even so the Sabbath became a sign between God and Israel. Had God given the Sabbath to every race of people it could not have been a sign of anything. If a young man gives one girl a diamond ring it is a sign of something. But if he should give a diamond to every girl he met, that would not be a sign of anything --except that he was a simpleton.

Beloved, once we understand that the Sabbath is a sign between God and Israel we can better understand why God gave them this statute. Let's notice the reason why the Jews were commanded to keep the Sabbath.

"And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out ... therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day." Deut. 5:15.
"Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them." Ezek. 20:12.

Now here we have the reason as to why God gave the Jews the Sabbath. The Jews were commanded to keep the Sabbath because God had brought them out of the land of Egypt with a mighty deliverance and this was to be a special sign of that great deliverance.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, He said: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Exodus 20:2. Here we have the salutation or the introduction to the Ten Commandments which proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the law was given only to the nation of Israel, for they were the only people brought up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. I don't know why people will quote the Ten Commandments and leave off the introduction as to whom they were for. Martin Luther once said, "If a preacher wants to force you back to Moses, ask him if you were brought by Moses out of Egypt."

In Romans 2 we have this enlightening truth:

"For when the Gentiles, WHICH HAVE NOT THE LAW, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves." Romans 2:14.

In this passage we are told twice that the Gentiles do not have the law. What could be plainer? Paul tells us here that every man is possessed with a God given knowledge of right and wrong, but he emphatically declares that the Gentiles have never had the law. Well, this settles the matter beyond all argument for those who are willing to listen to the Word of God.

Penalty for Breaking the Sabbath

Let us notice the severity of the Sabbath law, when it was divinely in order for the people of Israel. In Numbers 15:32-36 a man was caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath day, and God ordered that he be stoned to death. In Exodus 35:3 we see that they could not kindle a fire on the Sabbath day. Besides the Sabbath day, there was also a Sabbath year, and God was equally strict about this seventh year. In Leviticus 25:4 and II Chronicles 36:20-21 we see that God sent Israel into captivity for seventy years for violating the Sabbath years.

Please notice, if you will, some of the rigid rules and drastic penalties connected with the Sabbath.

"See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." Exodus 16:29.

Now beloved, if you want the Sabbath you will have to become an Israelite and put yourself under the law. Now the law of the Sabbath forbids any kind of traveling on the Sabbath. The Sabbath law says that you must remain indoors on that day for it is a day of absolute rest. The Jewish Sabbath was not a day of worship. It was not a day of religious activity or public meetings. The Jews were not to bring sacrifices on the Sabbath day, but to remain indoors and rest.

Listen to this severe penalty which God pronounced upon those who violated this holy day:

"Every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people." Exodus 31:14.

Do you see now why the Bible calls the law a "ministration of death?" II Corinthians 3:7-11. It is because there was a death penalty attached to each one of the Commandments. If you are under the law then you are under the sentence of death. That's all that the law can do for you. The law will kill you and condemn you, but it can never save you. And that's the difference between law and grace. Law condemns you for your failure, but grace forgives you. Thank God we are not under law but under grace.

When Was the Sabbath Given

Although it is frequently claimed that the seventh day Sabbath has ever been a universal law from the beginning, YOU MAY SEARCH THE ENTIRE BOOK OF GENESIS without finding any reference to the Sabbath!

You may also read the first fifteen chapters of Exodus without finding a single reference to the Sabbath! These books cover a vast era of about 2500 years, during which the Bible is as silent as the tomb concerning the Sabbath.

It was not until Israel had been delivered from Egyptian bondage, shortly before the formal giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, that the first reference is made to the Sabbath in Exodus 16:23.

"Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. So the people rested on the seventh day." Exodus 16:23,30.

If you will read this passage carefully you will see that the Jews knew nothing about the Sabbath up until this time. They had never even heard of it. Now here we have the place where God gave His precious day to the people of Israel. "See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath." Exodus 16:29.

Oh, but I hear someone say, "Doesn't the Bible say that God rested on the seventh day when He finished the work of creation in Genesis 2:2-3?" Yes, that's absolutely right--but there is not one single word said here about God commanding man to keep the Sabbath. It simply says that God rested on the seventh day. I don't know why people want to read into the Bible things that aren't there.

You can search the Bible all you want to and you won't find any mention of the Sabbath from Adam to Moses--a period of 2,500 years. There is no record in God's Word that Adam and Eve or Abel, or Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob or any of the patriarchs ever observed the Sabbath or were acquainted with it.

There is one Scripture which fixes beyond all argument the time when the Sabbath was given to man. Listen:

"Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments; and MADEST KNOWN UNTO THEM THY HOLY SABBATH, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant." Neh. 9:13-14.

