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

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Rest for Human Restlessness

Sabbath - work and rest


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1.   The Meaning of Sabbath Holiness

     What is the meaning of the "holiness" that God placed upon
the Sabbath? It does not refer to the structure of the day,
since the Sabbath follows the same cycle and length of all the
other six days. How can such an impersonal element as time be
imbued with sanctity? In Genesis no explanation is given. As in
the case of the blessing, so the sanctification of the Sabbath
hides a certain mystery, which is gradually unveiled in the
unfolding of the history of salvation. However, in Exodus, where
the holiness of the Sabbath is reiterated several times, its
meaning is elucidated by means of its explicit association with
the manifestation of God's glorious presence. In the manna
narrative the holiness of the Sabbath is announced but not yet
explained (Ex.16:23). Why? Apparently because at that moment the
revelation of God's glory was partial and preparatory to the
fuller manifestation to occur at Sinai. The Israelites were
invited to "come near before the Lord" (Ex.16:9), but they were
given only a glimpse of the "the glory of the Lord" in the form
of "the cloud" which they saw in the distance as "they looked
toward the wilderness" ((Ex.16:10).

Sabbath holiness as God's presence

     At Sinai the manifestation of God's glorious presence occurs
repeatedly and most impressively, assuming in some cases
cataclysmic proportions. The proclamation of the Decalogue, for
instance, occurs in the midst of a fiery and thundering
manifestation of God's power and presence (Ex.19:16-19;
20:18-19). From the Mount made holy by the glorious presence of
God, the Sabbath is explicitly proclaimed as God's holy day: 
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex.20:8). The
commandment, it should be noticed, not only opens with the
invitation to remember and keep holy the Sabbath (cf. Deut.
5:15), but also closes reiterating that its holiness is grounded
in God's sanctification of the day at creation (Ex:20:11).  In
Hebrew the identical verb is used in both instances.
     The experience of God's glorious presence on Mount Sinai
served to educate the Israelites to acknowledge the holiness of
God manifested in time (the Sabbath) and later in a place of
worship (the Tabernacle). The motif of God's glory, as shown
below, is found in all of these (Sinai, Sabbath and Tabernacle)
and ties them together. The Israelites were instructed to   
prepare themselves for the encounter with God's holy presence
(Ex.19:10,11), when the Lord would "come down upon Mount Sinai
in the sight of all the people" (Ex.19:11). The preparation
included personal cleansing (Ex.19:10,14) and the setting of
a boundary around the mountain (Ex.19:12,23) which was to be
invested with God's glory. The nexus with the holiness of the
Sabbath can hardly be missed. Indeed, personal preparation and
the setting of the boundary between common and holy time are the
basic ingredients necessary for the sanctification of the
Sabbath. Can one enter into the experience of God's holy presence
on the Sabbath without making necessary preparation? Or is it
possible to honor God's presence on His holy seventh day without
setting a boundary in time that fences off personal profits and

An experience of God's presence.   

     The meaning of the holiness of God is further clarified at
Sinai by the invitation God extended to Moses "on the seventh
day" to enter into the cloud and thus experience the intimacy    
of His presence. "Then Moses went up on the mountain, an the
cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on
Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the
seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.    
Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring
fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people. And
Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain" (Ex.
     It is generally recognized that the seventh day here
designates the Sabbath. Nicola Negretti, for instance, in his
literary analysis of the passage, shows how the "sabbatical
structure ... provides a stylistic and chronological link between
the manifestation of the glory and the beginning of the divine
revelation."  Similarly, Ellen White comments, "upon the seventh
day, which was the Sabbath, Moses was called up into the cloud."
God's invitation to Moses to enter on the seventh day into His
glorious presence unveils the cryptic meaning of God's
sanctification of the Sabbath at creation. The holiness of the
Sabbath is now explained be not a magic quality infused by God
into this day, but this holiness is rather His mysterious and
majestic presence manifested on and through the Sabbath in the
lives of His people.
     This meaning of the holiness of the Sabbath is brought out
even more forcefully a few chapters later, when, at the end of
the revelation of the tabernacle, God says to the people of

"You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and
you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the
Lord, sanctify you." The sanctity of the Sabbath is now clearly
equated with the sanctifying presence of God with His people. The
mystery of the sanctification of the creation-Sabbath is now
unveiled. It consists precisely of the presence of God bestowed
upon the world in His very last creative act: the sanctification
of the seventh day. For six days God filled this planet with good
things and living beings; but on the seventh He fills it with His
presence. God's presence is the source of the very blessing of
life and happiness promised through the Sabbath. Separated from  
God's presence, human life is but a fleeting shadow. David was
well aware of this truth when, under the weight of the separation
from God caused by his sin, he prayed, "Cast me not away from thy
presence and take not away thy holy Spirit from me" (Ps.51:11).  
As the symbol and assurance of God's presence in this word and in
human lives the Sabbath represents a most sublime expression
of God's loving care.

