We all sense the need of preparation for significant days in our lives, whether it is a holiday, a family re union, or the birth day of a loved one. Who would think of coming up to his or her wedding day without having made careful preparations? The day of your baptism was probably preceded by weeks or months of thoughtful, prayerful preparation because you wanted it to be a day never to be forgotten. It is evident then that the principle of preparation is well known and accepted in connection with important days in our lives. In fact, we can all testify that the preparation we make for a particular day affects our enjoyment of that day and reflects the degree of importance we attach to it. Let us see how this applies to the observance of the Sabbath.
The first mention of preparation for the Sabbath in the Bible is found in Exodus 16. The setting is the giving of the manna in "the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai... [in the] second month after they [Israel] had departed from the land of Egypt" (verse 1).* This is not to say that preparation for the Sabbath was unknown before the giving of the manna. But this is the first written record of it.
God marked the sixth day of the week as a day of preparation for the Sabbath by giving a double portion of manna, by allowing the people to gather twice as much on the sixth day, by preserving the manna gathered on that day (which He did not do on any other day, see verses 19 and 20), and by commanding the people to prepare their Sabbath manna on the sixth day. Verse 35 implies that this arrangement lasted for 40 years. In this way the principle of preparation for the Sabbath was impressed deeply upon the minds of God's people.
Although the fourth commandment of the Decalogue contains no explicit words of instruction on preparation for the Sabbath, it points in that direction. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8). This part of the divine injunction implies the need of spiritual preparation for the Sabbath. How can one keep the Sabbath holy unless he himself is holy? In other words, an ongoing lifestyle that is the outgrowth or expression of an inner relationship with the Creator is implied here (see Lev. 11:44, 45; 1 Peter 1:14-16).
The remainder of the commandment speaks of physical rest, for every person and animal in the household, from that labor that earns a livelihood. Obeying this commandment requires preparation. The week's work must be planned ahead with the Sabbath in mind so the work program can be shut down during the Sabbath hours. "Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest" (Ex. 34:21). While it is true that the fourth commandment, along with the other nine, was given by God through Moses in a certain historical context and slanted toward an agricultural society, the principles set forth can be applied to the human race in all ages and circumstances.
The principle of preparation comes to light again in the postexilic period at the time of Nehemiah's Sabbath reform (Neh. 13:15-21). Nehemiah 13:19 says, "When it began to be dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the sabbath." Nehemiah recognized that in order to guard the sanctity of the Sabbath under the prevailing conditions it was necessary to shut the gates of Jerusalem during its sacred hours. The fact that he ordered them to be closed "when it began to be dark . . . before the sabbath" shows that he understood and was following the direction the Lord gave to Moses, "from evening to evening shall you keep your sabbath" (Lev. 23:32). Thus all buying and selling and business traffic in and out of the city were halted before the beginning of the Sabbath, in preparation for its observance.
In the Gospels the sixth day of the week, our Friday, is designated as "the day before the sabbath" (Mark 15:42; see also Matt. 27:62; Luke 23:54; John 19:31, 42). Luke records one specific thing the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee did during the last moments of the preparation day. They "saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared" (Luke 23:55-24:1). Jesus' followers did not overlook the principle of preparation.
For those who believe in the immutability and perpetuity of the law of God and thus in the immutability and perpetuity of the seventh-day Sabbath, and who understand the nature of the Sabbath and God's will concerning its observance, adequate preparation for the Sabbath is of extreme importance. Without it the Sabbath cannot be kept holy.
In her writings Ellen G. White not only affirms the biblical principle of preparation for the Sabbath, she amplifies it and applies it to the contemporary scene. Her statements fall into the three categories of physical, mental, and spiritual preparation. Her commentary on Exodus 16 is found in Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, pages 253 and 254- We take up her remarks just after she has quoted Exodus 16:14-26: "The Lord is no less particular now in regard to His Sabbath than when He gave the foregoing special directions to the children of Israel. He required them to bake that which they would bake, and seethe [that is, boil] that which they would seethe on the sixth day, preparatory to the rest of the Sabbath. Those who neglect to prepare for the Sabbath on the sixth day, and who cook food upon the Sabbath, violate the fourth commandment, and are transgressors of God's law. All who are really anxious to observe the Sabbath according to the commandment will not cook any food upon the Sabbath. They will, in the fear of that God who gave His law from Sinai, deny themselves, and eat food prepared upon the sixth day, even if it is not as palatable. God forbade the children of Israel baking and boiling upon the Sabbath. That prohibition should be regarded by every Sabbathkeeper, as a solemn in junction from Jehovah to them."
This is a rather straightforward statement. Some may wish to remind us that Ellen White was a child of her times. In her day there were no microwave ovens and no frozen foods. It required much time and labor to prepare a meal then, but not now. This is true. An appeal to modern technology to cancel the counsel, however, misses a major point. The Lord is telling us through His messenger that the planning and the preparation of Sabbath meals on Friday will help us to "remember the sabbath, to keep it holy." It will help to remind us that the Sabbath is a special day, a sacred day made for men by the One who declared that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27, 28).