So it is clear from this scripture that the Sabbath was made known to God's people through His servant, Moses. It was never made known before because the Sabbath was never intended for anybody except Israel.

The End of the Sabbath

The Apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that the Sabbath was nailed to the cross along with all the rest of the law when Jesus died at Calvary.

"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; . . . let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Col. 2:14-17.

Could anything be plainer. When Christ fulfilled the law, He took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross. Then Paul says to the Christian, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath day; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." [Colossians 2:16-17] So when Jesus died on Calvary that was the end of the law. (The entire law that God gave to Israel through Moses). And today we are living in the dispensation of the grace of God.

Even Hosea spoke of the time when the Sabbath would be done away.1

"I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts." Hosea 2:11.

So, there are no holy days, no feast days, no meat ordinances, and no Sabbath days for God's people in this dispensation of grace. There isn't a single Scripture which says that the Sabbath is binding upon members of the body of Christ.

The Sabbath in the Gospels

Frequently it is argued that we ought to keep the Sabbath because Jesus kept it. There can be no question but that the Lord Jesus Christ observed the seventh day as the Sabbath during the thirty-three years He sojourned upon the earth. But here's where so many people make a mistake. They say that we should try to imitate the life of Christ and because Jesus kept the Sabbath, we should keep it today. That's just like saying that because Jesus walked on the water, we should go and jump in the lake.

Beloved, please don't forget that Jesus lived in a different dispensation than you and I are living in. Jesus lived under the law. But the Bible says in Romans 6:14 that we are not under law but under grace.

We read in Galatians 4:4,5 that "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." Jesus is the only man who ever lived that kept the law perfectly,2 and He kept it for us and died for us because we couldn't keep it. Not one time in the Scriptures are we told to imitate the life of Christ except in the matter of humility. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), He observed the Passover (Luke 2:42); He never married, He never had a home and He confined his ministry strictly to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Matt. 15:24. In order for a person to follow Jesus in all these things, he would have to go and live in Palestine. So let's not forget that Jesus was born under the law, He lived under law, and He died to redeem us from the curse of the law.

One of the favorite Scriptures used by Sabbatarians to try to prove that the Sabbath should be observed today is Mark 2:28. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, our Lord declared, "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath; therefore the Son of man is also Lord of the Sabbath."

Quite frequently I have been asked the question, "Brother Halff, why do you say that the Sabbath was made exclusively for the Jews? Didn't Jesus say that the Sabbath was made for man?" What far-fetched reasoning! What a superficial argument! By applying our rule of the Three W's (who is speaking? who is being spoken to? and what is being spoken about?) you will notice that Jesus, the Jew, was talking, and He was talking to Jews in the presence of His Jewish disciples about a Jewish day, and what He really said was this, "The Sabbath was made for man AND NOT MAN FOR THE SABBATH." When we add the rest of this verse, which the Seventh Day sects invariably leave off, we find that it means exactly opposite to what they contend. It simply means that Jesus emphasized the fact that man was more important than the Sabbath and NOT the Sabbath more important than man. The word "man" is used well over three hundred times in the Old Testament when referring to Israel alone. And incidentally, in the Greek, the definite article is found before both occurrences of the word "man," making it "the man," that is, the man to whom it was given. Please read Neh. 9:13-14 and Exodus 31:13, and you will see that the Sabbath was given only to Israel.

Another argument which our Seventh Day friends frequently use is Matthew 5:17, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." Some say, "Doesn't this prove that Jesus did not abolish the Sabbath?" No beloved, it doesn't say that at all. This Scripture says that Jesus came to fulfill the law. Jesus did not destroy the law, but He fulfilled it. Jesus did not break God's law while on earth, but He fulfilled it and moved it out of the way and made it a thing of the past.

To illustrate: the law commanded the yearly celebration of the Passover with a slain lamb. Jesus did not destroy the Passover celebration, but He moved it out of the way by fulfilling it in that He became the real Passover Lamb, "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29; I Cor. 5:7. When Jesus was lifted up on Calvary's cross He cried out, "It is finished." That was the end of the law and the beginning of the dispensation of God's grace.

The Sabbath in the Acts Period

During the Acts period we find that the Sabbath is mentioned only in connection with the Jews. Several times we are told that the apostle Paul went into the Jewish synagogue to preach to the Jews on the Sabbath day. Acts 13:14-43, 17:2, 18:4.

Now Paul himself gives us the reason as to why he went into the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath day. Please notice:

"Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law:' I Cor. 9:20.

