The Ark of the Covenant

“And they shall make an ark of acacia wood…,” Exodus 25:10 (NKJV).

There are two main sections dealing with the construction of the tabernacle.  In Exodus 25-31, God gives instruction concerning the various parts of the tabernacle and of the priesthood that would minister there.  In Exodus 35-39, we read of the actual preparation for and construction of the tabernacle.

Though the rest of the posts will look at the tabernacle from the standpoint of an Israelite who was approaching it, this post will look at the first item God told Moses to make:  a piece of furniture called “the ark of the covenant.”

It’s interesting to me that, in these instructions, God begins with Himself, for the ark signified the place where He would “dwell” and where He would meet with Israel.

So it always is.

God begins with Himself.

It was that way with this planet:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, Genesis 1:1.  The earth didn’t create itself, or develop from some lesser thing, in spite of the best efforts of those who would tell us otherwise.

It was that way with Abraham.  He didn’t sit down one day and decide to write down his thoughts about the possibility of “a higher power.”  Genesis 12 and Hebrews 11:8 tells us that God appeared to Abraham and told him to move to “a land that I will show you,” Genesis 12:1.

It was that way with Israel and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20.  They didn’t get together and write down some ideas for how they would govern themselves.  In Exodus 20, God called Moses to the top of a mountain and gave him The Ten Commandments, though these are only a summary of the Law, there being a lot more that God gave Israel before He was done.

And it’s that way with us.  Scripture says that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, Ephesians 1:4.  I can’t think of another subject that will make people angry more quickly than the idea that God chose us simply because He wanted to.  I’ve dealt with this at length elsewhere on this blog.  Let me just say here that if He hadn’t chosen us, we would never “choose” Him, would never be saved.  There are some folks who focus on “whosoever will.”  That’s alright; it’s a Biblical concept.  The problem is that, apart from the grace of God, we’re all “whosoever won’ts”.

Folks want to get around this by saying that God “looked down the corridors of time for those who would ‘accept Him’, and chose them on that basis.”  Is that how He did it?  Scripture itself uses this idea of God “looking”:
The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God,
Psalm 14:2.
If the “foreknowledge” folks were right, the Psalmist would continue that God did see some who “understand,” who “seek” Him.

Is that what the Psalmist wrote?

Not in the least.

They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,
No, not one, Psalm 14:3, emphasis added.

It begins with God.

Because it would never begin with us.

The ark of the covenant was a chest of wood, covered with gold, Exodus 25:10.  It was a little less than four feet long and a little more than two feet wide and high.  Except for the high priest once a year, no one ever saw it because it was kept in the holy of holies in the tabernacle.  Even when Israel moved during its wilderness journeys, it was covered to keep it from prying eyes.  I don’t think God was “hiding,” but, rather, was impressing on Israel the seriousness of their relationship with Him.  Indeed, when an Israelite touched the ark during of these moves, God struck him dead, 2 Samuel 6:6; 1 Chronicles 13:9.  I think there might be a lesson for us with our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity.  I know that a suit and tie don’t guarantee spirituality, but neither do flip-flops and shorts.

There were three items kept inside the ark:  the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant, Hebrews 9:4.  Exodus 13:33 tells of the pot of manna, which was to be kept to show future generations of Israelites how God had provided for Israel during her wilderness travels.  Aaron’s rod reminded Israel that the descendants of Aaron and they alone, could perform the office of priest, Numbers 17.   The tables of the covenant were the original tablets that Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai, Exodus 20.

Lord willing, we’ll consider this “covenant” more closely in our next post.

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According to Pattern

“According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all the furnishings, just so you shall make it,” Exodus 25:9 (NKJV).

The tabernacle wasn’t a ramshackle affair.  It wasn’t something made up as they went along, but every part of it, down to the clasps which held the sides to the frame, was set forth and described.  There were no revisions, no “TabernaclePlan.02”  It was complete as it came from the mind of God to the hand of Moses.

That’s equally true of everything in creation.  Many may believe that this world came into being as the result of a chance event, but someone has calculated the odds of such a thing happening as 1 in 40 to the tenth power, or as 1 followed by 40 zeroes.  That is a lot of zeroes: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  We probably don’t even have a name for such a number.  It seems to me that it’s a lot easier to believe Genesis 1-3 than it is to believe in such a throwing of the dice, as it were.  Of course, that does get rid of God and any obligation mankind might have to obey Him.  We think we’re so smart, but all things considered in perspective, an amoeba may be smarter than us.

