series of discussions on traditional thinking.....
as long as God existed, the principles of anti-godness or sin existed
side by side with the principles of godlikeness or holiness. The
expression of holiness was manifested throughout the angelic realm,
but then the expression of sin came to be manifested in Lucifer
and myriad other angels, disrupting the pulse of harmony which beat
throughout the universe.
There is no evidence that
God gave the first humans a listing of the principles of holiness
that was operative in the universe wherever they applied. The first
family evidently knew the principles of holiness, for we know that
Cain was aware of the wrong, which he had done in slaying his brother.
Nevertheless, before the fall, the only stated principle of holiness
was obedience (Gen. 2:16,17), and since the holy pair manifested
the expression of holiness, the universal principles of holiness
must have guided them - knowingly or unknowingly.
When God was through with
the material creation, He completed the creation week by the spiritual
creation of making the seventh day holy. "Thus the heaven and
the earth were completed with all their mighty throngs. On the sixth
day God completed all the work He had been doing, and on the seventh
day He ceased from all His work. God blessed the seventh day and
made it holy, because on that day He ceased from all the work He
had set Himself to do." Gen. 2:1-3 (NEB). Herein God set up
a principle of holiness - the seventh day is a holy day.
Now, the first pair was perfect, holy and righteous, yet
God set up for them a special time, a holy time which later He was
to call the Sabbath. Having completed the entire physical creation
in six days, there is no logical reason for a seventh day. In six
days the earth was ready for being populated by the two earthlings
- Adam and Eve. Yet God proceeded to create another day - a seventh.
The only reason it seems for there being a seventh day then, is
for man to remember the creative power of God. Each time that one
thinks of a seven-day week, one must think of the concept of 6+1.
Six for the physical and one for the spiritual - six days for normal
duties and one for special God-centered devotion. This could be
the only logical reason for God creating a seventh day in the creation
week after having created all that were to be created. Every week
therefore, there is a perpetual reminder to mankind that God is
creator. In creating the seventh day, God certainly had "in
mind" a special day of God-centered devotion and activity,
a rest from mundane duties, even though those mundane duties were
of holiness and righteousness.
Why should God set up such
a principle of holiness - a special time of holiness - in an environment
of purity, holiness and perfection? Was not the holy pair holy every
day of the week? Why a special holy day for people who were always,
only holy? Interesting questions indeed! Nevertheless, the fact
is that God did set a time, a special holy time for holy people.
God did not leave it to the whim or fancy of the holy couple to
decide when they would render special God-centered devotion. Indeed
that could have been done every day. Notwithstanding, God Himself
set the special time for them - the seventh day - not any day of
their choice, but the day of His choice, the seventh day.
Some have suggested answers
to the above questions: -
"Perhaps God was looking
down the tunnel of time and saw that, after the fall, He should
not leave it to the fancy of fallen man to decide on a time, for
they may decide on different days and times."
"Perhaps He intended
to forestall confusion, the God of order that He is, and thus set
the time Himself from the beginning."
"God instructed the
holy pair to work - tend to the garden and keep it. Perhaps God
intended that the Sabbath in Eden should be spent in God-centered
devotion rather than regular gardening. The holy pair could "rest"
from their daily rounds of gardening and focus more completely on
These suggestions may
or may not answer the questions. However, what we do know is that
God did set up a special time, a special day from the beginning,
before the fall,
and that special time was the seventh day.
Whereas one may assume
that all principles of holiness may have been programmed into the
psyche of the early couple since there is no evidence of instruction,
we are not left in doubt as to whether the sacredness of the seventh
day and obedience were principles of holiness before the fall. God
clearly showed that they were. (Gen. 2:1-3, 15-17)
Later at Sinai, when principles
of holiness were encoded, we see that they included the Sabbath,
not as a cultic ritual, but
as a reminder that God alone is the creator; He created in
six days and set aside the seventh day as holy. Later on, several
cultic rituals were appendaged to the Sabbath; rituals that have
perhaps clouded the original intent of God-centered devotion, by
causing Sabbath-keepers to concentrate more on what they must do
or must not do, rather than concentrate on God-centered devotion
to their creator. Thus the Sabbath became a burden rather than a
delight and these cultic appendages served to defeat the very purpose
of the Sabbath - a day of joyful, restful, God-centered devotion
and activity. Still, these cultic rituals were in no way to nullify
the original intent God purposed for the Sabbath.
Historically, the Sabbath
began to assume meaning in various contexts.
In the first place, it
was significant only in the context of God's creative rest day.
Indeed, thus it was indicated in the law given at Sinai (Ex. 20:8-11);
thus it was indicated before
the fall when all were pure and holy (Gen. 2:1-3); thus it
was forever intended to be, for had Adam and Eve filled the earth
with righteous sons and daughters, the Sabbath would surely have
continued to be an expression of a principle of holiness and a memorial
of the Creator, to time indefinite.
