The Lord called Moses to lead the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt into the promised land and to reveal Himself to them. The Lord revealed Himself by specifying the manner in which Israel was to worship Him and through the giving of the law. In the text before us, the Lord states that Israel is to the keep the sabbath and the reason for the sabbath.
The requirement to keep the sabbath was first given in Exodus 16. The children of Israel were to gather and prepare twice as much manna on the sixth day and were commanded to rest upon the seventh day. This instruction was given prior to their arrival at Mount Sinai. In Exodus 20 (shortly after arriving at the mount), Moses delivered the ten commandments to the people which commandments included keeping the sabbath. The instruction before us follows the selection of the workmen who were to construct the tabernacle and manufacture its fashionings. The workmen who would fashion God’s dwelling were not exempted from keeping the sabbath or from keeping it holy.
The sabbath is a sign between God and Israel. Keeping the sabbath is a sign by which Israel might know that the Lord has set them apart as His people (v. 13). It is a sign which signifies that Israel is a special people in God’s sight. In keeping the sabbath, Israel proclaims that the Lord is their God and the Lord has set them apart from other people. The sabbath is a declaration of what God has done. God, in instructing Israel to keep His sabbaths, is requiring Israel to testify of Him and to declare His doings.
In verse 14, the Lord states that every one who defiles the sabbath shall surely be put to death. These are the words of God. One either believes or does not believe God. The punishment for unbelief is death. God counts belief for righteousness.
New Testament believers are the beneficiaries of a better covenant (Heb. 8:6). We have a special relationship with God the Father through God the Son. Believers need not be told that we have a better covenant because the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is within us and assures us. We know the holiness of God through the Son. We are made holy by Him. Our belief is counted for righteousness.
Consider again the statement, “Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you”. What made the sabbath holy? It is not made holy by Israel’s observing it. The sabbath was made holy because of what God did. God gave Israel the sabbath such that they might reflect upon His works. True sabbath keeping requires reflecting upon what God has done. Israel was the recipient of God’s grace. To keep the sabbath one must reflect upon and respond to the grace that the Lord has given.
New Testament believers are called to reflect upon that which God has done and to go to all nations and to teach and to baptize (Matt. 28:19). Sabbath keeping is more than reverencing God on the seventh day. One cannot keep the sabbath unless one believes God’s word and acts upon His word.
Anyone among Israel who would defile the sabbath would ignore the grace of Him who delivered them from bondage. New Testament believers have embraced God’s grace. We have accepted the gift of salvation which is through Jesus Christ. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life” (I John 5:12). One either has the Son or one does not have the Son. One is either a New Testament believer or one is not. The lost can declare that they are New Testament believers but declarations do not count. Salvation is by grace and grace alone. It is by grace that the Son has fulfilled every requirement of the law and made us free.
In verse 15, the Lord states that whosoever does work on the sabbath day “shall surely be put to death.” Sin has eternal consequences. Whoever works on the sabbath day ignores the word of the Lord. Whoever among Israel who works on the sabbath day makes a de facto statement that he does not believe God. God counts believing for righteousness. Unbelief is sin. The wages of sin is death. One who defiles the sabbath is immediately sentenced to eternal separation from God and lives under that death sentence.
The Lord Jesus made it known that the sabbath was created for man (Mark 2:27). The purpose of the sabbath was not to condemn men to death. Men were condemned before the law was given (see Gen. 2:17, Rom. 5:12). The purpose of the sabbath is to point men to Him who gives freely of His grace.
It was by grace and grace alone that the Lord God sanctified Israel. Israel was to observe the sabbath as a perpetual covenant (v. 16). Israel’s part of the perpetual covenant was all future. God’s part is present tense: “I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.” The Lord God sanctified Israel and continues to sanctify Israel. God’s grace is ongoing. It is past and it is now.
Keeping the sabbath was to be an everlasting covenant because God created heaven and earth in six days and rested the seventh day. In instructing the children of Israel to keep the sabbath, God commanded Israel to do as He had done — work six days and rest the seventh.
New Testament believers have been given a like instruction. Jesus said: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We are instructed to love one another in the present and in the future because of the love which He has bestowed upon us. Christ is to be seen in us.
We are called to be like Him! Let us reveal His grace to all.