Message, March 14, 1993. March 27, 1993.

The Sabbath

Ex 31:14
What caught my attention about this sabbath command is its context which we will develop shortly. Let me mention up front that I realize that sabbath means rest and that Heb 4 clearly tells us that all the sabbath (rest) laws of the OT spoke of the coming rest in Christ Jesus. But though Christ is our rest, our sabbath, we cannot disregard the essence of the OT laws concerning the sabbath.

Exo 31:14, the sabbath is holy unto you, God's people, not to the pagans. We cannot expect pagans to regard the Lord's day as anything but common.

But since the true rest spoken of by the OT sabbath is rest in Christ and not rest from physical work, enforced NT sabbath rest upon the pagans is useless; it will accomplish nothing. They have no rest, and physical rest will not improve their condition. (Isa 57:20, But the wicked [are] like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.)

Not only is the sabbath holy unto God's people, but it is holy to the Lord, Exo 31:15. We need to regard holy that which the Lord regards holy.

Isaiah calls the sabbath God's holy day, and says that God's people honour Him by observing it, Isaiah 58:13, 14 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, [from] doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking [thine own] words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it].

According to Isaiah, God's people honor God Him by doing four things:

first, turning from their own pleasure on His holy day; second, finding delight in their rest in the Lord; third, emphasizing, studying and teaching God's word, and fourth, delighting themselves in the Lord (the Word of God).

When God's people delight themselves in honoring what God honours (the sabbath), the Lord will bless them (cf. Ps 118:24; Isa 56:2, 6.)

The attitude by the ungodly toward the sabbath is clearly revealed in Scripture, and we can safely say that one's attitude toward the sabbath reveals their attitude toward God.

Let me give 6 points concerning the ungodly and the sabbath:

1) Nehemiah (13:15, 16) tells us that the wicked profane or pollute the sabbath by regarding it as common, ie. just another day for working and continuing business as usual. (Cf. Isa 56:2; Ex 20:13, 16; Ex 22:8.)

2) Nehemiah (10:31) gives a reason why the wicked disregard the sabbath: the people of God disregard it. In fact, Nehemiah contended with the nobles of Judah for allowing those under their authority to trade with the pagans on the sabbath. (Nehemiah testified against them, or spoke strongly against sabbath desecrator, Ne 13:15, 20, 21.)

3) Nehemiah (13:18) plainly told the nobles of Judah that their fathers received the wrath of God by profaning the sabbath. Thus God's wrath is clearly revealed against those who disregard the sabbath, Ex 31:14, 15; Num 15:32-36; Jer 17:27.

4) the ungodly mock the sabbath, Lam 1:7, Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, [and] did mock at her sabbaths.

The ungodly see the sabbath as an interference into their normal manner of life; therefore, they will do their best to remove the chains of the sabbath law from themselves and others, Amos 8:5, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?

5) Ez 22:26 gives two identifying marks of ungodly spiritual leaders,Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed [difference] between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. 1) they regard not the sabbath, 2) they use not the sword of the word of God (Heb 4:12) to divide the godly from the ungodly and the holy from the unholy. Their standard is what seems right, not the law-word of God.

6) the ungodly may profess zeal for the for the sabbath if they perceive an advantage for themselves, Luke 13:14; John 9:16.

3 good points concerning the sabbath which shows that the sabbath is for man's benefit, not God's, Mark 2:27, And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 1) God's goodness, particularly in redemption, is observed in the sabbath, Deu 5:15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and [that] the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. 2) His favor in giving His people His holy sabbath is compared to giving them bread and water in the wilderness, Neh 9:14, 15 And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant: And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them.

3) God's loving care and kindness is shown in His appointing the sabbath, Ex 23:12, Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

Christ observed the OT sabbath; He had not yet died to fulfill it, Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. Furthermore, Christ used the Hebrew sabbath to teach for the same reason the first preachers reconized the Hebrew sabbath: the synagogues were where Israel assembled, Luke 4:31; 6:6.

The nature of the Jewish sabbath synagogue assembly can be summed up in 3 points: 1) Godly worship was observed (Eze 46:3; Acts 16:13), 2) Scriptures were read (Exo 24:7; Deu 31:11; Acts 13:27; 15:21) 3) the word of God was proclaimed (Neh 8:4, 5; Acts 13:14, 15, 44; 17:2; 18:4).

These things are also the nature of the Christian sabbath assembly (cf. Mat 18:20; Acts 2:42; 16:16; 20:7; Heb 10:24; 1 The 5:11).

It is significant that the NT references in the book of Acts to the old Hebrew sabbath took place at the very beginning of the gospel of Christ going forth. The promise had been that the gospel would first go to the old nation of Israel (Lk 24:47; Acts 13:46), so the new Christian preachers went to where the Israelites assembled: the synagogues on the old Hebrew sabbath.

At the synagogues, the preachers of the new church found a ready-made Israelite congregation seeking after God. The apostles' attendance in the synagogues on the Hebrew sabbath was not their endorsement of the old Hebrew sabbaths, rites and rituals. Rather, their attendance was very practical: a ready-made audience assembled.

