Is the Sabbath for everyone?

“It was at Sinai that the observance of Sabbath could be instituted, because there God made a covenant with his people. The meaning of this law, like all the moral laws expressed in the Ten Commandments, had been revealed from the beginning. But the difference was that the enjoyment of the Sabbath has been possible only for unfallen humans, whereas the other nine commandments were binding upon all people from the beginning. It was only after God formed a nation of redeemed people that he could impose Sabbath observance consonant with the meaning of the day.

And so the fourth commandment is unique in the Decalogue. The Sabbath was never imposed on any people other than Israel. All the other commands express eternal and moral principles that are binding on all of God’s creatures; they were not altered at the fall. Nor have they been set aside in the New Testament. They all find ratification in the New Testament–all except the commandment of the Sabbath. Unger says, ‘Nowhere is Sabbath keeping every imposed upon a Christian in this age of grace.Indeed, the very opposite is true.'” (Allen Ross, “Holiness to the Lord”,398).

6 responses to this post.

  1. Also, each covenant has a sign and from Exodus 31 we learn that the sign of the Mosaic (Old) Covenant was the Sabbath.

  2. I basically agree with the quote stated in your post, but this issue is not terribly clear to me.

    How do you reconcile Genesis 2?: “1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

    The New Covenant doesn’t transmute the Sabbath in this respect, does it? (not a leading question, I honestly don’t know)

  3. Gavin,

    If I understand what some of these writers have been saying (from the quotes I’ve provided), the Sabbath in Gen 2 was not an ordinance of any sort but did serve as a pattern for the Jewish sabbath that was later instituted at Sinai as a covenant sign. Since we are not under the Mosaic covenant then neither are we responsible to preserve the sign of the covenant. Christ is the fulfillment of the law in this and every regard.

    I would say there are many things that are “transmuted” if by that we mean “change in nature, properties, appearance, or form.” The way theologians typically refer to this is “discontinuity and continuity.” For myself, rather than impose a system onto every text of Scripture I would prefer to let the exegesis of the text within the framework of progressive revelation tell me whether something has discontinued or not.

    Thanks for the question Gavin. I would highly recommend the book “Continuity vs. Discontinuity: Perspectives on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments” ed. by John S. Feinberg as a helpful resource on the larger issue.

  4. Andrew Shead has some helpful thoughts on Sabbath

  5. According to Exodus 31:13 the sabbaths were to be a sign between God and Israel, throughout their generations, so that they would know that it was God who was sanctifying them. We know from Exodus 20:8 and 31:14 that they were to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, but here we see that it was also a sign of the Lord’s sanctifying them. This is an OT picture of the sanctification that was to come as part of the New Covenant, a sanctification that they could not achieve of their own accord.

    Move forward to Isaiah 58:13-14a and we gain additional insight on what it meant to keep the Sabbath, to keep it holy. “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then your will take delight in the Lord.” The Sabbath was to be a time that they were to be set apart (sanctified), holy unto the Lord. They were not to do what pleased themselves, to walk in their own desires, or to speak what they pleased, but were to do what pleased the Lord. They were even to be set apart from themselves and their own desires and be set apart unto the Lord.

    Now move forward to the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and we see in verse 33 that the Lord promises to put His law, which includes keeping the Sabbath, within them and He will write it on their heart. Again, in a parallel passage in Ezekiel 36:24-29, in verse 27, God promises to put His Spirit within them and cause them to walk in His statutes, and they would be careful to walk in His ordinances. Where has God promised to put and write His law? It is in them, on their hearts. What is included in the Law? It is the Sabbath. So what God has done in the New Covenant is to sanctify people unto Himself. He has also put the ability to be holy in the heart of each one whom He has drawn to Himself and is indwelled by HIs Spirit.

    So under the New Covenant we have the Sabbath and its holiness put inside us and written in our heart. The result is that we now keep the Sabbath every day as we are not only positionally sanctified, but are also progessively being sanctified. Each and every day we are not seeking our own desires or walking in our own ways instead of just on the seventh day.

    We see this pictured in Luke 9:23 as Christ says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Contrast this with the verses in Isaiah 58. The Sabbath was to be a time of self-denial in order to be set apart unto the Lord, and it is something that we do daily if we are truly following after the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Now apply this to what is preached in so many churches. They are encouraging the people to seek what gratifies them and their flesh. In fact, they are told this is what God has in store for them…gratification of all their desires. This has always been what is at the heart of the sin that has kept man separated from God, again, so aptly pictured in Isaiah 58:13.

    So we see that the Sabbath was an OT picture of the reality of the sanctification that God has accomplished in NT the for those who are His. It has always been about being holy unto the Lord, being separted from the world and our own fleshly desires. Now, instead of delighting in ourselves, we delight in Him, and He is our pleasure and our very great reward.

  6. […] have touched on the issue of Sabbath a few time here at ET with a few comments and quotes (See Is the Sabbath for everyone?, Is Sunday the Sabbath?, Is the Sabbath abolished?, Remember the Sabbath?). To date, the best book […]

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