2. Sabbath Holiness as a Link

     The definition of the holiness of the Sabbath as the special
manifestation of God's presence points to its function as a link
between God and human beings. To use a popular theological
concept, this link could be described as a divine-human
encounter. In an attempt to grasp more fully the implications of
this function of the Sabbath, consideration will now be given to
the linkage the day provides in Exodus between law and grace and
between the Tabernacle and the people of Israel.
     A link between law and grace. The promulgation of the
Decalogue and of the various civil and cultic laws (Ex.21 to 23)
is followed in Exodus by the revelation of the blueprint for the
construction of the Tabernacle (Ex.25 to 31). The latter is
viewed as the symbol of God's dwelling among the people (Ex.
25:8; 29:45) and of His provision for the forgiveness of their
sins (Ex.29:36,38; 30:10). How is the Sabbath related to these
two, that is, to law and grace? In the narrative the seventh day
functions as the link between the two, since it is on this day
that Moses "entered into the cloud" (Ex.24:18) of God's glorious
presence to receive both "the tables of stone, with the law and
the commandment" (Ex.24:12) and "the pattern of the tabernacle"
(Ex.25:9). In this context the Sabbath functions as the day when
God's care is manifested through His revelation of principles of
conduct on the one hand and provisions for atonement and worship
on the other hand. A vital principle is implied here: The Sabbath
is the day when God both, communicates a knowledge of His will
and grants His grace to implement it. The latter is suggested
also by the fact that the revelation of the tabernacle closes
with the reiteration of the Sabbath as the sign that "I, the
Lord, sanctify you"' (Ex.31:13).

     In Exodus the Sabbath is linked also to the Tabernacle by
means of the theme of God's glory. The divine glory manifested at
first on Mount Sinai in the form of a cloud (Ex.24:15-16) is
later transferred to the Tabernacle. When "Moses finished the
work" (Ex40:33) of constructing the Tabernacle, "then the cloud
covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the
tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting,
because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled
the tabernacle" (Ex.40:34-35). The manifestation of God's glory
in the form of a cloud, first experienced by Moses "on the
seventh day" on Mount Sinai (Ex.24:16) and later transferred upon
the Tabernacle, provides a link between the sanctification of the
Sabbath at creation and of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. It
suggests that as the cosmic creation was concluded with its
sanctification on the seventh day by God's personal presence, so
the creation of a place of worship is completed and inaugurated
by the divine presence resting upon it (Ex.40:34-35).
     A link between the tabernacle and the Israelites. The holi-
ness of the Sabbath as the experience of God's presence provides
a further link between the Tabernacle and the people. The
Tabernacle served as a visible reassurance that the Lord dwelt
"among the people of Israel" (Ex.25:8; cf. 29:45). Similarly, the
Sabbath was to reassure the Israelites throughout their
generations that "I, the Lord, sanctify you" (Ex.31:13).
     Sanctification by virtue of God's presence is the element
shared in common by both the Sabbath and the Tabernacle. The
presence of God manifested upon and within the tabernacle through
the Sabbath was to become a personal experience of each believer.
"The uniqueness of the holy place," writes Samuel Terrien,
"through the Sabbath, became an interior and universal reality."
As God's sanctuary in time, the Sabbath offers to every believer
the opportunity to experience in a special way the presence of,
God, irrespective of circumstances. In fact, for many faithful
ones who through the centuries have been prevented by sickness or
by unfavorable circumstances from worshiping in a sanctuary with
fellow believers, the Sabbath has truly been a portable
sanctuary--a day when even prison bars have not barred the
presence of God from lighting the soul of the believer. This
helps us understand why, after the exile and dispersion, the Jews
who had been deprived of their Temple organized meeting places
(synagogue), sometimes even in the open air (Acts 16:13), where
they would resort on the Sabbath to study the Scripture and to
pray. The awareness that God's holy presence manifested in a
sacred place (Temple, church) through the Sabbath could
become an internal and personal reality has enabled the Jews
first, and the Christians later, to meet on God's holy day even
though few in number, assured by the promise that "where two or
three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them"
     I vividly recall the many Sabbaths I spent in the town of
Fano, Italy, worshiping God alone in the seclusion of my room or
out in nature. I was a teenager selling Christian literature
during the summer to earn a scholarship. During the weekdays I
had to face considerable hostility from various quarters: from
the local religious and civil authorities who constantly
threatened to punish me for distributing unauthorized literature;
from superstitious customers who feared being contaminated by the
unendorsed literature I was selling; from my relatives who gave
me a roof but viewed me as a heretic to be rescued from hellfire.
When Friday night arrived, I rejoiced at the thought that for one
day I could forget the hostile world around me and enter into the
peace of God's presence. Since there were no fellow believers in
the immediate area, I would worship God alone but not lonely, in
the privacy of my room or in an open field. So the Sabbath has
been for me, as for countless believers throughout history, a
truly portable sanctuary--a day to forget human misery through
the experience of  the closeness of God's presence.  Such an
experience offers a fresh reminder of the God that cares for us.