The new church did not reverence the old Hebrew sabbath which celebrated the first creation; rather, they met on a new sabbath, the first day of the week which celebrated the new creation in the risen Christ Jesus, Acts 20:7, And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. 1 Cor 16:2, Upon the first [day] of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as [God] hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

Furthermore, the first day is called, not the sabbath, but the Lord's day, Rev 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,.

The key transitional verse from the OT sabbath to the NT Christian sabbath is Matt 5:17, 18. Here we see that Christ did not do away with the precepts contained in the sabbath law; rather, He did away with all that prefigured His sacrificial work.

The OT sabbath unmistakably spoke of the heavenly rest to come in Christ, Hebrews 4. Because the OT sabbath spoke of the complete rest in Christ, the OT punishment was very severe against those who violated the sabbath: they destroyed the picture of the total and complete rest that would come in Christ. Christ did all our required work for us to please the Father, enabling us to enter into His eternal rest.

Furthermore, His Spirit now provides the grace [desire and power] to do the Father's will. Our sabbath is in Christ: we rest in Christ.

We cannot dismiss the total of the OT sabbath laws and precepts. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all OT scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Therefore, we must look past the outward appearance of the sabbath law to its inward essence, ie. what is the substance of its teaching? The essence of the OT sabbath was far more than just rest in Christ for redemption; it included confidence in the Lord's authority and providence in the lives of His children and their submission to His authority and providence.

Clearly Col 2:16, 17 tells us that the formal aspect of the OT sabbath laws are abolished, but the substance of the sabbath law was/is submission to the Lord's authority and providence; that substance will continue until the end of time and the final rest.


Exodus 31 (vs. 2-11 & 12-17) records the call of Bezaleel and Aholiab to do the marvelous work of the tabernacle and their filling with God's Spirit of wisdom. The purpose of the Spirit's filling was clearly stated as ability to work hard at their God-given occupation. The context of their calling is very significant because it is followed by the sabbath instructions.

The Lord had already given the Sabbath law, but now He repeats it again. By His regiving the sabbath law at this point, He emphasized these sixthings:

First, no matter how honourable or great one's work might be, it is no excuse to violate the NT sabbath, the Lord's day.

Second, the sabbath reminds man that the Lord is the One Who calls; the Lord is the One Who gives skills and abilities; the Lord is the One Who makes man's ways prosperous and his works prosper. When one refuses to honor the sabbath as the Lord commands, he says that he does not need the Lord and that he, man, can work all things out himself and he can prosper without God.

Honoring the sabbath recognizes that prosperity comes as a result of the blessings of the Lord, not as a result of hard work and/or special skills in one's occupation, Exo 31:15. I know many people who have worked very hard, yet have no prosperity. God determines who will prosper and who will not.

Third, although Bezaleel and Aholiab had great natural and supernatural skills and abilities in the "trades," and were supernaturally empowered to do marvelous works which would cause all onlookers to marvel, their honoring of the sabbath confessed that they were no more than servants of the Lord of the sabbath, doing His will in the use of their abilities.

Forth, honoring the sabbath by ceasing from non-essential work confesses before all men that we depend upon the Lord for our daily bread. (Cf. Mat 10:32.)

Fifth, the essence of the NT sabbath is similar to the essence of the OT sabbath: rest in the Lord, not doing our own pleasure but His, and assembling to study and learn God's word and to praise our God.

Sixth, the public assembly also implies some things: 1) we do not know how to walk, but are totally dependant upon God to instruct us from His word, and 2) we need the help, aid and encouragement of other Christians in our daily lives. (Cf. Heb 10:25.)

Thus when God's people keep the sabbath, they are showing the world that they are obedient children of God and dependant upon the Lord of the covenant to supply their every need. Furthermore, they can fully expect the world not to understand, even mock, their proper regard for the Christian sabbath.

I have heard Christian people say that if they do not work on Sunday, they would not have the funds to pay their bills. In saying this, they admit that working is an option (they have the option of honoring or dishonoring the sabbath), but because maybe they are in bondage to debt or to their own desires, they chose to dishonor the sabbath. They need a God that can free them from their bondage.

Why people do not honour the sabbath?

1) the context here speaks primarily that people feel their work is more important than honoring God's word concerning His sabbath. 2) covetousness rules in the heart, so they seek the extra money. 3) they disregard God's word and hold their own opinion above God's word; they do what is best in their own eyes. 4) people feel they do not need God in order to succeed in this world.

God's opinion concerning those who willfully violate the sabbath has not changed. He firmly denounces those who fail to honour what He has chosen to honour. Notice God's firmness in Exo 31:14, 15.

In conclusion, let me mention two more points:

First, one of the signs of God's judgment against a land is the inhabitants' disregard the sabbath, Lam 2:6; Hosea 2:11.

Second, one of the Scriptural signs of revival was God's people renewing their observance of the sabbath, Neh 13:22.

Revival in America must start in the hearts of Christians. The sin and covetousness which causes violation of the precepts and essence of the OT laws, including the sabbath, must be confessed and forsaken if we expect God to move in the hearts of the non-Christians.