Secondly, the Sabbath became
significant in the context of the exodus from Egypt. Young Israelites
were to learn that the Sabbath was given by God because He brought
their ancestors out of Egypt. The Ten Commandments of Ex. 20:1-17
are repeated at Deut. 5:6-21. But the Sabbath commandment (Deut.
5:12-15), notably emphasizes the exodus as the focus of Sabbath
keeping, rather than focusing on God as creator as Ex. 20:8-11 does.
Note carefully Deut. 5:15: -
that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God brought you
out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and for that reason
the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day."
Although the Israelites
were to keep the Sabbath in this context throughout their generations
and God's rest day was here made relevant in the context of the
exodus, the emphasis on the Sabbath as a memorial of creation was
always to be remembered. The ten-commandment law, with the fourth
commandment (Sabbath commandment) which focuses on God's creatorship,
was placed within the ark
of the covenant as a perpetual reminder (Deut.10: 1,2), while all
the other laws, including that of Deut. 5:6-21 were placed in
the side of the ark (Deut. 31:24-26). There is certainly
a significant difference between the ten-commandments, which some
call the moral law, and the other civil, cultic and religious laws
(ceremonial laws) which God gave to the Israelites, since one set
was placed in the ark
and the other set was placed in
the side of the ark.
The one law is perpetual, the other as a shadow of Christ.
Later, another perception
of the Sabbath was in the context of the covenant.
God would be the protector
of His people in relation to how they related to the Sabbath and
other statutes. When they polluted the Sabbath, God's wrath was
felt as He allowed the heathen nations to invade and plunder (Eze.
Then the Sabbath was seen
in the context of the many sanctuary rituals, sacrifices, feast
days and the Day of Atonement. Here the Sabbath was important as
it related to the many rituals of the sanctuary and the religious
life of the Jews. Several references to the Sabbath and the ceremonial
sabbaths seem to suggest that it is in this context many, perhaps
all of Israel, viewed the Sabbath after a while - 1 Chron. 23:31;
2 Chron. 31:3; Isa. 1:13; Lev. 23 - are but a few.
The Sabbath therefore was
always made relevant to the Israelites in various contexts throughout
their existence as a nation of God's special people, but was always
a principle of holiness with reference to God as creator.
But should Christians today
relate to the Sabbath?
Christians certainly cannot
relate to the Sabbath in the context of the exodus as Israel did;
nor in the context of the cultic rituals of Israel; nor in relation
to God's covenant with Israel. But Christians today can certainly
relate to it in the context of a recognition of God's creatorship
and rulership - the original intent - and in the context of the
new exodus, the cross event and the new covenant.
It is evident today that
God's creatorship and rulership are constantly being challenged
in science, some religions and modern technology. These challenges
are merely continuing Satan's initial challenge of God's rulership.
Satan, fallen angels and man will continue to challenge God's rulership
until the final judgment of destruction. Recognition of and obedience
to God's principles of holiness are perhaps the highest levels of
recognition of God's rulership and subjection to the same, which
man can offer! It is this type of love response which one is constrained
to give as one considers the love of God through His son Jesus Christ.
This response of obedience and subjection to God is not a condition
for salvation but a condition in salvation, for no obedience but
Christ's counts for righteousness. Our salvation is assured on faith
in Christ rather than obedience to God's principles of holiness.
The latter is the loving response to the former.
The concept of the greater
exodus is an interesting one. The Old Testament records how Moses
took God's people out of Egyptian bondage, through the Red Sea to
Canaan, the land of promise. With the new exodus, Jesus is the greater
Moses; bondage to sin is the greater Egypt; baptism is the greater
Red Sea crossing; the new earth is the greater Canaan where we will
enter into God's eternal rest. The cross event then is the central
focus of the new exodus. As the Israelites instructed their children
according to Deut. 5:15, so the Christians today can instruct their
children as to the Christocentricity of the Sabbath celebration,
not as a legal requirement for salvation, but as a grateful celebration
of the love of Jesus Christ. Christians today can relate to the
Sabbath in the context of the rest they now have in Jesus, for Jesus
has already worked for their salvation. The apostle Paul reminds
us that salvation is not of works lest we can boast. Our works of
obedience are from the cross, not to the cross, and even then the
works are not ours, for "it is God who works in you inspiring
both the will and the deed for His chosen purpose." Phil. 2:13
(NEB). The Sabbath is symbolic of that rest now and in the hereafter.
This is akin to the concept that Paul introduces in Hebrews chapter
4. God invites us to come into His rest, a token of which we can
experience in the Sabbath - a day of joyful, God-centered devotional
activity. What joy will the redeemed experience when forever we
can share the Savior's love and enjoy the bliss of eternal rest!
In this sinful, stressful, diseased and violent world, is there
a token of the promised eternal joy and bliss? Yes, the Sabbath!
When one considers all the principles of holiness enshrined in the
scriptures, surely the Sabbath is that token of love and joy.
Thus historically, as the
Sabbath meant something different to the Israelites in different
contexts while remaining a principle of holiness set up for sinless
man, so it can be to Christians today - something special and different
to each believer depending on his background and culture, but maintaining
the commonality of a principle of holiness unto God, commemorating
his creative work and power.
