Keith Hunt - Divine Rest for Human Restlessness - Page Twelve   Restitution of All Things

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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #12

Sabbath as Covenant Symbol


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     Is this not true also at the human level? Can husband and
wife truly say they belong to each other, unless they are willing
to say to each other, "I am yours and you are mine"? One of the
pitfalls of a lifestyle characterized by husbands, wives and
children working to earn separate incomes (often irrespective of
need) is the false sense of independence and separate ownership
it fosters. It often leads a member of the family to say: "This
is my money, or my car or my house. I have worked for it, so I am
free to do with it whatever I wish."
     This deceptive sense of ownership, which sometimes strains
or even destroys human relationships, can weaken also the very
connection between a person and his God. The wealth and abundance
of goods which a person may acquire as a result of diligent work
can easily induce a false sense of autonomy and independence from
God. Are not autonomy and independence - living one's own life
without any regard to God - the essence of a sinful life? The
Sabbath, symbol of divine creatorship and ownership,is designed  
to aid the believer to overcome any incipient feeling of self-su-
fficiency. As the first couple observed their Sabbath on their
first full day of life, standing before their Creator empty-
handed, acknowledging their indebtedness for all, so the believer
who on the Sabbath ceases from his own work, acknowledges his
indebtedness and dependency upon the working of God.
     To observe the Sabbath means to confess God as Creator and
Owner of all life and wealth.  It means to recognize that God's
total claim over one's life is expressed by consecrating the
Sabbath time to God. Ownership implies boundaries; there is to be
no transpassing. God has chosen to set in time the boundaries of
His dominion. The believer who accepts God's claim over the last
day of the week - the Sabbath - accepts God's claim over his
whole life and world. The believer who accepts this particular
sign of God's ownership, stopping his work on the Sabbath in
order to allow God to work in him, demonstrates and experiences a
total belonging to God.


     A second reason for the divine choice of the Sabbath to
express a covenant relationship is suggested by the holiness of
the Sabbath. As a holy day, the Sabbath effectively exemplifies
not only the divine choice of time but of people as well. The
holiness of the Sabbath is frequently affirmed in the Scripture.
God Himself "made it holy" (Gen.2:3; Ex.20:11) and repeatedly
calls it "holy" (Ex.16:22; 31:14; Is.58:13). The fundamental
meaning of the wprd "holy" appears to be "separation, setting
apart" for divine manifestation. When applied to the Sabbath, it
expresses, as we have seen, the distinctiveness of the day
resulting from the special manifestation of God's presence in the
life of His people. Isaiah, for example, pictures God as
refusing to be present at the Sabbath assembly of His people,
because of their "iniquity" (Is.1:13-14). God's absence makes
their worship experience not holy but rather an "abomination" or
a "trampling of my courts" (vs.12-13).
     As the symbol of God's free choice of His special time to
manifest His presence, the Sabbath can constantly and effectively
remind the believer who keeps it of his special divine election
and mission in this world. In other words, as the Sabbath stands
as the "Holy Day" among the weekly days, so the believer who
keeps it is constantly invited to stand as God's chosen "Holy
person" among a perverse generation. Holiness in time points to
holiness of being. The link between the holiness of God's people
and that of the Sabbath can be seen in the divine choice of
both. As God chose the seventh day to enter with His presence
into the experience of His people, so He chose a people to bring
His holiness to the world. "You are a chosen race, a royal
priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare
the wonderful deeds of him who called you o7:6). As God's
holiness in time, the Sabbath fittingly expresses God's plan for
a holy people. In other words, Sabbathkeeping serves constantly
to remind God's people "that I the Lord, sanctify you" (Ex.
31:13; Ezek.20:12).
     As a reminder of God's "sanctification-election" of a
people, the Sabbath signifies mission rather than merit. It means
to fulfil the mission entrusted by God, namely, to "declare the
wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his
marvelous light" (I Pet.2:9). In an attempt to convert the world,
Christians often adapt themselves to its standard and become part
of it. This trend, as A.Martin points out, "results more and
more in the dissolution of the Church." The Sabbath challenges
the believer to resist this pressure of conformism. It reminds
him to be in the world without becoming a part of it. Being God's
chosen day from among the weekdays, the Sabbath can forcefully
remind the believer who keeps it to be God's chosen messenger to,
his secularly minded fellow beings.
     It is noteworthy that the expression "to sanctify" or "to
keep holy" trnslates the Hebrew word "le-kadesh," a term which is
commonly used in the Talmud to describe the engagement of a woman
to a man. As a woman who declared her belonging to a man was
"sanctified, made holy," so a person who consecrates his or her
life to the Lord is "holy," belonging exclusively to God. The
Sabbath was chosen by God as the emblem of this mutual belonging
relationship, because it expresses both divine initiative and
human response. On the one hand it signifies that God has chosen
to sanctify His people and, on the other hand, that the latter
accepts God's partnership - His sanctifying presence. Such an
acceptance is expressed in a practical way, namely, by making
oneself totally available to God on the Sabbath. The Lord does
not force His presence upon anyone, but stands at the heart's
door and knocks (Rev.3:20). The Sabbath provides the opportunity
to open one's door in order to welcome the Savior as the guest of
honor. The person who makes himself available on the Sabbath for
Christ, allowing Him to work within his life, is made different -
he is sanctified.
     Human nature generally is not inclined to desist from work
at regular intervals. One prefers to choose one's own time for
resting according to one's work program, humor or social
exigencies. The Sabbath, however, is God's chosen time that
recurs with clock-like regularity, without being conditioned by
human likes or dislikes. A person can either accept or reject its
obligations. The believer who accepts them, taking leave for 24
hours from his daily work and worries in order to enter into the
presence and peace of God, reconfirms his covenant with God.     
"Such a man," writes M.L.Andreasen, "has used the Sabbath for
its intended purpose; it has accomplished for him what God had in
mind; it has become the sign and seal of sanctification, and God
owns him as His." 

