STICKS, STONES, SABBATHS, and SUNDAYS – 1st chapter preview

CHAPTER 1

WHEN WAS THE SABBATH COMMAND GIVEN?

 
To understand the Sabbath, it is of utmost importance to establish when God first commanded people to honor the Sabbath. There are two competing views on when God commanded the prohibition of working on the Sabbath. Some believe that the Sabbath was given to mankind as early as the seventh day of creation, and others believe that God did not give the Sabbath command until He descended upon Mt. Sinai. Choosing the correct start date for the Sabbath may seem like a minor issue to some, but, as we will see, the choice of a Genesis or an Exodus timing of the Sabbath command creates a tremendous theological difference.
 
Those who adhere to the Genesis start d    ate of the Sabbath believe that God commanded mankind to honor the Sabbath on the seventh day of creation. This view is held by churches that adhere to Covenant Theology.[i] Are they correct? Let’s begin by examining the primary passage from which they draw to see if such a conclusion can be reached.
 
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day, God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)
 
So, does this passage prove an early Genesis Sabbath command origination date? Does God’s completion of His work of creation on day seven mean that it doubled as a command that prohibited Adam, Eve, and all humanity, from ever working on day seven? What truths can be gained from this passage?
 
One could arrive at the fact that God completed His work of creation on day six and rested on day seven. I believe one could even conclude that Adam and Eve were to find their rest in God’s provision for them. In Genesis 2, we read of the beauty of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve enjoyed plentiful water, food, and ease of work. However, there was no command for Adam and Eve to refrain from work on the seventh day ever mentioned. There is also – and this is very important – no divine command in the creation account of Genesis to set apart the seventh day as a special day of sacrifice or worship. The existence of a seventh day in creation does not imply, much less establish, a moral and legal obligation. As pastor and theologian, Blake White has written:
 
It is one thing to say that the seventh day of creation set the precedent and basis for the later commandment; It is quite another to turn a foundation into a command. Christian teachers ought to have clear textual warrant to turn an indicative into an imperative. A command to obey the Sabbath is nowhere grounded in the created order.[ii]
 

SABBATH SILENCE

In fact, not only is such a command absent from the creation narrative, but it is also absent from the entire book of Genesis. The book of Genesis is a lengthy book covering over a 1000-year history of the first humans. However, we have no evidence that anyone held the seventh day as a special day of rest. The silence of the book of Genesis regarding the Sabbath never being commanded by God or kept by man is no small matter. If God had revealed that such a day was connected to the creation, then Moses, the author of the book of Genesis and the “law giver,” would surely have mentioned it. However, there is no mention of the Sabbath being commanded or kept by anyone in the book of Genesis. Why? Because God had not commanded anyone to do so. Think of all the people who are mentioned in the book of Genesis. Think about all the life details recorded for us in Genesis, yet there is no mention of anyone ever keeping the Sabbath or breaking the Sabbath. The Sabbath silence of the book of Genesis is an insurmountable mountain for those who strive to prove that mankind was commanded to keep the Sabbath from creation.
 
In the book of Genesis, Moses recorded Abraham’s life story, from Abraham being called by God to his death. Yet nothing is ever mentioned about Abraham keeping or breaking the Sabbath. God even made a covenant with Abraham, yet nowhere in the covenant is keeping the Sabbath ever mentioned or commanded by God.[iii]
 
The same silence regarding the Sabbath can be also said of his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob, and his great-grandsons. Consider Abraham’s grandson Joseph. We have fourteen chapters of detailed information about the life of Joseph, yet no mention of Joseph keeping or breaking the Sabbath. Long story short, from Adam and Eve (the very first humans) to all of those who followed: Cain, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, no one was ever recorded as treating the seventh day of the week any differently than the other days of the week. Why is there no mention of the Sabbath? Because clearly, God had not yet given it as a command to be kept.
 
So, if there is no Sabbath command in the entire history of mankind that Genesis covers, then when does God give the Sabbath command? The Sabbath silence of Genesis compels us to look to a later time for the giving of the command. Where do we look? The book of Exodus. The book of Exodus is the opposite of silence regarding the Sabbath. In fact, by comparison, it shouts and gives us absolute clarity as to when God gave the Sabbath command.
 
