Again, it is best to read the following verses several times and compare them with other translations before we begin this portion of our study.
1. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.
2. And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
3. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
This is the day that God rested from all that He had done. It is the only time in the Bible that we hear of God resting. It does not say that God was tired. It is a cessation from work.
Have not each of us, at one time or another, put a lot of effort into doing something, and even though we were not tired, we just sat back and relaxed and reflected on what we had done. Did not such resting and reflection refresh us?
God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (verse 3).
Observe similar sanctification as at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:23.
23. And Moses said to the Lord, "The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for Thou didst warn us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it."'
And note the similar sanctification of the tabernacle and priests in Exodus 29:44.
44. "And I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me.
Observe the purpose of this sanctification of the sabbaths in Exodus 31:12-17.
12. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
13. "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
14. 'Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.
15. 'For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.
16. 'So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.'
17. "It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed."
We are here observing the sanctification which God has placed upon the sabbaths, to show the similarity to our Genesis 2:1-3 passage. However, one aspect of this Exodus passage does not seem to fit with the loving intent of Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 creation event, and that is the death penalty aspect, or at least the way in which it's expressed. For a comparison, let's look at Isaiah 1:18-20.
18. "Come now, and let us reason together,"
Says the Lord.
"Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.
19. "If you consent and obey,
You will eat the best of the land;
20. "But if you refuse and rebel,
You will be devoured by the sword"
Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
This Isaiah passage is expressing the loving and forgiving nature of God, but it is also showing what happens to us when we turn away from God. When we turn away, we "take off" the protective power and blessings of God's covering upon us; we allow the forces of evil to prevail, and it is through and by these forces of evil that we die, and not as a command of God.
There are some Biblical scholars, such as Norman K. Gottwald, who believe that this entire Exodus 31:12-17 passage was inserted into the Bible by the Priestly (P) writers in the period 550 - 450 B.C.E.
I personally don't believe that these Priestly writers of the Ezra "School" actually rewrote the Bible. I believe that they were editors, who compiled and recompiled the collection of writings, following the return from the exodus in Babylon. This effort produced the first Bible. These same "editors" knew of the Isaiah passage, and they also knew that the people did not obey the "original" Exodus passage, so they "tightened" the language to compel the people to obey God; thus, they inserted the penalty aspect, or modified the penalty aspect from something similar to the way it is expressed in Isaiah to what we now read in Exodus.
Observe also the spiritual side of the rest in Hebrews 4:8-13.
8. For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
9. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
10. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.
11. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.
12. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
13. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
In this passage is an important message. "Joshua (Moses' successor) could not lead all the people into the rest of dwelling in their promised land because of their unbelief. Likewise the believers today cannot enjoy a fully satisfying Christian life unless he believes all the promises of God, and even then he looked forward to that perfect future rest."
The word of God is the cure for our unbelief, and is the key to opening the doors of heaven. This is why God wanted the people to have a day of rest, that they would have that rest with Him, both, on each sabbath and forever in heaven.
If we have our minds cluttered with other things than God, we may not make time for Him even on the Sabbath. The sabbath rest provides that time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Also observe this spiritual side of rest in Revelation 14:13.
13. And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! "' "Yes", says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them."
Let's also take a look at some other sabbath related Scripture. In Exodus 20:8-11 we see it is as a remembrance or commemoration of God's creation and rest.
8. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10. but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you and your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
11. "For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Note specifically in verse 10 that everyone was to rest in the Lord, even the animals and the strangers among us. Do you remember our study discussion of the fact that God spoke to the animals in Genesis 1:22? Could it be that without this rest, that none of God's created beings or even the whole of creation can truly hear His voice?
In Leviticus 25:2-7 we see that God commanded the Israelites, through Moses, to not only observe the seventh day of the week for rest, but also to work the land for six years, and then let it (the ground) rest in the seventh year.
2. "Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, 'When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the Lord.
3. 'Six years you shall sow your fields, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crops,
4. but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
5. 'Your harvest's aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year.
6. 'And all of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man, and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you.
7. 'Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat.
And during this sabbatical year, the people were to get special instruction in the word of God.
Note Jeremiah 25:11 concerning the seventy years of "make-up rest" in Babylon for not observing these sabbatical years.
11. 'And this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
Israel served a term of imprisonment of one year for every sabbatical year that they didn't observe.
