------------- Last updated : November 15, 2001
A Token of Love

INSIGHTS - a series of discussions on traditional thinking.....

For 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 their creator."

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: -

"Remember 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. 20:12-14).

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 overlooked.

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., these 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
November 1997