Some, in order to circumvent the problem of planning and preparing meals, especially the noon meal, have advocated eating out on the Sabbath. If this plan is followed, the plain word of God is set aside for the sake of expediency. Unnecessary buying is involved, and the environment makes it difficult, if not impossible, to keep the mind stayed on the things of God.
Because of its effect on Sabbath observance Ellen White is concerned also about the quantity and quality of food prepared on Friday and eaten on the Sabbath. On pages 307 and 308 of her book The Ministry of Healing she writes: "We should not provide for the Sabbath a more liberal supply or a greater variety of food than for other days. Instead of this the food should be more simple, and less should be eaten in order that the mind may be clear and vigorous to comprehend spiritual things. A clogged stomach means a clogged brain. The most precious words may be heard and not appreciated because the mind is confused by an improper diet. By overeating on the Sabbath, many do more than they think to unfit themselves for receiving the benefit of its sacred opportunities. Cooking on the Sabbath should be avoided; but it is not therefore necessary to eat cold food. In cold weather the food prepared the day before should be heated. And let the meals, however simple, be palatable and attractive. Especially in families where there are children, it is well, on the Sabbath, to provide something that will be regarded as a treat, something the family do not have every day."
As we have seen from the Bible, the principle of preparation for the Sabbath is much broader than the mere preparation of food. "All through the week we are to have the Sabbath in mind and be making preparation to keep it according to the commandment. We are not merely to observe the Sabbath as a legal matter. We are to understand its spiritual bearing upon all the transactions of life." 1 If we are not growing in grace and in the experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ and bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord every day of the week, we will not be prepared to keep the Sabbath holy. Arid, she continues, the daily preparation includes the preservation of our energies so that we "will not be so exhausted in temporal labor that on the day when the Lord rested and was refreshed we shall be too weary to engage in His service." 2
Has Ellen White dismissed Friday as the day of preparation in favor of the daily, more comprehensive approach to preparation for the Sabbath? No. She says, "On Friday let the preparation for the Sabbath be completed."3 Following this general statement is a list of specifics that we should care for before the setting of the sun, remembering that we are to "jealously guard the edges of the Sabbath. Every moment is consecrated, holy time. "4 If there are children in the home, the purpose of our work of preparation should be explained to them and they should be allowed to share in it. The clothes we are planning to wear to church the following day should be checked for readiness and laid out for easy access. The shoes should be shined. The baths should be taken, f God is coming to visit us with very special blessings on His holy day. We need to prepare for His coming. And having our bodies feeling fresh and clean is a part of that preparation.
Ellen White's specific counsel includes the preparation of mind and heart. Secular papers should be put out of sight and the mind should be withdrawn from worldly business and set upon matters of the Spirit. It takes time to disengage the mind from the secular and to set it upon the sacred. We cannot make the switch in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Conscious, prayerful effort is required.
Included in the preparation of mind and heart should be the settling of all differences between members of the family or church. "Let all bitterness and wrath and malice" she writes, "be expelled from the soul. In a humble spirit, 'confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed'. James 5:16 (KJV)."5
If this instruction is not followed and we carry differences between us and someone else into the Sabbath, there is no way that we can keep it holy. On the other hand, wouldn't it be wonderful if every Seventh-day Adventist practiced this principle of preparation for the Sabbath? If differences in the church or in the family were never more than a week old, would there be any divided churches? Any divided homes? Remember, as I heard a friend of mine say, "Christian forgiveness isn't based on a fair exchange. It is motivated by a love that doesn't ask for returns as a condition."
The last step in preparation for the Sabbath is to gather the members of the family before the setting of the sun "to read God's Word, to sing and pray."6 This is heaven's appointed setting in which to welcome the arrival of the holy Sabbath with peace of mind and to begin to enjoy the sense of the presence of the Lord of the Sabbath as He "draws very nigh to His people on the day He has blessed and sanctified."
In the Bible and in the writings of Ellen White the Lord has made it clear that there is a principle of preparation for the Sabbath. By being more aware of it and by putting it into practice we can be ready physically, mentally, and spiritually for the joy of the holy Sabbath day.
*Unless otherwise noted, the Bible texts in this article are from the Revised Standard Version.
+ In our day of modern plumbing, some
might look upon this counsel as outdated.
Taking a bath was quite a chore in Ellen
White's day when water had to be heated on
the stove and poured into the tub. Now hot
water flows automatically at the turn of the
faucet. One can be in and out of the shower in
five minutes. It is no more trouble than washing
one's hands and face. But think again.
Remember the preparation principle.
1 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 353.
2 Ibid., p. 354.
3 Ibid., p. 355.
4 Ibid.,p. 356.
7 Testimonies to Ministers, p. 137.