 

THE SABBATH IS ANNOUNCED

As you know, the book of Exodus opens with the people of Israel in Egyptian slavery. God calls Moses to go to the Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites be set free. Finally, after God sends ten plagues upon Egypt, the Pharaoh lets the Israelites go free. God removes the Israelites from Egypt and takes them out to the desert. It is at this time that we have the first mention of a Sabbath day rest being commanded by God. It occurred when Israel was hungry, and God supernaturally provided food for them.
 

On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'” So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”

On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:22-30)
 
Here we have the explicit, first mention of a commandment not to work (gather food) on the seventh day of the week along with the command to stay home. This passage shows that the people now were to treat the seventh day differently from all other days. There is nothing in the text to draw any conclusion that they knew this command beforehand and were just now beginning to start the habit again. This Sabbath command of God to Israel in Exodus is a new command from God.
 
This Sabbath command to stay home and cease from work was given to the Israelites as a precursor to the Sabbath rules that would soon be given as part of the covenant God would make with them. Soon, God called Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai and gave the terms of the covenant, which included the Sabbath regulations:
 
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 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. (Exodus 20:9-10)
 
What does this mean? God did not give the Sabbath commands in Genesis, but in Exodus. There is no mention of anyone ever keeping the Sabbath day in Genesis because such a command did not exist. God clearly gave the Sabbath command to Israel at Mt. Sinai.
 
The origination of the Sabbath command on Mt. Sinai can be further substantiated from the explicit statements provided by the prophets:
 
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they profaned. (Ezekiel 20:10-13)
 
If we allow Scripture to speak and the words of Ezekiel to remain untainted from theological presuppositions, then it will tell us when God gave the Sabbath commands. God said that it was when “I led them out of the land of Egypt.” God stated precisely when the Sabbath commands were given. God’s own words through Ezekiel should remove any and all doubt as to when the command to keep the Sabbaths was given.
 
God also spoke again, through the prophet Nehemiah, and clearly announced when He gave the Sabbath commands:
 
You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. (Nehemiah 9:13-14)
 
According to Nehemiah, when did God give the Sabbath commandments? The passage provides the time stamp, not at creation but on Mt. Sinai. God made known to Moses all that pertained to keeping the Sabbath day holy. This scene begs the question to those who hold that mankind was commanded to honor the Sabbath since the creation, “Why would God need to make known something that was already known?” If this were a command since the world’s creation, then God would not have to make it known to the Israelites. The concept of keeping the Sabbath was new information that was given to Israel at Mt. Sinai as recorded for us in Exodus.
 
Summary: As a Christian, who or what is your ultimate source of authority for what you believe? Obviously, the correct answer is God and His word. This being the case, we have seen that God’s word emphatically states the time of the giving of the Sabbath. God has spoken, and to go against His revelation is not wise. So, as we begin this study, it is important to note the silence of Genesis, and the voice of Exodus, Ezekiel, Nehemiah, and God about the timing of the giving of the Sabbath. This is in perfect accord with Paul’s teaching that the Law (which included the Sabbath), did not come until 430 years after Abraham.[iv]
 
Why is it important to know when God gave the Sabbath command? First, because it is Biblical truth breathed out by God. Second, if people accept theology not rooted in Scripture, they can exalt theological systems as having more authority than God’s Word. Third, if you don’t know when the Sabbath was given, it will lead to tremendous confusion as you seek to understand your response to the Old Covenant Sabbath regulations.
 
 
 

[i] Covenant Theology is a framework for interpreting Scripture most commonly held by those who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. While both confessions contain much truth, I believe that they both share a common weakness in their view of the Sabbath.

[ii] A. Blake White, Obey the Sabbath: Rest in Christ (Abilene, TX: Canon Sense, 2020), 32.

[iii] Genesis 15,17: All Bible references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version Containing the Old and New Testaments: ESV. (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2011)

[iv] Galatians 3:16-17

 

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