The truth is, God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, or order, cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33.  While Paul wrote primarily to correct some serious problems in the Corinthian church, what he wrote is applicable in a lot of places.  No matter where one looks, whether through a microscope or a telescope, he sees order and design.  Even in the so-called random movement of atoms, there is a discernible pattern.

This is true also of life.  He has not left us on our own, as it were, but has given us instructions about pretty much every area of life.  Whether individually, in our church, in our family, our neighborhood, our city, our country or our nation, there are principles and practices either commanded or forbidden, the doing of which in either case will have discernible results.  We do reap what we sow.

55 years ago, a woman decided we should ignore what God says, so she went to court.  We see the results around us today.  True, she wasn’t the first publicly to oppose God, but she was the most outspoken and successful.  I’m old enough to remember “back then,” what it was like before Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her atheism permeated society.  People left their front doors unlocked.  Cars were left unlocked – we can see this in the old TV programs.  Women could walk down the street at night without worrying about it.  I’ve mentioned this several times before, but the high school I attended was in a “tough” neighborhood.  I hate to think what it’s like today, 59 years after I graduated.  This “tough” school had a rifle range in the basement, with rifles and live ammunition.  I qualified as a marksman on that range.  People today get all upset at the very ideas of “guns” at all, let alone around or in schools, but there was never any problem at that school.  Young men carried rifles in a rack in the back window of their pickup trucks.  No one thought anything about it.  Was there crime?  To be sure.  But nothing at all compared to today.

But now….

To paraphrase Hosea 8:7, “We have sowed the wind and have reaped the whirlwind.”  Or, in the immortal words of Pogo, for you “old-timers:”  “We have found the enemy and they is us.”  I don’t mean to minimize the problem or make fun of it, or to imply that Walt Kelly, the author of Pogo, would agree with my views.  He probably wouldn’t.  But he was right in this case, whether he meant it as I take it or not.

“We” are the enemy.  Having decided that we’re too sophisticated for those old-fashioned “Puritan” ideas, we’ve thrown them all out in the name of “freedom.”

Having rejected “order,” we have opened the door to “confusion”.

Right On Time

Now the sojourning of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.  And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years – on that very same day – it came to pass that all the armies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.  Exodus 12:40, 41.  (NKJV)

With this post, we want to start a series on the Tabernacle, that building which accompanied Israel on its sojourn from Egypt to the Promised Land and then served as the center of worship for many decades until the building of the Temple during Solomon’s reign.  However, the children of Israel had to get out of Egypt before any of that could happen.  This post is about the beginning of those events which led to the construction of the Tabernacle.

After some instructions from the LORD about the Passover, which was to serve as a reminder of slavery in Egypt and their deliverance from it, verse 51 repeats what vs. 40, 41 said:  And it came to pass, on that very same day, that the LORD brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

“On that very same day….”

Four hundred and thirty years had passed.  Several generations of Israelites had come and gone in Egypt.  Things had gotten much worse, Exodus chapter 1 – I think Satan knew that the time of God’s promise was drawing near and, while there was nothing he could do to prevent that from happening, he determined he’d make it as rough as possible on the people of God.

But finally, that last day dawned, and “on that very same day,” Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage.

“That very same day.”

In the Old Testament, God had promised that the Messiah, the Deliverer, would come to His people after a certain period of time had elapsed, Daniel 9.  Indeed, another “time promise” of God’s had led Daniel to intercede for his people.  In v. 2, Daniel wrote, in the first years of Darius’ reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.

“Seventy years….”

That seventy years served as a springboard for another “time promise” – Daniel’s “seventy sevens” in the rest of Daniel 9.  It’s not our purpose here to get into all that is meant here, but there is one more Scripture germane to the fulfilment of what God promised.

In Galatians 4:4 we read,

when the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son….

“the fulness of the time

At the exact moment of time – “the time” – ordained in the purpose of God, cf. 1 Peter 1:20, a virgin girl in Israel was impregnated by the Holy Spirit, and God’s deliverance of His people – from both Testaments – was set into motion.

What does all this mean to us on this rather gloomy fall day in this year of our Lord 2018?

It means that we can trust God.

We don’t know for sure what each day will bring.  We might have a general idea, get up and go to school or work, or any number of other things, but we don’t know for certain what will happen.

God does.

David rejoiced in this fact.  In Psalm 139:15, he wrote,

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,

The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them (emphasis added).

Some people are bothered by the idea of God’s sovereignty in our affairs, perhaps preferring to believe that God can be caught by surprise, but there are no such “oops” moments with God.  He never has to call “an emergency meeting of the Divine Council,” as one writer put it years ago.  He has no “Plan B”.

Our text, and the other verses we used, all remind us that God is never late.  He is always on time, and He is always there.  He is always here.

Oh, that we might lift our eyes upward!  We get so caught up in the affairs of life – and, yes, we are supposed to pay attention to our lives.  Still, we too easily forget God.  I’m thankful He never forgets us.

Who Says?

As I read through the Old Testament, especially the early books, in which God calls out and forms the nation of Israel, I’m impressed by the number of times that the Lord said to Israel, “I am the LORD.”  He might say that just by itself, or He might add something:  “I am the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.”

It’s true that the Lord said that obeying Him would bring blessing and that disobeying Him would bring judgment, and that, in freeing them from Egyptian slavery He had already blessed them, yet it seems to me that the Lord is also saying that the main reason to pay attention to what He commands is that He commands it.  He didn’t ask for their agreement or their opinion or their thoughts on the subject.  He just said, “Here is what I want you to do.  I am the LORD.”

There is a message for us in this.  We increasingly live in a time when there are no objective standards.  It’s all about consensus, or who can make the loudest noise or cause the most destruction.  It’s all about “self-identity,” regardless of any objective reality.  We’ve become like the society described in the last verse of Judges:  In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did that which was right in his own eyes, Judges 21:25.  It’s true that we’ve never had a king here in this country, but that doesn’t mean the verse isn’t relevant.  A king was THE authority in the land, the source of law and order, however those might have been defined.  Not every king was a good king.  Judges describes a situation in which there was no king, no established, recognized code of conduct.  It was up to each individual how he wanted to live.

Because it is increasingly true in our nation that everyone does what he thinks is right.  we also see immorality and wickedness in our world similar to that described in the last chapters of Judges.  Granted, it isn’t an exact correspondence, so far as I know no one has recently hacked his concubine into pieces, although, now that I think about it, there are unspeakable atrocities against women approved by some cultures, but even without that, there are things which were unthinkable not all that many years ago that are now front page news and people demanding freedom to do them, to say nothing of the crime and violence that has mushroomed over the last few years.  There is no fear of God before their eyes, Romans 3:18.

There was a time when the Ten Commandments formed much of the basis of our legal system.  This fact is denied or ignored by those who demand the removal of every trace of them from our public lands and buildings:  no plaques listing them, no memorials of them in public, no reference to them by lawmakers or officials.  The “anti-establishment” clause in the Constitution has been reinvented to mean no religion in government at all, not the denial of civil power to the church.  Many of the Founding Fathers had suffered    because the church had had such power, and had misused it, as in England and Germany, and even in the very early days of the country, and they wanted no part of that in this new country, no part of an “official” church.  At the same time, contrary to some today, they were NOT establishing atheism as the official stance of the government.  There is abundant evidence of the influence of Christianity in the formation and early days of America.  There were other things, true, like Plato’s Republic, but the Bible was certainly there, and respected.

In the next few posts, Lord willing, I want to look at the Old Testament law and see what there is that might instruct us.  By “the Old Testament law,” I don’t mean the Ten Commandments.  Psalm 119:96 says that the commandment is exceedingly broad, and there might be some surprising things in it.

We must remember that “the Law,” as seen in the Mosaic documents, was given only to the nation of Israel, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Psalm 147:19, 20.  It was never given to Gentiles or to “the church”.  At the same time, there is something called, “the Moral Law.”  Paul refers to this in Romans 2:14, 15.  When he says that the Gentiles are a law unto themselves, he doesn’t mean that they can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, though they, and we, do do that.  He’s saying that they recognize that there is “right” and “wrong,” though they might differ on what each of those is.  The Moral Law is simply the reflection of the righteousness God requires of His creation.  The Mosaic Covenant was the application of that Law to a specific historic and geographical place and people.  Even though Gentiles are not under the Mosaic Covenant, and never have been, it’s still wrong, for example, to murder or steal, not because of the Ten Commandments themselves, but because the righteousness of God forbids it.

We just want to look at the Mosaic Law to see what God thinks about some things we don’t usually associate with Him, to see if there’s not something we can learn from them.

The Sabbath and Israel

In our first two posts, we looked at the origin of the Sabbath, although it was simply called “the seventh day” at creation, and at it’s incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant as “the Sabbath”.  It was given to Israel as a reminder not only that God had delivered them from Egyptian slavery, but that He was the same God who had created everything to begin with.

In this post, we’ll see how well Israel paid attention to what God said through Moses.  In all this, remember that the NT has a further word about the Sabbath.

  • 2 Kings 4:23, So he said, “Why are you going to him today?  It is neither new moon nor the Sabbath.”

For the story around this, read 2 Kings 4.  Our focus is only on the husband’s confusion as to why his wife would want to visit Elisha the prophet on a different day than usual, cf. 1 Samuel 1:3.  It shows there was an established custom for the observance of the Sabbath and the festivals, or “feasts,” though not everyone followed it, as we’ll see.

  • 2 Kings 11:5-9; 2 Chronicles 23:4, 8.

These references are together because they record the same story:  the overthrow of the wicked Queen, Athaliah, who had murdered all the legitimate heirs to the throne of David, except one providentially hidden by God through one of his nurses.  The full story is in 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22:10 through 23:25.  The verses we referenced simply tell some of the preparation for that overthrow:  those soldiers who went off duty for the Sabbath would stay on with those who came on duty in order to have plenty of protection for the new King.

  • 2 Kings 16:18, Also he removed the Sabbath pavilion which they had built in the Temple.

This is part of the story of wicked king Ahaz and his foolish and sinful joining together of idolatrous worship with the true worship of Jehovah, though he certainly wasn’t the first who did this.  There is no other reference to “the Sabbath pavilion” which he dismantled.

  • 1 Chronicles 9:32, And some of their brethren of the sons of Kohath were in charge of preparing the showbread for every Sabbath.

This refers back to the instructions given in Leviticus 24:5-9.

  • 1 Chronicles 23:31, and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the LORD on the Sabbaths….

This is part of the elaborate preparations David had for the service of the Tabernacle, and then the Temple which was to be built by Solomon.

  • 2 Chronicles 2:4; 8:13, …the Sabbaths, 

The first reference is part of Solomon’s request to Hiram, king of Tyre, for the things necessary to build the Temple.  The second reference is to Solomon’s activity after the Temple was built.  As you read through the first eight chapters of 2 Chronicles, notice the repeated references to David’s plans and preparations for the Temple.  Solomon did fine as long as the Temple was being built, and his own dwelling, but after the twenty years it took for all this, he soon fell into things the Law strictly forbade.  We wonder how much of the building of the Temple was really Solomon and how much of it was just left over, so to speak, from his father.  How often we see this, children getting away from the influence of godly parents, for whatever reason, and going their own way.  How we need to pray that God would be with our kids when we are no longer with them, either by distance or by death!

  • 2 Chronicles 31:3, The king also appointed a portion of his possessions for…the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths…. 

2 Chronicles 29-31 takes us near the end of Israel’s independent existence and the reforms under Hezekiah, who was the last “good” king of Israel.

  • 2 Chronicles 36:21, …to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths.  As long as she lay desolate, she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. 

2 Chronicles 36:11-21 describes the final overthrown of Israel and the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.  V. 21 refers to Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10.  See also Daniel 9:2.  What Israel would not do willingly, Leviticus 25:1-6, she would do unwillingly.

  • Nehemiah 9:14, “You made known to them Your holy Sabbath,” 

Nehemiah was one of the books written after the 70-year Captivity was over and some of the people had returned to the land.  However, Nehemiah and the others record that Israel really hadn’t learned much and more or less fell back into the ways which had gotten her into trouble in the first place.  Granted, there were tremendous difficulties and obstacles facing the returnees.  Nevertheless, Nehemiah and the others show the error of those who believe that the Return fulfilled all the promises God made through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others.

Chapter 9 records one of the times of repentance and reformation brought by the ministry of Nehemiah, Ezra and others.  V. 14 is part of a prayer which listed the blessings which God had bestowed on Israel.  The Sabbath was one of those blessings.

There’s something else here, too, though it has nothing to do with the Sabbath.  Several times in Scripture the history of Israel is recounted to show all the blessings God had bestowed on her, cf. Psalms 105 – 107.  They also show Israel’s failure fully to understand those blessings and to act in accord with them.

The thing is, Israel knew her history.  Granted, it was written down for them.  But I wonder how many Christians know their history.  There might be some familiarity with the rise of Romanism, the Reformation, Constantine, the abandonment of Greek, the language of the New Testament and the adoption of Latin, the language of pagan Rome, Martin Luther and a few others, but there’s a whole litany of names of people hunted down and slaughtered in their tens of thousands by Rome and then the Reformers, who are pretty much unknown to us: Montanists, Novatians, Paulicians, Waldenses, Albigenses, Anabaptists, to name just a few.  These people were not perfect, to be sure – their enemies are quick to point that out, but then neither are we.  They just wanted to remain true to the New Testament and so refused to follow the “official” church, which they believed had departed from New Testament teaching.  For this, they suffered and died.  “The church” has not grown through the favor of the world-system and it’s governments, as Constantine and his followers apparently thought, and think, but rather has been watered by the blood of believers.  It’s history is written in red.  There is more to it than that, of course, how one interprets the Old Testament, for instance, but there’s more to “church history” than might be commonly believed.

  •  Nehemiah 10:31, 33.

Nehemiah 10 shows the results of Nehemiah’s intercession in ch. 9.  V. 31 records the people’s promise not to engage in commerce on the Sabbath, or on any holy day, even if the opportunity presented itself.  They would honor the year of release.  V. 33 shows their determination to supply things necessary for the service of the house of our God. 

  • Nehemiah 13:15-19, 21, 22.

Nehemiah 13 happens after an absence by Nehemiah in which he returned to his duties with the king, v. 6.  After a time, he was permitted to return to Israel, where he found, to his dismay and anger, that things were not going well, to put it mildly.  One of the reforms he started involved the Sabbath and it’s nonobservance by the people and others.

We’re going to have to bring this post to an end.  We’d hoped to get all that the Old Testament says on the Sabbath, but there’s just too much material.  We’ll finish it tomorrow, Lord willing.

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.

 

“The Sabbath” – Required, Routine or Realized?

There’s a lot of discussion is some circles about the Sabbath, sometimes quite vehement.  But what is the Sabbath really all about?  Is it just about a certain day of the week, or might there something else as well?  Something more?  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

First, some introductory thoughts.  This is a very controversial subject.  In other venues, my comments on it have brought out a lot of venom.  I’m sorry about that.  My goal is never to offend someone or to be controversial simply for the sake of controversy.  I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter what you believe the Bible says about a certain subject, someone will disagree with it.  My goal is always to answer the question at the end of the first paragraph:  what does the Scripture say?

Second.  I accept only Scripture (that is, the 66 books commonly accepted as Scripture) as authoritative on all matters of faith and practice.  The writings of human authors may be useful and helpful, but they have no authority in determining what is true or false.    If you follow such a writing, then you probably won’t agree with me. The same is true of confessions of faith and catechisms.  Nevertheless, I hope you will hear me out and be like those of Berea, who searched the Scripture…to find out whether these things are so, Acts 16:11.

Third.  Because this subject is so complex, and controversial, we’re going to have to divide it into several posts.  We will look at the origin of the Sabbath and it’s incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant.  This will cover the books of Moses.  Then we’ll look at Israel’s compliance, or not, with her responsibilities concerning the Sabbath.  This will cover the rest of the Old Testament.  Finally, we’ll cover the New Testament, including Jesus and the Sabbath, as well as the Book of Acts and the other NT books.  I hope you will read all the posts.  I had originally hoped to limit it to just three posts, but that just didn’t seem possible.  We’ll publish them daily, one after the other.

Fourth, I do welcome your comments.  But, please, no venom.

Fifth, “routine” in the title simply means that there are some people who worship on a particular day, Saturday or Sunday, because that’s just how they always done it. They’ve never really given any thought to the subject, but have gone with the flow, so to speak.

Finally, it has been the habit of some to refer to Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath.”  It seems to me that this just confuses the issue.  The Sabbath was given to Israel as a commemoration of her deliverance from Egypt.  Regardless of what application may be made about deliverance from sin, the Sabbath looks back to that event.  On the other hand, Sunday commemorates the resurrection of our Lord. Without that, there would be no deliverance from sin.

Worship on Sunday has been characterized by some as the mark of the beast.  Other scorn the idea of “New Covenant Christianity,” insisting that we must continue to keep the Old Covenant Law.  In order fully to understand this topic, we need to look at what the Bible actually says about the Sabbath, or “the seventh day”.

Note:  Even though we realize it’s largely fallen out of favor, we used the listings for “sabbath” and “sabbaths” found in Strong’s Concordance for the KJV.

Moses and the Sabbath.

  • Creation and the Sabbath.

The very first mention of the “seventh day” is found in the Creation account in Genesis 2:1-3 (NKJV):

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.  And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He had rested from all His Work which God had created and made.

We read in these verses that God “rested” on the seventh day.  Meaning no disrespect, did He rest because He was tired?  He just took a day off?  Perhaps He needed to figure out what to do next – He had arrived at an impasse.  Or perhaps He had run out of material with which to build and needed to resupply.  These are all common things that happen in the plans and building of men.  However, we are talking about God.  The failings, limitations, and imperfections of men may never in any way or for any reason or at any time be attributed to Him.  He is God.

It’s clear that God “rested” because He was finished with creation.  Nothing remained to be done.  It was complete.  May we suggest that the Creation Sabbath speaks of an accomplished work – a finished work – a completed work – a successful work, if you will.  “Rest” in this case means a ceasing of work because there is nothing more that needs to be done, not just a temporary relaxing from it.  There were no “bugs” to be fixed, no kinks to be worked out.  It needed no upgrades or “patches”.  It was all very good.  Adam and Eve thought they could improve on it, and look at the mess they made.

It’s interesting that there is no mention of the Sabbath, any Sabbath, for several hundred years after Creation.  Though “tithing” is mentioned twice, the Sabbath is not seen again until Israel has left Egypt and is on her way to the Promised Land.

  • “Complaining” and the Sabbath.

(There are about 17 occasions in Exodus where God, through Moses, talks about the Sabbath.  Because I have been accused of “cherry-picking” references on this subject in other venues, we’re going to look at all of them.  I’m sorry for the length of some of these posts, but it can’t be helped.  The study of God’s Word shouldn’t have “word-count” restrictions, anyway.)

Exodus 16 gives us the next occurrence of the word “Sabbath”.  There were probably a couple million men, women and children moving through a wilderness area.  Since they were on the move, there were no farms or stores, and what they could find in passing was probably pretty sparse.  As was their custom in almost everything, they soon began to complain, this time about being hungry.

God’s solution was to provide for them supernaturally, with what they called “manna” (literally, “what is it?”) in the morning and quails in the evening.  There were some instructions given as to what was to be done about these provisions.  In particular, the manna was to be gathered and eaten every day, with nothing stored up.  Some of the Israelites were negligent about this, and discovered that the left-over manna bred worms and stank, Exodus 16:20.  Though Moses was angry about this lapse, nothing happened to the offenders.

There was one exception to this daily gathering of manna.  On the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much as on the other days, Exodus 16:22.  On the seventh day, Moses said of this extra manna, “Eat that 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, the Sabbath, there will be none,”  Exodus 16:25, 26.

However, Israel being Israel, some of the people went out on the Sabbath to gather manna, anyway, and found none.  The LORD was angry at this refusal of Israel to obey His Word, but there was still no other judgment.  A pot of manna was to be gathered and kept for future generations to see.  Manna was supplied to the people for forty years, until Israel was in the Promised Land, Joshua 5:1-12.

To me, it seems that this provision for rest on the seventh day speaks of the sufficiency of the provision.  There was to be no gathering because there was no need.  The people were supplied.  We’ll have much more to say about this as we go along.

  • Sinai and the Sabbath.

Exodus 20 gives us the next mention of the Sabbath.   It is here that the Sabbath was included in the Mosaic Covenant as part of the Constitution and by-laws, if you will, of the newly-formed nation of Israel.  Israel wasn’t made a nation in 1948, but hundreds of years before Christ.

The fourth commandment – it isn’t the first one or the only one, as some seem to treat it – the fourth commandment served as a bridge between the the first three commandments about how Israel was to view and respond to their God, and the rest of the commandments, which deal with how they were to view and respond to their society, beginning with their own parents.  The Sabbath Day brought what might have simply deteriorated into “belief” into focus as to how it was to affect everything else every other day of the week, not just that one day.  There were to be no “Saturday Israelites.”

God said to “Remember” the Sabbath because the nation had already been given it, 40 years earlier.

We’ll conclude this portion of the study tomorrow, Lord willing.