That Pesky Sabbath

Restoring Eden—Google Images
Because the chapter and verse division were not part of the original Scriptures we often have to do a little investigation to determine where one section of teaching ends before another begins. In any case, the whole of Scripture is connected by it’s central theme: the redemption of a lost creation through the blood.

But here in Exodus 35, I felt a certain quirky connection that might only be a connection in my mind. As Exodus 35 begins, Moses repeats an important instruction: “These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath Day” (Exodus 35:1-3).

Then he gives instructions to the Israelites about giving to furnish all that was needed for the Tabernacle.  He also refers to those who, because of their skills, were to be responsible for making all the articles that were to go into the furnishing of the Tabernacle. These people are described as "...filled...with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills" (35:31)

According to verses 20 and 21, the people gave willingly and generously. In fact, we cross over to Exodus 36 we discover a phenomenon rarely seen in the church today: “Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work” (Exodus 36:6, 7).

Here’s my quirky connection. The instruction about the keeping of Sabbath is often repeated in the Scriptures in isolation from the other commands. It appears that keeping the Sabbath as a day dedicated to the Lord was a problem—nothing has challenged today. I wonder if Moses repeated this instructed because in their enthusiasm to furnish the Tabernacle—a worthy and worshipful project, the people might have been tempted to break the Sabbath in pursuit of their goal.

When Jesus walked the land He did things on the Sabbath that got the religious authorities very angry. They had, over the course of the years since Moses received the commandments, added a few of their own. These “extras” prohibited observant Jews from doing almost everything on the Sabbath. Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath and He and His disciples traveled on the Sabbath (there were restrictions on travel too!) and picked ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath as they traveled. In one of many confrontations Jesus had with His critics He said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). We often take this to mean that the rules have changed and that man now determines what to do with this day—which usually means whatever he wants. But if you read carefully you might discover another meaning here, a meaning in keeping with the spirit of the original command.

Genesis tells us that after the Lord finished the creation, He rested on that seventh day (Genesis 2:2, 3) and declared it "holy." God doesn’t get tired so He didn’t need the rest. He rested as an example to man as to what he needed to do once a week. This was the spirit of the commandment that followed in Moses’ day, and the spirit of the commandment every time it is mentioned following that time. The Sabbath was made for man — to rest because God knew he would need it! It was also made “to the Lord” indicating that it was a day dedicated to focusing on the God who had created the day. But just because it was a day of rest and spiritual focus didn’t mean that no finger could be lifted to do good on that day. Jesus also said: “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12). After saying this, Jesus proceeded to heal a crippled man.

Going back to the situation in Exodus, we might say that working to provide the furnishings for the Tabernacle was doing good, so why not keep working on the Sabbath? Because everyone needs a rest from work and even good work can distract us from taking time to focus on the Lord.

Sounds simple because it is simple. On the way home from church we would stop to help a man struck by a car in the street. That’s doing good. But what about the things we do that might be good but are not necessary, things that deprive us of the rest we need and distract us from our focus on the Lord? We KNOW that there are lots of those.

The instruction on the Sabbath included even those who were “foreigners” among the Israelites, or not of the Jewish community (Exodus 20:8-11). How often do we contribute to the work of non-believers on the Lord’s Day? I can hear the objections already, but if we are to take seriously our commitment to the Lord and to His Word we have to face these issues. The commandment not to murder or to steal was never rescinded, so why would we think that the commandment to respect one day a week for rest and spiritual refreshment was rescinded?

Something to think about.


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