Kingdom Living: Sabbath and living the heart of the Sabbath
The Seventh Day
Whilst it is easy to assume that the word ‘Sabbath’ is first mentioned in Genesis, the simple truth is that it is not. Instead we read of the Seventh day and it is not called the Sabbath until after the Exodus. In a very simple way we could liken the seventh day to a small sapling in a pot which will grow into a mature Oak tree – the Sabbath, and ultimately points us to the Righteous One (1 John 2:1) the true Oak of Righteousness (Isaiah 61:3)
One of the first mentions of the seventh day in Genesis is found in Genesis 2:3 where we read, “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” In this verse the Hebrew word for ‘day’ is ‘yom’ and speaks of a 24-hour solar day, or the daylight portion of those hours. On each of the days prior to the seventh day we read, “and it was very good, and there was evening and there was morning” (Gen 1:5, 8,13,19,23,31) yet the seventh day is spoken of in a different way. On the seventh day we read that God rested (Gen 2:2) from the work of creation. In six days the world was created for man and on the seventh day God gave His attention to being with man. When God rested on the seventh day He did not sit around and do nothing, He engaged with Man and even when Man fell into sin, God continued to reach out to him, albeit differently, through the incredible work of redemption spoken about within the unity of Trinity before the world began…
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
1 Peter 1:18-20
Another point we can note concerning the seventh day is that it is not couched in the same language as the first six days of creation. Unlike the first six days of creation there is no mention of either the morning or evening of the seventh day. This is intentional and points to God’s eternal love which reaches out across history through His redemptive plan for fallen man. As our creator and provider, God is the most offended party in all of history and yet, incredibly, He is also the most gracious and generous. In the seventh day being called a day we see the importance of taking physical rest and in the absence of the language used concerning the previous six days (morning and evening) we see the eternal nature of God’s covenant of love.
The ‘sapling’ (Seventh day) grows into the ‘Oak tree’ (Sabbath day) because God is a God of grace in a book that is primarily about redemption and not creation. As the sapling develops into the Oak, so to speak, we capture something of God’s love, care and concern for Man and His call to come out of captivity and condemnation into a position of sons and daughters. As already mentioned this ultimately speaks of the work of Christ to which the Sabbath points (Col 2:16-17). In this respect, we see that the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit (Mark 2:27).
The growth of the Sapling and appearance of the Sabbath
The pages of scripture turn and time moves on from Genesis and creation through the history of the flood, the Tower of Babel and stories such as the amazing way in which God ‘birthed’ an Israelite (Joseph) from an incredibly dysfunctional family into a top leadership position in Egypt. The centuries continue and we arrive at the time of Moses and the Exodus.
Through Moses God brings Israel out of Egypt and the embryonic nation eventually enters the desert of Sin (Ex 16:1). Israel is out of Egypt but the thought patterns and erroneous blueprint of life, fostered on her by an illegitimate ruler, need to come out of Israel. The illegitimate rule of the Pharaohs had been broken yet Israel still struggles in the desert and grumbles over a lack of food and water. Yet in grace and mercy God continues to reveal His nature and character to them as Israel’s redeemer. He is the One who supplies them with bread, water and meat – clear signs of covenant blessing along with the accompanying pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire during the night. It was during this time that we see how the seventh day became known as the Sabbath for the first time (Ex 31:15) underlying God as the author, provider and the One who sustains life.
Man does not live by bread alone: Manna in the desert
Manna was a small round food substance that was described as being as being as fine as frost (Ex 16:14) whilst looking like white coriander seeds and tasting like wafers made with honey (Ex 16:31). The Manna appeared on the ground every morning and the Israelites were allowed to take as much as they needed for the day, yet not enough for more than one day.
When some of the Israelites disobeyed this command they found that the surplus amount of manna had rotted and was now full of maggots. However, on the sixth day they were allowed to collect a double portion of manna which would mean they could rest on the seventh day (Exodus 16:22-23). In this way Israel was clearly being called to rest and recognise that they could do so because God was the provider of all blessing. It is here that we read of the seventh day being called the Sabbath for the first time – in the place of rest and blessing…
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates”
“The Sabbath not only pointed to God’s creative pattern and purpose but was also a memorial of His redemptive activity in delivering His people from Egypt.”
D. Carson (Ed) in, ‘From Sabbath Day to Lord’s Day’, p 345
In Israel’s wilderness wanderings she was called to remember that it was God who had brought her out of Egypt (Deut 15:5) and provided her with all she needed in order to live. She was also called to reveal her knowledge of this and love for God in the way she treated those around her including foreigners and the disadvantaged (Deut 24:22).
The Sabbath is a sign of the covenant
“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'"
Israel was also called to observe the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant (Ex 31:16-17) which spoke of the strong binding relationship that God had forged with His people in grace, mercy and love. The power of God’s love and willingness to continue the work of redemption, in and through Israel, can be seen in His presence as a Shepherd (Ps 23) and way in which He challenged and reasoned with them when the nation strayed. God would often, in grace and mercy, remind Israel that He alone is the creator and provider of blessing and the One whose covenant-love cannot be destroyed (Jeremiah 33:2-21). God’s love is not tainted, stained, or weakened by our failure.
Resting in His work
In resting we are called to recognise that this world and all that is within it belongs to God, including time. Our heavenly Father is the Master of time and if we learn the habit of committing our lives to Him we find His presence and are encouraged to get the best out of each day. He is the One who imparts knowledge, wisdom and understanding through His written word and the presence of the Holy Spirit; God wants us to walk with Him in freedom.
This freedom is underlined in the second rendition of the 10 commandments found in Deuteronomy 5:15 where an additional point is made concerning the Sabbath that is not found in the first rendition (Exodus 20). The addition reads as follows: -
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
The Sabbath is all about God’s love, grace, mercy and provision. In light of this Israel needed to stop striving in her own strength, slow down and feed on the blessings freely given through the work of another. One of the ways we do this as Christians is through our quiet times and coming round the Lord’s Table (please see the booklet on this). As believers we are called to remember that we are His as we turn to the heart of the covenant: agape love.
Sadly, at the time of Jesus, there were many who had forgotten about the love, grace and mercy that the Sabbath pointed to. Instead they turned it into little more than a regulation without a heart. It became no more than “Don’t work on the Sabbath and expect judgement if you do.”
For example on one occasion a group of Pharisees challenged Jesus for allowing His disciples to pick and eat corn on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23ff) which they considered to be work. In their view the disciples were guilty of working by picking corn and guilty of threshing it by separating the grain from the husk. They were also guilty of winnowing the grain by blowing the husk away and then guilty of preparing a meal on the Sabbath. From this we gain an idea of what happens when we ignore the heart behind all scripture. God’s word in the hands of man becomes a tangle of rules and regulations that untimely crush and destroy. Those who treat it this way sometimes use it to try and control and dominate others.
In response to this particular accusation concerning His disciples Jesus reminds them of the time when David’s harassed and tired men ate bread that had been consecrated to God. Technically they should not have been allowed to do this, since it was only lawful for the priest to do so, yet God is a God of mercy. The point Jesus was making is that in allowing His disciples to eat, He was simply endorsing what the Sabbath is all about – grace, mercy, sustenance, compassion, support and care – like the grace and mercy shown to David. As Hosea 6:6 reads, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus then points out that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (a Messianic claim) and, as mentioned earlier, that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.
The Sabbath points to Christ
From what we have been saying we see that at the time of Jesus the Sabbath had become something that it was never intended to be as it placed a heavy burden on those who were already struggling. The real heart of the Sabbath is all about God’s grace and desire to reconcile people to Himself. In light of this we see that the Sabbath points to Christ which is something Paul picks up on in Col 2:16-17 where he writes…
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
In Jesus, people who were at the very edges of community life were drawn to a living Saviour with blessing and hope being offered to all through the presence and touch of God. Lepers were touched and set free (Luke 5:13) and hardened tax collectors found acceptance and forgiveness (Mt 9:9; Lk 19:4). The presence of Jesus brought life back into lifeless temple courts (Mat 21:14) and hope was birthed into the hearts of those who had previously found their pockets being emptied as they came to worship.
Just as the Temple points to Christ (John 2:19, 1 Cor 12:27, 1 Cor 3:16), so too does the Sabbath. Therefore, to be a Sabbath-keeper we ultimately need to continue to trust Christ as our Lord and Saviour. He is the One who showed us what a true relationship is like with God and in doing so defeated sin and the power of darkness. He then gave His life as a wiling sacrifice so that we could find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As believers we are called to rest in His finished work. Christlikeness is not mechanical observation of one day (which can be no more than an outward action), but intimacy with our heavenly father through Christ and a total reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit. God has not come to enter into and endorse our plans concerning life or give us empty rituals to follow. He has brought us into His plan of redemption so that, as His sons and daughters, we can experience life to the full: life with Him.
In Jesus we see the One who reveals the true heart of the Sabbath. He is Immanuel (God with us). Therefore the Sabbath reminds us of the love and grace of the Creator of the heavens and earth who calls us to rest in His finished work as the One who is our redeemer and holds all things in His hands.
Although there are some Christians who wish to observe the Sabbath day as a particular day, in reality, the heart and soul of the Sabbath is found in Christ through whom we enter into God’s rest (Heb 4:10). There are those who still prefer to remember the Sabbath on a Saturday whilst others remember it on a Sunday speaking of Christ’s appearance on the first day of the week and symbolising a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) yet this must never eclipse the truth that all things are fulfilled in Christ.
In the story of creation we see that man is called to take regular rest and in the unfolding of the Sabbath and fulfilment in Christ we hear the call of grace and mercy to sinners to trust in the Lord. The fruit of trusting in Him will be seen in putting God first and reaching out to others with the love of God and in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Written and produced by pastor Jem.