Category Archives: Church/Ecclesiology

Sabbath Rest – Part 4

In this our fourth and final post in the series on Sabbath Rest, which is part of a larger look at the Theology of Rest in Scripture, we will round out our discussion with an overview of three additional supporting passages for the development of the Sabbath Command along with what we’ve been referring to as the Sabbath Principle, all under the Old Covenant.  Briefly, the Sabbath Command is that which was codified in the 10 Commandments with the instruction to work six days, but rest on the seventh.  We’ve seen how this command was rooted and grounded in the creation sabbath from Genesis 2 and also in the Israelite redemption from Egypt.  Along side this, perhaps as an expansion, is the Sabbath Principle, which we’ve seen expands the concept of Sabbath rest from one day in seven to one year in seven, in order to allow the land to rest and provide food to both the poor and the beasts.  With that in mind, let’s turn now to our three passages, two from Leviticus and one from Numbers.

Leviticus 23

Our first support passage in this post for completing our understanding and introduction to the institution of the Sabbath command comes in Leviticus 23.  The Book of Leviticus is chronologically parallel to Exodus, meaning that it is an expanded commentary on the commandments handed down from God to Moses at Sinai.  At the conclusion of the book we read, “These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.”  Here in chapter 23 it is a new section where Israel is receiving instructions on their appointed feasts.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.” Lev. 23:1-2

After this introduction, the chapter opens with a brief mention of the Sabbath

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.

Here, we have essentially a restatement of the Fourth Commandment, with an additional note that the Sabbath was to be a solemn rest, a holy convocation.  This is our first, and only mention, so far, of a particular gathering requirement on the Sabbath.  We should note that this falls under the umbrella for holy convocations, which opened the chapter and has in mind the appointed feasts, which are also called to be holy convocations.  Furthermore, it was to be a Sabbath in all of their dwelling places, which we’ve already seen.   Here, however we need to ask what is meant by holy convocation and what is meant by dwelling places.

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, defines this holy convocation as a designation for weekly Sabbaths and the new moons, though its usually, “reserved for the seven special convocation sabbaths” which were arranged around five feasts two of which spanned from a Sabbath to a Sabbath (Passover and the Feast of Booths).  The TWOT goes on to say that these convocations included, “a formal summoning of people to worship by the blast of trumpets…physical presence was mandatory, however, only for the three festal pilgrimage feasts and only for males.”  These were the three feasts which we looked at last time in Exodus and which are also described in this chapter of Leviticus.

The dwellings mentioned in our passage the TWOT defines as, “the dwelling place of a city, tribe, or people” as well as, “even houses could be called dwellings.”  Basically what we have with this added note on the Sabbath is that it should be a gathering of some kind in the place where they dwelled, be it a house, city, tribe, or people.  It was not a mandatory pilgrimage for males, contrary to the three primary feasts.

The remainder of the chapter is devoted to descriptions of the various feasts, which we also discussed in the previous post, which are also called holy convocations.  Included in these descriptions of the feasts are instructions that no work should be performed, essentially extending the principle of the Sabbath from a weekly observance, to multiple times a year at the celebration of the God-ordained feasts.  This is likely where the plural reference to “sabbaths” finds its basis, in all of the God-ordained periods of rest which He sometimes refers to collectively.

(We should note also the addition of the Day of Atonement as a Sabbath; see also Leviticus 16).

Leviticus 24:8-9

Our next passage, again from Leviticus, takes a bit of a turn from the previous passages on the Sabbath and provides some instructions for what the priest, namely Aaron, is supposed to do.  After describing how the bread for the tabernacle is supposed to be made (24:5-7), we read that, Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord‘s food offerings, a perpetual due.”  This arrangement of the bread in the tabernacle by the High priest was part of the covenant, as was the Sabbath.  Furthermore, we see that Aaron and his sons (High Priests), were to eat the bread in the holy place as his holy portion.