3 Incorruptible and Universal


      A third reason for God's choice of the Sabbath to
signify mutual commitment is found in the incorruptible and
universal nature of time. Being time, the Sabbath is a symbol
which is always fresh in meaning, and readily accessible to every
human being. The Sabbath is incorruptible because it is not a
material sign like the Tabernacle, or the Temple; it is
immaterial since it is time rather than space or matter. The
ideas which are attached to material objects in the course of
time tend to deteriorate and disintegrate like the objects them-
selves. My native city of Rome is filled with glorious monuments
of antiquity. Most Romans view them with a sense of pride, as
symbols of past greatness. Yet if one were to ask one hundred
Romans who built the Colosseum (the very symbol of the eternity
of Rome) and when, chances are ninety per cent would reply,
"Don't ask me! I haven't a clue."
     Monuments are regarded with devotion but are gradually
deprived of meaning and life. The Sabbath, however, is not a
relic of antiquity which has lost its meaning, since being time
and not matter it is beyond human ability to manipulate and
destroy. The Sabbath of Adam, that of Jesus, as well as yours and
mine, is still the same 24-hour day. Its meaning is always fresh
and relevant. In fact, it is more relevant today than when it was
originally given, because its meaning and function have grown in
the unfolding history of salvation. In Eden, where in a sense
every day was a Sabbath (that is to say, a paradise in the
presence of God), the Sabbath served to heighten the
consciousness and the experience of God's presence. But today,
when the week-days are spent in a difficult and hectic world, the
Sabbath can be truly an island of tranquility, where one can
safely harbor to regain the peace of God's presence.


