Bible verses about
Sabbath as Sign
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The Sabbath is the sign between God and His people for several reasons. It reminds us who we are and that our God is the Creator, as the Sabbath is a memorial of creation. The Sabbath identifies or distinguishes us from others and separates us from others. The Sabbath is easily recognized by those outside of the fellowship, so keeping it draws attention to us.
If it is kept properly, it provides evidence of the state of our relationship with God. This is very important! The way the Sabbath is kept—if it is carefully kept the way that God desires—compresses into a single concept: a recurring appointment with the Deity. Each Sabbath is an appointment with God, covering the whole, unique covenant relationship.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 2)
It was Christ, as the God of the Old Testament, who actually created the Sabbath (John 1:1-3). It is a sign that identifies God's people just as a sign identifies a business or a street. Notice also that this covenant, made after the ratification of the Old Covenant, bound the Sabbath as a "perpetual covenant" upon God's people. Since the Sabbath has been in force from Creation, it is not just for the Jews, but for the foreigner and all mankind as well. All who keep the Sabbath properly are blessed.
Martin G. Collins
The Fourth Commandment
A sign identifies a business, a street, a product, etc., and so does the Sabbath! It identifies God's people. Notice also that this covenant, made after the ratification of the Old Covenant, bound the Sabbath as a "perpetual covenant" upon God's people.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Several points stand out in this passage:
1) The Sabbath is a sign of who the true God is. The true God is the Creator.
2) The Sabbath is a sign of God's people.
3) The Sabbath(s) belongs to God (verse 13). He designed the time as holy, not Moses or any other man.
4) The Sabbath sanctifies. It sets apart the man who keeps it by showing him to be distinct from the rest of the culture.
5) Sabbath-breaking incurs the death penalty.
6) The Sabbath is a perpetual covenant. The Old Covenant was not a perpetual covenant; it has been replaced by the New.
7) The Sabbath covenant is separate and distinct from the Old Covenant given at Mt. Sinai. Not only did the events in this passage take place 40 days after the proposal and acceptance of the Old Covenant, but God re-revealed the Sabbath to the children of Israel (because they were in Egypt for so long they had forgotten it) right after they left Egypt and days before they arrived at Mt. Sinai. The lesson of the manna, which demonstrated the difference in the days of the week (Exodus 16), happened before the rest of the law was given via the Old Covenant. Even though the Old Covenant - that specific agreement - has passed away, that does not mean that the eternal code of conduct on which the agreement was based has passed away. Notice that idolatry and adultery are both still sin (and nobody considers those laws to be "Jewish").
8) This was spoken to the people that God was working with at the time - Israel. Part of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry was to "fulfill" the law, and not to destroy it (Matthew 5:17-18)! The rest of Matthew 5 shows Him magnifying various points of law to reveal the true intent behind them. Jesus Christ says in Mark 2:27 that the Sabbath was made for mankind, not just for physical Israel! Galatians 6:16 shows that the designation of "Israel" under the New Covenant is now a designation of the church. And the Bible shows the New Testament church, Christ included, observing the Sabbath and not the first day of the week.
David C. Grabbe
Consider where this covenant appears. It is in the book of Exodus, but after chapter 20, where God gives the commandments. From this we see that God proposes a special covenant, which He places in the midst of all of the instructions for building the Tabernacle. It means that, even though these people were employed to construct such an important edifice for the worship of God, they were not to desecrate the Sabbath by working on it. Even the construction of the Tabernacle had to take second place to the keeping of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is a sign. It is not a mark. Bible usage shows that a sign is voluntarily accepted, whereas a mark is put on against a person's will. The Sabbath is a special sign. It is a special covenant between God and His people. Who are His people?
A sign can identify an occupation. One might read, "Joe Smith, Dentist"—or plumber or electrician. A sign can also give purpose for a thing; it tells us why something is being used or done in the way that it is. A sign can give directions: "This way to River City."
A sign can also bring people together with shared interests and common purposes. Some fraternal organizations have special signs that they pass to one another to identify what lodge, or organization, it is that they belong to. A sign can unify; it can bring people together. A sign can be a pledge of mutual fidelity and commitment. Signs are used by organizations to designate membership. People wear a little badge on their lapel that says that they belong to such-and-such organization, and by it members recognize one another.
This is part of the way that the Sabbath is also used. The Sabbath serves as an external and visible bond that unites and sanctifies us [sets us apart] from everyone else. Here in the United States and Canada, almost everybody else who is religious keeps Sunday or nothing. If a person keeps the Sabbath, he is being cut away from, separated from, sanctified by the very fact that he is keeping it. Though these people do not realize it yet, it becomes a sign to them that he is in the process of being sanctified. We ought to be very much aware of this sign because we are keeping it.
