The Sabbath and Moses

We began our study last time by looking at the origin of the Sabbath and then began to trace its incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant.  We saw that God “rested” after He finished creation.  He was done.  It was all “very good.”  Then, though “tithing” is mentioned before the giving of the Law, there is no mention of the Sabbath at all, even in the book of Job, which predates Sinai and Moses’ writings.

As for its incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant, we pointed out that the fourth commandment served as a “hinge,” or “bridge,” if you will, between the first three commandments and the rest of them.  The first three dealt with Israel’s relationship with God.  Five through 10 dealt with Israel’s relationship with each other.  The fourth one connected them all.  Israel was to believe certain things about God, but, as a result of that belief, and that relationship with God, was to behave in a certain way.  The fourth commandment is a bridge between “theory,” if you will, and “practice.”

“Faith” which isn’t accompanied by “practice” is no better than “demonic” faith, James 2:19.

We continue our study in the books of Moses.

  • Exodus 23:10-12:  More than just a day of the week.

Exodus 23:10 expands the idea of a weekly Sabbath and rest for the people into a year-long Sabbath every seventh year and rest for the land.  There was to be no sowing or harvesting.  The land was to lie fallow and “rest.”  Whatever grew of itself was for the poor of the land to harvest and for the beasts of the field to eat.  “The poor” were to be taken care of in Israel, but they weren’t to sit at home and expect to be hand-fed.  In this case, they were to go out and gather the food.  Indeed, in every harvest season, the rule was that there was to be no “gleaning,” that is, going back and picking up what was missed the first time.  This was to be left for the poor, Leviticus 19:9, 10, Deuteronomy 24:19-21.  There is an example of this in Ruth 2:1-3.  There was no “welfare-state” mentality in Israel.

There’s something else in these verses.  Many unbelievers and skeptics don’t like the idea that the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, but seems to encourage it.  However, for nearly all of human history, including today in 2014, slavery has been and is a fact of life.  There are people, right now, as I write this, who are slaves.  And probably all of us, when it comes right down to it, are “descendants of slaves,” because every nation at one time or another has been conquered by other people and their citizens forced into subjection.  It is a sad fact of life and history, those for whom it’s become political fodder notwithstanding, who act as if their people were the only people ever to suffer this indignity.  The Bible simply regulates and mitigates slavery.  There’s an example of this in v. 12 in the reference to the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.  Even though they were in servitude, they were still to have time for their families.

Many people don’t like the Old Testament because it seems too stern and unyielding. But there’s a great deal more common sense and understanding of human nature in its pages, for all the things which may seem strange to us, than in any of the “social programs” devised in our day.  In fact, it seems to me that most of these programs, in their attempt to do good, fly in the face of Biblical wisdom and wind up doing evil.

Speaking of “stern and unyielding,” in Exodus 23:13 God says, “And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect,….”   Israel got into trouble because they didn’t pay any attention to this command, as we’ll see.

The world says, “Be tolerant.”  God says, “Be circumspect [narrow].”  And if someone should say, “Well, yes, but that’s Old Testament,” there is Ephesians 5:15, See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.   “Walk” is in the context of walking as “children of light,” v. 8, having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, v. 11, which are shameful even to mention, v. 12.  The Greek word translated “circumspectly” means, “be exact,” and is a superlative, which means that it is something always to be carried out as closely as possible to a standard, not just sporadically, casually or superficially.  That standard is the Word of God.  Not current social or religious viewpoints.

  • Exodus 31:12-17:  The People of the Sabbath.

In Exodus 31:17, God told Israel, [The Sabbath] “is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.” The Sabbath was never given to “mankind” as such.  Neither, for that matter, was the Mosaic Covenant.  Contrary to a popular school of thought, there was never a “dispensation of the Law.”  There has never been a requirement that Gentiles keep the Sabbath.  It was given to Israel and ONLY to Israel,  It’s not mentioned in Acts 15, especially vs. 15 and 29, which settled, once and for all, what responsibilities Gentiles have toward the Mosaic Covenant, “the Law,” namely, none.  See also Acts 21:17-25.

The Mosaic Covenant was the Moral Law applied to a specific people in a specific historical context.  What is the “Moral Law”?  Simply put, it’s the requirement of a holy, righteous and just God for mankind, to which and for which it is responsible.  That law is indeed universal.  It’s presence is shown in the fact that in every human being there is a sense of “right” and “wrong.”  There might be some disagreement as to what exactly these are, but the idea is still there.