Numbers 28:9

Our final support passage for the Sabbath is from the Book of Numbers, though remember our previous mention of Numbers 15 and the case study for violating the Sabbath.  In this passage, we read of additional instructions for the priests on the Sabbath, On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering:10 this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.”

On the Sabbath Day, according to the regulations that we’ve seen for 6 days of work and 1 day of rest, we’ve seen instructions for ‘priestly work’ in these last two passages, including making bread and offering sacrifices, a burnt offering, grain offering, and drink offering.  We also have found some additional information about convocations in dwellings, but have little prescription beyond that.

In our survey of rest thus far, we have now seen that the commandment of a Sabbath Rest, as well as the further development of the Sabbath Principle, are significant contributions to the overall theology of rest.  While the Sabbath is certainly mentioned throughout the Old Testament in other important passages such as Nehemiah 13, Isaiah 1:13ff; Isaiah 56:1-8; Isaiah 58:13-14; Ezekiel 20,, the passages we’ve looked at in this series without question form the backbone and foundation for understanding how God had commanded the Sabbath to be observed as well as providing a Sabbath principle that extended above and beyond a 1 day in 7 observation.  Additionally, we have seen that this Sabbath principle effects not only the rest and refreshment of  the men, women, and children of Israel, but also the sojourner among them, as well as animals and the land.  In this sense, the concept of Sabbath is far reaching, we might even say universal as it relates to the community of Israel, touching every aspect of creation.  Similarly, we again find the Sabbath rooted in the creation Sabbath, as well as consequences prescribed for those who violate the Sabbath.

In our overall theme of rest, it would appear as though the Sabbath Command and Sabbath Principle reflect, at least in part, the rest established by God for Adam in the Garden.  Furthermore, we see the anticipation of rest for Israel in the Promised Land as both the Sabbath Command and Sabbath Principle are tied to entrance and establishment in Canaan.  Finally, these weekly, annual, and regular periods of rest would seem to anticipate a more permanent rest to come, a point which we will have to flesh out another time.

This overview of the Sabbath rest brings up some additional points worth considering, including the concept of Jubilee and another point of Broken Rest, but those topics for another day.


In this series:

Sabbath Rest – Part 3

Having looked at the institution of the Sabbath Command, in both it’s first and second iterations of law from Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20) and then on the plains of Moab by way of Moses’ review (Deuteronomy 5), we turn now to several supporting passages.  These passages provide additional revelation on the details of the Sabbath, both how it should be observed and the consequences for its violation.  Additionally, we will see a renewed emphasis on what might best be called the Sabbath principle, i.e. that which concerns itself with a sabbath rest, but not necessarily one day in seven, or the Seventh Day.  Below, we will look at three supporting passages from Exodus 23, 31, and 34/35, and then in the next post, we’ll look at supporting passages from Leviticus 23, 24, and Numbers 28.

Exodus 23:10-19

In this passage, we find ourselves still at Sinai with Moses’ reception of the law and covenant from God.  The mention of the Sabbath comes not by means of observing the seventh day, as we might expect, but by means of sowing the land for six years and then giving it a Sabbath year in order to allow it to rest and lie fallow.  Practically, particularly in an agrarian society, this is wise and prudent counsel as it allows the land to recuperate.  However,  we now see a larger Sabbath principle of rest than simply 1 day in 7. Additionally, we find much more involved than individual rest, rather now it’s the land that is commanded to rest (though the obligation is on man to obey).  Further, this resting of the land allows the poor and then the beasts to eat of the land.  This passage is followed up by a restatement of the Sabbath Commandment, showing a clear relationship between both Sabbath concepts, or what I’m distinguishing as a Sabbath Principle and a Sabbath Command.  With this restatement, we have an added benefit of refreshment for ox, donkey, son of your female servant, and aliens.

Towards the end of this passage we see the introduction of the Three Feasts which God had commanded Israel to observe: Unleavened Bread, Feast of Harvest (Feast of Weeks), and Feast of Ingathering (Feast of Tabernacles or Booths).  According to this rule, all of the men of Israel were to come before the Lord these 3 times a year.  This becomes an important point when noting those times and feasts when God had actually commanded worship on  a particular day/days.

