5 - The Sabbath Covenant|
The next two chapters will cover
Israel's holy days, which are The Weekly Sabbath and the Seven yearly
feasts. Leviticus chapter 23 begins with the following statement; "The
LORD said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: these are
my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to
proclaim as sacred assemblies'". The chapter continues with a brief
description of all these holy days beginning with the Sabbath Day.
"There are six days when you may work, but the
seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not
to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD.
The first recorded command to observe the
Sabbath is the fourth commandment given by God to Israel while at Mount
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six
days you shall labor 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. For in six days the LORD
made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but
he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath
day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8-11)
The commandment above gives five characteristics
of the Sabbath.
- It is a day of rest from work for people and
- It will be on the 7th day of the week.
- The day is to be kept holy.
- The day is blessed by God.
- It is a commemoration of creation.
The word "Sabbath", "shabbat" in Hebrew, comes
from the root verb "shabat" which means "to cease from work or
activity". The Sabbath is a 24 hour day of ceasing from work, a day of
rest. Special honor was given to the Sabbath day as it is the only day
which was given a name, all other days of the week were called by its
place in the week, such as; the first day, the second day, etc.
The Sabbath day is to be kept holy. As we have
seen previously, the word holy means "to be set apart". The Sabbath is
set apart from all the other days of the week. Not only does God set
this day apart from all the others, but also man is also to set it
apart as a holy day.
God blesses the Sabbath day. As we will see
later in this chapter, God also blesses those who keep the Sabbath day.
The fourth command states that the Sabbath day is both blessed and made
holy by God. When did God first bless and make holy the Sabbath day?
This brings us to the last attribute of the Sabbath.
The fourth commandment connects the seventh day
Sabbath with the seventh day of creation, making the Sabbath a
commemoration of creation.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he
had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 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. (Genesis 2:2-3)
The word "rested" above, is the Hebrew word
"Shabat" the root of "Shabbat/Sabbath"
The Sabbath day was first blessed and made holy
by God on the day that he himself rested from his labors of creation.
The fourth commandment is a commemoration of this day of rest.
of the Sabbath Command
Did the command to observe and remember the
Sabbath begin with Israel at Mount Sinai or was it given at the very
beginning with Adam? The scriptures do not say, but we know that the
original command to observe the Sabbath was given at some point prior
to Israel's arrival at Mount Sinai and after they crossed the Red Sea
as we see in Exodus 16.23.
[Moses] said to them, "This is what the LORD
commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the
When God gave Israel the Sabbath command within
the 10 commandments, he said "Remember the Sabbath day" (Ex 20:8). It
is possible that after 400 years of bondage, Israel had "forgotten" to
keep the Sabbath day and God is reminding Israel of it.
If from the beginning God made the Sabbath day
holy, would he not have commanded his children (Adam and Eve) to keep
this day holy? The Sabbath day was observed before Mount Sinai and even
possibly in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the world. On the
seventh day of creation, God rested. Of course God does not need rest;
he was setting a pattern for the benefit of his creation. Six days are
for working but the seventh day is a day of rest, a Sabbath. God
recognized that all creation needs a rest. Not only do our bodies need
to rest one day out of each week, but also so do the animals. God also
commanded to give the land a rest every seven years (Leviticus 25:4).
God, who created man, knew that a man's body required one day in seven
to rest. If this rest is so necessary, would God not have given that
command in the beginning when Adam served in the Garden (Genesis 2:15)
or at least after the fall? Also, Since the seventh day was set apart
as holy from the beginning, would he not have required Adam to observe
that holy day also?
If we combine all the facts identified above;
the need for a day of rest and the blessing of the Sabbath in the
beginning and the observance of the Sabbath before the commandment was
recorded, we could make a strong case that the Sabbath day has always
been a very special day to God and man.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the
Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between
me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the
LORD, who makes you holy.
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you.
Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on
that day must be cut off from his people. For six days work is to be
done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD.
Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. 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 forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens
and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and
rested.'" (Exodus 31:12-17)
Not only is the Sabbath day one of the 10
Commandments, but it is also a covenant between God and his people.
Just as we did with the other covenants, let us break this covenant
down into its six parts.
This covenant is between God, the creator, and
Israel, the created.
As mentioned earlier, God blessed this day and
those who kept this day holy as God commanded were in turn blessed by
"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a
delight and the LORD's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not
going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD , and I will cause you to ride
on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your
father Jacob." The mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
"Blessed is the man who does [what is right], the
man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil." (Isaiah 56:2)
Just as the Sabbath day is blessed and made
holy, those who keep the Sabbath day are blessed and made holy as well.
God also promises joy to those who will keep his Sabbath day for
without God there is no true joy in life.
God is asking that on this one day, His people
put aside their own desires and give honor to him. In this way they are
made holy by God as it says in Exodus 31:13; "You must observe my
Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to
come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy."
The one condition that God puts on Israel in
this covenant is that they keep His Sabbath day holy.
Exodus 31 tells us that Israel is to celebrate
it "for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a
sign between me and the Israelites forever". Three key words in this
passage tell us the duration of this covenant.
- For the generations to come.
- It is a "lasting covenant". (The Hebrew word
translated as lasting is again "olam" meaning everlasting or
- It is a sign "forever". (Again the Hebrew word
This covenant is eternal. Just as the Covenant
God made with Noah is an everlasting covenant, the Sabbath covenant is
also an everlasting covenant.
The Exodus 31 passage tells us that the Sabbath
day is the sign of this covenant. This is confirmed again in the book
"Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between
us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy. I am the LORD
your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Keep my
Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know
that I am the LORD your God." (Ezekial 20:12)
Those who keep the Sabbath acknowledge that God
is the creator of the universe.
God himself dedicated the command when he rested
on the seventh day. The dedication of this covenant is to be remembered
on each Sabbath forever.
- The Sabbath is a day of rest on the seventh day,
to be kept holy by man and blessed by God. It is a commemoration of
- The first Sabbath-rest was God's rest on the
seventh day of creation.
- The Sabbath is also an everlasting covenant for