The Sabbath Issue

Chapter 1: The Origin of the Sabbath - Part 2

However just because Sabbath Observance is based on the Creation Week, it does not mean that the ‘Shabbat’ command was previously in force for all mankind. It is only now at the time of Moses that the Shabbat day of rest for man is identified with the 7th day of Genesis 2:2-3, when God ceased from His works. The word ‘Shabbat’ was not used in the Genesis account. The 7th day of Creation was only used as a basis for the institution of the Sabbath at the time of Moses, and even then it was just for Israel. 

*The Sabbath had a special role and importance in the Mosaic Covenant, as the outward SIGN of Israel’s Covenant with God. 

"Remember the Sabbath day” (Exodus 20:8) is firstly a reference to its previous mention in connection with the Manna in Exodus 16.
Later in Deuteronomy 5:12, Israel is told: “Observe the Sabbath.”

“REMEMBER the Sabbath Day” primarily speaks of its special role as the outward visible SIGN or symbol of the Old Covenant, whose role is to cause us to REMEMBER (keep at the forefront of our mind) the Covenant. Every Covenant has a visible SIGN given to help us to REMEMBER the Covenant: such as the Rainbow in the Noahic Covenant, Circumcision in the Abrahamic Covenant, and Communion in the New Covenant, which is given to us to REMEMBER Christ’s death and resurrection. We exchange Wedding Rings in Marriage as the visible SIGN and symbol of our Marriage Covenant. They are a constant REMINDER that we are in Covenant together. Since a Wedding Ring REPRESENTS the Covenant, it is a serious matter if we fail to wear it. It would indicate that we were ashamed of the Covenant. If I went around without my ring, I am sure my lovely wife, Hilary, would be upset and concerned that in my heart I was rejecting our Covenant. This also explains why it’s particularly upsetting to lose a Wedding Ring.

Thus keeping the Sabbath was the ordained way for Israel to show their acceptance of the Covenant and commitment to keep it. This is why breaking the Sabbath was considered such a serious offence for the Jews - for it was a direct denial of their Covenant with God. 

Exodus 31:12-17 confirms the Sabbath was the special Covenant SIGN between God and Israel, marking them out as holy, set apart from all the other nations: “The Lord said to Moses,"Say to the ISRAELITES, 'You must observe my SABBATHS. This will be a SIGN between me and you (Israel) for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you HOLY (set apart and different from the other nations). Observe the SABBATH, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For 6 days, work is to be done, but the 7th day is a SABBATH of REST, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The ISRAELITES are to observe the SABBATH celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting Covenant. It will be a SIGN between Me and the Israelites forever, for in 6 days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the 7th day He abstained from work and rested."

The Sabbath was something that was designed by God to mark Israel clearly out as holy and distinct from all other nations, and indeed it has successfully helped Israel to maintain her special identity for thousands of years. This contradicts the idea that Sabbath Observance was a universal moral commandment from Creation. If that were true, then clearly the Sabbath could not be used at the time of Moses as a special SIGN to mark Israel out as a holy people, set apart from all other nations (through her Covenant with God). The function of the Sabbath as SIGN of the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel confirms that mandatory Sabbath Observance was new with Moses and that it was unique for Israel.

Ezekiel 20:10-12 also confirms that the SABBATH is a SIGN of the Covenant made with ISRAEL at the time of the Exodus:
“I led them (Israel) 
out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. I gave them My Decrees and made known to them My 

Laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. Also I gave them My SABBATHS as a SIGN between us (God and Israel),
 so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.”
This states in the clearest possible way that the Sabbath was given by God to Israel alone at the time of the Exodus as the Sign of their unique Covenant. The Sabbath applies only to the Nation whom God led out of Egypt into the desert, and who then received His Laws through Moses (Israel!). Therefore the Sabbath Law was not given to the Gentiles or the Church. Moreover, the Sabbath was only given to Israel at the time of the Exodus in connection with the Old Covenant, and so the Sabbath was not in operation before then.

Ezekiel 20:19,20 again confirms the importance of SABBATHS as the Covenant SIGN between God and Israel: “I am the Lord your God; follow My Decrees and be careful to keep My Laws. Keep My SABBATHS holy, that they may be a SIGN between us. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God." 