Everybody who has ever kept both Sunday and Saturday knows this: Sunday sets almost no one apart because everybody who is "religious" is already doing it. Big deal! What is so different about that? They are only sanctified from the people who keep no day at all. For those who are "religious," it does not sanctify them because the Baptists are keeping the day, and the Catholics are keeping the day, as well as the Mormons, the Pentecostals, the Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the Congregationalists. All those people are keeping Sunday, and it is not separating, or sanctifying, anybody.
But once a person begins to keep the Sabbath, it immediately begins to sanctify him, to separate him from everyone else. God has a purpose that He is working out. He has made a tremendous investment in the Creation and in the death of His Son. The Sabbath is a means by which He protects His investment.
If the only reason He created the Sabbath was because we need rest, then any old time would do. Ultimately, how and why one keeps the Sabbath are the real sign. Other religious groups "keep" the Sabbath, but are they keeping it as God desires? It is how and why we keep it that makes us different—they do the sanctifying. "Sanctify them through Your truth," Jesus says in John 17:17. God's Word is truth. If people accept it and use it, they will be using the Sabbath for different purposes than others are.
God created the Sabbath to educate His people in His way. It prepares them for their witness. Suppose that a basketball coach says to his players, "Come to the gym and meet with me at such-and-such a time." But some of the players decide that they will go to a different gym, at a different time, and with a different coach. Players on a team begin to take on the qualities and the philosophy of their coach. Anybody who is familiar with athletics understands this. Those who are intimately involved in athletics say that they can always tell whether a certain player has been coached by a certain coach, say John Wooden or John Thompson. What has happened is the player has taken on the sign of the coach, and it has sanctified him from other players who are not coached by that particular coach.
The same principle is at work with God and us. He is our Coach. He has made an appointment with us to meet at a certain place, at a certain time. And if we choose not to go to where He is going to be, then we are not going to begin to take on the image of our Coach. The Sabbath was created because it both enhances and protects our relationship with God. And it provides the witness—to God, to the individual, and to the world—of who is keeping it. This is how it becomes the sign. It provides a witness.
The Sabbath exists to keep us in a proper frame of mind and to provide us with the right material to negotiate the way to God's Kingdom. We live in a grubby, grasping material world. Every day has a built-in bias towards material things, and it is very difficult to keep our minds focused on things that are spiritual. But the Sabbath, if a person is keeping it as God desires, will almost put a person into a spiritual mode, point him toward God, and force him to acknowledge Him as Creator.
The Sabbath presents us with the opportunity to consider the whys of life, to get our head on straight with the right orientation so that we can properly use the other six days. The Sabbath is the kernel, the nucleus, from which the proper worship—our response to God—grows.
Existentialist philosophers tell us that life is absurd, that all of life is nothing but a prelude to death. But keeping the Sabbath is a celebration of life! It tells us that God's creative process is continuing, that He is creating us in His spiritual image so that we might live with Him forever. For the great God, the Sabbath is a day of creation. The Sabbath ensures us that life is not absurd, but rather, it is a prelude to life on an infinitely higher and greater level. The more we become like Him, the more sanctified we are from the world. It is in experiencing the refreshing elevation of the mind that we get a tiny foretaste of what is to come.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)
The Hebrew word translated sign means "mark" or "evidence." The Sabbath day is the mark God gave His people to identify them as His own. By it, the folk of Israel would know the Source of their sanctification.
To sanctify is "to set apart for holy service," or more basically, "to make holy." God's purpose for Israel from the start was to set it apart from other peoples by giving it His laws and His statutes. God has a special relationship with Israel. Speaking through the prophet Amos to "the whole family [i.e., all the tribes] which I brought up from the land of Egypt" (Amos 3:1), God reminds the people that, "you only have I known of all the families of the earth" (verse 2). God revealed His law only to Israel. When He did so, He made it clear that Israel would "be a special treasure to Me above all people, . . . a holy [sanctified, set apart] nation" (Exodus 19:5-6), if the people "obey My voice and keep My covenant" (verse 5). The theme is repeated in Deuteronomy 7:6: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, . . . [who] has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth." (See also Deuteronomy 14:2.)
God prefaces the "Holiness Code" of Leviticus 18 and 19 by commanding Israel to be separate from other nations. This meant acting in a way different from that of the Gentiles, not walking "in their ordinances." Leviticus 18:3-4:
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances. . . .
In Leviticus 19:2, He makes His purpose clear: "You shall be holy [set apart], for I the LORD your God am holy." God's purpose, the intent behind all His laws, is to create a people like Himself (Genesis 1:26), a people sharing and reflecting His most salient attribute: holiness.
