STICKS, STONES, SABBATHS, and SUNDAYS – 2nd chapter preview

CHAPTER 2

WHO WAS COMMANDED TO KEEP THE SABBATH?

 

The first people ever commanded by God to keep the Sabbath was the nation of Israel when God gave them the rules for gathering manna.[i] As mentioned in the last chapter, we do not have any Biblical record of any other humans being told to keep the Sabbath. The earlier command of God to only gather manna for six days was strictly given to those who had come out of slavery from Egypt.[ii] There is no Biblical record of God previously telling anyone but the Israelites, who had been set free from Egypt, to take the seventh day off from gathering food. We can also conclude that this was a new command. The Israelites had to be told not to gather food on the Sabbath because this was a new revelation from God. There is no Biblical record that God had ever commanded them or anyone else in human history to abstain from gathering food before that day in the desert.

The day off from gathering manna was a precursor to establishing the Sabbath given to them upon their arrival at Mount Sinai. There is no Biblical record of any of the patriarchs of Israel ever receiving a command from God to honor the Sabbath as the Israelites were commanded to do so when God made His covenant with them. Nor is there any record of the patriarchs treating the seventh day differently from the rest. Moses makes this point to the Israelites right before he lists the Ten Commandments:

The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. (Deuteronomy 5:2-3)

Who the covenant was made with and not made with is a crucial point that must not be overlooked. God did not make this covenant with the Israelites’ ancestors; God specifically made it with Moses and the other Israelites who had been set free from Egypt. Along with this covenant came the sign of the covenant, the Sabbath, which was also unique to them.

Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 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. (Exodus 31:16-17)

The Sabbath was a sign explicitly given to Israel, the people with whom God was making a covenant. No one else before this moment was included in this covenant or given the sign of the covenant. Nor was there anyone else on earth included in this covenant or given the sign that accompanied it. God made the same point, but in a slightly different way, when He gave further instructions for the people to follow on the Sabbath day in Deuteronomy:

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 5:15)

The sign of the covenant, the Sabbath, was not given to anyone before the Exodus because those who came before them would not even have a reason to honor it yet. Israel, a slave nation, observed the Sabbath by remembering that Egypt had enslaved them, but God had supernaturally delivered them.

On Mount Sinai, God made a covenant agreement with one nation, the nation of Israel. At this time, the Sabbath became more than a command not to gather manna, but the covenant sign between God and the people of Israel. The covenant and the sign of the covenant were exclusively for them. This point can easily be seen when we allow Scripture to speak for itself. For example, read over the giving of the Sabbath in Exodus 31, and you can’t help but see that God gave the Sabbath to Israel.

And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. 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. 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. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 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.'” (Exodus 31:12-17)

According to the passage, who is commanded to keep the Sabbath? It is impossible to come away from Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 31 with any answer other than “Israel.” God specifically states that “Israel shall keep the Sabbath.” Why does God command the people of Israel to honor this day of rest? God is not ambiguous with His reasoning. He very clearly states that, “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel.”[iii]

It is also worth mentioning that God explained what it meant to honor this sign. They were to work six days and to rest on the seventh. God revealed to Israel what the Sabbath was and how it was to be observed. These commands did not serve as a reminder of what everyone in the world always knew to be true. Nor was it a reminder to the Israelites about the information they knew but had forgotten.

This was brand new information that was part of God’s covenant between Himself and Israel.

It is also important to address that a mention of creation accompanies the new Sabbath information that God is giving them. However, we must be careful not to read more into this than what was meant. Covenant Theologians will say that the mention of God’s work of six days followed by a day of rest is proof that the Sabbath command had always been God’s law to all of mankind since creation. However, that is way more information than the text provides. The Bible is silent regarding any command for seventh day rest until the giving of the manna and later, the giving of the Sabbath as the covenant sign to Israel. God does not say anything in Exodus 31 or Deuteronomy 5, even resembling a worldwide universal Sabbath day command. The command is only given to Israel.

 The “rest” that God was giving Israel as a gift and a sign was analogous to God’s rest in Genesis after He made creation. On day seven, God rested from His work of creation, and the Israelites were to do so as well. This day of rest was to be a tremendous blessing for the people. They were no longer under the ruthless Pharaoh who worked them relentlessly; now, they were under the authority of a compassionate God who commanded them to refrain from work and rest in His provision. In addition, as we will see, the Sabbath was not only a gift to Israel, but it also functioned as a type or pattern that pointed forward to a greater rest to come.

Summary: So, who was commanded to keep the Sabbath? The Bible gives no information of any other nation, people, or person ever being commanded to treat the seventh day differently than any other day until after the Exodus. The first people to receive any special command regarding the seventh day of the week was Israel. The first instruction was to cease work on the Sabbath pertaining to gathering manna, and later God commanded them to cease work as a sign of the Mosaic Covenant. In short, the Sabbath was not given to all of humanity since the time of Adam. Nor is the Sabbath part of God’s unchanging moral law for all of humanity to honor. Instead, the Biblical record reveals the Sabbath command was given as a sign for those under the Old Covenant. As we will see in the coming chapters, this fact has tremendous ramifications for those who consider themselves modern-day Sabbatarians, such as those who follow Covenant Theology.

[i] Exodus 16:25-26

[ii] Exodus 16:1-5

[iii] Exodus 31:13

[iv] Sabbatarianism is the belief that the Sabbath is part of God’s unchanging moral law that was given at the time of creation and that all people must continue to observe even today.

 

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