But the dilemma of the
Sabbatarian today is that he slavishly conforms to his own cultic
restrictions and appendages that he imposes on the Sabbath. He feels
constrained to insist that others follow his self-inflicted denials
of the joys of Sabbath observance. He therefore defeats the very
joy that the Sabbath is, and is truly condemned by Christ's words,
"the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath."
Mark 2:27(KJV). He forgets that Paul insists, "let no one make
rules about ... the Sabbath." Col. 2:16.
It is interesting to note
that some contend that in this scripture (Col. 2:16,17), Paul teaches
that the New Testament church need not observe the Sabbath. This
shows, they say, that like other rituals, feasts and holy days,
the Sabbath is a shadow "of what was to come" (NEB), "the
reality is Christ" (GNB). Paul certainly includes the seventh
day Sabbath here, but there is a concept here which must not be
The Sabbath, inaugurated
before the fall, could not have been a shadow of the reality
that is Christ. Any reference to a shadow pointing to Christ must
surely be made in the context of salvation and Christ salvific act
on Calvary. Unlike the feasts and other rituals, when the Sabbath
was inaugurated there was no sin in the earth, thus the Sabbath
has no relevance whatsoever to a shadow or symbol of salvation and
Christ as Savior. The Sabbath was and still is, a celebration of
God's creatorship and rulership. Paul's reference to a shadow (verse
17) cannot then be relevant to a principle of holiness inaugurated
before the fall, for there was no need for a Savior then.
As suggested earlier, had Adam and Eve filled the earth with righteous
earthlings, the holiness of the seventh day would certainly have
continued, and after four thousand years of righteousness on the
earth, any reference to the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ as a redeemer
would be meaningless.
What then could Paul mean?
As seen above, there were several cultic appendages to the Sabbath
and like the system of ordinances, sacrifices, feast days etc.,
were the shadow of the reality that is Christ - not the Sabbath
itself. Like Christ before him, Paul was here indicating that these
cultic appendages were not binding on the Christian in view of the
reality of the cross event. Hence all Christians then and now must
not let anyone determine for them how they are to relate to the
Sabbath. One must claim the promise at John 16:12,13 that the Holy
Spirit will guide one into all truth and follow as He leads. It
is He who is to determine for us how we are to relate to the principle
of holiness that is the Sabbath, but to deny the holiness of God's
holy day is certainly not in harmony with God's intent! As the Holy
Spirit leads, we will be constrained to let the Sabbath be a joy,
a token of God's eternal rest and unending love of Jesus.
The question then is not
whether one should observe the sanctity of the Sabbath, but rather
how one should go about observing this sanctity. That one should
"do good" on the Sabbath is not debatable, for Christ
has shown us the way. What is in dispute however, is the extent
to which one must go, as far as omitting from one's lifestyle the
mundane tasks and activities that are not necessarily in harmony
with the sanctity of the Sabbath. To what extent does one consider
that one's job or profession is of such a nature as to make it a
necessity to attend to it on the Sabbath while observing the Sabbath's
sanctity? If one is employed in an essential service, is one free
to attend to his job, notwithstanding, and still be in harmony with
God's best wishes for Sabbath sanctity? Who decides what is permissible
or not on the Sabbath? What recreational activities should one be
involved in on the Sabbath? What is the "ass in the pit"
concept as applied to the Sabbath? These are the bothersome questions
which tend to cause Christians to conclude that Sabbath sanctity
in this day and age is anachronistic and was abolished.
But it is only one's personal
relationship with God and one's reliance on the guidance of the
Holy Spirit that are to be the determining factors in answering
these questions, rather than to take the easier way out and abolish
the Sabbath altogether.
One of the major difficulties
in abolishing the Sabbath, is that the entire ten-commandment law
which was placed in the ark should also be abolished, if one is
to be consistent, for the fourth commandment is but one of a set
of principles of holiness which either stand together of fall together.
If one is to insist that the entire ten-commandment law is abolished
with the death of Christ, then the Christian today has no criteria
with which he can access his obedience, for obedience must be in
relation to some set of principles of holiness. Some say that the
example of Christ's life is the only criterion by which the Christian
must live. Yet such fail to recognize that Christ was careful to
observe Sabbath sanctity while on earth. The scripture says that
as His custom was He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath. As
the example has done, so should we. But by far, the concept that
the holiness of the seventh day was inaugurated before
the fall overshadows all other concepts with regard to the
relevance of the Sabbath today and indeed forever.
In conclusion, it could
perhaps bear repetition that one must claim the promise at John
16:12,13 that the Holy Spirit will guide one into all truth and
follow as He leads. It is He who is to determine for us how we are
to relate to the principle of holiness that is the Sabbath. As the
Holy Spirit leads, we will be constrained to let the Sabbath be
a joy, a token of God's eternal rest and unending wonderful love
of Jesus our Lord.
Michael A. Murrell