Sanctification is also the purpose behind God's often-denigrated physical laws. Consider, for example, the reason why God imposed the dietary law, as stated in Leviticus 11. God does not cite the maintenance of health as a reason to obey the dietary laws; the Scriptures do not specify that obedience of these laws will cause good health or prevent disease (though this is a secondary, albeit unmentioned, benefit). Rather, God concludes His dietary laws with a statement of His holiness and a command for His people to be like Him. Leviticus 11:44-45:
For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Obedience to God's law plays a crucial role in bringing about this sanctification. It is not that a people become sanctified (somehow, by God's grace) and, as a result, start obeying God's law. God's Word does not support the Protestant concept that sanctification imputed by God's grace mysteriously empowers one to obey His commandments. They have it backwards.
Rather, obedience to the law causes sanctification. Law-keeping and sanctification become intrinsically connected: To obey God's law is to be sanctified. By its nature, law-keeping brings about sanctification.
In a national context, God states that obeying His laws creates a people unlike others on the earth, a people set apart from others, a holy nation. National sanctification produces what Balaam saw in Israel: "A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations" (Numbers 23:9).
If commandment-keeping separates people from the nations while connecting them to God, disobedience of God's law has exactly the opposite effect. Commandment-breaking separates a people from God, and connects them to the ways of the nations. Individuals who disobey God's law become like the "world," the kosmos of the New Testament (I John 2:15).
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
God has designated the Sabbath to be "the sign" between Him and His people. It is evidence that He, the Creator, is our God, and that those who keep it are His children. As a whole, the Bible shows that it is not just that it is observed, but also the manner in which it is observed that makes it the sign.
Except by creation, the Jews are not His children, but they keep the Sabbath. The same applies to Seventh-Day Adventists. The way it is observed makes a huge difference. Only then is it the sign. If this were not so, God would not have shown as much concern about how it is observed—even to the extent of saying that breaking it was a major reason why Israel went into captivity and was divorced by God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)
An interesting and significant term is used in Exodus 31:13, 17: The Sabbath is a sign, not a mark. Bible usage shows that a sign is something voluntarily accepted, whereas a mark is placed on a person against his will. The Sabbath is a special sign of a special covenant between God and His people. In the wilderness, His people were the Israelites; today, it is the Israel of God, the church of God (Galatians 6:16).
A sign can identify a person's occupation or an individual's or group's purpose. Signs can give directions (like traffic signs), or they can bring people together with shared interests and a common purpose (like flags). A sign can be the pledge of mutual fidelity and commitment (as in putting a hand over one's heart). Organizations use signs to designate membership so that members can recognize each other (as with secret handshakes).
In the church's case, the Sabbath serves as an external and visible bond that simultaneously unites and sanctifies us from everyone else. Almost everybody else keeps Sunday or nothing. Through the Sabbath, the Christian knows that God is sanctifying him. Everyone who has kept both Sabbath and Sunday knows this. Sunday sets no one apart from this world because so many in this world observe it.
God has a purpose He is working out. If the only reason He created the Sabbath were because we need physical rest, any old time would do. Ultimately, however, the real sign appears in how and why one keeps the Sabbath. Thus, God made a specific period of time special so that He could meet with His people during that sanctified period to help them become even more different for their benefit.
What is His major goal in doing this? He educates His people in His way of life. In part, He prepares His people to witness for Him by this means. As an analogy, suppose a basketball coach told his players, "Come to the gym at 8 AM Monday, and I will teach you how my team plays ball." Yet, what if some players went to a different gym at a different time with a different coach?
Players on a team who take the game seriously begin to take on the qualities and philosophy of their coach. People who involve themselves deeply in athletics say they can often tell by a player's characteristics that he has trained under a certain coach. They remark that he has the John Wooden or John Thompson "way" about him. What has happened is that the player has taken on the "sign" of his coach, and it has "sanctified" him from other players who were not trained by that particular coach.
The Sabbath was created because it both enhances and protects a Christian's relationship with God. It also provides a witness to God, to the person keeping it, and to the world. It exists to help keep a Christian pointed in the right direction and in a proper frame of mind, and it provides him with the right knowledge and understanding to negotiate the way to God's Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment
The seventh-day Sabbath is a perpetual sign of identification, something that anybody familiar with the way we live our lives can observe us doing. God had done that on purpose: He made the Sabbath the sign so that anybody can see it. Anybody who knows us can see that we keep the Sabbath.
On the flip side, the world seems to keep every day except the one that God assigns. He made holy a period of constantly recurring time so that anybody familiar with His children—those who show His characteristics—would be able to observe their example and be witnessed to, without a word having to be said. The Sabbath commandment contains the holy days within its scope.
If we respect, fear, and love God, we will believe what He says and submit to it. What does the world do in regard to this commandment? The world's churches argue against keeping it and resolve not to. They denigrate it as being of no value except as ceremonial and easily replaceable. They apply the commandment as an injunction merely to keep one day in seven—and then do not even keep that one day.
