Rest in the Wilderness

Sabbath Study, Part 9

In Exodus 16, the Israelites (having just witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea) are introduced to manna, the food God sovereignly and miraculously provides for them in the wilderness. Each morning, manna covers the ground, and the Israelites are to collect only enough for that day. Then, on the sixth day of the week, a further command is given:

[Moses] said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none.” Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? “See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:23-30)

This is what the LORD has said.
This is the first place in Scripture where God calls His children to observe the Sabbath, which has led some to believe that people didn’t observe a Sabbath rest until this point. Others think the Sabbath rest was observed ever since the creation week. (The language used here seems to indicate a certain level of previous knowledge of the Sabbath.) Whatever the case, we know for sure that the Israelites began observing the Sabbath before they received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest.
“There is nothing either in the text or context that seems to intimate that the Sabbath was now first given to the Israelites, as some have supposed: on the contrary, it is here spoken of as being perfectly well known, from its having been generally observed. The commandment, it is true, may be considered as being now renewed; because they might have supposed that in their unsettled state in the wilderness they might have been exempted from the observance of it. Thus we find, 1. That when God finished his creation, he instituted the Sabbath; 2. When he brought the people out of Egypt, he insisted on the strict observance of it; 3. When he gave the LAW, he made it a tenth part of the whole, such importance has this institution in the eyes of the Supreme Being!” (Adam Clarke).

Bake today.
“The words to-day are not in the original, and possibly are better left out than taken in; or if they be taken in, they do not seem to me, as they do to many others, to prove that they were commanded to bake or seethe on the sixth day all that they were to eat both that day and upon the following sabbath, or that they were forbidden to bake or seethe it upon the sabbath day; for there is not a word here to that purpose; and it is apparent from the whole context, that the rest of the sabbath is not opposed to their baking or seething of it, but to their going out into the field to gather it. Nay, the contrary is here implied, because after they had baken and sodden what they intended to bake or seethe, part of the manna did, as is here expressly added, remain over, and was reserved for the sabbath day's provision, and that unbaken and unsodden, otherwise it would not have been noted as a miraculous thing, that it did not stink nor breed worms” (Matthew Poole).

If Matthew Poole is right (and I think he is), this insight of his could help correct an overly-strict application of the Sabbath. That is, we see that it can be appropriate to prepare food on the Sabbath, but it might be wise to do as much prep work before the Sabbath so no unnecessary work takes place on the actual day. (After all, the Israelites gathered the manna the day before the Sabbath.) The point is, the Sabbath can and oftentimes will include what church fathers have called works of necessity.

Went out on the seventh day.
These Israelites exhibited a lack of trust in God’s provision. Commanded to rest, they sought to work instead. Like the Israelites, we are prone to strive, and so resting at God’s command does not come easy to us. Indeed, it takes work to practice the rest the Sabbath provides. Trusting in God involves ceasing to strive; it is admitting our insufficiency and accepting Christ’s sufficiency. On Sunday, we rest from our work in order to enjoy and appreciate Christ’s finished work. The Sabbath is a physical practice that illustrates a spiritual reality.

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

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
Annotations upon the Holy Bible, by Matthew Poole