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The Origin of the Sabbath

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 6, 2022 12:01 am

The Origin of the Sabbath

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 6, 2022 12:01 am

Is the Sabbath binding on Christians, or was it a holy day only for Israelites under the old covenant? Today, W. Robert Godfrey shows that the timing of the Sabbath's origin presents the key to answering this question.

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Most cultures around the world agree on what a day, a month, and a year are.

Those things are all established in nature. We don't need special revelation to know that. But a week is not established in nature. A seven-day week is established by revelation. We are called to have a seven-day week by God because of the imprint of His creative work on our lives. We are called to rest on the seventh day of the week, a day the Lord established as the Sabbath. But where do we find the origin of this day that the Lord made holy? At the time God gave the commandments to Israel, or does it go back further?

Let's join Dr. Robert Godfrey as he continues his series, The Lord's Day, Sabbath Worship and Rest. Last time I talked about three basic questions that we have to answer as we think about the biblical material. And in a sense, I think, although we think that the New Testament is the most important on this, I really think this first question is foundational and crucial. In the reading I've done on this whole question of Lord's Day and Sabbath, I think I conclude that almost always how you answer the question of the origin of the Sabbath in the Old Testament determines how you see the relationship of Lord's Day and Sabbath in the New Testament.

So, this is a really foundational question, a really crucial question. Where does the Sabbath in the Old Testament come from? Now, you know that there are two versions of the Ten Commandments recorded for us in the Old Testament.

There's the version in Exodus 20 that I read in the last study, but there's also the version in Deuteronomy chapter 5. And let me read that statement of the fourth commandment to you. In Deuteronomy 5 we read, Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. So far, the commandment is quite similar to what we find in Exodus chapter 20. But now the commandment comes to the reason for keeping the Sabbath day holy.

And in Deuteronomy 5 at verse 15 we read, You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Here in Deuteronomy 5, Moses is stressing the connection between Sabbath and remembering the Lord's deliverance of Israel from the house of bondage. And if this was the only version of the Ten Commandments that we had, we might well be tempted to think that the Sabbath begins with Moses at Sinai. Because the whole purpose of the Sabbath would be to remember that God delivered us from Egypt. It would be very much grounded in that historical moment of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt. But that's not the only statement of the Sabbath that we have.

And that's important to see. To be sure, one of the functions of the Sabbath is to have time to think about the saving work of God. But Exodus 20 reminds us that the Sabbath is also to remind us about the creative work of God, about God the Creator. And so we read in Exodus chapter 20 at verse 11, For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. And that's really a quotation, isn't it, from Genesis chapter 2. It's a quotation from the creation story recorded by Moses at the beginning of the book of Genesis.

And Genesis chapter 2, verse 1 and following, we read, Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So the Lord blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. There it is, Genesis 2, verse 3, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Now, those who want to defend the proposition that the Sabbath really only comes with Moses said, Well, yes, it's recorded that God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy at creation, but there's no commandment there. There's no commandment to keep the day holy there. It's simply a declaration that God made it holy. But you know, that's a pretty weak argument.

That's really a pretty weak argument. Certainly, it's a weak argument when you see in the fourth commandment in Exodus 20 that it's given as a reason for the Sabbath. Well, you could still say, Well, Moses is giving a new reason to the Sabbath that really wasn't there from creation.

But I don't think that works. When God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, for whom did he do that? Did he do it for himself? Well, God doesn't really live in days, does he? God doesn't really live in time. God lives in eternity. And all of God's existence is blessed and holy, right? He doesn't have sometimes more blessed than others, some days more holy than others. God exists always in holiness and blessedness in eternity. So, for whom did God bless the seventh day and make it holy?

For man. I've argued that really all of the creation story is structured so that we'll know who we are and how we're to live. It's a pattern for us in living, and we're to work six days and rest one.

That's the pattern God established for us in creation. And then when we look more carefully at the Old Testament before Moses, or at least before Sinai, we discover that the Sabbath seems to be present. It's interesting that in the book of Genesis at several points, we can see that God's people are following a seven-day week.

Now you say, well, you know, how important is that? Well, it is important because the way we human beings measure time in most instances is established by nature. So, what's a day? Well, it's 24 hours of night and day, of darkness and light.

You don't have to have the Bible to know what a day is. We have months as human beings. That's related to the moon and lunar orbit, so that cultures all around the world know what a month is. That's not to say that every calendar is exactly the same, but there's a substantial agreement about what a day is, about what a month is, about what a year is.

Because a year or two is determined by nature, by the, whatever it is, the orbit of the earth around the sun. Those things are all established in nature. We don't need special revelation to know that. But a week is not established in nature. A seven-day week is established by revelation. We are called to have a seven-day week by God because of the imprint of his creative work on our lives. At the time of the French Revolution, one of the things the revolutionaries tried to do was get rid of the seven-day week. They wanted to put the world on a metric system, even back then, so they wanted a ten-day week, three ten-day weeks.

