The Forgotten Gift in God’s Law

One thing has always fascinated me about God, and specifically about the creation week: At the end of the week, God rested. Not only did God rest, but He set the seventh day of the week apart, and blessed it, making it officially ‘holy’. Here is how the New Living Translation says it:

On the seventh day God had finished His work of creation, so He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when He rested from all His work of creation. (Genesis 2:2-3).

God set this day apart and declared it holy. Not only did God establish this special ‘seventh’ day, but with it, He also engrained the concept of a 7-day week into our mind. For thousands of years, one aspect of humanity has been united, and it is that the week (which doesn’t directly get its identity from an object in space) is seven days long.

In addition to simply giving us the day itself, God also places this seventh day at the heart and climax of His Ten Commandments. Commandment number 4 is all about “remembering”: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) [emphasis supplied]. God then goes on to explain that resting as He did is how we keep the Sabbath holy. The command concludes by defining the reason behind the rest and the goal of the rest (God is our Creator) and He links the ‘Sabbath’ in question directly to the creation week. (verse 11).

I recently learned that Jewish/Hebrew custom always tries to work upwards towards a climax. At the climax and heart of how we give glory to God is by keeping the Sabbath rest that helps us realign ourselves in light of God being our Creator. Moses adds to the Sabbath day observance the idea that we should remember the Sabbath because God is also our Savior. (Deuteronomy 5:15). God saved the Israelites out of Egypt, but as we will see shortly, we also have reason to celebrate salvation each Sabbath.

What seems interesting in my mind is how different people view the Sabbath. I have yet to find anyone who disagrees with keeping the other nine commandments, but when presented with the Sabbath – the pinnacle of how we can give glory to God – almost everyone is quick to discount it.

Why would God etch a command in stone with His finger, only to supposedly remove or ‘correct’ it later? That doesn’t seem like God. We can see God ‘changing His mind’ when discussing things with people: Moses convinces God to spare the Israelites instead of wiping them out, Jonah’s successful work turns God’s hand from destroying Nineveh, and Abraham has an interesting discussion with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.

However, it doesn’t make sense for God to place something in writing and then to change it. Placing something in writing is one way we as humans create legal documents, and if God changes, then other aspects of God can change, such as His Love, His Grace, how we are saved through Jesus. If God can change His character, then we are in a lot of trouble because we have no idea how we stand towards Him. (He also would become like the ancient pagan gods who were always fighting with each other, but that is a different point.)

However, once we determine that the Sabbath is important, what derails most people when they are beginning is what day of the week is the Sabbath on. After 6000 or more years, can we really even know? In the Bible, the Sabbath is the only day of the week that has a distinct name. The rest of the weekdays are given numbers or names in relation to the Sabbath (the first day of the week, or the preparation day [day before the Sabbath]). Today, however, all our weekdays are named after Roman/Greek gods and arranged in descending order.

The first way we can determine what day is the Sabbath is by looking internationally at language. English doesn’t give us many clues, but in languages such as Albanian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Esperanto, Galician, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Macedonian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Ukrainian, & Yiddish use the same word for Sabbath and the English day “Saturday”. The most notable ones in my mind from this list are Greek, Italian, and Spanish. (I had fun with Google translate to compile this list.) Many other languages not included used similar words, but had some slight differences.

The second way we can determine the Sabbath is by looking a little closer at the ‘holiday’ (or Holy-day) we are getting ready to celebrate: Easter. Today is the day that most Christians believe that Jesus was crucified. We call it ‘Good’ Friday, although in my mind, I would prefer ‘great’, ‘wonderful’, or ‘amazing’ as a better adjective. All four gospel writers include information about the day, and how it related to the Sabbath: Mark 15:42; Matthew 27:62; Luke 23:54; and John 19:42. These verses all literally translate (with the NASB & NKJV as my literal references) the day Jesus died as the “day of preparation”, and both Mark and Luke reference that this preparation day was preparing for “the Sabbath”, which is why they wanted to take Jesus’ body down quickly before the sunset.

If Jesus’ death was not enough distinction, all four gospel writers tie Jesus’ resurrection to being on the first day of the week, with Mark and Matthew referencing that this was the day after the Sabbath. (Mark 16: 1-2; Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

The Easter celebration becomes the mark throughout the second half of history on what day of the week is the Sabbath. God completes creation with a day of rest that He made holy, calling it ‘rest day’, or “shabath” in Hebrew. In addition, Jesus, after completing His work of salvation by dying on the cross, rested an entire Sabbath day in the tomb, and caused it to be a subtle validation and climax piece of the entire Passion Week.

These reasons are enough for me to know that the Sabbath day is important to God:

  1. God gave us this gift at creation to help us remember Him as our Creator, before sin had entered the world;
  2. He calls us to remember it in His unchanging Moral Law, because He knew it would be the first thing we would be likely to forget;
  3. And Jesus, who is God’s own Son, rested on the Sabbath day immediately after finishing His work of Salvation.

If the Sabbath is that important to God, it should become very important to me as well. As we enter into the extra special Sabbath that Jesus rested, what will we do to remember His work of Salvation in our own lives?

~Cam

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