Sabbath holiness as Emmanuel. 

     The coming of Christ into this world undoubtedly represents
the link par excellence that reconnects human beings to divine
life and presence.  Can the holiness of the Sabbath and the
incarnation of Christ be placed in a logical relationship? Yes,
if one considers their respective functions. The purpose of the
incarnation is perhaps best epitomized in the two names given to
the Lord at His birth: "you shall call his name Jesus, for he
will save his people from their sins... His name shall be called
Emmanuel (which means, God with us)" (Matt.1:21,23). Associating
the meanings of the two names together, we may say that Christ
came to restore life to His people by reuniting them to the
presence of God.
     How is this purpose of the incarnation related to the
purpose of God's creation as expressed through the blessing and
sanctification of the Sabbath? The latter expresses, as was shown
earlier, God's assurance to His creature of abundant life through
God's presence. Then, do not the purpose of God's creation and
that of Christ's incarnation coincide to a large extent? One
might say that what God promised to His creation by blessing and
sanctifying the Sabbath, He fulfilled by sending Christ into this
world to become "Emmanuel--God with us." 
     "How often have we heard," writes Herbert W. Richardson,
"that Jesus Christ abolished the Sabbath so that men may be truly
free! But this suggestion is sheer theological nonsense. The work
of Jesus Christ cannot contradict the purpose for which God
created the world. To assert such a contradiction, by explicitly
or implicitly opposing the Sabbath, is to reiterate the old
Gnostic claim that the God of the Old Testament and the God of
the New Testament are two different 'Gods.'" Richardson continues
by rightly asserting that "the Sabbath Day was created by God, so
that He Himself might enter into the world and sanctify it by His
personal presence."  God's sanctification of the Sabbath
represents a most telling revelation of God's concern for this
world. It tells that God revealed His love toward mankind, not
only by entering into the limitation of human time on the seventh
day of creation to bless this world with His holy presence, but
also by entering, after the estrangement caused by sin, into the
limitations of human flesh to become again "Emmanuel--God with
us." Chapter V will trace this Messianic-Redemptive meaning and
message of the Sabbath in the OT and NT, as well as in Jewish
literature. Such a study can lead to a fuller appreciation of the
good news of God's care which the Sabbath proclaims.



1. Work as God's Care

     In the Fourth Commandment the pattern of six days of work
and the seventh for rest is based upon the creation week (Ex.
20:11). It should be noticed that the commandment encompasses
both the six days work and the seventh day's rest experience.
In fact, the command to rest on the seventh day is preceded  by
the injunction, "six days you shall labor and do all your
work" (Ex.20:9; Deut.5:13). This means that the work of the six
days is viewed as a prelude or a necessary pilgrimage
to reach the "rest" experience of the seventh day.
It is divine concern for human well-being which led God to ordain
the pattern of six days for work and the seventh for rest.
Experience teaches us that work and rest are two genuine
and significant human needs. A person who is workless is one who
feels worthless: Work is needed to experience self-worth,


To be continued

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