     Being time, the Sabbath is not only incorruptible but also
universal, that is, accessible to all. Since time can be
shared, God through the Sabbath can reach every human being
without crowding out anyone. Thus there is no need to make a
pilgrimage to Rome or to Jerusalem or to Salt Lake City, to
observe the Sabbath, because the day reaches every human being
weekly, whether one lives in a splendid palace or in a squalid
prison. Moreover, no special objects are needed to celebrate the
Sabbath. To celebrate the Passover, for example, lambs,
unleavened bread and bitter herbs were needed. Similarly, to
celebrate the Lord's Supper, bread and wine (as well as basins
and water for Christians who practice footwashing) are required.
These elements are not readily available to all in every
circumstance. With the Sabbath celebration, such a problem does
not exist, because the only thing really needed for its
celebration is a heart that loves the Lord.
     In the offering of money there is no equality. A wealthy
person is able to give a larger offering than someone who is
poor. It is not so with the offering of time, because every
person has an equal measure of it. This means that through the
Sabbath God gives an equal opportunity to all to express
belonging to Him. One may have less money to offer God than
others, but not less time since each person has an equal measure
of it. Human life is a measure of time. What a person does with
it is indicative of his system of values and priorities. There is
no time for those toward whom one feels indifferent, but
one makes time for those whom one loves. To be able on the
seventh day, to withdraw frame the world of things to meet the
invisible God in the quiet of one's soul means to love God
totally; it means to express inwardly and outwardly one's total
love and belonging to God.

4. Renewal of Baptismal Covenant

     A fourth reason for God's choice of the Sabbath as a sign of
a mutual belonging relationship is suggested by the fact that the
day provides a weekly renewal of the baptismal covenant. In the
NT baptism is not described in covenantal language, though it
fulfils the very function of marking the entrance of the believer
into the church, the new-covenant community, which is the body of
Christ ("we were all baptized into one body" 1 Cor.12:13). 
     A reason for the limited use of the OT covenant model in the
NT to describe the relation of the early Christians to one
another and to Christ is suggested by the Roman prohibition of
secret societies. For the Romans a covenant meant an illegal
society. Christians, for reasons of prudence, may have avoided a
terminology that raised suspicion of political treason.
     Though the distinctive OT covenant terminology is absent in
the NT description of baptism, its basic concept is present. This
is indicated by the association of baptism with the Exodus
event (I Cor.10:1-2) and with circumcision (Col.2:11-13), both
of which are clear covenant experiences. In fact, as well stated
by Louis Tamminga, much of "Bible history is covenant history ...
The fundamental-evengelical word has, by and large, failed to
grasp the fact that it is the covenant relationship between God
and His people that binds the Scriptures together."

     How is the Sabbath related to the covenant experence of
baptism? Basically in its meaning and function. Baptism is a
symbolic reenactment of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection
in the life of the believer who enters into covenant with Christ
by dying to, sin and rising into a new moral life (Rom.6:3-4).
Does the Sabbath share this baptismal meaning and experience of
death and resurrection? Is the Sabbath, like baptism, a form of
renouncement and renewal? Philip Melanchthon (1496-1560)
acknowledges these two meanings of the Sabbath in his "Loci
Communes" (1555), saying: "After the Fall the Sabbath was
re-established when the gracious promise was given that there
would be a second peace with God, that the Son of God would die
and would rest in death until the Resurrection. So now in us our
Sabbath should be such a dying and resurrection with the Son of
God, so that God may again have his place of habitation, peace
and joy in us, so that he may impart to us his wisdom,
righteousness, and joy, so that through us God may again be
praised eternally. Let this meaning of the Sabbath be further
pondered by God-fearing men."  
     In compliance with Melanchthon's exhortation, let us ponder
this meaning of the Sabbath.


