The Sabbath is one of the key themes in the book of Exodus. From the moment of their deliverance, God reveals the Sabbath in providing bread for 6 days and not the seventh in Exodus 16. In Exodus 20, the 4th Commandment pertains to keeping the Sabbath rest as holy to the Lord. The command is repeated after the specifications are laid out for building the tabernacle to Moses on the mountain of God in Exodus 31. In Exodus 34, God speaks of the Sabbath shortly after the Golden Calf incident and the re-affirmation of His Covenant with Israel. Now again, here in the beginning of Exodus 35, the Sabbath is reiterated! This time by Moses himself.
Exodus 35:1–3 (ESV) Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. 2 Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”
Moses has caught on to a theme from God in all the time he spent talking with Him. God’s plan for man is REST in HIM! The first chapter of your Bible testifies to this. God rests after the work of Creation and mankind was completed. The Garden of Eden was a place for man to rest in God. Exodus reinforces that the new people of God called out of the darkness of slavery will be a people who are at rest in Him no matter what season they are in (as Israel is in the wilderness and wandering here).
So too, our lives are intended to find our REST with God.
What does that mean?
For Israel, work was outlawed on the Sabbath because ancient agricultural people depended on the land’s produce for their daily life! Should you have a bad day of farming there were no grocery stores to back you up. So God was teaching them, “your work is NOT what makes you who you are, MY work, goodness and provision is what makes you who you are.”
Do I think we are bound to take a day off a week? I think we should. I think we should spend a day where our regular work is completely put aside for our benefit, spiritual development and obedience to God’s commands. The Ten Commandments are not eradicated in the New Covenant. We still do not murder, lie or commit adultery. Therefore, we should rest one day out of 7. However, I do not believe it has to be the same day for all. Paul hints at this in Colossians: Colossians 2:16–17 (ESV) Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Notice the last line though. “These are a shadow (the Sabbath being one) of the things to come – the substance (of the Sabbath) belongs to Christ.”
What does that mean? It means the Sabbath day which taught Israel to rest in God’s work was pointing to Christ’s work which is what makes us New Covenant people who we are.
Everyone has a “righteousness” they are trying to attain. The businessmen may not give a thought about Biblical righteousness but he definitely has a “personal righteousness” he’s pursuing. Perhaps it is financial stability or cost cutting measures or his outward symbols of material success. He is aiming at that “personal righteousness” by working endlessly to attain it. The young 20-something is working hard to achieve a “personal righteousness” of things like popularity, educational acumen or inner happiness. Everyone has something in their mind that they have set up to be that “personal righteousness (right-ness)” whereby they feel they matter, they count or they are valuable. It is different for everyone. It speaks to the human condition — that we need to be loved and accepted by someone outside of us. The Pharisees were exposed for this this big time when Jesus challenged their love of money and personal piety: Luke 16:15 (ESV) (Jesus) said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
One modern and touchy example of this is the huge number of young homosexual people who “come out” on youtube after they have been scorned by their family. Why the need to do that? They are looking for “personal righteousness (right-ness)” with someone, even if it’s an anonymous community of people they will never meet. They need someone to say they are “okay” in order to solidify their identity. They are working for it. This is the human condition. And God knows it ends in tiresome labor that never rests in the One who made us.
A good question about Exodus 35:2 is this: Why does God constantly talk about death for the sabbath breaker? Because working tirelessly to prove you are “right” by the standards you have set up in your mind will inevitably suck the life out of you. Apart from rest in God, you will kill yourself trying to find it anywhere else.
This is why the Sabbath matters and we see its substance in Christ. In Christ you have a firm and finished identity that can never be taken from you. In Christ you are known and loved by someone outside of you. In Christ you are accepted because of God’s finished work for you! Now you work OUT the ramification of God’s righteousness deposited into your account (Philippians 2:12). You do not have to work FOR God’s acceptance, you get to work FROM His acceptance. So in the Bible, the Sabbath moves from the final day of a hurried week (Israel) to the first day of a brand new week (the Church) filled with possibilities. What a beautiful picture of our salvation and new life in God!
Now, get to rest.