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The Holy Sabbath: 4. Its Renewal

By A.W. Pink


      From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: April, 1939

      In order to bridge the small gap between this article and last month's, we must ponder a very striking passage in Exodus 16, from which we may learn some facts of deep importance concerning the existence and observance of the Holy Sabbath prior to Israel's reaching Sinai. That chapter records God's giving of the manna as Israel's daily food while they were in the wilderness. First, "Behold, I will rain bread from Heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My Law or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily" (vv. 4, 5). From these verses it is unmistakably clear that a Divine Law was in existence before the Ten Commandments were inscribed on the tables of stone, and from what follows it is equally evident that the observance of the Sabbath was part of this self-same Law: in no other way can these words of God to Moses be explained.

      The Lord was about to give His people a daily supply of manna, and made it known to Moses that a double supply should be furnished them on the sixth day--to make up for none being given them on the seventh. In this respect Exodus 16 is parallel with Genesis 2:2, 3, inasmuch as once more we see the Creator condescending to be the Exemplar of His creatures: Jehovah manifested His regard for the Sabbath by withholding manna on that day. "We may here observe three miracles in honour of the Sabbath, and to secure it against desecration were wrought every week before the promulgation of the Law at Sinai. Double the quantity of manna fell on the sixth day. None fell on the Sabbath. The manna preserved for that day did not corrupt" (Robert Haldane).

      Next we are told, "And it came to pass on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses" (v. 22). Now note very particularly the definite language of Moses in reply, "This is that which the LORD hath said, Tomorrow is the Rest of the Holy Sabbath unto the Lord" (v. 23). This is the first express mention of the "Sabbath" in the history of Israel, and the terms in which it is here introduced utterly precludes the absurd idea that the Sabbath was then, for the first time formally and legally instituted. No candid mind reading this chapter for the first time would ever conclude that here was a most important religious ordinance, quite unknown before, now given to the people. Rather is it not obvious to any careful reader that throughout the whole of this narrative two facts (unnamed) were in the mind of the writer, without regard to which the account is unintelligible: that a Divine Law was binding on the people (by which they were to be proved afresh), and that they had a sufficient knowledge thereof as to be expected to keep the Sabbath.

      The words of Moses in verse 23 are brought in only incidentally, in answer to a question put to him by the elders: the substance of which is, the people have done quite right in gathering a double supply of manna on the sixth day. Moses was far from speaking in the style of one promulgating a new law, nor do we find him giving any detailed instructions as to the manner in which the seventh day was to be kept. The Wilderness of Sin was far from being the birthplace of this blessed ordinance: these scenes described in Exodus 16 obviously point us back to an earlier and primeval appointment. But ere passing on let us duly note that the words of Moses in verse 23 affirmed the three principal features of the Sabbath: first, it is designed for "rest"; second, it is "holy"--set apart from the six working days; third, it is to be kept "to the Lord": that is, it is a day for Divine worship and service.

      "And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws?" (vv. 27, 28). Here we have illustrated the universal rebellion of the human heart. Here we have exemplified the common tendency to desecrate God's holy day. Even after the most explicit instructions to rest on the seventh day (v. 23), some of the people went out "for to gather." And mark God's response: "How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws." This was not the first time that Israel had profaned the Sabbath: the words "how long" prove this.

      They also confirm what we said above on verse 4: long before Sinai was reached, Israel had God's commandments and laws. Jehovah Himself says so, and the man who denies it, no matter what his standing or reputation, is guilty of the awful sin of making God a liar. "How long refuse ye" looks back to the wicked conduct of Israel while in Egypt.

      Finally, observe how verse 29 supplies one more proof that Sabbath observance was no new thing at this time: "See, for that the LORD hath given you the Sabbath, therefore He giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." Mark the careful distinction in the verbs used here: "the LORD hath given you the Sabbath, therefore He giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days." What excuseless ignorance, then, is betrayed by those who affirm that the Sabbath was first instituted at Sinai. It is either ignorance or willful perversion of the Scriptures, and charity requires us to conclude that it must surely be the former.

      We are now to consider the renewing or reinforcing of the Holy Sabbath at Sinai. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made Heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath Day and hallowed it" (Exo. 20:8-11). The Ten Commandments were uttered immediately by the voice of God Himself in the hearing of all the people (Exo. 19), whereas all the other laws (whether ceremonial or judicial) were given through Moses. Those Ten Commandments, and they alone, were twice written by the finger of God on tables of stone, to denote their durability and permanence. The Ten Commandments were put inside the sacred ark itself, whereas the other laws (written in a book by Moses) were only placed in its side.

      But if God in those ways emphasized the supreme momentousness of the Ten Words, giving them a place superior to all other laws, He also signalized in a peculiar way the outstanding importance and value of the Fourth Commandment. First, it is marked with a particular memento above the other commands: "remember"--partly because of our proneness to neglect, and partly because of its vast importance. Second, it is noticeable that the other nine are expressed simply, either negatively or positively, but this one both ways: "keep it holy . . . in it thou shalt not do any work" as if God put particular care to fence it on all sides. Third, its striking position in the Decalogue: it is put at the close of the first table and before the beginning of the second, to signify the observance of both tables depends radically upon our obedience to this particular precept.

      It is indeed instructive to observe--O that we may have ears to hear--how the Lord God has fenced this particular commandment with more hedges than any of the other nine, to prevent our violation thereof and to render excuseless any trifling therewith. In addition to what has been pointed out above, we note, fourth, this commandment has more reasons to enforce it than has any of the others. God has therein condescended to give three cogent arguments to press the observance of this law upon us. The first is taken from His own example, which certainly it is both our glory and our duty to imitate in all things in which He has proposed Himself to be our pattern: God rested on the seventh day, and so must we. The second reason is taken from the bountiful portion of time which God has allowed us for the affairs of this life, namely, six-sevenths of our days, and therefore it is but fitting and equitable that the seventh should be devoted to God. Third, from the dedication of the seventh day to God's immediate worship and service: "the Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it."

      Let us observe that the character of those reasons wherewith God enforces the Fourth Commandment contain in them a most forcible argument to show that the Sabbath is perpetually binding. Negatively, we note there is nothing whatever in those reasons which suggest that the Sabbath ordinance was a ceremonial institution, or that it was to be regarded as being among those things which were typical of Christ to come in the flesh, which things were therefore to be abolished at His coming. Positively, there lies upon us today an obligation just as strong and binding as rested upon the Jews of old, for we equally with them are duty-bound to heed the example which the Creator set His creatures at the beginning. We are clearly required to own God as the Lord of our time by devoting one seventh thereof to His worship, and we certainly need the blessings attendant on a due observance of the Sabbath as much as ever did the Israelites in Old Testament times.

      It is often asserted that Sabbath observance was made binding on the Hebrews only. But this is a most serious error. Not only is the Fourth Commandment of perpetual force, but it is universally binding: the arguments made above for the former, apply with equal force to the latter. The tribute which the Fourth Commandment demands for God is unquestionably due Him from all His creatures alike. This Commandment is "holy and just" (Rom. 7:12), and as the Apostle shows in that chapter, is also "good," for Gentiles as much so as for Jews. We could imagine some reason for saying that the Fifth Commandment has an exclusive Jewish cast, because the promise subjoined to it refers to long life "in the land." This it might be supposed was something spoken to the Jews alone. But such a supposition is immediately ruled out of court by Ephesians 6:1, 2--note "this IS (not "was") the first commandment with promise."

      "The ground on which the obligation to keep the Sabbath is based in the Commandment is the most universal in its bearing that could possibly be conceived: 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy . . . for in six days the Lord made Heaven and earth.' There is manifestly nothing Jewish here, nothing connected with individual interests or even national history. The grand fact out of which the precept is made to grow is of equal significance to the whole world, and why should not the precept be the same? It seems, indeed, as if God, in the appointment of this law, had taken especial precautions against the attempts which He foresaw would be made to get rid of the institution, and that on this account He based its foundations first in the original framework and constitution of nature" (P. Fairbairn). What spiritual mind can doubt that this was what regulated Him who knew the end from the beginning.

      How utterly futile are all these quibblings of men. How baseless their contentions. How strikingly were they anticipated and refuted by the Lord from the start. Why the very terms of the Fourth Commandment itself bring its obligation to bear upon the Gentiles! So far from obedience to this precept being limited to the Jews, it legislated also for "the stranger that is within thy gates"! Observe how godly Nehemiah enforced the observance of it upon the Gentiles as well as the Jew: "There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah . . . I commanded that the gate should be shut and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath" (Neh. 13:16-19). It was the observance of it and not the obligation of it which was peculiar to the Jews. It was placed in their custody for the good of all mankind.

      The Fourth Commandment in the Decalogue was not the original institution of the Sabbath, but rather its formal renewal and re-enforcement. As we have shown in previous articles, the actual sanctification and appointment of the Sacred Day of rest in worship takes us back to Eden itself, synchronizing with the very creation of man. It has also been shown that there are quite a number of unmistakable traces of the Sabbath being actually observed by God's people in the very earliest days of human history. But after the family of Jacob settled down in Egypt, they soon learned the ways of the heathen and, to a considerable extent at least, abandoned the instituted worship (Gen. 26:5) of Jehovah. Ezekiel 20:4-8 leaves us in no doubt that it was because of their idolatry the Lord employed the Egyptians in so severely chastising them.

      "And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto demons, after whom they have gone a-whoring" (Lev. 17:7). The reference here is to Israel's wickedness while sojourning in the land of Pharaoh: as Joshua 24:14 tells us, "Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood (see vv. 2, 3) and in Egypt," and as Ezekiel 23:3 declares, "They committed whoredom in Egypt." It was pure grace which moved the Lord to deliver His wayward people from the house of bondage, and enter into a covenant with them. But grace ever reigns through righteousness, and never at the expense of the requirements of holiness. Accordingly Jehovah, in a most awe-inspiring manner, renewed His Law at Sinai, and intimated its lasting character by inscribing it on stones by His own finger; in the very center of which He placed the Sabbath statute. God has given us liberty to follow our lawful callings throughout the six working days, and therefore it is but little for us to devote the seventh to Him.

      "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." "Remember": call to mind its original institution; cherish it in your affections; duly meet its just requirement, "The Sabbath": the sacred rest: its merciful freedom from temporal toil, its opportunities for obtaining deliverance from bondage of sin, its foreshadowment of the Eternal Rest awaiting those who now walk obediently to the Divine statutes. "To keep it holy": sever it from common use and consecrate the same to the service of God. It is no less a sin than a sacrilegious stealing of that which is holy to purloin any part of that time which God has consecrated to Himself and to employ in it either sinful or secular activities. How the Sabbath is to be observed, what works are permissible and what are not, will be considered by us (D.V.) in future articles.--A.W.P.

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