Well, that kind of would work. They weren't able to succeed at that because seven days was too well implanted in practice. But it's really by revelation that we have a seven-day week, and that's testified to in the book of Genesis at several points that they were living according to a seven-day week. We also read in Exodus chapter 16 that Israel in the wilderness was forbidden to gather manna on the Sabbath.

Now, you know, you pay a lot of money to learn this, but Exodus 16 comes before Exodus 20. And so Israel was keeping Sabbath before they got to Sinai, it appears. And all of this is to say that Sabbath, while being influenced by redemption and by God's saving work, bringing them out of the house of bondage, the root of the Sabbath is in creation. And our Reformed fathers, by and large, said that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, that there are certain things established in creation that stay with mankind all through its experience and life.

And the family is one of those creation ordinances, and that's why the attack on the family is so serious in our contemporary world. But the Sabbath also is a creation ordinance. From creation, not from the fall, not from redemption, but from creation itself, we are called to set aside time for serving God and worshiping him in the world that he created. Even if we hadn't fallen in this world, we would be called to keep the Sabbath day holy.

And there are a variety of reasons that we can offer for that. A lot of our Reformed fathers talked about how the Sabbath plants in our very creation, the notion that we're not done, we haven't reached the final point. Even apart from sin, there was something to look forward to. We worked and then we rested, implying that someday, even if there had never been any sin, there would be a greater perfection of rest than we have experienced just from the initial creation itself. They called that a sort of eschatological expectation.

There's going to be further development to the point of final rest. So, I think the argument that the Sabbath is established in creation, not in Moses, is I think pretty irrefutable. I don't think the people who try to make the Sabbath simply Mosaic succeed at all. I think that's really pretty clear.

I got a question about clarity. Is the Bible clear on this? I think the Bible's clear on that. Genesis 2 says it, Exodus 20 repeats it, the Sabbath is grounded in God's creative work that God blessed it and made it holy from creation. That means, of course, that it's not just for the Jews. There's something universal about the Sabbath for all mankind. And it is interesting that Jesus said that he was Lord of the Sabbath and that God had made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.

It's interesting. He didn't say God made the Sabbath for Israel. He talks about all mankind there. God made the Sabbath for man.

That's the declaration of the Savior. I think all these pieces are really quite clear that the Sabbath is grounded in creation, not in the unique experience of Israel at Sinai. Now, that's not to say that the Sinai experience didn't have an impact on the understanding of the Sabbath or the particulars of the Sabbath or maybe even the strictness of the Sabbath. But the institution itself rests in creation, and that's crucial.

Because it means it's a little harder to dismiss it. We know the New Testament tells us that there are many mosaic institutions that are fulfilled and no longer imposed on Christians. But this is not simply a mosaic institution, and that's why we have to look much more carefully at the New Testament material to see that. Now, there are a lot more things that we could say about the Sabbath in the Old Testament, but this isn't really a study of Sabbath in the Old Testament in fullness. But one thing we ought to see is that the Sabbath in the Old Testament is not governed by a huge number of really specific rules. I think we sometimes get the impression that somehow the Sabbath in the Old Testament is governed by rule after rule after rule, some of them very, very picky.

That's really not true. The Sabbath statements in the Old Testament are pretty broad. Stop working.

There's not a lot of specificity beyond that. Stop working and worship God. I've known people who have said, well, there's no command to worship in the Old Testament on the Sabbath.

That's not true. There are clear commands to worship on the Sabbath in the Old Testament. But when it comes to specific commands, it's interesting that the most specific command, I think, in the Old Testament about the Sabbath is in Exodus 35 verse 3. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.

That's about as picky as it gets. Now, that impacts life significantly if you're not allowed to light a fire on the Sabbath. You're not allowed to gather sticks on the Sabbath.

That's true for the fire. But there are not a lot of rules like that. You know, I think sometimes we take all those Pharisaic rules that we read about in the New Testament and assume there was a lot of stuff like that in the Old Testament. It's really not true. Now, I'm not saying that Sabbath observance was a light thing or had no consequences in the Old Testament.

Not at all. But the basic is you're to just stop your ordinary work. For women, the ordinary work, for most women in the Old Testament, would have been very much about the life of the house and cooking.

And clearly, this is meant to relieve them of some of that. And men had all sorts of labor, and they are to stop that, stop thinking about that, stop focusing on that, and turn their minds, have time to turn their minds to the Lord. So, in terms of our first big question, what does the Old Testament say about the origin of the Sabbath? I think it's really quite clear that it says the origin of the Sabbath is creation. And therefore, notions of setting it aside in the New Covenant cannot be convincingly argued simply from verses that say we're not bound by Moses. Because the Sabbath is not an institution of Moses.

