In our study of worship, we left off last time with an examination of the Book of Exodus’ contributions to our understanding of the Sabbath. In this post, we want to complete our look at the When of Worship under the Old Covenant, by rounding out the Sabbath institution from Leviticus and Numbers.
First, we arrive at Leviticus 23, a rather detailed chapter describing the feasts ascribed to Israel. However, at the beginning of the chapter, perhaps even framing the discussion on feasts (and certainly ‘holy convocations’), we have the introduction of the one day in seven Sabbath.
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.Leviticus 23:3
Our timeframe for Leviticus corresponds with the timeframe in Exodus, so much like the different perspectives on the life of Christ, provided by the Gospels, so too with these early books of the Old Testament. With this verse, we have essentially a restatement of the Fourth Commandment from Exodus 20, though with a some new information provided for the discussion, the mention of a holy convocation and the observation that this Sabbath is “in all your dwelling places.”
The phrase holy convocations is significant in this chapter, occurring eleven times. The mention of a convocation here is our first indication of a prescribed gathering on the Sabbath, but we have no other details provided in this passage, nor have we had any corresponding mention of a convocation in our previous passages. Though “holy convocation” is used here in a broader context than Sabbath, we’ll save further discussions on it until a subsequent post. For now, let’s simply keep in mind that there is some notion of convening, attached to the concept of Sabbath, apparently in all of [their] dwelling places, which could include anything from cities, tribes, or places where people dwell, including houses.
Our next verse comes from Leviticus 24:8-9. In the context of the priestly arrangement of accouterments in the tabernacle, we have the following concerning the bread
5 “You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. 6 And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before the Lord. 7 And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to the Lord. 8 Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before the Lord regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. 9 And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the Lord’s food offerings, a perpetual due.”Leviticus 24:5-9
Out of the above context, our focus is drawn to verses 8-9 where we see what was required of the priest on the Sabbath. Here we find that the priest was to prepare and arrange the bread each Sabbath as a food offering to the Lord, fulfilling Israel’s part of God’s covenant, forever, and then the priests were to consume the bread. Prior to this, we’ve found no mention of priestly duties on the Sabbath and only a limited prescription of duties for others on the Sabbath, aside from resting.
Our final passage comes from Numbers 28:9-10
“On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering: 10 this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.Numbers 28:9-10
Finally, from this last supporting passage, which rounds out our Old Covenant institution of the Sabbath, we find an additional requirement for an offering. This time, instead of a food offering of bread, we have a grain offering, drink offering, and burnt offering of two year-old, male lambs, without blemish. This offering was to be a regular occurrence on the Sabbath, in addition to the other offerings which God had prescribed.
Exploring the When of Worship by looking at the institution of the Sabbath under the Old Covenant has perhaps led to more questions than answers. It is very difficult to see any relationship with this Sabbath and any notion of a Christian Sabbath, in which believers under the New Covenant gather together to “worship God”. It would appear that the precedent for this was not present under the Old Covenant. However, this does not mean that God left the When of Worship, open to interpretation or His people in ‘an anything goes’ position. It just means that the Sabbath, thus far in our limited study, does not address this question. Before we look at the New Testament for what answers it may provide, we need to look at one additional note from the Old Covenant which we mentioned briefly above, holy convocations.