Our recent posts have been devoted to an overview of worship, according to Scripture. We are coming at this from the angle of both a general overview of the Old Testament and then by way of continuity/discontinuity as we approach the New Testament. We’ve already established that God prescribed worship under the Old Covenant and we have set out to tackle which, whether, and what of these are continuous under the New Covenant, inaugurated with the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In our last post, we began with creation to see if God had prescribed a particular day of worship, and then followed that through the story line of Genesis. We concluded that while there was significance to the Seventh Day of rest that the Lord set apart and blessed at the conclusion of creation, and while this concept of rest is developed in Genesis and the remaineder of the Old Testament, there was very little to lend itself to a particular, prescribed day of worship. With that, we turn our attention to the second post on the When of Worship, with a more detailed look at the Sabbath under the Old Covenant.
The Sabbath, as most know, can be a source of contention and disagreement under the New Covenant. Is the Sabbath Command still in effect? Has it been abrogated? Is there such thing as a Christian Sabbath? Has the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday? These questions, and others, are directly related to 1) How we interpret the Sabbath under the Old Covenant and 2) The continuity/discontinuity of this Sabbath. There are several significant passages on the Sabbath, particularly under the leadership of Moses, that help us to define the terms of the Sabbath, its meaning, requirements, and prohibitions.
As we consider the time period of Israel under Moses, specifically as he leads the exodus of Israel from bondage in Egypt, we should immediately pay closer attention to this concept of prescribed worship, especially as it relates to a particular day or days. It’s here, with the inauguration of the Old Covenant, that we also find other elements of prescribed worship with the inauguration of the Old Covenant. We’ve already seen the worship significance of the first four commandments, in general, but here we want to draw our attention to the commandment of the Sabbath Day. There are several passages which inform our understanding of the Sabbath, though we wont take time to detail each of them in their context, we will hit the highlights of each to help formulate our Sabbath theology.
The first passage we want to mention is Exodus 16:1-30. In this passage, we have what might best be called the practical application, or a test for obedience, for observing the Sabbath Day even before the command had come down from Mt. Sinai. In this narrative, the people are simply required to rest from their labors of collecting manna and were to remain in their own dwellings. We find no indication of regulated worship on this day. What we do find is a command for the people to rest from their efforts on the Sabbath and the implication for them to rely upon the promises and provision of God to supply the manna. Relying on God’s provision, and faithfulness, was contrary to the Israelite efforts of collecting manna as well as to the normal sustainability of manna. It simply would not last from day to day, it either disappeared or turned to worms, but not on the Sabbath. Implicit in each day of the week was reliance upon God, which reached its apex on the Sabbath, as He was especially remembered as the Provider and Sustainer.
Next, we turn to Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. While the first passage details the commandment as it was delivered by God at Sinai, the second passage is a summary of the commandment delivered in a speech by Moses to the children of the Exodus Generation on the Plains of Moab, just prior to their entrance into the Promised Land. Here is where we get the familiar summary command, Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Just as important, however, are the other details of the commandment, six days shall you work, the seventh is a Sabbath to your Lord, no work by any man, woman, child, servant, beast, or other member of the community is to be performed on this day. In Exodus, we find the basis for the command resting upon the Creation Sabbath from Genesis 2:1-3, while in Deuteronomy, we find the basis for the command resting upon Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt. The two passage are not contradictory, rather they are complimentary. There is an implication that the scope of the Sabbath Commandment is both universal, going back to creation, and limited going back to Israel’s redemption from Egypt. In neither of these command statements do we see any requirement for worship, whether individual or corporate. We find no instructions for any specific religious duty or even gathering together on this day for the purpose of religion. We instead see a call to recognize God on the day that He had sanctified, specifically noting His work as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Provider, and Sustainer. In a very real sense, the Sabbath, while created for man, was a God-centered, God-exalting day.
In addition to these primary passages, there are several supporting passages which build upon and further develop this concept of the Sabbath Command. Three are in Exodus, two in Leviticus, and one in Numbers. We will look at these in the next post, to see their contribution to our overall understanding of the Sabbath and more particularly how it relates to the When of Worship under the New Covenant.