There it is very plainly and very emphatically. Paul tells us that he placed himself under the Jewish law, including the Sabbath, in order to reach the Jews for Christ Jesus. And this is the reason we find Paul preaching in the synagogue to the unbelieving Jews on the Sabbath day. I know two missionaries who work among the Jews who also go to the synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath. They don't go there to observe the Sabbath or to worship with the Jews, but they go into the synagogue many times on the Sabbath day because it gives them the opportunity to reach the Jews for Christ.

Sabbath in the Millennium

All the prophets tell us that there is a glad day coming when Israel shall own Jesus Christ as Messiah and King. When God ceased dealing with Israel as a nation, the Sabbath disappeared. Hosea 2:11. Now keeping in mind that the Sabbath is a covenant sign between God and Israel, we would naturally expect to see the Sabbath resumed when the Jews are nationally restored to their own land, and that is exactly what Scripture teaches. Listen:

"And it shall come to pass (in the Kingdom age when Israel is restored) that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord." Isaiah 66:23.

This is speaking about the Millennium and it says that when Jesus reigns over the house of Israel during the Millennium, the Sabbath will again be observed, not as a matter of law, but as a memorial of Israel's past history. And thus we see that Israel will again keep the Sabbath when Jesus comes and sets up His Kingdom on earth.

The Christian's Sabbath

Many times the question comes up, "Is there any special day for the child of God to keep since Israel's Sabbath has been done away?" Let the Scripture answer. Notice:

"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Rom. 14:5.

It is abundantly evident that no day is above another in this dispensation, so far as the Scriptures are concerned. No place in God's Word will you find any command for the church, the body of Christ, to observe any special day.

Remember, we can rest seven days out of the week, physically, and never have a rest in our soul. What God wants us to do is to rest seven days out of the week, in our soul. The Sabbath was a type of Christ who becomes our rest. The Christian finds a rest in his soul, and so he enjoys a Sabbath, or he enjoys a rest in his soul seven days out of the week. Although Israel observed the seventh day and did no servile work therein, yet they did not enter into the rest which God had provided for them.

In Hebrews 4:1-6 we read that the people of Israel entered not into God's rest because of unbelief. They had certain strict rules about the Sabbath, but they lacked real faith in God. And that is the way of things today. People want to keep a day, and on that day they want to have an outward show of going to church and engaging in certain forms of religious ritual, but they miss the thing that God wants. What God wants is a believing heart, that looks to Him every day, and loves Him in return for His great love wherewith He loved us. That was even the intent of the law, as interpreted for us by the Lord Jesus Himself--Matthew 22:37. And we read in John 6:27-29, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He (God) hath sent."

Today Jesus is our Sabbath. He is our rest. Hebrews 4:3,9. The Jews rested in a day. We rest in a person--the Lord Jesus Christ. That's not rest from chopping wood, or digging coal, or plowing corn. That's perfect rest for our souls. The trouble with these legalists is that they are trying to work their way into Heaven instead of coming to Jesus to get rest for their souls.

Observance of Days Deplored

The Lord wants us to worship Him the same 365 days a year. Listen to what the apostle Paul says about the observing of days.

"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Gal. 4:10,11.

The apostle tells us here that the observance of days is a sign of weakness, childishness and lack of development. It is very plain to see that God doesn't want us to observe any days or months or seasons. To the Christian there are no special holy days. Every day is the Lord's day for the child of God. Every day should be holy unto the Lord. Praise God--we serve a real and living Christ who lives all year round.

Let us rejoice in the liberty which is ours in Christ Jesus. Let us thank God that we have been set free from the law of sin and death. We can enter into our Sabbath, the Lord Jesus Christ, and have a Sabbath every day in the week; every day in the year; that is a rest in soul. The Sabbath of the Old Testament was only a shadow. Thank God for that day that brought Christ on the scene and God delivered us from the powers of darkness and the ritual and formality of the Old Testament types. Now it is Christ seven days out of the week, three hundred sixty-five days out of the year. Christ is our peace! Christ is our rest! To know Him is joy unspeakable and full of glory.

The Sunday Question

In our previous studies on the Sabbath we have established the following facts:

  1. It was given to Jews and to Jews only, Deut. 5.3.
  2. It was evidently a NEW thing for Israel, made known only after their release from Egyptian bondage, Neh. 9:13-14. In Deut. 5:15 we read "And thou shalt remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand and by an out­stretched arm: therefore Jehovah thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day." Notice the reason for giving this new commandment to Israel--as a memorial of their deliverance from Egypt.
  3. The Sabbath is a perpetual SIGN between God and ancient Israel, Ex. 31:13, 16, 17. Like the sign of circumcision this sign of the Sabbath was for the Jews and the Jews only.
  4. God never commanded a single Gentile or Christian to keep the Sabbath day.

