Instituted to commemorate God’s seventh day of rest at the Creation (Ex. 20:10–11), and also the redemption from Egyptian bondage (Deut. 5:15). On the Sabbath the daily sacrifices were doubled; the loaves of the shewbread were changed; the people abstained from all manner of work, and it was a day of holy assembly.
The Sabbath was a holy day before the giving of the law, even from the earliest times (see the account of the Creation—Gen. 2:2–3; the sacredness of the number 7; the narrative of the manna—Ex. 16:23–30; and the narrative of the man gathering sticks—Num. 15:32–36); but we have no evidence of its observance in patriarchal times. This is no doubt due to the scantiness of the record, for the Sabbath is an eternal principle and would have existed from the days of Adam, whenever the gospel was on the earth among men.
After the return from the exile Nehemiah made the observance of the Sabbath one of the chief points of his reformation (10:31; 13:15–22), and the strictness with which it was kept by the Jews became a well-known fact. In course of time many regulations grew up and were observed by the Pharisees. One of the charges frequently brought against our Lord was that of Sabbath breaking, but this was because He failed to conform to the traditions and man-made regulations concerning the Sabbath. Jesus obeyed the letter and the spirit of the Sabbath, but was not obligated to follow the traditions of the elders of the Jews.
After the Ascension of Christ, the members of the Church, whether Jews or Gentiles, kept holy the first day of the week (the Lord’s day) as a weekly commemoration of our Lord’s Resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10); and by degrees the observance of the seventh day was discontinued. (See Lord’s Day.)
The importance of a sacred day for man to rest from his temporal labors, contemplate the word of the Lord, and assemble for public worship is a major item in a person’s spiritual development. Furthermore, a decay in the national religious life always follows any tendency toward carelessness in the matter of Sabbath observance. The existence of a weekly holy day is a most important safeguard; it leaves a constant reminder to the individual of his need for spiritual sustenance and his duty before God, and serves as a witness to the world that there is such a thing as revealed religion.
The change from observing the last day of the week to the first day of the week is not so important as is the concept and principle of the Sabbath. In either case, the Sabbath was symbolic of the mighty works of God: the creation of the earth, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Latter-day revelation confirms the significance of the Sabbath (or Lord’s day) in D&C 59. For other references to the Sabbath see 2 Kgs. 4:23; 11:5–7; Isa. 1:13; 58:13; Jer. 17:20–27; Ezek. 20:12–13, 16; Hosea 2:11; Amos 8:5; Matt. 12:1–13; Mark 2:23–28; 3:1–5; Luke 6:1–10; 13:11–16; 14:1–5; John 5:18; 7:21–24; Rom. 14:5–6; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16.