The Sabbath was given to Israel, not simply as a health matter, but that they might remember the Lord God Who delivered them out of Egyptian slavery, the same Lord God Who also created the heavens and the earth.

Israel was God’s object lesson for the rest of us to show how miserably we fail in living as we should.  Also, to show us that there’s no way that we can atone for our failings – our sins.  The sacrificial system showed that, but that’s another post.

It was also a death-penalty sin to violate the Sabbath.  This is mentioned twice in 2 verses.  “The Sabbath” was serious business.  I remember a Reformed pastor saying something to the effect that “if you have to work on Sunday, we understand.”  The Law didn’t.

  • Exodus 34:21:  The Preeminence of the Sabbath.

Six days you shall work, but on the seventh you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest (emphasis added).  The two times of the year where an agricultural people would think nothing could be more important:  sowing and harvesting, yet God says, “No, not even then may you work on the seventh day; even then you rest.”

  • Exodus 35:2-3:  The Proclamation of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was the first thing Moses mentioned when he came down from the Mount the second time – after the Golden Calf incident.  There was to be no work on the Sabbath, even to the kindling of a fire.  Once again, the death penalty is mentioned for violation of this commandment.

That’s all the references to the Sabbath in Exodus.

  • Leviticus 16:31, It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls.  

This verse is in a chapter of instructions about the Day of Atonement, the most important day of the year.  It was during the sacrifices offered on that day that the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.  This chapter is the one referred to in Hebrews 9 and 10.  We’ll have a lot to say about all this when we get to Hebrews.

Note that this “Sabbath” was always on the 10th day of the seventh month.  This means that it could fall on any day of the week, not just the “seventh day.”  This is true of any of the “feasts.”  This leads me to Matthew 28:1, where the word translated “sabbath” is actually plural: “sabbaths”. There seems to have been more than one “sabbath” during the week of our Lord’s crucifixion.  But, like many of the things we mention, that’s another post.

  • Leviticus 19:3, 30, Every one of you shall revere his father and his mother, and keep My Sabbaths:  I am the LORD your God. … You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary:  I am the LORD. 

These two verses seem just sort of stuck in there, but they both have important messages:  reverence not only for the Sabbath, but for Mom and Dad, and for the sanctuary itself.  I think this speaks to the continuous lessening of respect for parents, and for the continual increasing of demand for respect for “the State,” whose “interests” are often seen to be more important than those of the parents.  “Honor” and “respect” for parents are two words which have been lost in society.  As for the “sanctuary,” I admit I have some difficulty with the casual attitude and atmosphere in the contemporary church.  While I freely admit that a suit and tie are no guarantee of spirituality, I think that shorts and flip-flops have perhaps gone too far the other way.  As for after the service, our own children were never permitted to use the sanctuary as a playground.  Nor did they ever attend “children’s church,” when that was available.  It is through the preaching of the Word that the Spirit calls believers to the Lord Jesus, and there is no evidence in Scripture that the message was ever “brought down” to children’s levels.  Children are capable of learning far more than we give them credit for.

  • Leviticus 23:3, 8, 11, 15, 16, 24, 25, 32, 38, 39.

This chapter gives us instructions about the Sabbath itself, as well as the various “feasts” which were to be held at specified times during the year.  There are some things of interest, however, in what many look at as just dry ritual.  For example, in v. 11, in one case, the “feast of firstfruits,” there was something to be done on the day after the Sabbath.  The priest was to take a sheaf of wheat from the harvest and “wave” it before the Lord as the “firstfruits” of the harvest.  This was to remind the people where the harvest came from ultimately, and to show, in a way, that there was more where that came from.  None of the harvest was to be eaten until this had been done, v. 14.  The Lord indeed got “the firstfruits” of the harvest.

Without wanting to get too deeply into what might be the symbolism or typology of these feasts, or seeking to find some “spiritual” meaning in what were plainly actual events in Israel, remember that in 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, the Lord is called “the firstfruits” of the resurrection.

In v. 20, there is a second reference to “firstfruits.”  This occurred 50 days after the ceremony with the firstfruits of the harvest.  The New Testament knows this feast as Pentecost.  James 1:18 says that Christians are a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.   In other words, Christians portray the ultimate restoration of all creation.  Cf. Romans 8:19-23.  We did a post on “Firstfruits” which goes into this a little more.

  • Leviticus 24:8, 9.

