The Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day of Rest, has largely been lost sight of during the days of the Patriarchs and the Edenic period. We think of the Sabbath as having been instituted at the giving of the Law, but it goes back much further than this.
Dr. Wilson in his book “The Lord’s Day” says that there was no time in human history when the Day of Rest was not recognized. Humanity was given this special Day as soon as man was created. It comes even before the command regarding the Tree of Knowledge. The Sabbath was infixed in the creative order of the universe, inscribed on the heavens and earth, exhibited in the radiant character of the six days of work, associated with every commemoration of the wisdom and glory of God, promulgated with the majesty of the example of the great Lord of all —- and therefore requiring no subsequent enactments, except to incorporate it with the various dispensations of religion, and revive it when forgotten, that it may go on and accompany man so long as he continues upon earth.
In Genesis 2:1-3 we read very significant statements. Their brevity is apt to make them skimmed over, but they are really of extreme importance. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” This brief verse gives us the work that God completed in the “six days”. Here is the object lesson for man to follow – a working week of six days. “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because that in it He rested from all His work which God created and made.”
This is the institution of the Sabbath or the Day of Rest. It was instituted in memory of God’s work and the period of rest that followed. We must remember that God was not in need of a day of rest. He could have kept on working, for His power is infinite. Also, He could have created all at once, in an instant of time and not in six periods. All this He did to instruct humanity and to teach them the value of working six days and resting one, which period constitutes our WEEK.
Though the Sabbath was not mentioned from Creation till the giving of the Law, seven days are often mentioned. At the time of Noah we have this period spoken of several times, Genesis 7:4 & 10 and 8:10 & 12. Again in the Book of Job we read of it.
Dr. Wilson says that after the Flood, the tradition of the division of time into a seven day period spread over the entire eastern world. Assyria, Egypt, India, Arabia and Persia as well as Israel retained vestiges of it. The sanctity of the seventh day has been mentioned by many of the early writers. The very number seven, in Hebrew and the kindred languages, is expressed by a word which primarily signifies fullness, completion, sufficiency.
We now have the added testimony supplied by tablets recovered from Assyrian ruins. It appears that a day called “Sabattu” was kept. It was enjoined as a “day of rest for the heart.” This was observed at intervals of seven days, reckoned from the first of each lunar month, and was observed by a people known as Acadians, who preceded the Assyrians in the occupation of Mesopotamia. This observance was many centuries before the time of Moses, and goes back even further than Abraham.
The keeping of the Sabbath would surely be included in the Lord’s instructions to Abraham, for in Genesis 26:5 we read, “Because that Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” As the keeping of the Sabbath was considered such a sacred duty, surely we can assume that it was kept by the Patriarchs, even though it was not mentioned specifically, but only by inference.
Laban also mentions the weekly division of time.. ”Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years.” Genesis 29:27. Here we have the seven day period, the week, and the seven year period, the Sabbatical year.
We do not know how the very ancient Sabbath was reckoned, except that it was the seventh day from creation. But now a change comes, and Moses was instructed how the time was to be reckoned. Exodus 12:2. Here the first day of the year was changed and this would bring the Sabbath upon a different day. Seven days were to be kept by the eating of unleavened bread, in preparation for that marvelous event, the Passover. Exodus 12:15 and 13:6-8. Thus the children of Israel were brought out of Egypt, their year changed and their Sabbath changed.
In the Wilderness, when Manna was provided, it was given to them for six days each week, a double portion upon the sixth day. The seventh day was to be kept as a very sacred, solemn day, in memory of the Lord’s goodness to them and His provision for them. Exodus 16: 4-5 & 14-24. Here in Verse 23 we have the first mention of the Sabbath. “Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord. ” This Holy Day was instituted before the Ten Commandments were written.
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Ex.20: 8-11. Dr. Wilson says that the Fourth Commandment is just as binding as the others. It is part of the moral law of God. He further states, “The decalogue is a summary of all those dictates of the love of God and man, which were written upon the heart of Adam before the fall. These commands were kept in substance, by the patriarchs before they were reduced to a code. They are the eternal rules of right and wrong, resting on the authoritative will of God, and arising from the essential relations in which man stands to his Creator, and his fellow-creatures. They are the standard of human obedience, the transcript of the Divine holiness. The unchanging authority of these precepts is the foundation of all religion, the rule of domestic life, the bond of civil government, the grand tie and security of human society.”
The Law of the Sabbath is repeated in Deuteronomy 5: 12-15. The entire household was to observe this day, all their animals and the stranger living in Israel. This is almost a repetition of Exodus 20 and by the repetition we can conclude its extreme importance.
The Law of the Sabbath had the penalty of death imposed upon those who failed to observe it. Exodus 31:12-17. The day was to be kept as a day of rest, no type of work being done upon it. This did not mean that children and animals would be neglected, but that nothing was to be done that was not absolutely necessary.
The Command, “My Sabbaths ye shall keep” goes right through the Old Testament. It is like a silver thread through the life of Israel. Prophet after prophet speaks of it and warns of the penalties for failing to keep it. It has always been a special sign between God and Israel. As Israel forgot that they were God’s own nation, the Sabbath was kept less and less.
Psalm 92 is a special one, a song for the Sabbath day. This Psalm was sung by the choir upon our Queen’s Coronation.
Isaiah 56:2 & 6 declares a blessing upon those who keep the Sabbath. This blessing is upon both the Israelite and the strangers living among them. Jeremiah 17:21-22 states, “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath Day.” And Ezek. 20:12, “I gave them My sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.”
Thus we find that mention of the Holy Sabbath, God’s Day of Rest, goes right through the pages of the Old Testament. This Testament closes with the injunction, “Remember ye the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel.” Malachi 4:4.
Though the Day has been changed, the Law still operates.
Editor’s Note: I suspect that the glory days for the British Commonwealth and the United States began their departure when we began to give up on the Sabbath. Not so in the early years of the twentieth century. Take for example the World Exhibition in Paris in the year 1900; neither the British nor the United States would participate on Sundays. The respect for God’s Law paid dividends and when respect was lost, the nations, particularly the British Commonwealth, declined in prestige and morality. Both nations still have the power, and one would say, prosperity, but the growing poverty, fear and loss of freedoms of the people depicts nations sorely lacking God as Commander in Chief.