Should Children be allowed to play on the Sabbath?
Please understand that we are not here to criticize any family that has a very strict view on whether or not a child should be allowed to play on the Sabbath. Our aim is not to criticize those that hold that particular view. But the question of whether or not a child should be allowed to play on the Sabbath is a very important and valid question for many parents. Particularly those parents who are asking for direction and who recognize that keeping the Sabbath is very important.
Exodus tells us that the Sabbath is a sign between our Father and his People.
Ex 31:16-17 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days YHWH made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'"
By the very fact that the Sabbath is designated as a seal, a beacon, or in many senses it can be the evidence by which we are designated as he is people. It could also be understood as a seal. Such as it is one of the things that seals the deal or that marks us with his word. In fact over in the New Testament the angels are told not to harm anyone that has Yahweh's seal (Rev 9:4). It is important to note there is a correlation and an association between Ex and Revelation but the most important thing is to recognize that the Sabbath is very important.
So we continue to answer the question: Should children be allowed to play on the Sabbath?
We can decipher a very good answer if we take a look at what the scriptures teach us. Let us take a look at Ex. 20.
Ex 20:8-11 8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your Elohim. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days YHWH made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore YHWH blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Here we have the commandment that tells us that neither our children (son or daughter) nor our animals should be allowed to work on the Sabbath. One might as the question what about the wife? Well in the Hebrew it is understood that unless specified, every time that the scriptures mention the Father it also means the wife as they are considered to be one.
Let us continue by taking a look at the word 'work' and see if it relates to the word 'play'.
8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your Elohim. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
LABOR: OT:5647 abad (aw-bad'); a primitive root; to work (in any sense); by implication, to serve, till, (causatively) enslave, etc.: KJV - X be, keep in bondage, be bondmen, bond-service, compel, do, dress, ear, execute, + husbandman, keep, labour (-ing man, bring to pass, (cause to, make to) serve (-ingself,), (be, become) servant (-s), do (use) service, till (-er), transgress [from margin], (set a) work, be wrought, worshipper,
WORK:OT:4399 mela'kah (mel-aw-kaw'); from the same as OT:4397; properly, deputyship, i.e. ministry; generally, employment (never servile) or work (abstractly or concretely); also property (as the result of labor): KJV - business, + cattle, + industrious, occupation, (+-pied), + officer, thing (made), use, (manner of) work ([-man], -manship).
It is clear by looking at the definition of the words play and labor that it has no connection to the idea of playing. In fact the word “work” which is used 167 times in the old testament only refers to 'work', 'business' or 'occupation'. Never to the concept of 'play'.
There is a word in the OT that does mean 'play' in the idea associated with a child, let's take a look at it:
Isa 11:8 8 And the sucking child shall [play(8173)] on the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the viper's nest.
OT:8173 ha` a` (shaw-ah'); a primitive root; (in a good acceptation) to look upon (with complacency), i.e. fondle, please or amuse (self); (in a bad one) to look about (in dismay), i.e. stare: KJV - cry (out) dandle, delight (self), play, shut.
The word play is used 9 times in the OT and it is never associated with the idea of work, business or occupation: Instead it is presented in the form of delight, to shut, dandle or to cry out:
Psalms 119:16 16 I will delight(8173) myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
Psalms 119:47 47 And I will delight(8173) myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.
Also look at Isaiah 6:10, Isaiah 29:9, and Isaiah 66:12
the point of course being that although the words, play and work are found in the scriptures they are not associated and have no connection to one another. So in looking at the scriptures it seems that children are not prohibited from playing on the Sabbath. It is obvious however that one has to use discernment in deciding in what form their children will play on the Sabbath. There is a vast difference between allowing your child to play in your backyard or in the park with supervision and allowing them to participate in organized, competitive sports on the Sabbath. Such as allowing them to play basketball, football or baseball in school on the Sabbath. The latter of course would go beyond the allowable forms of play because those forms of play are always connected to work and occupations as they are set up and arranged by adults, i.e. coaches, referees, parents, etc. Interestingly enough I have spoken to many children who have let it known that they would rather not play in organized competitive sports. Their focus is on the kind of play that is self-driven and self regulated.
So it does seem that children can play on the Sabbath but as I said before one has to use righteous discernment so that the children can see a balance between being allowed to play on the Sabbath and recognizing that the Sabbath is very important to Yahweh. Here at S.A.Y. we give the children and adolescents a set time between the first and second services so that they can interact with one another, play and have time to relax and just be themselves; in some cases their play and interaction will be monitored and/or supervised but over all we want them to see the Sabbath as a delight!
In my many years of working with adolescents I have seen and understood the connection between play and their well being. Through play, children practice the roles they will play later in life. Play has many functions. It increases peer relationships, releases tensions, advances intellectual development, increases exploration, and increases chances of children speaking and interacting with each other.
Yahweh instilled the concept of play in our children because it helps them in many ways, it develops their motor skills, it helps them cope with things they do not understand or could be conflicted about. It helps them build relationships and it helps them develop better communication skills. The benefits to having them and allowing them to play are numerous.
An interesting thing that I noticed when I was in Iraq and in Kuwait when I served in the Military back in 1990 and 91, was the fact that even though many families were being housed in refugee camps with less than ideal conditions there were many children who were still running around playing. They would be laughing and running behind the barbed wire. A couple of weeks ago when the Haiti earthquake occurred and many people were outside living in tents, many adults were shown crying and asking for help; yet some children could be seen in the background playing and laughing.
The fact is that Yahweh gave our children the spirit of laughter and play so that they can function in a world which they do not understand. When you take away the spirit of play from a child you take away a gift that Yahweh gave them. Interestingly enough if any of you have ever had animals, you will recognize that they also have the same spirit of play as a child. If you are going to identify play as work, than it will be interesting to see how you are going to keep your animals from playing on the Sabbath. Remember that the commandment prohibits both your kids and your animals from working on the Sabbath. If you believe that play is work thank how are you going to restrain your puppy, a fowl (baby horse), baby donkey, baby goats, etc? The reason that Yahweh does not associate play with work is that any of us who had animals would be breaking the Sabbath every time that a baby animal played on the Sabbath. Children were given to us to cherish, to love and assist in maturing in a world they do not understand. We were given the command to teach our children, at every waking moment. It is interesting that out of all the commandments that are given in the Scriptures, none are addressed to the children. In some instances the children are mentioned as being part of the commandments but the command itself is not addressed to them. That is because Yahweh expects us adults to teach our children and He understand that our children play because they do not have the mind of an adult. The mind of a child is not so bad actually as we are encouraged to be like them.
Mark 10:14-16 13 14 When Yahshua saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Elohim belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of Elohim like a little child will never enter it." 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.