However, they profess Christianity, to follow Christ, just as the Jews professed that their spiritual father was God. In John 8:44, Jesus calls them liars. The world does this despite the fact of the clear witness that God left in His Word that Jesus, by His own admission, said He did not come to destroy the law. He obviously kept the Sabbath Himself, and the apostles (that He instructed for three-and-one-half years) continued to keep it as an example to the church. No command anywhere in the Bible does away with the Sabbath command or any other of the Ten Commandments.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian and the World (Part 2)
Following the basic instructions about Pentecost's location on the calendar in Leviticus 23:10-16, we find that when Israel came into Canaan, they were to count beginning with the day following a Sabbath. Without further instruction, there could be a whole year's worth of Sabbaths to choose from! However, within Leviticus 23, the annual Sabbaths are arranged chronologically beginning with Nisan (also called Abib). This, combined with information obtained from other portions of the Bible, has led all concerned to conclude that the Sabbath in question is early in the year, located near the beginning of a spring harvest, and is one of three within the Days of Unleavened Bread. The church of God and the various sects of the Jews are in agreement on this.
The count is to continue fifty days with the fiftieth day being the Day of Pentecost. As a Greek word, the name Pentecost does not appear in the Old Testament, only in the New, and it means "fiftieth." In the Old Testament, Pentecost is called "the Feast of Weeks" or "the Feast of Firstfruits."
Carefully note that God points only to a Sabbath—it must first be found—in order to begin the count. This fits nicely within God's directive in Exodus 31:13 that the Sabbath is a sign between Him and His people. Day One of the count does not begin with a Sabbath, but with the day following it. However, without first isolating which Sabbath, one cannot know which "morrow"—which day after. If one does not use the correct Sabbath, it may set Pentecost's observance as much as seven days off God's intended target.
The Sabbath in question here can be neither the First nor the Last Day of Unleavened Bread, though both are annual Sabbaths. Why? Because using either of those holy days, both of which fall on fixed dates, effectively eliminates a person's need to count! This is because, when one begins counting fifty days from a fixed date, one will always end on a fixed date.
If we begin to count with the day following Nisan 15 (the First Day of Unleavened Bread), we will always end on Sivan 6. If we commence our count on the day following Nisan 21 (the Last Day of Unleavened Bread), we will always finish on Sivan 12. If God wanted us to observe Pentecost on a fixed date, He would have told us so, even as He did with all the other festival dates in Leviticus 23.
One man suggested that counting from a fixed date is still counting. Yes, that is true. But if one does that, the count only has to be done once in all of history, and Pentecost's location is found forever. The man's suggestion is similar to interpreting that the command to eat unleavened bread during the Days of Unleavened Bread no longer applies because the Israelites did it when they first came out of Egypt! Even as unleavened bread must be eaten each year, the clear implication from Leviticus 23 is that God wants us to count to Pentecost afresh each year.
God wants us to count to Pentecost year-by-year beginning with the day following a Sabbath whose date changes from year to year. This can only be the weekly Sabbath that falls on or between the two holy days during the Days of Unleavened Bread. The starting point has been located. Even though the count does not actually begin with the Sabbath, the Sabbath's location is of primary importance, not the day after. The day after would never be located without first locating the correct Sabbath.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost, Consistency, and Honesty
This rendering of the commandment adds that we are to remember our bondage in Egypt, shifting the spiritual emphasis from recalling creation to recalling redemption. The Sabbath commandment does not entirely lose its connection with creation but is added to. Now it looks back, not only on the fact that our God is the Creator, but also that the Sabbath deals with God as our Redeemer. God is Creator and Savior.
Thus, the commandment suggests liberty—our release from slavery, as well as preserving freedom and its relationship with the Redeemer. This helps us to understand specifically why no other day will do. It is not only the sign that God is the Creator, but it is also the sign that He is our Savior. The Sabbath is the day He appointed as the day to memorialize that He set us free and continuously maintains our liberty. As long as we are keeping it, the relationship with Him will be preserved.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)
Some assume the events of Joshua 5:10-12 can only mean—by the eating of unleavened cakes and parched corn—"that Passover occurred on a weekly Sabbath and wavesheaf day was the first day of Unleavened Bread." However, nothing in the context directly states those assumptions, nor does it indicate anywhere that a wavesheaf offering or its accompanying burnt offering occurred either.
We may know the dates on which these events occurred, but they in no way reveal on which days of the week they fell. If Israel made a wavesheaf offering, when did they do it? It seems especially critical at this point, since it would have been the first time in the land. But Joshua says absolutely nothing about it.
We know that Passover observance begins at twilight when the lamb is slain, but the bulk of it is observed at night. We also know that twenty-four hours after Passover begins the Night to be Much Observed begins. The first day of Unleavened Bread begins with this observance at night. On the 15th, beginning with the keeping of the Night to be Much Observed, the people would be eating unleavened bread just as we do today because it is such a significant event in the history of God's people.
