What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
No other day is hallowed as the Sabbath is: It is set aside as holy to God. It belongs to Him. It is time for Him. Thus, the basic rule that the commandment lays down is that God requires that each person set aside this day for the worship and service of Him. Nothing in it even begins to suggest that this commandment is merely ceremonial in nature. Protestants say Christians do not have to keep the Sabbath because it is just a ceremony, but they cannot find that idea in Scripture - certainly not in the commandment itself.
Like the other commandments, the fourth commandment deals with relationships. One set of relationships - the business and work-a-day-world ones - is broken off or stopped on Friday at sunset, and another set of relationships - the spiritual ones - begin to be emphasized. In addition, the commandment looks back on creation, identifying that we are to keep the seventh day because God, the Creator, set it apart at creation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)
Notice which day is "the Lord's Day." God calls the Sabbaths "My Sabbaths." The Sabbaths, weekly and annual, are His; they do not belong to us, nor are they "Jewish Sabbaths" or "Gentile Sabbaths." The Sabbath is a space of time. That time, whenever it arrives, is not ours but God's. If we appropriate it for our own use, whether for work or pleasure, we are stealing that time from God! In Exodus 20:8, He commands us to "keep it holy." God made it holy time, and commands us to keep it holy rather than profane it.
"Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you" (Exodus 31:13). Here, then, is the purpose of the Sabbath: ". . . it is a sign." A sign is a badge, symbol, mark, or token of identity. Webster's Dictionary defines a sign as "a display used to identify or advertise a place of business or a product. Something indicating the presence or existence of something else."
The word Moses wrote in Hebrew is 'owth, which means "a sign, signal, distinguishing mark, banner, remembrance, warning; a token, ensign, standard, miracle, proof" (Brown, Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon). A banner or flag identifies a nation or group. A signal like a beacon announces the existence of something, like a rocky shore, that others need to be warned about. A token is a visible sign that serves to make something known, such as a white flag is a token of surrender.
God commands His people to keep His Sabbaths as a sign. It is a sign between God's people and God: "It is a sign between Me and you." It is a badge or token of identity, advertising, announcing, or proclaiming certain identifying knowledge: ". . . that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you."
The Sabbath is the sign that identifies to people who their God is. It is the sign by which we may know that He is the Lord. It identifies God, and by so doing, it identifies who His people are as well.
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
The Sabbath is "holy to the LORD." This is not something that men dreamed up. God does not say it is holy to certain denominations or certain people. It is holy to the Lord—set apart or sanctified to Him. He Himself sanctified it, as it says right in the commandment.
God, right in this covenant, sets how long it is to be observed or adhered to: as long as there are generations of Israelites. Are the generations of Israelites continuing? Yes, indeed. The generations continue, and therefore this covenant continues.
He also says that the Sabbath and its roots go back to Creation. He takes the Sabbath back to Genesis 2, not Exodus 16. This is significant. God places the beginning of the Sabbath at Creation to confirm that a physical or spiritual Israelite's relationship is with the Creator. The events of Exodus 16 were only a reminder of what already existed from the seventh day of Creation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 29)
This special covenant—strategically placed by Moses between information on the building of the Tabernacle (a type of the church) and the Golden Calf incident (brazen idolatry)—creates a special sign of the Sabbath between God and His people. Generally, a sign identifies. It communicates the purpose of or gives directions to a person or place. Signs bring people together with shared interests and common goals. A sign can function as a pledge of mutual fidelity and commitment. Organizations use signs to designate membership, allowing members to recognize each other.
The Sabbath serves as an external and visible bond that unites God's people, and at the same time it sanctifies them from almost everyone else. Almost everyone in the Western world keeps Sunday or nothing. By the Sabbath, the true covenant-keeper knows that God is sanctifying him. Anybody who has kept both Sunday and Sabbath knows this: Sunday sets no one apart from this world.
If He created the Sabbath only because we need to rest physically, any old time would do, but ultimately, how and why we keep the Sabbath is what becomes the real sign. God is working out a purpose. He has invested a tremendous amount in us in the creation and in the death of His Son. The Sabbath serves as a major means by which He protects that investment. He made a specific period of time special so He can meet with His people and take major steps to make them different—holy.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
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)
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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