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.
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, 2 “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
3 “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).
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. 9 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.
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, et.al., 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: