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THEOLOGY > God > Work of Creation > The Seventh Day > Sign of the Sabbath  


SIGN OF THE SABBATH

Reference is made in the Old Testament to the Sabbath being a sign: “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 YHWH who sanctifies you” (Ex. 31:12) and “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever” (Ex. 31:17).

The sign of the Sabbath had three associations: the creation rest of God, the redemption of the nation from Egypt, and the covenant between God and the nation.

Consider the creation rest of God. In the Decalogue the nation of Israel was commanded by God to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). What God had ordained at Creation was applied to the nation at Sinai as part of their responsibilities—to be God’s people meant that the nation would observe the seventh day, the day of rest. The Sabbath day was their holy day.

Their rest was related to God’s rest: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20). So anchored in the week of Creation was the fourth commandment given to the nation.

In order to keep the Sabbath day holy, no work was to be done. God’s word to the nation was emphatic: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of YHWH your God. In it you shall do no work; you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:9-10). Neither humans nor animals were to do any work. God had rested, and the Hebrew people were to rest, following the example of their God.

Consider the redemption of the nation from Egypt. In the second giving of the Ten Commandments, done by Moses on the eastern side of the Jordan River, the command regarding the Sabbath was related to the redemption of the nation from Egyptian captivity. In concluding the fourth commandment, the Scripture reads: “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and YHWH your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore YHWH your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15).

Connected to the Sabbath in this text is the experience of slavery by the nation in Egypt and their salvation accomplished by God’s “mighty hand” and His “outstretched arm.” He had brought them out of great bondage, and their day of rest was a reminder of the rest they enjoyed from slavery because of God’s deliverance. In reflecting on their deliverance as they observed the Sabbath day, the people were constantly reminded that the deliverance from captivity was not their own doing.

So when both accounts are combined, it is obvious that the Sabbath for the nation was associated with both Creation and Redemption. Perhaps, these two associations were intended to anticipate future events and later revelations, both to Old Testament Israel and to New Testament Israel, the Church.

Consider the covenant between God and the nation. Not only was the Sabbath a reminder to the nation of God’s creative work and rest, and its own redemption, it was also a sign of the covenant between God and the nation He had chosen. “And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: 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 YHWH who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you’” (Ex. 31:12-13). God repeats in verse seventeen: “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.” Thus, the nation was to observe the Sabbath as “a perpetual covenant” (31:16; see Ezek. 20:12).

The Sabbath was a “sign” between the people of Israel and their God as they emulated the One who had created them, who redeemed them, and who made a covenant with them. Their God had rested, and they were to rest. Sabbath observance was a sign between the people and God, and a sign to the world that the people of Israel were the people of God.

Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths,
To be a sign between them and Me,
That they might know that I am YHWH who sanctifies them.
Ezek. 20:12


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