As we wrap up this section of Exodus, we’re going to consider the Sabbath. To help us, we’re going to think about these 3 questions:
(1) Do we still need to keep the Sabbath today?
(2) What is it for?
(3) What does it mean practically to keep the Sabbath?
(A) Sabbath Purpose: a sign for revelation and sanctification (Exo 31: 12-13)
This is the fourth out of the five times the Sabbath law is mentioned in Exodus. By now, we’ve seen that the Sabbath is a command and it is also a comprehensive, communal rest (c.f. Exo 16:23, 20:8-11, 23:12). Yet in these verses, we are presented with 3 new things. The Sabbath is a “sign between me and you throughout your generations” and this is a sign that “the LORD sanctify you” (Exo 31:13). There is also a consequence for the one who does not obey it (Exo 30:14).
Before we take a look at the consequences, let’s take a look at what the Sabbath as sign means. The Sabbath is between God and His people, and is meant to span all of time. The Sabbath is a sign meant to help us to learn something about God. It is meant to reveal that this covenantal God sanctifies us. The Sabbath is for revelation of who God is, and also sanctification. We, who are to be made holy and set apart for God, are given the Sabbath. The Sabbath is also an intentional cessation of work (even work on the tabernacle) to make time to know God. This is a consistent pattern from the start of Exodus that this God in Exodus is a relational God. Right at the beginning, He heard their cries and sought to rescue them, not to leave them alone, but to bring them to Himself. He also gave them the law so that they would know Him and could be like Him.
How do we apply this? Firstly, are we intentionally setting aside time to know God every day? Do you spend time in His Word? How are you reading your Bible? Does what you do help you learn more about God? We must pause, make time, and be intentional about knowing this God.
Secondly, for those who are leaders in church, note the placement of this passage. These Sabbath instructions come after all the instructions of the building of the temple. He tells even the artists to rest. They work on 6 days but are to cease even from temple work on the 7 th day. God calls even people He has commissioned to come to know Him! Is all your reading of the Bible things that you do with people? Do you have personal Bible reading?
Thirdly, the more you know God, the more you need to change. How we spend our time, money, energy will change. Knowledge of God will lead to sanctification. Are our lives changing as we come to know God more? It is not even about being a better person. It is about a heart change.
Do you even want to know God in the first place? We miss the point of Sabbath, and knowing God, if our lives look exactly the same before and after we know God.
(B) Sabbath Penalty: a heavy consequence for rebellion (Exo 31:14-15)
As mentioned, this section in Exodus explains that there are consequences for not keeping the Sabbath. Exo 31:14-15. “Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death” and “that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (Exo 31:14). This is a physical death but the consequences are also on the soul level. Num 15:32-36 shows us that even the one who gathers sticks on the Sabbath is punished. We struggle with this because it sounds really harsh. But, perhaps, we don’t consider the importance of the Sabbath. Breaking the
Sabbath was a rejection and repudiation of the covenant. It was a way of saying to God that our relationship with Him is not important and He is not worth the time it takes to know Him. When people do that, they are cutting themselves from God, and it is only right for Him to cut them off.
Where is your heart in relation to God? Do you want to know Him? Do you want to be in His presence? The rejection of the Sabbath is a direct rebellion against God. The Sabbath is important to us because we want to know God and grow in our knowledge of Him! We grow to be more and more like Him every single day. It is a good thing for us to remember the Sabbath because we are His people. There are serious penalties because rejecting the Sabbath is rejecting God Himself!
How are we to understand this law and its penalty today? What has changed? We’ve been seeing how each aspect of the tabernacle points to an aspect of Christ. What kind of a law is the Sabbath law? Is it moral, ceremonial or civic? The Sabbath is a part of each type. The Sabbath is part of the moral law since it belonged to the 10 Commandments. It is a civic law because it governed how the people behaved as a people. It is also ceremonial because there is an aspect of worship to it. Jesus, in His death and resurrection, fulfilled this law fully and completely. These form the background before Paul writes these words in Col 2:16-17. The law is meant to help us see the person of Christ (Col 2:17). Paul picks it up in Rom 14:8. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. We live in Christ and live as a result of Christ’s righteousness.
To the non-believer, hear this – God designed for His people to be in relationship with Him but an unholy people who rejected His rule broke this relationship. The way back is not to try harder, but in the way that He provided through Christ, who lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we should have died. Now we live not in our own strength and identity but in His!
To the Christian, we need to observe the Sabbath. This is the way we know that our identity has changed. We spend the day in God’s Word, with God’s people to remind ourselves that our identity has changed and that we are in relationship with Him. We observe the Sabbath not because we need to achieve something, but because it has been achieved for us.
Do you actually want to spend time to know God? Or do you treat it as a to-do list? We started our study today with the question “do we need to obey the Sabbath?”. Chances are, we thought of the Sabbath as something we need to do/not. Do you hear the echo of the serpent, saying “Did God really say…”? We are more than ready to find loopholes and to find the way to enjoy everything that we can without stopping to enjoy God. The issue of the Sabbath penalty is something we can all relate to because it is sin, a fundamental rebellion against God. Death and separation from God is a result of sin.
(C) Sabbath Rest: an eternal sign for our covenant with an Almighty God (Exo 31:16-18)
God’s instructions for both the Tabernacle and the Sabbath are specific (Exo 31:16-18). These instructions set up a pattern for how an Israelite is to live. It’s the law fleshed out. These instructions also set up a pattern for Christian life. The wonderful tabernacle shows us how we are to worship this God. It tells us that we need to be clean, holy and set apart. We cannot approach God on our own, but we need an intercessor. It also sets up a pattern on daily repentance and daily faith. It sets up a pattern of rest and reliance on God wholly and fully. It shows us a picture of peace.
A Christian life is typified by daily repentance, worship, rest and turning to Christ.
Behind all the instructions, we see God’s heart! God desires for His people to know Him and to dwell with Him. It reveals a basic human principle for us. We also worship what is at the heart and center of our life. Just like how the tabernacle is at the centre of the Israelite camp, so too, is God supposed to be at the centre of all of our lives. The reason we cannot rest in this day and age is because we are not aligned. God is not at the centre of our lives. If God is at the centre of our lives, why do we try to prove ourselves at work? If God is at the centre of our heart, why do we seek relationships for our approval? Friends, cease from your labour and toil.
What do the Tabernacle and the Sabbath teach us about God? What are these shadows of? They teach us that we are in covenant with an Almighty Creator, and this aspect of God (rest) is rooted in His creation and nature. These things teach us that God’s plan all along was to bring His people back into relationship with Him. These things in Exodus are but a shadow of the Heavenly. It points forward to the time when we cease from labour and find our true rest. (c.f. Rev 21).