Covenant with Israel.
Whenever this covenant is spoken about with regard to its relationship with mankind it is, without exception, related to the people of Israel. It is nowhere referred to as an all-encompassing world-wide concept.
“See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days;” Exodus 16:29
“Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore;” Exodus 31:13
“Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.” Exodus 31:16
“Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.” Leviticus 24:8
“He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgements unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgements, they have not known them.” Psalm 147:19, 20
“Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. 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.” Ezekiel 20:10-12
Since the covenant was exclusively for the Israelites, we can appreciate why no mention whatever is made of the sabbath prior to Israel being in the wilderness. Consider the unambiguous words of Nehemiah when writing of the Israelites,
“And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:” Nehemiah 9:14
Nehemiah clearly expresses in this passage the fact that if the sabbath observance had not been made by the hand of Moses, then they would have remained ignorant of it.
Before that covenant had been made through Moses, there was no mention of a sabbath, or an inference of any valid base. Take, for example, a verse frequently used to support this claim, to be found in Exodus 5.
“And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens.” Exodus 5:5
It would appear inconceivable that the Egyptians would have allowed foreign slaves to have every seventh day as a day off work, when their own workers had no such luxury! Why were the Egyptians searching for ways to make them work harder, such as to gather their own straw, when they could merely have withdrawn their seventh-day ‘perk’!
“Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.” Exodus 5:7
The Hebrew word translated in Exodus 5:5 as ‘rest’ is ‘shabath’, meaning to repose, (intransitive) to desist (from exertion), to cease, to leave off. The most basic meaning for this word is found in Genesis 8:22.
“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.”
It is also the same word that is used in Genesis 2:2,3. God’s work was completed, and, therefore, there was no need to continue. He did not need to rest like a weary man, but he only ‘ceased’ his creative activity. The word ‘shabath’ is used some 200 times in the Old Testament, and the primary idea appears to be ‘to sit down’ or ‘to stand still’. Check out this fact for yourself. There is no foundation for asserting that the Israelites observed a sabbath each week in Egypt; and certainly it is not implicit in Exodus 5:5. The context clearly shows that the rest to which Pharaoh was referring was their stated desire to absent themselves ‘for a feast’.
“And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. … 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.” Exodus 5:1,3
A new experience.
If , as some claim, the sabbath was being kept through the Egyptian period (for the incident in Exodus 5:5 was only about nine months prior to their departure from Egypt), then why was it when someone broke the sabbath law (by picking up sticks), that no-one, not even Moses, knew what had to be done!
“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: ..” Numbers 15:32-35
If, as sometimes claimed, Moses had been making the Israelites in Egypt observe the sabbath, how did it arise that he had never needed to take corrective action for a sabbath breaker? This is especially so if the phrase of God at Mount Sinai applied to a pre-given sabbath, “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” Exodus 16:28
If such were true, then how weak was Moses as a leader! For up to that time he had never had experience of rebuking a sabbath breaker!
- 1. The first Sabbath
- 2. Covernant with Israel, Resting, A New Experience
- 3. The Covernant, Correct Context, Was the Sabbath Shifted?
- 4. Why Change the Day, A Fading Law
- 5. Holy Days, Cermonial and Moral Law
- 6. Keeping the Sabbath, Giving up the Law
- 7. A Pedegogue, Fulfilment of the Law
- 8. Freedom in Christ, Paul and the Sabbath, Sunday as the Sabbath?