Worship Wars – Part 6

In our ongoing series concerning the worship of God, we’ve undertaken to examine worship under the Old Covenant and then to see how this worship transitions into the New Covenant. Having now set the stage for this general transition, by looking at continuity and discontinuity, we’ve come to one of the most difficult aspects, namely the When of Worship. To tackle this, we’ve been looking at the Sabbath Day to see what if anything it brings to bear on a particular day or days of worship. In the last post, we looked at two passages from the installation of the Sabbath Day through the giving of the Law, first in Exodus 20 and then in Deuteronomy 5. Here, we will look at three supporting passages from the Book of Exodus. From these passages that occur in Exodus, chapters 23, 31, and then 34/35, the first two occur while Israel is still at Sinai and the last one occurs at Sinai after the golden calf episode. This latter occurrence is God’s renewal of the covenant after it was broken by Israel on the day that the commandments were given.

In Exodus 23:10-19 we find the Sabbath Principle of rest, an expansion beyond the Sabbath commandment outlined in Exodus 20, which extends here to allow the land to rest 1 year in 7. Beyond the practical farming wisdom, this was also to allow the poor and then the beasts to eat of the field. Additionally, after a reiteration of the Sabbath Command at the beginning of verse 12, we find mention of it’s purpose, this time for refreshment of oxen, donkeys, servant children, and aliens. The remainder of the passage is devoted to the introduction of three Feasts, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Ingathering, at which the Lord commanded that the men of Israel appear before Him. We won’t develop this point here, but it is something worth mentioning and remembering.

Our second supporting passage is found in Exodus 31:12-18, where a reference to the Sabbath is made as follows, “above all you shall keep my Sabbaths [note the plural] for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations.” This superiority of the Sabbaths also includes

  • A sign between God and Israel throughout their generations
  • The Lord who sanctifies
  • The holiness of the Sabbath
  • Three mentions that those who violate the Sabbath shall be put to death.
  • All summarized with the statement that the Sabbath is a covenant forever.

Here, as in Exodus 20, the basis for the Sabbath Day is grounded in the Creation Sabbath from Genesis 2. As an additional note, the case study for violating the Sabbath may be found in Numbers 15:32-36, where a man deliberately violates the Sabbath by planning to build a fire, a prohibition which we will see below.

The next supporting passage we will treat as a couplet, Exodus 34 and Exodus 35:2-3 and the aforementioned renewal of the covenant broken on the day Moses received the tablets. After stating that He would go before them and drive out the inhabitants of the land, the Lord states, “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.” Immediately after this, is the reiteration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, followed by a description of the Feast of Firstfruits, a focus which we pointed out above. Immediately after this, in Exodus 34:21, is a restatement of the Sabbath interwoven with further discussion on the feasts

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. 23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.

Again, we have mention of the Feast of Weeks (firstfruits), and the Feast of Ingathering along with the command for males to appear before the Lord three times a year, with the promise that their land would be safe when they go. Rounding out this passage is additional commentary on the Feast of Passover (associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and again the Feast of Firstfruits.

After the familiar narrative on Moses’ shining face, we arrive at the final mention of the Sabbath in the Book of Exodus

Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”

Exodus 35:1-3

In this critical passage, not only do we see the prohibition against work on the seventh, or Sabbath Day, but we find one additional prohibition, no kindling of fire in all “your dwelling places.” This provides some much needed context on our references of Leviticus 15 above where the man was stoned for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Now we see that his was a premeditated and direct violation of the Sabbath, i.e. a high-handed sin.

Given the introductory passages on the Sabbath from our last post and these supporting passages from the Book of Exodus, we again see that there is no compelling evidence, either explicit or implicit, which require corporate worship, individual worship, or other religious duties beyond remaining in their dwellings and remembering the Lord of the Sabbath as Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Sanctifier, and Redeemer.

In the next post from this series, we’ll survey three additional support passages and then see how the Sabbath of the Old Covenant transitions into the New Covenant.


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