Monday, March 12, 2012

120312 - Exodus 33-34 - foreshadowing of Christ in the Sabbath

Monday SOAP: Putting Jesus in the middle of something that could be a troubling Old Testament doctrine. What about the Sabbath? Is it absent from the New Testament's directions? How do Christians observe it, if it's acceptable to "regard every day alike?" (Romans 14:5) Do we live in a kind of "sabbath" today?

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S: Scriptures about the Sabbath:

"You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, 'Above all 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. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'" (Exodus 31:13-17)
Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. (Exodus 34:21)
O: The principle of Sabbath rest brings up some troubling questions. From a human-centered viewpoint, we might look at it as simply a helpful, healthful principle, given for our benefit after God's example. And truthfully, many look at the Sabbath in this way. We even seem to have grounds for doing so in Christ's own words: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) It is beneficial. But its more than that. I think this line of exclusive reasoning falls apart under careful thought about all that God was doing in instituting the Sabbath:
  1. They were to rest, even during plowing time and harvest. Sometimes during these seasons, the weather can make work a real challenge even with modern farm implements. Imagine when it would have taken possibly weeks of work to plow a field. Without disregarding the health benefits and the exercise of faith, it sounds like something more important is at work here.
  2. They were to put to death anyone who worked on the Sabbath. This is graphically illustrated by the man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath in Numbers 15:30-36. Certainly he was not put to death simply for ignoring a command to be rest and refreshed for his health.
  3. It was said to be a sign forever between God and the people of Israel. God said that in this, they would know Him as the LORD Who sanctifies them. The word "sanctify" carries the idea of holiness, purity, but also being set apart.
A: A great principle I've been taught to follow is to consider Christ whenever a Bible narrative or application becomes confusing. I can say, "Am I looking at a symbolic act foreshadowing Christ, like Abraham's offering of Isaac?" Or, "Am I looking at a principle paving the way for the mission of Jesus, like the way fallen humans could never make themselves righteous by the Law?" (Galatians 2:21)

In this case, I think it's both. The Sabbath is the one commandment of the 10 Commandments that is not explicitly repeated somewhere in the New Testament. That's mysterious in and of itself, since the Sabbath was and is a major element of Jewish identity. You could try to make a case that the Sabbath was one of the major points of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, because of their abuse of power in interpreting Sabbath laws. But to me, it doesn't make sense for God, Who has perfect foreknowledge, to repeal a law because it has been abused.

So, if the Sabbath was a picture of Christ and a principle of the Law that has been fulfilled, how has it been fulfilled and what does it mean?

I think the Sabbath always was a picture of man resting in trust of the LORD. To stop working just when work is most critical, as in plowing and harvest, takes faith that God will provide anyway. Moreover, in a "negative sense," for God to take such offense at something that seems minor to us hints at something like Moses' offense at Meribah, (Numbers 20:7-13), which seems to picture Christ in His role as High Priest after the once-for-all (Hebrews 10:10) sacrifice was accomplished.

Once again, I will go to the book of Hebrews for help with something with which I as a Gentile have little experience. The theme of Hebrews is how Jesus is "better." Better than men, better than angels, better than prophets, priests, sacrifices, everything. I think Hebrews 4's theme is how the rest Jesus provides is better than the Promised Land, better than the Sabbath (Heb. 4:1-10 The Hebrew word for "Sabbath" basically means to rest, to cease.). At the end of that passage, the writer has expressed this in a provocative way:

"for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." (Hebrews 4:10)
Is this talking about heaven? Certainly that could apply, and the Canaan/heaven connection has been made so many times that "crossing over Jordan" has become a symbol of death for a believer. But in another sense, have believers not "rested from our own works" already, by trusting in Christ? Why does the next verse (11) counsel us to "strive" or "labor" to enter into His rest, then? That sounds like an oxymoron.

No, I think the primary meaning here is repentance, which Hebrews 6:1 describes as turning from "dead works." Our true rest is in the effectual sacrifice and eternal priesthood of Christ. I think that's how the Sabbath was made for man - to teach us to rest in our Redeemer. Without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

P: Father, thank you for the reminder today to abide and rest in Christ, Who lives forever to make intercession for me.

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