Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Joshua and the Sabbath Rest

Sabbath Study, Part 15

In the book of Joshua, we find a familiar story that implicitly deals with an expansion on our understanding of the Sabbath observance.

And the LORD said to Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.” (Joshua 6:2-5)

Six days.
An entire week passed during this time: six days each of marching around Jericho one time, and one day of circling the city seven times. That one of these days was the Sabbath is obvious, although Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly which of these days it was. We will later see more clearly in the New Testament what we are seeing only dimly now: as Lord of the Sabbath, God decides what is permissible—and what is not—on the day of rest. Various religious works, and other acts of necessity, are allowed—and sometimes (as in this case) commanded.

The seventh day.
Adam Clarke contends that this seventh day was not a Sabbath day: “This was a mere religious procession, performed at the command of God, in which no servile work was done. Therefore Marcion’s objection, that the God of the Hebrews showed a changeableness of disposition in commanding the Sabbath to be kept sacred at one time, and then to be broken at another, is without foundation; for I must contend that no breach took place on this occasion, unless it could be made to appear that the day on which Jericho was taken was the Sabbath which is very unlikely, and which none can prove. But if even this were to be conceded, it is a sufficient answer to all such cavils, that the God who commanded the Sabbath to be set apart for rest and religious purposes, has always authority to suspend for a season the operation of merely ceremonial laws, or to abrogate them entirely, when the purpose of their institution is fulfilled. The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke

Monday, January 25, 2010

Remember Your Chains

Sabbath Study, Part 14

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses (nearing the end of his life at 120 years) reminds the children of Israel of all that the Lord has commanded them. Chapter 5 begins with his review of the Ten Commandments. This time, however, he includes a Sabbath reference that wasn’t given in Exodus 20.

And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

You were a slave.
This reason for the Sabbath is not a contradiction of Exodus 20, which gave a different reason. It is simply an additional reason to observe the Sabbath. One thematic element of Deuteronomy is God’s deliverance of His people from the land of Egypt (15:15, 16:12, 24:18, 24:22), an historic event that also symbolizes the Christian’s deliverance from the slavery of sin and his entrance into the rest of God. The Christian will fully and ultimately experience this rest in Heaven.

As redemptive history unfolds, we are given more and more insight into the various symbolic purposes of the Sabbath. The first is what we have already seen: we rest on the Sabbath because God rested. That is, we can look at the finished work God has done and be satisfied with its efficacy. Second, we see in this passage that the Sabbath rest is a reminder that we have been rescued from the bondage of sin to live under the freedom—the easy yoke—of Christ. Third (as we will see later on), we rest on the Sabbath as a reminder that one day we will enter into Heaven and enjoy an eternal rest.

God brought you out.
“… it has been thought probable that, the commemorative design of the institution being well known, the other reason was specially mentioned on this repetition of the law, to secure the privilege of sabbatic rest to servants, of which, in some Hebrew families, they had been deprived. In this view, the allusion to the period of Egyptian bondage (De 5:15), when they themselves were not permitted to observe the Sabbath either as a day of rest or of public devotion, was peculiarly seasonable and significant, well fitted to come home to their business and bosoms” (JFB, on v. 14).

So, a command designed for God’s glory can also work for the good of mankind—including those commonly downtrodden (i.e., servants). In fact, in the book The Taste of the Sabbath (which, for the record, I have not yet read in full), Stuart Bryan connects between the dots of the Sabbath commandment and the keeping of justice. That is, he believes that “the Sabbath was intimately connected with the preservation of justice in Israel. In particular, the Sabbath was instituted for the benefit of those who could be most easily exploited in society: servants, slaves, and immigrants—in other words, the poor and needy.”

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary

[Other quotes linked to original sources]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dead Serious

Sabbath Study, Part 13

The following story details what may have been the first instance of a Jewish man blatantly disregarding the Sabbath. Some might look at this account and be shocked by the apparent harshness of God’s dealings with him. On the surface, it may seem that the punishment did not fit the crime. But such a response shows an ignorance of both the holiness of God and the nature of the man’s sin—both of which come into clearer focus through studying the context of this passage.

Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So, as the LORD commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died. (Numbers 15:32-36)

The apparent severity of the man’s punishment can be explained in part by what God says in the few verses that precede this passage: “You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them. But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him” (Numbers 15:29-31). This passage gives us three separate phrases that help us see what exactly the stick-gatherer was guilty of.

First, he sinned presumptuously. His stick-gathering was not unintentional or accidental. The Hebrew phrase translated as “presumptuously” literally means, “with a high hand.” In his sin, he defied God. He purposefully and willfully broke God’s law, showing what little regard he had both for the law and the giver of it. Such is the state not only of this man, but also of anyone who sins defiantly. “For he stretches out his hand against God, and acts defiantly against the Almighty” (Job 15:25).

Second, he brought a reproach on the Lord. That is, he blasphemed (which is the literal definition of the Hebrew word used for “reproach”). His irreverence showed a complete and total lack of respect for God.

Third, he despised the word of the Lord. That is, he heard God’s word and held it in contempt. Such is the case with any of us when we hear God’s word and disobey it.

With these three descriptions of willful sin, we can more readily see how serious any man’s defiance is, and how deserving of punishment it is—whether in the life of this stick-gatherer or in our own.

“The language of presumptuous sin is, ‘Eternal truth is not fit to be believed, the Lord of all not fit to be obeyed, and almighty power not fit to be either feared or trusted’” (Matthew Henry).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Public and Private

Sabbath Study, Part 12

In Leviticus 23, God instructs the Israelites to keep various feasts throughout the year: the Passover, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, and so on. This list begins with a call to observe the most important feast, the one that stands out above the rest—the weekly Sabbath.

Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. (Leviticus 23:3)

A holy convocation.
In this verse, we see that there are corporate and private aspects of the Sabbath celebration. First, it is a holy convocation—that is, a sacred assembly. God’s people are called to gather together on the Sabbath for public worship. In addition to this public aspect, it is to be observed “in all your dwellings.”

Seventh day.
That is, weekly. “No other seasons or occasions of public worship are ever to set aside, supersede, or lead nay to neglect the habitual and holy observance of the weekly Sabbath” (Justin Edwards).

In all your dwellings.
“This is added to distinguish the sabbath from other feasts, which were to be kept before the Lord in Jerusalem only, whither all the males were to come for that end; but the sabbath was to be kept in all places, where they were, both in synagogues, which were erected for that end, and in their private houses” (Matthew Poole).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
The Family Bible Notes, by Justin Edwards
Annotations upon the Holy Bible, by Matthew Poole