Now we come to the question, "What about Sunday--is it a day to be observed? Was the Sabbath ever changed from Saturday to Sunday?" No, neither Sunday nor any other day is the Christian's Sabbath. The Christian's Sabbath is rest to the soul. The seventh day Sabbath was rest to the body. The born again believer finds rest in his soul seven days out of the week because Jesus has now become our Sabbath.

Paul said to the Galatians who were having a hard time to break away from the bondage of the law, "Ye observe DAYS, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Gal. 4:10-11. You can see--God isn't so much concerned about our resting physically as He is about our resting spiritually.

The Bible speaks of "the first day of the week" eight times. But not once in these eight occurrences do we find even a hint that Sunday is a day to be observed. The passages set forth that our Lord's resurrection was discovered on that day, that certain disciples gathered to break bread on that day (which they also did the day following--Acts 20:7-11) and that gifts were to be set aside on that day in anticipation of a visit from Paul. Upon these meager facts a great superstructure has been built which is supposed to make Sunday a day to be observed or kept by all who profess faith in Christ. Its observance as a holy day is based solely upon the commandments of men and not upon any instruction from God. Not a line of Scripture can be found which authorizes, suggests or commands its observance as a day unto the Lord.

Those who insist that it is a day to be observed unto the Lord should be able to tell us where we will find divine instructions as to how to keep or observe it. Shall we make up our own rules, then brand everyone as a "Sabbath breaker" who refuses to comply with our self-imposed rules for keeping a day?

There are many who feel they find support for the observance of Sunday in the term "the Lord's day" in Revelation 1:10. They take this to mean that John was "in the Spirit" on Sunday, and that he called this "the Lord's day."

When anyone says that "the Lord's day" of Revelation 1:10 is the first day of the week, the assertion is supported only by the authority of the speaker, for it is a statement that cannot be proved. I have as much right to say that it refers to Tuesday as anyone has to say that it refers to Sunday, since there is nothing in the passage that shows that it refers to any day of the week.

"But," someone will object, "you are being ridiculous--Tuesday could not possibly be the Lord's day." In answer, I ask, "then whose day is it?"

And if John were "in the Spirit" on Sunday, then what was his state on Saturday or Monday. The truth is that John was carried forward by the Spirit into the great day of the Lord and saw the things that will come to pass when that day is upon the earth. Isaiah 2:12; Joel 1:15.

It is my conviction that only by fully accepting and walking in the truth that the Sabbath belongs to Israel, and that Sunday was never given by God to anyone as a day to be observed, that we can walk in harmony with the truth expressed in Romans 14:5-6, Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:10-11.

"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it." Romans 14:5-6.

This passage gives abundant evidence that to these Gentiles, to whom these words were spoken, no one day was above another. If a man then, or a man now, wishes to set aside one day to the Lord he has every right to do so. But he must not wrest the Word of God in order to find scriptural support for his practice. That day can be Saturday, Sunday or Monday and the result will be that God will have more of his time just because he has dedicated one day to Him. In this country custom has made Sunday the most convenient for this purpose. There is no sin in either giving Sunday to the Lord as His day, or in giving Him all the days with no special significance upon any one of them.

"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon or of the Sabbath days." Colossians 2:16.

If men condemn us because of our failure to observe a day that they regard as a sabbath,3 let us treat their judgment with all the silent contempt that it deserves. We can appeal their harsh judgments directly to the throne of God and their judgment will be reversed by Him.

"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed labour upon you in vain." Galatians 4:10-11.

The individual who tells you that you must keep the seventh day or the first day or any day at all is not preaching Christ at all. He is preaching human efforts and is making the death of Christ of no effect. He is frustrating the grace of God.

In closing, I want to point you to Christ if you are not saved. I don't want to point you to a day to be observed, or an ordinance or a ritual or a ceremony. None of these things can save you. If they could, Jesus would have never died for you. Christ stands ready this very moment to save you and give you eternal life if you will simply trust in Him and His finished atoning work at Calvary. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Acts 16:31.

By Charles Halff (1929-2000)

Related Material:

Is it essential that we keep the Sabbath? (Q&A)

Could you explain Colossians 2:16-17? (Q&A)

Footnotes by ESN:

1 Some Bible commentaries feel that Hosea 2:11 is referring to God's pending judgment on ancient Israel and that their feast days (which would come to an end) had been corrupted by Baal worship.

2 Christ lived a sinless life and fulfilled the law in three major ways: He lived a life of complete obedience to the Law, He died on our behalf for our sins and He was the prophetic fulfillment of what the Law foreshadowed.

3 Chapter 15 of Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced by D. M. Canright covers Colossians 2:16: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days."


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