See also: Leviticus 25; 26

Exodus 31:12-18

This next passage summarizes the occasion at Sinai as the Lord finishes up His covenant instructions to Moses. Here we see three key reasons for observing or keeping the Sabbath followed by a restriction and subsequent punishment.  First, it is a sign between God and Israel throughout their generations.  Second, it’s purpose is to recognize that it is the Lord Who sanctifies them.  Finally, they were to keep the Sabbath because it was holy to them.

Additionally, in this passage we have the first mention of consequences for failing to observe the Sabbath, Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. “  Ex. 31:14-15

In these verses, consequences for violating the Sabbath are mentioned three times, put to death, cut off from among his people, put to death.   These punishments are buttressed with the assertion that the Sabbath is a perpetual covenant followed by a reiteration of the Sabbath as a sign…forever.  In other words, the punishment of death is given to Sabbath breakers because it is a violation of the covenant.  Just as the rainbow in the cloud was a sign of the Noahic Covenant and just as circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant, so too in this instance is the Sabbath a sign of the Mosaic Covenant.  This important passage is further summarized by again stating the foundation for the Sabbath, “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” Ex. 31:17 Finally, verse 18 of this passage concluded God’s revelation and giving of commandments at Sinai…for now.

See also: Ezekiel 20

Ex. 34:18-28

Our third passage from the book of Exodus comes after the idolatrous golden calf incident, which was followed by Moses’ rage against the people and his breaking of the 2 tablets at the foot of Sinai.  In Exodus 34, we have God’s renewal of the covenant.  After an exhortation and warning against idolatry in the land, the next point of renewal is the feasts and the Sabbath.  Verse 18 outlines again the Feast of Unleavened Bread, tied to the Exodus from Egypt, while verses 19-20 describes the Feast of Weeks or first fruits.  In the midst of the discussion of feasts, we have the following verse, Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.”  Plowing and harvest would have been the two most important seasons for Israel as they were directly related to their supply of food.  Resting at all during this time would run the risk of ruining a perfectly good day of making progress on either planting or harvesting food.  As such, it would recall the days prior to Sinai, Exodus 16, when they had previously been taught to rely on God’s provision for their food on the Sabbath. 

Just downstream of this passage is our final mention of the Sabbath in the book of Exodus.  Found in Exodus 35:2-3, the last statement on the Sabbath is perhaps the briefest, Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”  While we have another consequence for violating the Sabbath, the only piece of new information that we have is an itemized restriction for the Sabbath, namely, “you shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places.”  This, in combination with our mentions of punishment above, is significant when we consider Numbers 15:32-36, where we have the case study of the man who went out and gathered sticks on the Sabbath.  It is not so much the gathering of sticks which costs him his life at the hands of the stones thrown at him.  Rather it is that he intentionally violates the Sabbath by planning to build a fire.  This is a measure of direct rebellion against what God had instructed Moses to deliver to the people in the Exodus 35 passage above.

With our brief overview of these three supporting passages on the Sabbath from the book of Exodus, let’s summarize what we’ve seen so far.  First, the expansion of the Sabbath principle to include allowing the land to rest 1 year in 7.  This expands the concept of the Sabbath in which the people relied on the providence and sustenance of God for 1 day, now to include one whole year.  Additionally, this rest allowed for the land was an opportunity afforded for the poor and the beasts to eat of the land as well as providing refreshment for beasts, servants, and aliens.  Next, we saw three key purposes for observing the Sabbath including it as a sign between God and Israel, recognition of God as Sanctifier, and a covenant.  Finally, we saw the consequences, punishment by death, attached to the violation of the commandment, which was upheld in the case study from Numbers 15:32-36.  In our next post, we’ll examine three additional support passages for the Sabbath.

