Bible Readings for March 20th
In Exodus 31, we find some of the clearest teaching in all the Bible about the purpose and importance of the Sabbath. In recent history, the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath holy has been largely forgotten among Christians. A lot of this is not willful disobedience but instead has to do with confusion surrounding the nature of the Sabbath under the new covenant. Jesus often corrected the Pharisees for their misguided views about the Sabbath, but what can we glean today from the Old Testament that is still applicable for the New Testament Christian?
In this context, Exodus 31:13 is so refreshing: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.” In today’s meditation, we will look at (1) what it means that the Sabbath is a sign, and (2) what the sign of Sabbath teaches us about the relationship of Yahweh to his people.
A sign is a symbol that points to another reality. So, when Yahweh says that his Sabbath is a sign between Israel and him throughout their generations, he is saying that the Sabbath points to something bigger than just the Sabbath. Every time Israel keeps the Sabbath, their behavior is pointing to the fact that their lives are governed by the covenant relationship that they enjoy with Yahweh, the living God of heaven and earth.
But more specifically, Yahweh gives the exact meaning of his sign: “that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.” The word sanctify literally means “to make holy.” In other words, the purpose of keeping the Sabbath was to teach Israel that Yahweh alone would make his people holy. There was nothing that they could do, no work that they could perform or duty they could keep to sanctify themselves. Rather, they were to rest from all their work on the seventh day as a perpetual reminder that only Yahweh could make them holy.
This is why Jesus criticized what the Pharisees did on the Sabbath—they turned Sabbath-keeping into a work that would make themselves holy, which is the exact opposite of Yahweh’s intention for Sabbath-keeping.
Seen this way, Christians have good reason to rest from their work on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Jesus finished his work on the cross on Good Friday, and on Saturday (the Sabbath) he rested from his work, lying dead in the grave. Then, on Sunday, he rose from the dead as the fulfillment of God’s Sabbath promise to make his people holy.
So, resting from our work on Sunday isn’t a legalistic rule we keep to make ourselves holy. It is a perpetual reminder that only Yahweh can make us holy and that he did make us holy through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.