Where did the grain for making the unleavened bread and parched corn come from? It came from the grain of the land, exactly as the Scripture implies (Joshua 1:11). They could have used the old corn confiscated from the Canaanites' storage places or even harvested a sufficient amount from fields of grain left behind by Canaanites as they fled the Israelites. They had sufficient time to make such preparations. Joshua 5:11 says the Israelites ate unleavened bread and parched grain on the day after Passover. Day does not necessarily have to mean "daylight," but simply any portion of the next 24-hour day. The observance of the Night to be Much Observed is a very significant part of the day after Passover.
The Israelites rested on the holy day. They could eat manna as well as unleavened preparations. On the 16th, the next day, when they would normally have expected manna to appear, it did not. From this point, they were completely dependent upon the crops harvested from the land.
Why did Israel not make a wavesheaf offering? Because they could not lawfully do so for many reasons:
1. Because the 15th is a Sabbath, and Leviticus 23:11 clearly commands the wavesheaf offering to be made on the day following the Sabbath, not on the Sabbath.
2. Because, if the particular Sabbath that preceded the 15th was also Passover (as per the WCG scenario), it would not qualify to determine wavesheaf day since it is not part of the Days of Unleavened Bread.
3. Because they had absolutely no grain that qualified as an acceptable offering. The wavesheaf offering law states specifically that it had to be from seed that they had sown. Israel reaped what Canaanites had sown. Conquest did not change this fact. They could eat it but not offer it.
4. Because Deuteronomy 12 specifically forbids making the required animal sacrifice that accompanied the wavesheaf offering until the Tabernacle was established where God had placed His name. This did not occur until seven years had passed (compare Joshua 14:6-13 and Joshua 18:1).
5. Because Leviticus 22 strictly forbids an offering from the stranger's hand. It had to come from someone who had covenanted with God. A stranger is someone "unknown" to God, an outsider, or someone not in the family.
Israel never made a wavesheaf offering in Joshua 5.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
Joshua 5:10-11 cannot be used to support using the First Day of Unleavened Bread to begin the count to Pentecost because:
1. No authority is given in Scripture to change the method of counting to Pentecost when Passover falls on the weekly Sabbath.
2. Counting to Pentecost always begins the day after the weekly Sabbath within the Days of Unleavened Bread. It is the weekly Sabbath, God's sign, not Wavesheaf Day that must fall within the Days of Unleavened Bread.
3. Exodus 23 explicitly requires the grain offering to be planted by the offerer, thus they had none to offer immediately after entering the land.
4. Leviticus 22 forbids making an offering of heathen substance, thus they had no acceptable grain offering.
5. Deuteronomy 12 forbids offerings until the Tabernacle, altar, laver, and all the Tabernacle's furniture were in place.
6. Deuteronomy 12 requires the Israelites to be settled in their inheritances and no longer involved in warfare before any sacrifices could be lawfully made.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost, Consistency, and Honesty
1 Kings 12:25-33
I Kings 12:25-33 records the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel's apostasy. Fearing that he might eventually lose political control over the ten tribes because of their long-standing religious ties to Jerusalem, capital of the Kingdom of Judah (verse 27), Jeroboam I instituted a state religion designed to meet his peoples' needs for convenience - and his own need for power. He built two shrines, one in Bethel, at the southern extremity of his kingdom, the other in Dan, near its northern boundary (verse 29). If not de jure, at least de facto, he exiled the Levites, the priestly tribe established by God, and installed in their place a priesthood of his own devising (verse 31). Finally, he moved the fall holy day season from the seventh month to the eighth, thereby effectively setting aside the Sabbath commandment, since the holy days are God's Sabbaths (see Leviticus 23:1-3, 23-44). All this "became a sin" for Israel (I Kings 12:30).
Jeroboam's apostasy, his movement to false religious practices, took deep root. In fact, the house of Israel never departed from the practices he established. II Kings 17:21-23 records this fact:
Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD, and made them commit a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them, until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight. . . .
Having abandoned the Sabbath, the God-given sign marking them as His people (Exodus 31:13-17), the folk of the northern tribes eventually lost their identification. That is why most Israelites do not know who they are to this day. The forefathers forsook the sign that denoted their connection to God.
Take this line of thought to its logical conclusion: The Sabbath is a memorial to creation and, by extension, to the Creator God (see Exodus 20:11). Modern-day Israelites do not know who they are today because their forefathers, generations ago, abandoned this memorial to the Creator God. Therefore, modern-day Israelites have come to abandon more than the sign: They have abandoned the God to whom the sign points. They no longer know God.
This is not an overstatement. Make no mistake: Failure to recognize who Israel is today is failure to recognize the God who made Israel! The distressing secularism running rampant in the modern nations of Israel today has its roots in Sabbath-breaking. The antidote for secularism in America is not an inane Constitutional amendment requiring the teaching of creationism in the state schools. The panacea some offer, prayer in the public schools, will not do the trick. Increased Sunday church attendance will not stanch the flood of secularism; after all, most Sunday worshippers accept the doctrines of biologic and economic determinism (i.e., evolution and socialism, respectively) just as avowed atheists do. Attempting to unite a people with its God through these measures is surely akin to building a wall with "untempered mortar" (see Ezekiel 13:9-23). In the coming storm, such a wall will fall.
However, one will never find a Sabbath-keeper who is a secularist, for the Sabbath-keeper has maintained his link with the Creator God. Sabbath-keeping and secularism mix about as well as oil and water.
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
Instruction in the Bible as to how to keep the Sabbath is not given in specific detail but in broad principles that cover a multitude of specifics. If we are being led by God's Spirit, we should be able to determine what is right. Maybe not the first time around, maybe not the tenth time around, but eventually, we will see that we are doing something wrong and make a change. Or, if we find out that we have been doing it right, we will probably intensify our efforts to do it better. If we are being led by it, God's Spirit will gently compel us towards the perfection of the One from whom that Spirit is emanating.
How can one call the Sabbath "a delight"? Like everything else in life, we delight in what we recognize as being valuable and in what we do well. Doing something well is fun. Doing something poorly is a burden, and we wish nobody were around to see us do it so poorly. On the other hand, if we do something well, we want to make sure that everybody watches us. This is not a wrong principle because, if we are doing something right, we will be a fitting witness for God.
God has four broad concerns here. First, "to turn your foot away." This has to do primarily with one's overall approach, with one's attitude toward the day, with respect for Sabbath time. In Exodus 3:5, where God tells Moses to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy, God is saying, "Get your dirty shoes off where I am." The same principle is involved here. We must respect the things of God, and the Sabbath is of God. Thus, we should not trample all over His holy Sabbath day.
The Sabbath must be regarded as holy. It is different; it is not common. We must hold it in deep respect—the same kind of respect contained in "the fear of God," the kind of fear that prohibits us from falling on our knees before a statue because it is idolatry, which we do not want to commit because of our reverence for God. We need to have a similar respect toward the Sabbath. This attitude should dominate during this period of time.
Consider that the Sabbath—appointed by law—unites us as a religious organization committed to God. It is "the test commandment," "the sign" that God gave between Him and His people (Exodus 31:13-17). Conversely, the Passover unites us as an organization "under obligation" to God. There is a difference between the two. First comes recognition of obligation, then commitment to obedience. This is why we have to accept the blood of Jesus Christ first. When we do that, we are put under obligation. Every year when we take the Passover, we recommit ourselves to the New Covenant because we are forcefully being made aware of our obligations to the One who died for us. The Sabbath unites us, however, as an organization committed to God, and we show our sense of obligation by our obedience to the Sabbath command.
"Your ways" is another aspect of this. A way is a path or a course leading from one place to another. It is a direction, a manner or method of doing something. It is a code of life, a lifestyle. The problem with mankind's way is its direction. It is self-centered. In this context, "ways" means the path, direction, or manner of speaking or worshipping God. The way is the means of accomplishing our worship.
Many Scriptures contain the word "way" or "path," for instance: "You will show me the path of life [or, the way of life]; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). He is saying that, because God has showed him the path and he now walks in God's way, and because he is in the presence of God and fellowshipping with Him, fullness of joy is being produced. It is a fruit of walking God's way.
A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beasts go up on it; it shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk there. (Isaiah 35:8-9)
There is a certain path, a certain way. In this case, he calls it a highway in which those who are close to God will walk. In Isaiah 58, God says, "Take care—pay attention to your way."
Thus says the LORD: "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you shall find rest for your souls." But they said, "We will not walk in it." (Jeremiah 6:16)
Do we want rest? When we are striving to obey God and are walking His way, then we have already been brought into the rest of God. It is a beginning—not the fullness, but it is a beginning! Why? It is producing the right fruit. "My peace I leave with you." "My joy I give to you." God's way will produce the right fruit, and the Sabbath is central to all these things. It is the day that God made for man (Mark 2:27). It is an expanse of time in which He says, "Today, if you will hear My voice" (Psalm 95:7).
Why is God working towards producing faith? Those with faith will submit to and commit their lives to Him. If He can build people's faith, they will believe in Christ and believe His words. They will begin to enter into God's rest. This teaching is throughout the Bible.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)
For years, the folk of the Kingdom of Judah walked in the footsteps of their brethren in the Kingdom of Israel. However, a number of them then took a different path. The result of that change, of course, is in itself proof that God's Sabbath is a sign pointing to Him and His creation.
Jeremiah 17:19-27 records God's promise to a Sabbath-keeping people. Here, He warns Jerusalem's inhabitants to "bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; . . . nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers" (verses 21-22). If they heeded, God continues, "then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, . . . accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever" (verse 25). Conversely, Sabbath-breaking will have dire consequences: "But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, ... then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched" (verse 27). (For the fulfillment of this prophecy, see Jeremiah 39:8; II Chronicles 36:19.)
The people of Judah did not heed God's warning and, as a result, "kings and princes" no longer sit "on the throne of David" in Jerusalem. God moved the Davidic monarchy northwest to the British Isles, and the people He moved to Babylon. Jerusalem burned.
Those who returned from Babylon after seventy years did not learn their lesson. Nehemiah must have stood aghast at the Sabbath-breaking he witnessed among post-exilic Jews. Nehemiah 13:15, 17-18 bears the record. Nehemiah
. . . saw in Judah some people treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. . . . "What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster [i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem] on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath."
Both Ezra and Nehemiah worked assiduously to teach the people to keep holy God's Sabbath. It was during this time that the people of Judah took a different path than those of Israel. For, while Israel never (no, not to this day!) returned to the practice of Sabbath-keeping, the descendants of the tribe of Judah (with Levi) came to keep it—albeit not perfectly. [After the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews' religious leaders became so zealous in their desire to observe the Sabbath properly that they made it a burden. They eventually lost perspective: Failing to grasp the spirit of the fourth commandment, they created hundreds of "do's and don'ts" to define its letter. By Christ's time, their fanaticism had grown to the point that the Sabbath had itself become an object of worship. Christ had to devote a fair portion of His ministry to teaching the people that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).]
They kept it throughout the hideous Maccabean period and throughout the long Roman occupation later. They kept it after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. They kept it in the Diaspora—during the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. They kept it whether they dwelt in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, or later, America. Many keep it to this day. Because they do, they know who they are! They know who their patriarchs are.
Like a neon sign, the mark of the Sabbath, identifying Jews as worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, shines brightly through the ages, through the darkness of ghetto and oven, even piercing the murky gloom of today's secularism and humanism. To a good extent, the experience of the Jews shows that God's mark, the Sabbath, does in fact identify a people as worshipping the God of the patriarchs.
Had the northern ten tribes "remember[ed] the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8) even half as well as the folk of Judah do, they would today have a fair idea of their roots. Having forsaken the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath, the peoples of the Kingdom of Israel came, over time, to forget the God of their fathers, as well as His revelation and His prophets.
"Beware," one of those prophets declares, "lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 6:12). Forgetting the God who separated them from the other nations, ten-tribed Israel, scattered and wandering, became separated from their God and ultimately grew to be like other nations. Becoming like them, Israel became lost among them. Beware.
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
To God, idolatry and Sabbath-breaking go hand in hand. Sabbath-breaking is shown to be idolatry because the Israelites were either using it in idolatrous devotion to a false god or not keeping it at all.
The Sabbath was given so that Israel would know the true God, so that they could fulfill their purpose, which was to witness for God before the world, learn more of His purpose, and work to build character so that they could inherit God's Kingdom. They failed miserably and totally.
God accomplished His goal of bringing them into their own land only to uphold the reputation of His name. But what was the overall result? The Israelites in the wilderness died there (Hebrews 3:16—4:2). Their descendants failed in the same manner, so God cut them off and sent them into captivity and slavery.
Israel's history reveals that the Creator God is the Source of the Sabbath, and God's children have the responsibility to honor Him by keeping it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment
Applying this principle to the Sabbath, if we want to be in God's presence in this special way, no other day will do. God has set a weekly appointment with His people to meet with Him for purposes pertaining to His spiritual creation. It is largely on this day that we are blessed, empowered by Him with His Spirit to promote our success in His way. The keeping of the Sabbath also functions to identify the two parties involved in the covenant.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
Did the day of Jesus' resurrection cause a change in the day of worship?
The Saturday/Sunday resurrection issue has been a focal point of debate in many circles because of the impact that it could have on the correct day of worship. But to begin here is to begin with an assumption at best, and a conclusion at worst. Where in the Bible is there any indication given that Jesus Christ's death would change the day of worship? Does our God change things on a whim—especially something as foundational as the day on which He meets with His people?
James 1:17 says that in God there is no variation, no shadow of turning. God does not change—His fundamental character and approach to things is constant (Malachi 3:6)! Hebrews 13:8-9 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and immediately after this the author says, "Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines." God's changelessness is a major defense we have against false doctrine! Once He establishes something, is He going to change it out of hand? Could we trust a God that is so undependable and unpredictable?