It's an institution that Moses had things to say about, but it existed well before Moses. Okay, so that's preparatory to our turning now to those verses, those key verses that are claimed to show that we are not bound by any day in the New Covenant, but rather all days are alike. And there are actually only three verses, or four verses, three places where that argument is supposedly made in the New Testament. So, I want to look at all three of those places carefully with you. And the first one is Romans 14 verses 5 and 6, Romans 14 verses 5 and 6.

And this is a particularly significant one and one that we want to look at with some care. Let me read that passage to you, Romans 14 verses 5 and 6. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.

Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord since he gives thanks to God. While the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to the Lord.

Well, there it is, right? This is Paul's discussion of weaker and stronger brethren. And the basic argument Paul makes is that weaker and stronger brethren should love each other and tolerate each other and get along with each other. So, the broad context here is that we should love one another. We can all be agreed about that, right? We can go forward together on that point.

We should all love one another. And he makes the point that some of the brethren have stronger theological arguments and convictions than others who are weaker. And in the context, it's really quite clear that Paul is saying those who feel free to eat and drink in moderation, whatever they want to eat and drink, are stronger. And those who feel called upon to not eat or drink certain things are weaker.

And similarly, those who regard all days alike are stronger, and those who regard special days are weaker. Okay, let's stipulate, as lawyers would say, let's stipulate that that's what Paul is saying. I think that's true.

So, does that answer our question? No, because we have to ask the context in which Paul is discussing this. And it's really quite interesting to look at this context. And I think very often, even really quite good commentators haven't looked at the context very carefully.

And I hate to be critical, and I certainly hate to suggest that I'm better than other people, but on this, I just don't think they've looked very carefully. You know, one of the problems with commentators, you have to watch them on this, is that they often get so dug in narrowly to the verse right in front of them that they don't spend enough time stepping back and looking more broadly at the verses all around them. And what we discover is that this somewhat narrow discussion of the weaker and stronger brethren versus vis-à-vis food and days is in a broader context where Paul is talking about time and moderation. And in this section of Romans 13 and 14 and even on into 15, the big concern, the major concern is about food and drink.

Days come in almost incidentally, only right here where we're looking at it. The big concern is food and drink. And when we read it carefully, what we see is that Paul is warning that we have to be careful because at verse 12 of chapter 13, the night is far gone, the day is at hand, so let us cast off works of darkness and put on the armor of light, let us walk properly in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness. Now that translation orgies is not bad, but I think orgies connotes to us something different than what Paul had in mind. He's talking about excessive feasting. So this word is, I think orgies sounds maybe more focused on sex.

Maybe that's just my misspent youth, but he's not focusing on sex primarily here. He's talking about feasting, about gluttony, about parties that have too much food and everybody's going to excess. Now you see he's introducing here a discussion of time. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.

That is the day of the Lord, the coming of the Savior. And he's talking about food. Those are the broad issues that he's discussing here. And I think this is very important to what he's discussing because at the end of 13 he says, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.

Here's the great conclusion. You're not to indulge yourself. You're not to be given to excess in any way, eating or drinking or sexuality. Don't gratify those desires. Keep them under control.

Nothing controversial there, right? Now, what he goes on to discuss is, how do we ensure that we don't gratify those desires? Well, Paul says, there are weaker and stronger brethren in trying to figure out how to do that. The weaker brethren decide not to gratify their desires by not drinking wine at all and not eating meat at all.

They've abstained altogether. Whereas the stronger brethren realize that you can drink wine and eat meat in moderation. That's fairly obvious what he's talking about here. He's also saying that in this battle against fleshly desires, the weaker brethren have established days of practice to help them.

Maybe it's not very specific, but maybe days of fasting, maybe days of prayer, maybe days of special fasting. And Paul says, if that helps the weaker brethren, that's fine. But the stronger brethren don't need those special days. You see, to say that what Paul is doing here is in any way talking about the Sabbath, I think misses the point of the text, misses the flow of the thought.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb, and over the past few days, we have featured Dr. Robert Godfrey's latest teaching series, The Lord's Day, Sabbath Worship and Rest. In these new videos, Dr. Godfrey surveys the Bible and church history to discover God's purpose for the Lord's Day.

And as you study, I think it will help you in your own resolve to make the Lord's Day a priority. When you contact us today with a donation of any amount, this digital teaching series will be added to your learning library so you can access the messages anytime and keep them. And we'll also send you the DVD containing all six messages.

You can make your request and give your gift online at, or you can call us at 800-435-4343. By the way, this series is also available as a Ligonier Connect course, and a study guide is available there. We're grateful for your financial support to Ligonier Ministries. Together, we're evangelizing and discipling the nations. Your gifts provide sound biblical teaching and theologically rich resources to believers around the world, so thank you. Tomorrow, Dr. H.B. Charles, Jr. joins us to point to the blessings and praises we find in Scripture and how they affect our worship and daily walk with the Lord. I hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-11 06:56:01 / 2023-05-11 07:05:00 / 9

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