     Like baptism, the Sabbath does signify renouncement. No two
persons can become one, without renouncing certain rights in
order to gain greater privileges. Through the Sabbath God invites
human beings to renounce several things in order for them to
receive His greater gifts. In the first place they are to
renounce the security of the weekly work (Ex. 20:10), even when
circumstances seem unfavorable "in plowing time and in harvest
you shall rest" (Ex. 34:21). A.Martin rightly notes that in the
context of Jewish life, the interruption of work especially at
plowing and harvest time, was a genuine form of renouncement
which could easily result "in less food available." Even today,
however, Sabbathkeeping for some persons entails real sacrifice
and renouncement.  This is particularly true in countries where
the right to be free from work in order to observe the
seventh-day as God's holy day does not exist. Many books of Acts
could be written to recount the heroic witness of past and
present believers who have chosen and do choose to renounce
better jobs, promotion or pay (sometimes even their very
livelihood and freedom), rather than to disown their commitment
to God.
     Like baptism, the Sabbath also means renouncement of that
greediness and selfishness which, though symbolically buried
under the baptismal waters, continually tends to reappear and
thus needs to be overcome. Some persons have been made slaves but
many more have chosen to become slaves of their grasping
greediness. The latter work and would wish others to work for
them all seven days out of seven, in order to gain more and more
and be satisfied with less and less. The Sabbath is designed to
cure such insatiable greediness by enjoining to rest, that is, to
stop being greedy and start being grateful. It commands to take
time not to seek more material goods but to gratefully
acknowledge the bounties received. A grateful heart is
indispensable for maintaining a meaningful, mutual, belonging
relationship, and for experiencing inner rest and peace.
     Like baptism, the Sabbath means also renouncement of
selfsufficiency. Through the Sabbath, the confession of surrender
to Christ, which the believer makes at baptism, is renewed every
week. The success a Christian achieves in his work may make him
feel secure and self-sufficient, thus forgetful of his dependency
upon God: "lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, 'who is the
Lord?'" (Prov.30:9). The Sabbath, by enjoining cessation from
work, invites the believer to glance away from his own
achievements and to look instead to God's work and working in
him. During the week a Christian may feel worthy of salvation
because of all that he does. But on the Sabbath as he ceases from
his works, he becomes conscious of his human dependency upon God,
recognizing that it is not his doing but God's doing that saves.
     The Sabbath forbids a Christian, as forcefully stated by
Karl Barth, to have "faith in his own plans and wishes, in a
justification and deliverance which he can make for himself, in
his own ability and achievement. What it really forbids him is
not work, but trust in his work."

     The Sabbath, then, provides a weekly opportunity to renew
the baptismal confession of self-renouncement, in order to "allow
the omnipotent grace of God to have the first and the last word
at every point." In two senses Sabbath-keeping may be a more
significant confession of commitment than circumcision was in the
OT or than baptism is in the Christian dispensation. First,
because circumcision and baptism are covenant signs received
generally at a tender age, when infants or teenagers do not fully
understand their implications. Second, because both of them
are a one-time commitment rite. On the contrary, Sabathkeeping
presents not a one-time but a weekly life-time renewal of the
commitment made to God in one's youth. What this means then is   
the person who habitually disregards the Sabbath, choosing rather
to do his own "pleasure" (Is.58:13), reveals not a sudden or a
momentary weakness, but rather a deep-rooted wilful rejection of
his baptismal commitment to God. This is why the prophets equate
Sabbath breaking with, "apostasy" or "rebellion" (Ezek.20:13,21;
Neh.13:18; Jer.17:23), because it is not a passing inordinate`
desire, but, a permanent attitude of disobedience. The Christian
life could be described as a "love affair" with the Lord which is
sealed through baptism and cultivated through the Sabbath. Or one
might say that the, Sabbath strengthens the sacred vow of faith-
fulness made to God at baptism.