The high regard that God gives to the seventh-day Sabbath is evident throughout the Old Testament. Time and again, ancient Israel went into captivity because of their sins of Sabbath-breaking and idolatry (e.g., Ezekiel 20). No indication is ever given that the Sabbath is temporary, to be changed, or that God really does not care one way or the other. In fact, the prophecies of the Old Testament show that the Sabbath will be kept after God restores all things by establishing His Kingdom on earth (Isaiah 66:22-23; Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:3).
The gospel writers also do not give any hint or suggestion that the sanctification that God gave to the Sabbath would somehow be switched to the first day of the week. Jesus Christ gives no indication whatever that the day of worship would change upon His death or resurrection. God made only one day each week holy (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11), and the Bible gives no record of His even thinking about changing it. In addition, He does not give man the authority to "choose" which day each week is holy. Consider how often Jesus and the Pharisees argued over the Sabbath. Yet, not once did they contend over which day should be kept holy; in every instance, the issue was on how to keep the day that had already been firmly established as holy. Not only did Christ keep the Sabbath and teach others on the Sabbath, but after His death the apostles also kept it.
So we have the seventh-day Sabbath strongly established in the Old Testament (and even practiced in Exodus 16 before the proposal of the Old Covenant in Exodus 20). We have the example of Christ's keeping the Sabbath, without any indication that His ministry or His death would change it. And we have the New Testament church continuing to keep it after His death. How do the date and timing of His resurrection play into this? It does not! The sole purpose of Christ foretelling how long He would be in the grave is to prove that He was the Messiah—not to change which day is holy.
Jesus gave only one sign that He was the Messiah, sent by God—He would be in the grave three days and three nights (72 hours), and then would be resurrected by God, something which He could not control Himself. So the question of whether or not He was in the grave three days and three nights has nothing to do with which day God set apart and made holy, and everything to do with whether Jesus Christ was the Messiah!
The "sign of Jonah" is the only sign that Christ specifically gives to prove that He was the Messiah. The sign of Jonah is not a sign of preaching or bringing a message, as some allege. Certainly Jonah did that, just as Christ did. But that selective and erroneous interpretation conveniently overlooks the plain meaning of Jesus' words.
The "sign of Jonah" is mentioned three times in the gospels:
1) "And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, 'This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation'" (Luke 11:29-30).
Notice that He does not specify what the sign is here, but only alludes to a comparison with Jonah. He says that there is a sign, but does not say what it was.
2) "Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him, asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. . . . 'A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.' And He left them and departed" (Matthew 16:1, 4).
Again, there is no elaboration here, but this is actually the second time it is mentioned in the book of Matthew. The first occurrence demonstrates plainly what the sign of Jonah was, and so here Christ is merely repeating His answer from Matthew 12:38-40:
3) "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.' But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth'" (Matthew 12:38-40; see Jonah 1:17).
Both the account in Luke 11 and the one in Matthew 12 also mention Nineveh, and even Jonah's preaching. It is plain in both instances that they are mentioned to contrast the righteousness of previous generations with the righteousness of the current generation, particularly the Pharisees. To read into these scriptures that the "Sign of Jonah" is merely preaching is to horribly twist the Word of God—especially when Matthew 12:40 states categorically that, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Those listening were certainly not confused about Christ's allusion to Jonah. It was plain to them that He predicted when He would arise: "On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, 'Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, "After three days I will rise." Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, "He has risen from the dead." So the last deception will be worse than the first'" (Matthew 27:62-64). Even the Pharisees understood that Jesus Christ's statement was focused on the timing of the resurrection!
In other verses, Jesus says He would rise "the third day" (Matthew 16:21; Mark 10:34; Luke 24:7). There is no contradiction between this expression and the term "three days and three nights." Both expressions are used interchangeably in the scriptures. In Genesis, for example, we read that "God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And the evening [darkness] and the morning [light] were the first day . . . and the evening [darkness] and the morning [light] were the second day . . . and the evening [now three periods of night] and the morning [now three periods of light] were the third day" (Genesis 1:4-13). Here the term "the third day" is shown to include three days and three nights.
Whether or not Jesus fulfilled the sign of Jonah by being in the grave three days and three nights (which cannot fit between late Friday and early Sunday) is of great importance in verifying that He was and is our Messiah. But it has nothing to do with which day of the week is holy.
David C. Grabbe
The Old Covenant was not added to the Abrahamic Covenant-it was an additional covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant was one covenant, and the Old Covenant was a separate and additional covenant of its own.
These two covenants stand in relation to each other much as the special Sabbath Covenant (Exodus 31:12-17, showing it to be a separate covenant) stands in relation to the Old Covenant. The Sabbath Covenant establishes that the Sabbath is the sign of God's people. It is a separate covenant in addition to the Old Covenant.
This verse explains why the Old Covenant is not added to the Abrahamic Covenant. One cannot add to a contract that has already been signed, sealed, and delivered.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 27)
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