Moses was with God on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights. During that time, he received from God all the laws and commands the new nation of Israel was to follow, and instructions on how to build a physical dwelling for the LORD their God. God also told Moses the men He had chosen to build the house and where to find them. Now, as we near the end of Exodus 31, the LORD gives Moses one final command for the Israelites.
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”’”
Above all keep the Sabbath. Why? Because it was part of the covenant God made with Israel. It was one of the things that set the Israelites apart from all the other nations of the world, and for the most part, the Israelites did a good job remembering this command. However, centuries later, the Sabbath and manmade rules the Israelites added to it was one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the Jews with Jesus. They had turned this “above all” command into a strict set of rules and regulations that had nothing to do with God.
The Sabbath was meant to point people to God. It wasn’t a “do it because I told you to” kind of command, but rather, do it to remember Me. It was an opportunity to trust God. The Israelites were not supposed to work on the seventh day. They were not to go out and try to provide for their families. They were not to gather manna on the seventh day. Rather, they needed to trust God to provide, to rest in Him and believe that He would see them through the needs of that day.
The Sabbath was created for the benefit of the Israelites. They needed a day off and a day in which to remember the God of their fathers. It was intended to foster intimacy with the God they served. However, as we’ve seen over and over, the Israelites were not ready for an intimate relationship with God. They were not ready to draw near and learn His heart. Rather, they needed to remember to fear the living God of their forefathers. They needed to respect Him and tremble at the sound of His voice.
Thus, the punishment for disobeying the Sabbath command was severe and final—not because God was mean, but because the Israelites needed some healthy fear towards God and His laws. The consequences were to motivate the Israelites to obedience. Like young children, they did not understand the benefit of keeping the Sabbath in and of itself. They needed exterior motivation. So God gave it to them. He said anyone who breaks the Sabbath shall be put to death.
But what about us? We are under the New Covenant of the blood of Christ, so do we still need to keep the Sabbath as God commanded the Israelites?
In order to answer these questions, we must circle back to God’s intent for the Sabbath. It wasn’t about the seventh day or the rules to not work, but about stopping and remembering God. God was asking His people to set aside just one day of the week to devote to Him. Is that too much to ask?
As Christians washed by the blood of the New Covenant, we are not under the same law as the Israelites which required them to keep the Sabbath otherwise they would die. However, we more fully understand God’s heart behind the Sabbath command. So should we keep the Sabbath? Absolutely! God knew we needed a day of rest, so take it! And God wants our heart, so let’s devote a day each week to Him.
However, must we observe the Sabbath on Saturday? Not necessarily. Remember that at the heart of the Sabbath command is an invitation to draw near to God. Therefore, let’s respond to the invitation and not worry too much about the rules and regulations man has added to this divine call.
God doesn’t want to or need our outward obedience to rules and ordinances. He wants our heart. He wants a relationship with us. And He wants our love. So let’s keep the Sabbath, knowing that by drawing near to God, He will sanctify us. And let’s not get too tangled up in the additional rules man tries to add to God’s simple invitation.
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