Editor’s Comment: A few days before Christmas, I received a call from a reader in Ohio who could not understand why our Association does not embrace the Saturday Sabbath. In fact, we receive quite a number of such comments, primarily, I think, because we have many Church of God readers. Actually, I personally am happy that some day of the week is put aside as a Sabbath, even though I firmly believe it should be Sunday. Nevertheless, I often wonder if enough study is injected into the difference between “The Seventh Day of the Week” and “The Seventh Day” by those who advocate Saturday. Mr. Foster’s work does much to clarify the difference. Of course, the second Sabbath gave way to the third and that is to the Lord’s Day, Sunday. Perhaps we will take this up in a future article but for those interested readers, may I suggest Curtis and Charles Ewing’s excellent booklet, “Israel’s Calendar and the True Sabbath,” available from our bookstore.
It’s almost impossible to get into a discussion on the Sabbath because minds are usually set on this issue, without hope of change. A number of years ago, I penned an article to attempt to reply to this excerpt from a very good letter from a very good Christian from Winnipeg. In doing so, I lean on excerpts from the writing of the noted late lecturer and Bible scholar, Thomas N. Foster, whose work on this subject can answer the question far better than I. Certainly, the above question needs some clarification, because Saturday Sabbath keepers invariably hang their hat on Genesis 2: 2-3. However, let me say at the outset that they do so without appreciating that the Genesis passages detail only the First Sabbath. There were actually three Sabbaths established by God, the first commemorating “Creation,” the second “Deliverance” and the third “Redemption.”
I like the way the late lecturer and Bible scholar, Thomas N. Foster, explained the differences. Genesis 2: 2-3 states, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” This is the first mention of a Sabbath in Scripture; the Hebrew word “Shabath” translated “rested” meaning to cease or rest, and was observed by God and not by mankind. Mr. Foster observes that for the next 2,000 years, no nation, people or individual were allowed the privilege of sharing with God the original seventh-day Sabbath.
Now comes the good part. At Mt. Sinai, God shared this first Sabbath with His People Israel. Here’s what the prophet Nehemiah has to say (9: 13-14), “Thou camest down also upon Mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments; And made known unto them thy Holy Sabbath, and commandest them precepts, statutes and laws by the hand of Moses thy servant.” Mr. Foster observes, “Some have been under the impression that the Sabbath was given to man at the Garden of Eden: however, this Scripture settles the question.” He also points out that the footnote on this chapter in the Scofield Reference Bible reads, “This important passage fixes beyond all cavil the time when the Sabbath, God’s rest (Genesis 2: 1-3) was given to man.”
The son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day’ – Matt.12:8
In Exodus 20: 8-11 we read, “And God spake all these words saying … Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.” Then in Exodus 31: 16-17, God said, “Wherefore the Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath … throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the Children of Israel for ever.” Mr. Foster points out, “No other nation has been elected to such a position.” Indeed, the Nation of Israel, which had gathered at Sinai after their exodus from Egypt, were given a great gift, they shared the original Sabbath with God Almighty. God was putting them through its first test of keeping His laws.
We all know what happened. Israel failed miserably. She was rebellious and she practiced idolatry. Numbers 15: 32-36 details one such incident and while the judgment in that case was severe, it was tantamount to flaunting God on a Holy Day. Well, fortunately, as God gave this Law of the Sabbath to Israel and allotted them their times and seasons, it was her right to change them. “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever; for wisdom and might are his, and He changeth times and Seasons” (Daniel 2:21) As Mr. Foster observes, “to save the nation from national punishment with regard to the Sabbath, God provided a way of escape, As a merciful deliverance God changed Israel’s Sabbath to another day apart from His Own Holy rest Day. It was the kind of mercy and patience God showed to Israel.”
Mr. Foster points out that following the conclusion of the forty years in the wilderness, there was a revision of the law called Deuteronomy, derived from two words, “deuteros” (second) and “Nomos” (law) meaning “Second Law.” In Deuteronomy 5: 12-15, God establishes the Second Sabbath, “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, …” This wording is basically the same as the first part of the Exodus 20 reference above but as Mr. Foster observes, there is a significant change. In the giving of the “Second Law” one important clause has been purposely deleted and another one inserted in its place. In the first Sabbath given to Israel at the beginning of the forty years, the reason for observing it is described as follows: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.” However, in the book of Deuteronomy (Second Law) given at the end of the forty years, this reason is withdrawn and the following is inserted, “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 arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath Day.” In other words, this second Sabbath commemorated the exodus from Egypt.
Just like Christmas falls on a different day each year, the Second Sabbath fell on a different day each year
The Lord God Almighty initiated this second Sabbath because He could not continue to share His Holy Sabbath with a disobedient people. While it is not the purpose of this article to create more controversy, it must be mentioned that instead of a fixed day rest as in God’s Sabbath, the second Sabbath was pivoted from an annual event. Just like Christmas falls on a different day each year, the Second Sabbath fell on a different day each year as well, in fact, because of Sabbaths falling on consecutive days, the day would change within the year as well.
There are two verses in the Bible that confirm the Second Sabbath. From the Old Testament, Psalm 95: 8-11 states, “Harden not your heart as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness; when your fathers tempted me, proved me and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, it is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways; unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” Because of disobedience, an Israel generation lost their rest in Canaan (Deut. 12: 9) and simultaneously lost for the nation the privilege of sharing God’s rest on His Sabbath. Hebrews 4: 4-9 is an extension of this. “For he hath said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise. And God rested on the seventh day from all his works; and in this place again, they shall not enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth, that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defineth a certain day, saying in David, after so long a time… Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”