In this series:

Sabbath Rest – Part 2

In our study of the Sabbath Rest, we must allow it to unfold progressively as God reveals it piece by piece, detail by detail.  In this way, we assure ourselves of a more rounded, Scriptural approach to understanding what the Sabbath means, and then eventually how it effects us today.  In our overview, we have seen various aspects of the theology of rest, which have brought us now to the topic of the Sabbath as given to Israel.  Introducing this for us in a recent post was Exodus 16, the familiar passage concerning God’s supply of manna (and quail), with the instruction for Israel to gather their bread each day, gathering extra on the 6th day and resting from labor on the 7th day.

In this post, we turn now to the giving of the law and the inauguration of the covenant with Israel, first in Exodus 20 where we find the codification of the Sabbath into law, given to Israel at Mt. Sinai and then the renewal of the covenant in Deuteronomy 5.  Our first passage is below

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Here we have the Fourth Commandment and interestingly it provides a transition from the commandments focused Godward (#1-4, vertical) and the commandments focused manward (#5-10, horizontal).  Again, we see the concept for six days of work, which is just as commanded as the one day of rest, followed by the Sabbath observance  on the seventh day.  The widespread, nondiscriminatory nature of the observance, which simply includes “no work”, extends from the individual, to family, to servants, to livestock, to even the foreigner among you.

In verse 11, we arrive at the purpose for this observance, For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”  Clearly, the first stated purpose (though remember the implied purposes from Exodus 16) for the Sabbath observance is it’s relationship to the Sabbath instituted by God at the conclusion of creation.  As a summary, we again find no mention of individual or corporate worship.  We see no command requiring any sort of religious duty or exercise.  It is by all accounts a call to remember the sabbath through resting from labor on the seventh day, the day which God had sanctified and set apart at Creation.  

In our second passage, from Deuteronomy 5, the context for this passage finds the people of God, still led by Moses, on the plains of Moab, near Jericho, just outside of the Promised Land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 34:1-8; Numbers 36:13).  The time period represented in this 5th book of the Torah, occurs roughly forty years after the Exodus from Egypt, i.e. about forty years after the first giving of the law cited above.  To this point, the rebellious generation has died out, except for Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, leaving behind the children of the Exodus generation to inherit the promised land (Deuteronomy 1:34-40).

In the fifth chapter of the book, Moses recounts the law, given at Sinai, for this new generation of Israelites.  The Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath, is recited as follows:

12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:12-15

In this more recent statement of the commandment, we notice similar language with some nuances and then some definite additions.  First, we see the call to observe the Sabbath, whereas before the command was to remember.  The point is the same, it is a day to call the mind to a particular duty, namely to keep it holy.  Then we see the command, six days of labor, but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord.  Additionally, we see that this directive applies to the individual, children, servants, animals, and the sojourners among the community.  It is a comprehensive command for the entire community, man, woman child, beast, and even the outsider dwelling among the community.

However, after stating the prohibition against work for all members of the community, remember that the original commandment was founded on the creation Sabbath established by God in Genesis 2.  Here we would expect an identical statement, but that is not the case.  Instead, we see a foundation upon the Israelite exodus from Egypt.  Observe the Sabbath because on it you shall remember you were a slave in Egypt and God redeemed you with an outstretched hand.

These two passages form the basis for the law and commandment given to Israel to observe the Sabbath Day.  In them we find their foundation upon the creation Sabbath and upon the Israelite redemption from Egypt.  These reflections do not stop merely upon the acts of God, but are reflections upon God Himself.  The Sabbath draws attention to God as Creator, Sanctifier, and Redeemer, in addition to Sustainer and Provider that we saw in our previous passage from Exodus 16.  The Sabbath, as God has thus far revealed, is concerned with both His person and His work.  Yet in neither passage do we find any command for individual or corporate worship.  Nor do we find any command for any religious duty on this day.  It is simply a command to rest from labor, recalling God the Creator, God the Sanctifier, and God the Redeemer.  Further, it builds upon the passage from Exodus 16, where the people were taught to rely upon God as Provider and Sustainer.


In this series: