Sabbath Rest #4 - Sabbath in the Old Testament
Once the beginning of the Sabbath has been clarified as the start of creation, the next period to consider is from this point until when Jesus Christ came to earth, as covered in the Old Testament of the bible.
The focus here is the Ten Commandments, of which Sabbath-keeping is one of these - the non-Sabbath stance assumes that this only applies to the Israelites during this period.
However, before we come on to that part, we’ll look at other references in the Old Testament.
Types of Sabbaths
This study focuses on the weekly pattern of Sabbaths (the Hebrew word being ‘Shabbat’) and taking the seventh day of each week of rest as ordained by God at the beginning of creation.
There are, however, two other types of Sabbath periods and cycles of sevens mentioned in the Old Testament to be aware of.
1. A Yearly Land Rest
The first is another commandment for the Israelites to have a year off after six years from work, for the land to lie fallow and debts nullified (called 'Shmita'). This is basically the seventh-day of the week pattern in a yearly format:
“And the Lord spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.” - Leviticus 25:1-4
Here, the land itself rests, which God, of course, made at creation.
There was also an extra year’s Sabbath every fifty years known as the Jubilee, which was after you times seven years by seven, totalling forty-nine:
“And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.” – Leviticus 25:8-9
Because the Jews did not strictly comply with this yearly Sabbath, then God allowed them to go into captivity in Babylon for seventy years to cover these lost years of rest:
“To fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.” - 2 Chronicles 36:21
2. Special High Sabbaths
Secondly, there are seven weekly Special Sabbaths each year, known as High Sabbaths (and also the number seven).
They occur on the seven annual biblical festival dates with references to sabbaths, holy convocations, and feasts for the later part of chapter 23 of Leviticus after verse four:
“These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.” – Leviticus 23:4
These festivals would have a day in the beginning and end of them treated like the regular weekly seventh-day Sabbath rest.
When comparing these to the weekly Sabbath, the important point to note is that the regular weekly one is unique in that it is described as being made and blessed by God at creation for man, and it makes it into the Top Ten commandments.
“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:” - Mark 2:27
These other Sabbaths form part of the Ceremonial Law, along with things like feasts and festivals, specifically for the Jews up until Christ’s Resurrection.
You may also hear mention of people going on a Sabbatical, which means a period of maybe months or even years away from work or ministry to pursue other interests or process of refreshment.
In addition, there is mention of a future thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation, known as the Millenium. As we’re just over 6,000 years from the beginning of creation, some compare a similar time-span difference as the seventh day in a week.
On the Sabbath Camper display, I’ve identified these Yearly and High Sabbaths through a different brown track that stems from when they were first commanded and ends later on at Christ's death and resurrection. There is then a sign to highlight these High and Yearly Sabbaths.
These are entirely different happenings, but still reflect the principle of the seventh cycle of rest; hence a separate track for only a set period compared to the main weekly Sabbath road.
Before being formalised in the Ten Commandments, Sabbath-keeping was the first thing God showed the Israelites when they came out of slavery in Egypt, as led by Moses.
Ironically, any form of rest from their labours was taken away as enslaved people in Egypt, as Pharaoh progressively became angry with them and increased their workload; he then wouldn’t allow a three-day break to the desert to offer sacrifices to God:
“And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword. And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.” - Exodus 5:3-5
There is disagreement over whether a reference to ‘rest’ here concerns the weekly Sabbath or general rest from work. Also, words like ‘Shabbat’ and ‘rest’ don’t always mean ‘Sabbath’ but rather a general rest.
However this is interpreted, there is still an issue of lack of rest that God addresses.
It was an utter miracle, and by the grace of God, that He made way for them to escape through the Read Sea and head towards the promised land.
Of all the lessons that God could have shown them afterwards to begin a new worship routine to Him, He uses rest every seventh day.
On a practical note, God would provide an extra day’s food for them on the sixth day, so they don't need to go and collect any on the seventh day of rest.
This stemmed from their grumbling about being hungry, and God’s provision of food is clearly described as being a test to ‘prove’ if they would be faithful or not to Him:
“Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt:” - Exodus 16:4-6
The non-Sabbatarian position refers to this just being a trial before the main Ten Commandments for the Israelites and only concerning food being provided.
However, God’s provision around the seventh day is stated explicitly as a test of them walking in God's 'law’, even though they hadn’t received any formal laws and commandments yet at Mount Sinai.
In addition, just before God wrote the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai with Moses, there was a reference to a seven-day pattern. Although this doesn’t refer to the Sabbath day, there is a similar pattern of Moses entering God’s presence on the seventh day:
"And the glory of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud." - Exodus 24:16
On the Sabbath Camper display, I’ve added a picture of manna on the ground as the Israelites come out of Egypt and start their journey in the desert, outlining that this is a test of God's provision.
Early Old Testament Periods
There are also references to commandments and laws in the early Old Testament period before the Ten Commandments arrive:
“And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” – Exodus 16:28
“Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Genesis 26:5
There are examples of people instinctively knowing what was morally right and ‘lawful’ before God, even before any formal commandments along these lines.
Right back to Adam and Eve, they must have known God’s ways and commandments to then sin, which is the transgression of the law:
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” – 1 John 3:4
Adam and Eve were there on the first Sabbath rest at creation and lived for hundreds of years many generations with the opportunity to explain this.
Noah discerned between clean and unclean animals for the ark. Joseph knew that adultery was wrong, and Cain that murder was. Rachel realised that stealing was not right, and Abraham that lying was wrong.
As an aside, King David got into trouble and sinned against God with Bathsheba when he was resting on a day and in a way that God had not ordained, when he should have been out working with the troops, right at the pinnacle of Israel’s blessing:
“And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem. And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.”- 2 Samuel 11: 1-2
In summary, even before the main Ten Commandments, there is evidence of people being aware of and following God's commandments and being aware of what was morally right.
I’ve placed these individuals along the Sabbath Camper display's early track, demonstrating early observance of God’s moral laws, for example, Noah, Cain, Abraham, Rachel, and Joseph.
Looking beyond the actual commandments, even non-Jewish Gentiles were told in the Old Testament to observe the Sabbath:
“Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;” - Isaiah 56:6
In the New Testament, all new believers are then grafted into the new Israel and kingdom of God:
“And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;” – Romans 11:17
In Isaiah’s prophecy about heaven, as mentioned in the previous section, there is also a reference to ‘all flesh’ observing the Sabbath:
“And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.” – Isaiah 66:23
The alternative position on the subject believes that Sabbath observance was just for the Israelites in the Old Covenant. However, these indications in the Old Testament suggest that this was meant for all humanity.
As in the earlier section, Sabbath was first formed by God at creation for Adam and Eve and, therefore, logically all humanity afterwards.
In the New Testament, Jesus states the Sabbath is for man in a general sense, rather than the Jews in particular (although some don’t believe that ‘man’ here refers to the whole of humanity):
“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” – Mark 2:27
To show this principle on the Sabbath Camper display of others being involved with the Sabbath, I’ve placed a lay-by along the road with signs to include others along the journey.
The Seriousness of Sabbath
The consequences to the Israelites for not following the Sabbath pattern are worth noting, which shows how serious the issue is from God’s perspective.
They were told not to collect food on the seventh day because God would provide more on the sixth day. However, they still went to find food on the seventh day, causing every uneaten food on the other days to go mouldy.
“Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them…And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.” – Exodus 16:20, & 27-30
Later on, when it became part of the Ten Commandments, the punishment for non-compliance was cut-off from everybody and potential death:
“Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” – Exodus 31:15
Also, when the Israelites were captive in Babylon, they became comfortable and complacent. Sabbath-keeping slacked off, and there were instances such as Nehemiah being frustrated about trading on these days when some had arrived back to rebuild Jerusalem:
“In those days saw I in Judah some treading winepresses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.” – Nehemiah 13:15
To symbolise this on the Sabbath Camper display, a 'warning' sign is placed highlighting the dangers in the Old Covenant period of not observing the Sabbath.
The Sabbath Sign
Beyond the Sabbath as a test of faith and obedience, it was also described as a ‘sign’ upon God’s people, a hallmark that they were His.
“Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them….And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.” - Ezekiel 20:12 & 20
“It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” - Exodus 31:17-18
It also satisfies the conditions for people’s understanding of a royal seal and signs at these times. ‘The Lord Your God’ is the name of the ‘sealer’, ‘Creator’ states His title, and ‘Heaven & Earth’ outlines His territory.
Circumcision is also mentioned earlier in the Old Testament as a sign and seal for Abraham, still under the Old Covenant.
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:” – Romans 4:11
Therefore, the alternative stance suggests that because the Sabbath is a unique sign and seal to God’s people in the Old Testament, everyone doesn't adopt it afterwards.
However, it is still a commandment in the top ten, and uniquely has a seal.
In addition, new Christian believers are part of a new Israel anyway.
As mentioned in the earlier section on the eternal Sabbath, there is an 'everlasting sign' in the Old Testament of the Sabbath camper display placed on the road.
The Ten Commandments
We then come to the law given to the Israelites through Moses on Mount Sinai, where Sabbath-keeping was the fourth of the Ten Commandments:
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” - Exodus 20:8-11
In Exodus, this first reference links the Sabbath to when God made and blessed it at creation, a memorial of this event. When these commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy, it also links them to the Israelite's time in Egypt:
“Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” – Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Therefore, the popular position contrary to the Sabbath says that the commandment is connected to this time in Egypt and only applicable to these Old Testament believers.
However, these Ten Commandments were particularly special. They were the first recorded ones written down, and by God’s finger and audible voice on the Mount (on two instances) and placed on tablets that later went inside the Ark of the Covenant (see reference here in a national news story).
"And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the Lord spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the Lord gave them unto me" - Deuteronomy 10:4
"And the Lord delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the Lord spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly." - Deuteronomy 9:10
“And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.” – Exodus 25:16
“Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;” – Hebrews 9:4
These core ten commandments are traditionally known as the Moral Law, which is meant to last forever and reflect who God is and His character.
As they state in their name, they’re commandments, not just suggestions or good advice.
It’s also worth noting that the Roman Catholic Church has changed the nature and order of these Ten Commandments, which is significant when looking at Daniel's prophecy and differences in doctrine with Protestants (the Papacy changed this number four to three and referred to the 'Lords Day' rather than 'Sabbath').
There were also over 600 other Ceremonial and Civil laws issued after these Ten Commandments as ordinances written down by Moses.
They applied to the Jews as they pointed to the future event of Christ’s atonement, which He abolished at His death.
“Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.” - Deuteronomy 31:26
There are different interpretations of all these laws and commandments for New Testament Christian believers, which we’ll address in the next section.
Turning to the detail of this particular commandment in the original Ten Commandments, this includes:
* The only one with ‘remember’ in it, therefore, implying that it can not only be forgotten but to remember back to when it was formed at creation (others emphasise this recollecting back to creation, and the rest before sin)
* The longest of these commandments
* In the middle of these ten
* Part of the top five, not just the top ten
* The only one dealing with time
* The only one referring to holiness
*It says both what to do and what not to do.
I've therefore placed a stop-off point on the Sabbath Camper display where the Israelites camped at the base of the mountain. This is where they received God's commandments for their journey with Him, almost like a map or sat nav being provided (a brown-shaped mountain, and a two-sided tablet of commandments).