As a Sign of their Covenant with God at the Exodus, the Sabbath can only be related to Israel (not the Gentiles or the Church). Moreover since its function is a SIGN of REMEMBRANCE of the Mosaic Covenant, it is only in force for the duration of the Covenant, and so does not necessarily continue once it has ceased.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 confirms the Sabbath’s Origin at the Exodus: "Observe the SABBATH Day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the 7th day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. REMEMBER that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the SABBATH Day.” 

Again we see God relate the Sabbath to Israel and the Exodus. The origin of the Sabbath was AFTER the Exodus, because it was instituted with Israel as a REMEMBRANCE of her miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The Sabbath began after the Exodus, because it was based upon it. In the Exodus, God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, when they never had any days off! So, as they enjoyed their Sabbath Rest, they were to remember what God had set them free from. Therefore the Sabbath was a Sign given to remember their Covenant with God, and how He had graciously set them free from slavery, making them a free people. 

Therefore again we see that it only applies to Israel. The Sabbath-Rest was a Remembrance of their Deliverance from slavery in Egypt and their Possession of their Promised Land of Rest. As such, the SABBATH was a TYPE of our SALVATION in Christ, in which we were delivered from the power of darkness and entered into our Promised Land of blessing (including assurance of sins forgiven and the possession of eternal life in the Kingdom of God). This is how the New Testament applies the Sabbath in Hebrews 3:7-4:11. Receiving our Salvation through faith is pictured as entering into God’s Sabbath Rest, through trusting in Christ and His completed work, having ceased from (trusting) our own works. Thus the New Covenant Salvation-Rest that we enter through faith in Christ is a fulfilment of the Old-Covenant Sabbath Rest, that Israel entered into through Moses. Just as with all the Old-Testament Types and Shadows, it is no longer necessary to practice it, now that the Substance (Fulfilment) has come in Christ.

The Typology is enriched by the fact that the Sabbath was also a remembrance of the Creation. God accomplished all His work of Creation and then ceased from all His creative work on the 7th day. In keeping the 7th Day Sabbath, Israel were ceasing from their own works and entering into God’s Rest, remembering and receiving Him as their gracious Creator, Provider as well as Saviour (from Egypt). All this is by God’s GRACE, to be received by faith, by ceasing from our own works and entering into His finished work. 

Likewise, Christ completed His work of Salvation and then entered into His Rest, sitting down at the Right Hand of God. Saving faith is to cease from trusting in our own works (for Salvation) and entering into His Rest through trusting in His completed work for our Salvation (through His life, death, resurrection and ascension), so that: “we who have believed do enter that Rest” (Hebrews 4:3). 

Thus the Typology of the Sabbath is fulfilled in us as we repent of trusting in ourselves (and our dead works) and trust (rest) in Christ alone for our Salvation. In this way, we enter into our Promised Land of Salvation-Rest through faith: “he who has entered into His Rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His (Hebrews 4:10). We have assurance of sins forgiven and eternal life, because we are resting in Christ and what He has accomplished for us, rather than depending on our own works, law-keeping or righteousness. We cannot receive God’s gracious free-gift of Salvation, while we are still labouring to save ourselves by our own works. We cannot receive God’s righteousness, while we are trying to establish our own righteousness. We cannot work and rest at the same time. The Sabbath teaches us that it is imperative to first cease from our own works, before we can enter into God’s Rest. Thus we must first cease from (trusting) our own works and then we must put all our trust in Christ’s finished work instead. Only then will we enter into the true Sabbath Salvation-Rest of God. 

We have established that the Sabbath Law was not observed from Adam to Moses, but was instituted by God at the Exodus for ISRAEL to keep as a special SIGN of her unique Covenant with God through Moses. It was only given to Israel, as an essential part of the Law of Moses, as the sign of the Covenant. Therefore it was first instituted as part of the Law of Moses, and it has never applied to Gentiles. There is no basis for believing that the Sabbath applies to Gentile Christians, and therefore to the Church as a whole. 

Moreover, believers (whether Jew or Gentile) are no longer under the Old-Covenant of Moses, but under the New Covenant in Christ which has replaced the Old Covenant. Through the Cross, the whole Old Covenant of Moses has been rendered inoperative and has been replaced by the New Covenant in Christ. Therefore we are not under the Law of Moses, but the Law of Christ. Therefore, it does not follow that the Sabbath automatically applies to us today, just because it applied to Israel under Moses before the Cross. 

To decide the issue of whether the Sabbath applies to us today, we need to study the New Testament (Covenant) to see if the Sabbath Law applies to us. This is what we will do in the next Chapter.

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