Exodus 31:12-17: April 6—Give work a rest
Mar 30, 2014
By WILEY RICHARDS

RICHARDS
We Baptists call ourselves a people of the Book, meaning the Bible. We contend publicly for the right to publish the Ten Commandments in public places as well as plaques in our homes. Even a casual investigation shows we do not observe the fourth commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. We worship on Sunday. How did this disconnect come about? The reason most Christian denominations worship on Sunday is understood in the light of the history of Israel.

We begin by studying the Sabbath’s origin (vv. 12-13). The Bible says God gave the Sabbath as a sign of the peculiar relationship between Himself and Israel. An intimation of the significance of the seventh day goes all the way back to Genesis 2:2 when the Bible says God ended His work on the seventh day. The Hebrew word for rested is Sabbath. The English word does not appear until Exodus 16:23 in the account of Israel’s complaint about hunger while they had only been out of Egypt for one month (16:1). God sent manna and then quail for them to eat with strict instructions. On the sixth day God rained down bread from heaven, instructing them to gather enough for the seventh day. We pause for a moment. The seven-day week is artificially imposed by God. Unlike months and years, nature supplies no method to determine the day of the week. By providing a super abundance of food on the sixth day, He was preparing them for observing the seventh day. From this day forward through the centuries, Israel lived by the seven-day calendar.

Look again at Exodus 31:13 and 17. Twice does God say the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between Himself and Israel. As they observed the Sabbath throughout their generations it was established as a perpetual covenant (v. 16).

This brings us to the next aspect of the Israelite Sabbath, its observance (v. 14). It was a day of total cessation of work for man and beast. Any violation of the law carried the death penalty. It was a day of complete rest for everyone, including the son of one’s servants, the stranger among them, and the animals, both oxen and asses. All were entitled to a day of rest without exception. To illustrate, a man who was caught gathering a few sticks on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32) was stoned (v. 36). 

Sadly, the Sabbath was violated (v. 15). God institutes two additional Sabbaths. One required a one-year Sabbath every six years. The land was to lie fallow (Lev. 25:6). The year of jubilee was to be honored on the 50th year. Israel never kept either of these special Sabbaths, but God took note. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says the 70 years in Babylon represented the years Israel failed to keep the Sabbaths.

We come now to the Christian era in which the Jewish Sabbath is fulfilled (Matthew 5:17). As Jesus said, He came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. In another context He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). These two statements left room for the apostles to make new applications. As the gospel was spread among the Gentiles the question arose of how much of the Jewish system should be required of Gentiles. At the general assembly in Jerusalem, the apostles rejected requiring circumcision of them, rather asking them to avoid pollution from idols, fornication, eating things strangled, and from blood (Acts 15:24).

The evangelistic outreach soon made the apostles pre-empt the Sabbath as too restrictive. By 55 A.D. at Troas, they met on the first day of the week to worship and preach (Acts 20:7). Paul later wrote to the Corinthian Christians to gather gifts on the “first day of the week” (1 Cor. 16:2). On the Isle of Patmos, John was in the Spirit “on the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). 

Apparently no group ever suggested substituting Sunday, the Lord’s day, for the Jewish Sabbath. They simply by-passed it as a cumbersome impediment. Since the Lord arose on a Sunday morning, that event provided an exciting alternative to the Jewish Sabbath with its scores of restrictions both negative and positive, attached to it. A new era bad dawned.

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