In Jeremiah 17:19-27 we see a call to hallow the sabbath as a sign of repentance.
19. Thus the Lord said to me, "Go and stand in the public gate, through which the kings of Judah come in and go out, as well as in all the gates of Jerusalem;
20. and say to them, 'Listen to the word of the Lord, kings of Judah, and all inhabitants of Jerusalem, who come in through these gates:
21. Thus says the Lord, "Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.
22. "And you shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy as I commanded your forefathers.
23. "Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction.
If we listen carefully to what God is saying, we will hear Him speaking, not of the Law of the sabbath which should not be broken, but of the effect on us of breaking the intent of the sabbath.
If we work on the sabbath we are thinking of our work and not of God's will in our lives. If we work we will also get tired, and when we are finished, we will want to go to sleep, and not spend time with the Lord. And even if we try to spent time with Him at the end of a long day, we will not be giving the Lord our good time, and thus continue to loose the blessing.
Let's continue with this Jeremiah passage.
24. "But it will come about, if you will listen attentively to Me," declares the Lord, "to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it,
25. Then there will come in through the gates of the city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah, and this city will be inhabited forever.
26. "They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowlands, from the hill country, and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bring sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of the Lord.
27. "But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I shall kindle a fire in the gates, and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched.""'
Did you hear the choice God gives each of us of receiving either a blessing or a curse? The choice is really ours.
In Amos 8:4-6 we see the abuse of the sabbath day by those who desire to work on it, for their heart is only interested in money.
4. Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land,
"When will the new moon be over,
So that we may buy grain,
And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market,
To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger,
And to cheat with dishonest scales,
6. So as to buy the helpless for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals,
And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?"
If we sit in church and think about worldly things; church and God will be of little or no benefit to us. The benefit of the Sabbath is to give us a day of spiritual rest away from the concerns of our everyday life. It is to give us a time to refocus upon the intent of God for our lives. It is a time to recharge our spiritual "batteries" that the light of the Lord will warm us internally and shine forth from us.
As we enter the New Testament, we see the true intent of the sabbath. Note the explanation that Jesus gives in Matthew 12:1-8.
1. At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grainfields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.
2. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath."
3. But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions;
4. how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
5. "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent?
6. "But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here.
7. "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.
8. "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
Remember that the animals that were sacrificed in the Temple were also innocent. Therefore, we need to understand that Jesus is saying that all of the laws concerning the sacrifices were only given because of the people's disobedience and lack of compassion. They did not love the whole of God's creation, and rest in their reflection of all that He had made.
The sabbath was observed by Jesus' followers even after His death in Matthew 28:1.
1. Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.
Remember also that their heart is still set upon the Lord on Sunday, the day after the Sabbath.
In Mark 3:2 we see the hypocrisy of the "religious" people in relation to Jesus' healing on the sabbath.
2. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they might accuse Him.
Healing is a sign of compassion, and comes from love, and true love fulfills all of the Law and the Prophets.
In John 5:10 we also see the hypocrisy in relation to the person who was healed on the sabbath.
10. Therefore the Jews were saying to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet."
They totally lost sight of the miracle; thus, they actually are finding fault with God's grace. They should have been praising God, but because they were so intent on following the traditions and practices of people, they lost sight of the intent of God.
In John 7:21-24 we see more on the true intent of the sabbath.
21. Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one deed and you all marvel.
22. "On this account Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.
23. "If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?
24. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement."
In all of these passages, God shows His true intent concerning the sabbath. If we truly seek His will in our lives, He will more than likely show us what to do, not only on the Sabbath, but that more than one day a week is the Lord's rest for true believers, for we are to continually rest in Him.
We have seem in these passages two types of sabbaths being proclaimed: a sabbath sanctified and made holy to the Lord our God, on which we should cease from all worldly activity and honor and praise God, and a sabbath of rest and refreshing for all of God's creation, that all might be refreshed.
We might also consider the first of these two sabbaths as also being for the Lord Himself, that He would also be refreshed, and not loose heart with us who have turned from Him.
1. Gottwald, Norman K., The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1985, 139 & 185.
2. Ryrie, Charles Caldwell, The Ryrie Study Bible, (Chicago, Moody Press, 1978) Hebrews 4:8n.