     Even as the water in baptism has the dual meaning of
death and a new life, so the rest of the Sabbath signifies both
renouncement and renewal. If baptism be regarded as the point
of entrance into the new Christian life, the Sabbath is the
weekly renewal of that initial commitment. This weekly renewal is
made possible through the time the Sabbath affords to take stock
and ascertain where one stands. The opportunity the Sabbath 
provides to have a special rendezvous with oneself, others, and
with God, results physical, social and spiritual renewal.
     The physical renewal (recreation) the Sabbath rest provides
differs from the rest experience of the week-days. During the
week one can at best rest from work but not from the thought of
it. The business man goes home with his work in his briefcase or
in his mind; the student must prepare for the next day's
assignments or tests; the housekeeper must plan for tomorrow's
meals and cleaning. The anxiety over tasks that remain to be done
occupies the mind even while the body rests. As a result, a
person sometimes feels more tired in the morning than before he
went to bed. On the Sabbath, however, Christian  should and can
rest not only from work; but also from the thought of it,
knowing that on that day he need not worry about timeclocks,
deadlines, tests, production or competition. On the Sabbath the
body can rest because the mind is at rest; and the mind is at
rest because it rests in God.
     The Sabbath contributes also social renewal, by
strengthening those relationships established through baptism.
The daily work scatters the immediate family members as well as
the church members in different directions, leaving little time
to cultivate marital, parental and fraternal relationships.
During a busy working week, it is easy to forget the needs of the
members of the body of Christ into whom "we were all baptized" (I
Cor.12:13). Sometimes even the members of one's own family are
neglected. On the Sabbath, as the believer experiences afresh the
assurance of God's presence and love, he is motivated and
challenged to strengthen neglected relationships; to alleviate
the suffering of others; to share with all, friends, foes, his
friendship, fellowship and concern. This service which is
rendered on and through the Sabbath renews and strengthens that
covenant relationship with God and His people established at
     Most important of all, the Sabbath is a time of spiritual
renewal. It is a time when the believer renews his baptismal
commitment by taking time to remember and appreciate God's
saving activities. In a sense, the believer on each Sabbath is
baptized anew into Christ's death through the renouncement
experience described earlier, and into Christ's resurrection
through the spiritual renewal the day provides. The latter
takes place on the Sabbath especially through the private and
communal worship experience, which differs substantially from
that of the week-days. Sabbath worship is not a moment of
meditation squeezed into a busy work-day program, but rather it
is a whole day when earthly concerns are laid aside, when the
many distracting voices are silenced, in order to acknowledge
God's "worth-ship," to experience His presence and to hear more
distinctly His voice. Through this special encounter with God
the believer receives fresh forgiveness; he brings order, into
his fragmented daily life; he reestablishes his moral
consciousness; he gains a new set of divine goals for his life;
he receives fresh inspiration and grace to do the will of God.
This spiritual renewal that the Sabbath provides to the new 
life begun at baptism serves to strengthen and enrich the
covenant relationship between God and the believer.

5. Spiritual

     A fifth reason for God's choice of the Sabbath to symbolize
His covenant relationship with His people is suggested by the
fact that the seventh day provides a fitting reminder of the
spiritual nature of this relationship. Perhaps Jesus came closest
to defining God's nature when He told the Samaritan woman, "God
is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and
truth" (John 4:24). The context suggests that Christ described
God as "Spirit" to counteract the misconception that God is to be
worshiped in a special holy place. For the Samaritan woman the
right place was fundamental to worship: "Our fathers worshiped on
this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where
men ought to worship" (John 4:20). Jesus responded by offering a
most profound insight into the nature of true worship. He
explained that human beings communicate with God not through holy
places, objects, or things, but "in spirit and truth," that is,
in a spiritual and truthful way. Genuine worship is offered to
God not by going to special shrines or by performing elaborate
rituals, as such, but by speaking and listening to God with
heart, soul and mind (Mark 12:30).

The Sabbath and God's nature. 

     Can the Sabbath contribute to preventing the deadening
objectification of God and thus aid in maintaining a living
relationship between God and His people? A look into the nature
of the Sabbath suggests several reasons for a positive answer. In
the first place the Sabbath as a temporal symbol aptly
characterizes God's nature, since the latter is as mysterious as
the nature of time. Like God, time cannot be defined or
controlled. As a person can relate to time but cannot control it,
so he can relate to God but cannot control Him. In other words,
both God and time transcend human outreach.


To be continued

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