Lamentations 2:6 – Did God cause the Sabbath to be abolished or forgotten?
by Edwin M. Cotto
Lamentations 2:6 proves that at one point the Sabbath was abolished, making it a dispensable, ceremonial law.
THE SHORT ANSWER
Verse 6 says that the Sabbath would be “forgotten,” not abolished. Jerusalem was to be destroyed and the people deported to Babylon, and yet, God through Jeremiah pleads with them to search out and examine their ways, to “turn back to the LORD” (3:40) and renew their days “as of old.” Evidently this is exactly what took. No sooner than they were released from captivity seventy years later, we see the Sabbath still around in its full force, and their urgency in observing it as faithfully as possible (Neh. 13:15-22). Just because the Sabbath was forgotten no more proves it was abolished any more then a birthday, anniversary or holiday would be abolished if a person forgets to observe them. The only thing that took place here, was that their observance of the Sabbath was severely interrupted by the siege, massacre and deportation that took place. But that in no way proves that the Sabbath was abolished.
THE LONG ANSWER
Critics use this text to say that at one point the Sabbath was “abolished.” Since moral laws don’t get abolished, this is an important text for them to appeal to in order to prove that the Sabbath was ceremonial. But a closer look at the text and a brief examination of the literary and historical context will help us understand this text better.
Lamentations was written by Jeremiah during the final days of Jerusalem and just after its destruction. In five poetic chapters he describes the horrors of that destruction and the reasons for it. It seemed as if the whole population of Judah was swept away during the various successive waves of Babylonian invasions. During this time, children were starving in the streets (verse 12) and their mothers, losing all sanity, “cooked their own children” (4:10). Of course, at this time the people would no longer come “to the set feasts” (1:4). Through the destructions brought upon them, God had “caused the appointed feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion.” Unfortunately, some critics quotes this verse from a translation that gives the wrong impression. The HCSB translation for example, translates it “abolished.” The particular word שָׁכַח means to “forget” and is translated as such nearly every time it appears in the Hebrew texts. Perhaps the reason for this translation was to convey the extent to which the Sabbath was removed from their thinking, but that does not abolish the institution itself.
- An institution exists whether one remembers it or not. If during that time they were caused to forget birthdays or marriages, that in and of itself would not abolish birthdays and marriages.1
- In the literary context of Lamentations, Jeremiah not only documents why they were destroyed and what took place, but also pleads for a return to the Lord. “Let us search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the LORD” (3:40). In fact, in the last chapter he asks God to turn the people back to him and to renew their days “as of old.” This comes after describing the unfortunate circumstances they are now in and, incidentally, the fact that they no longer have “rest” (verse 5).
- This request was fulfilled upon their return from exile. No sooner than they were released seventy years later we see the Sabbath still around in its full force (Neh. 13:15-22). In fact, even feast keeping resumed the moment they rediscovered it in the Law (Neh. 8:13-18). Obviously before we reach the New Testament, they were back to observing all the Law. Had it been “abolished” it should not now be kept again. That would be going backwards.
When something is abolished, it is put to an end, or made void, never to be observed again as something religiously significant. An example of this is circumcision. Keep in mind that critics need a text that specifically and literally says the Sabbath was “abolished” in order to prove that it was ceremonial, since moral laws do not get abolished. They are typically fine with the Sabbath being restored again later. But if it can be shown that the Sabbath can be abolished at any point, they believe that this would prove that it was a temporary ceremonial law.
Unfortunately for our critics, Lamentations 2:6 merely says it was forgotten. In the intensity of the destruction that took place “The LORD has caused the appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion.” Even “The Law is no more” and also “her prophets find no vision from the LORD” (verse 9). And yet, all three of these were restored upon their return.2 So, it is not that these things were abolished, made void, or annihilated. It is that under the present circumstances God caused them to literally forget, that’s all.3
1) Note I said “If.” I am only mentioning these two as examples. We know they did not cease observing marriages according to Ezra 9-10.
2) Nehemiah and Ezra describe their efforts to reestablish the ancient laws of God, including the Sabbath (Neh. 13). And the appearances of prophets such as Haggai and Zechariah testify to the restoration of visions as well.
3) We are talking about the moments during the destruction and sometime after. Were they keeping the Sabbath in Babylon throughout their time in exile? We are not told. But Sabbath and Law keeping in Babylon may be inferred by Daniel 7:25, where Daniel warns that law keeping will be affected by the future antichrist power.