These verses gives instructions for the weekly replacing of the Showbread in the Tabernacle, as well as what it was to be used for.  This was part of the care of the Tabernacle.

  • Leviticus 25:1-17.

This portion introduces two unique ideas: the sabbatical year andThe Year of Jubilee.  This latter was the year after the seventh cycle of seven years, or the 50th year.  See Deuteronomy 15:1-11, in which debts were to be forgiven every seventh year – the sabbatical year – in the cycle.  Debt wasn’t to be a lifestyle in Israel.  There weren’t any “30-year mortgages,” either.  And I don’t think credit cards would have been permitted.  Just sayin’.

In case there was a question about what the people would eat because there was no sowing or reaping, God said He had that covered, vs. 20-22.  Just as the sixth day produced double manna to take care of the Sabbath, so the sixth year would be bountiful enough to cover not only the seventh year, but also into the eighth year until harvest.

  • Leviticus 26:2.

Here is another mention of the requirement for respect for the Sabbath and for the sanctuary.

  • Leviticus 26:34, 35.

Actually, the entire 26th chapter should be read to get the context of these verses.  The chapter is a series of promises of blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. It’s instructive that there are twice as many verses promising curses as promising blessing.  Yet the last 17 verses of the chapter promise restoration.  Verses 34 and 35 indicate that the length of time of the curses will depend on Israel’s faithfulness in following the 7th year Sabbath for the land.  Cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21.

These are all the references in Leviticus.  More could be said about any of these references, here or in other books.

There are only three references in Moses left.

  • Number 15:32-36.

This incident actually happened before the giving of the Law at Sinai.  Numbers is a catalog of the wilderness travels of Israel on their way to Sinai.  This incident happened during those travels.

I’ve done a post entitled “Sticks” which examines this incident in detail, so will just make a couple of remarks here.  Even though the Law itself hadn’t yet been given, the precedent of resting on the Sabbath had been given in the instructions about gathering manna.

Since there were no detailed instructions yet, the man was put “under guard” until it could be found out what should be done to him.  When those instructions came, even such a “minor” thing as gathering sticks on the Sabbath was found to be a death-penalty sin.  For more on this, see the post mentioned above.

  • Numbers 28:9-10.

These were just instructions about some offerings which were to be given on every Sabbath day.

  • Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

Deuteronomy isn’t just a repetition of the Law.  It’s the refreshing, if you will, of the collective memory of the people of the next generation after those who actually received the Law.  Deuteronomy is the explanation, the application, of that law to Israel. Perhaps it’s based in part on Moses’ experience of nearly forty years of explaining and applying the Law as situations arose in the camp, Exodus 18:13-15.  The fourth commandment as given here is the summation of that experience.  This doesn’t deny the inspiration of the original text.  God used people as they were, not puppets or robots.

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Sabbath and Moses

  1. Having had little Bible teaching on the Sabbath, trying to live up to the Puritan ideal in the catechism for a few years, and then having stumbled upon the Adventist view on YouTube (!) that we are keeping the wrong day, a bad day – well, even the mention of Sabbath makes me anxious. Am I keeping it? Do I need to? Is Jesus Christ our Sabbath (and Passover)? It’s one of the Ten, and we must keep the rest! Is Sunday a bad day? Should I keep it on Saturday? After all of this – and still not quite getting it, you’re exposition is clear and helpful (though I admit to not keeping my Bible open while reading it)!
    God bless you, Clarence!
    Maria

    • Well, there are four more posts, so perhaps that will help. As for the Sabbath itself, the Ten Commandments were given to Israel as a particular embodiment of God’s Moral Law, or what He requires of everybody. There is no command anywhere for Gentiles – you and me [I assume you’re not Jewish] – in either Testament to keep the seventh day Sabbath. That was a particular weekly reminder to the Jews of their redemption from Egypt. Further, and I don’t mention this in any of the posts, but nine of the Ten are repeated in the New Testament. Guess which one is omitted?
      As for the Puritans, when I was introduced to their writings, I reveled in them. I couldn’t get enough of them. Now, a few years later, I realize that their insistence of keeping the Law was perhaps a little amiss. I still love them, but every writing, even mine, must be measured against the Word.
      Just to answer your question about Jesus and the Sabbath. Since the main thrust of the Sabbath was “rest,” Jesus’ death, resurrection and intercession at the right hand of God is indeed our rest.
      Thank you for your comments and questions. I wish there were more like you.
      God’s best to you,
      Clarence

Comments? Feedback? Much appreciated. Thanks.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s