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
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 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: