Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
58. The Sabbath and Israel
As was pointed out at the commencement of our last article, the contents of Exodus 31 fall under three clearly-defined divisions. First, the provision made by Jehovah for the carrying out of the instructions which He had given to Moses concerning the making of the tabernacle. This, as we have seen, was His calling and equipping of the principal artificers and the appointing of their work. Second, the mention, once more, of God’s holy Sabbath, and the defining of its special relation to Israel. Third, a brief word in v. 18 of the actual giving to Moses of the tables of testimony, on which were inscribed the ten commandments. It is the last two divisions we are about to consider; may the Spirit of God graciously preserve us from all error and guide us into all truth.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily My sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore for it is holy unto you: everyone that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested. and was refreshed" (vv. 12-17). In pondering what is here said concerning the Sabbath we propose to look first at its typical significance, then at its dispensational bearings, and lastly at the judicial aspects of our passage.
It may strike the thoughtful reader as strange that any reference should be made here to the Sabbath: coming right after the description of the tabernacle, its furniture, its priesthood and its artificers; the more so, as full mention of it had already been made in Exodus 20:8-11. There are no mere repetitions in Holy Writ, and though a thing may be mentioned more than once, or the same command or ordinance be given again and again, yet it is always with another end in view, or for the purpose of enforcing a different design, or with the object of bringing in fuller details. Generally the Spirit’s purpose may be discerned by taking note of the connection in which each statement occurs.
The first time the Sabbath is mentioned in Exodus is in 16:23-29, from which it should be quite apparent that this holy day unto the Lord was no new appointment at that time: the words of v. 28 (occasioned by Israel’s desecration of the Sabbath, see v. 27) are too plain to be misunderstood: "And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws?" Thus, the initial reference to the Sabbath in Exodus contains the Lord’s expostulation with His people for having disregarded His commandments—referring no doubt to the evil way in which they had, for centuries, conducted themselves in Egypt: see Ezekiel 20:5-9.
The second time the Sabbath is found in Exodus is in chapter 20, where we have the ten commandments given to Israel orally. They were given to Israel as a redeemed people, which the Lord had brought "out of the house of bondage." They expressed the rights of God, His claims upon His people, that which He righteously required from them. Those commandments were not a yoke grievous to be borne, but the making known of a path in which love was to walk. In them God promised to show mercy unto thousands (not "millions") of them that love Me and keep My commandments" (v. 6). God’s commandments are just as truly the expressions of His love as are His promises, and a heart that loves Him in return should rejoice in the one as much as in the other. God’s commandments express both His authority over and His solicitude for His people. It is in that light this second mention of the Sabbath in Exodus is to be viewed.
The third reference in Exodus to the Sabbath is found in chapter 31, a section of the book where everything speaks loudly of Christ. Unless this be carefully noted the meaning of our present passage will be missed. It should be evident at once that the typical significance of the Sabbath is the first thing to be looked at here. True, that by no means exhausts the scope and value of these verses, yet it does supply the key which unlocks for us their primary meaning. Here, again, we have another example of a principle which holds good of every part of the Word, namely, if we ignore the context we are sure to err in our interpretation.
Now in seeking to discover the typical meaning of the Sabbath we cannot do better than turn back to the first mention of it in Scripture: "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made" (Gen. 2:2, 3). It will be observed that three actions of God in connection with the Sabbath are here mentioned: He ended His work which He had made and "rested on the seventh day," He "blessed the seventh day," He "sanctified" it. We believe the order in which these three things are mentioned is the order of spiritual importance—confirmed by the first thing mentioned being repeated.
In order to apprehend aright the spiritual import of the Sabbath, it is most necessary to observe that the first thing of all connected with it is the rest of God. The fact that God rested on the seventh day is undoubtedly recorded for the purpose of teaching that the Creator graciously condescended to set an example before His creatures of how to spend and enjoy the Sabbath; yet that there is also a deeper meaning to this statement will scarcely be denied. Nor do we think that the reference is solely to the Creator’s delight and satisfaction in the works which He had made during the six days preceding; rather would it appear (from subsequent scriptures) that this "rest" was anticipatory—spiritually, of that rest which the Christian enjoys now; dispensationally, of the millennial Sabbath; typically, of the eternal Sabbath.
Now in the light of what is before us in the first eleven verses of Exodus 31, is there any difficulty in discovering the perfect propriety of a reference to the Sabbath in what immediately follows? What else could have been more appropriate? In the first part of the chapter we have a most lovely foreshadowing of Him who had ever dwelt in the bosom of the Father, the Son of Light, voluntarily undertaking to "work in gold, silver, brass, and of precious stones." The stupendous work therein typified having been gloriously completed, we have at once mentioned that which speaks of the rest of God. How suitable, how blessed the connection! As cause stands to effect, so is the relation between the labors of the tabernacle-artificers and the mention here of the Sabbath. The rest of God is the consequence of the finished Work of Christ: first, that in which God Himself finds complacency; second, that into which His redeemed are brought.
The wicked are like the troubled sea which cannot rest (Isa. 57:20). And why? Because they are away from God. Away from God, they are seeking satisfaction in that which cannot provide it. Theirs is a ceaseless quest after that which will give peace and joy. But over all the varied cisterns to which they have recourse, is written these words, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again" (John 4:13). "There is no peace, saith my God, unto the wicked" (Isa. 57:21), for they are strangers to the Prince of peace. It is not until the Spirit of God has shown us that all under the sun is but "vanity and vexation of spirit," has convicted us of our sinful and lost condition, has shown us our desperate need of the Savior, and drawn us to Him, that we hear the Lord Jesus saying, "Come unto Me, all ye, that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Then it becomes true that, "we which have believed do enter into rest" (Heb. 4:3).
"Verily My sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep My Sabbaths therefore, for it is holy unto you" (vv. 13, 14). Surely the meaning of this is too plain for us to miss. The Sabbath was now, for the first time, appointed as a "sign" between Jehovah and Israel that they were His "sanctified" people—a people set apart unto Himself. So, also, that of which the Sabbath spoke—the rest of God—was also the portion of a sanctified people, a people "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). This people was sanctified by God the Father before they were called (Jude 1), even from all eternity. They were sanctified by God the Son "with His own blood" (Heb. 13: 12). They are sanctified by God the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13) when they are quickened into newness of life, and thus separated from those who are dead in sins. And the "sign" between God and His sanctified people is still the "Sabbath," i.e., the fact that they have entered into rest.
Turning back from the antitype to the type, we can see at once why the Sabbath should be the appointed "sign" between Jehovah and Israel. At the time He entered into covenant relation with them, all other nations had been given up by God (Rom. 1:19-26). Not liking to retain Him in their knowledge, they gave themselves unto idolatry. For this cause God gave them up to a reprobate mind. The heathen nations, therefore, kept no Sabbath, and, in all probability, by that time knew not that the Creator required them to. But to Israel God made known His laws, and the appointed sign or token that they were His peculiar people was their observance of the Sabbath. So that of which, spiritually, the Sabbath speaks, is still the portion of none but God’s chosen people.
Dispensationally, the rest to which the Sabbath pointed, was the Millennial era, the seventh of earth’s great "days." In view of the inspired declaration, "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8) we believe, with many others, that the "six days" of Genesis 1 give us a prophetic forecast of the world’s history, and that the "seventh day" of Genesis 2:2, 3 points to the final dispensation. This is confirmed by Revelation 20 where, again and again, the reign of Christ and His saints over this earth is said to be of a "thousand years" duration. The Millennium will be the earth’s great Sabbath. Then shall this scene which has witnessed six thousand years of strife, turmoil, bloodshed, enjoy an unprecedented era of rest. The Prince of peace shall be here; Satan shall be in the bottomless pit; war shall be made to cease to "the end of the earth" (Ps. 4:6:9); the curse which now rests upon the lower orders of creation shall be lifted (Isa. 11:6-9).
But not only did the original Sabbath of Genesis 2:2, 3 anticipate the spiritual rest which is, even now, the portion of God’s people; not only did it forecast the millennial peace which this earth will yet enjoy; but it also typified an eternal Sabbath, into which nothing shall ever enter to disturb and mar its perfect tranquility and bliss. This is what the Work of Christ (adumbrated in Exodus 31:1-11) has secured, and toward which all things are moving. When the present heaven and earth shall have passed away, and a new heaven and earth shall have come into existence, then shall be fulfilled that precious word of Revelation 21:3-5, "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold. I make all things new."
A beautiful foreshadowing of this is to be found in Zephaniah 3:17, "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing." The immediate reference is to the restoration of Israel to God’s favor, to their land, and to the fulfillment of His purpose and promises concerning them. But the ultimate reference, we believe, is to that which shall characterize the Eternal State. Then, in the midst of His redeemed, and as the fruit of His Son’s perfect work, God Himself shall rejoice over. His people with joy and "rest in His love."
Once more we pause to admire the striking and lovely order in which God’s truth is presented before us. In the first part of Exodus 31 we behold the Divine provision made for giving effect to all that was in the will of God; therefore, in the very next section, that which speaks of Divine rest, is brought before us. In keeping with this it is most blessed to take note of one word which is found here, and nowhere else: "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed" (Ex. 31:17). The fact that these words are found not in Genesis 2:2, 3, or Exodus 20:8-11, but here, right after what is typically in view in 31:1-11, tells, unmistakably, of that refreshment, that joy, that resting in His love, which shall be the eternal portion of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What is here in view is that rest of God which is the consequence of the bringing into effect, the actual realization, of the whole will of God as set forth in the tabernacle. When "the tabernacle of God is with men" (Rev. 21:3), then shall there be an holy, unbreakable, eternal rest. God will rest in His love, and His sanctified people will rest with Him.
"I think it is in the light of the tabernacle system, and of its taking form for the pleasure of God, that He adds the words, ‘And was refreshed.’ God was refreshed because even in the material creation He was forming a sphere where all His own blessed thoughts of grace and glory in Christ could be worked out. Those thoughts first came to light in a definite, though figurative, form in the tabernacle, and in the light of them all being brought into effect God could, as it were, carry back into Genesis 2 a secret not revealed. When God made the heavens and the earth He had ‘the holy universal order of the tabernacle in His mind. He was making a material universe, and this in itself could not afford Him refreshment. But He was making it so that it might be the scene for the introduction of ‘the holy order of the tabernacle,’ which represented the vast scene in which God’s glory is displayed in Christ, and in view of the introduction of this He was ‘refreshed’! The Sabbath speaks of things being brought to completion, so that there is no more work to be done; all is finished, and there is holy rest for God and His people" (C. A. Coates).
Having pondered the typical significance of the Sabbath’s being mentioned in Exodus 31, having sought to point out its dispensational application, it now remains for us to consider the judicial aspect of our passage. This is brought before us in vv. 14, 15, "Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death." A solemn example of this threat is recorded in Numbers 15:32-36, "And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, "The man shall surely be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died."
It seems strange that so many have experienced a difficulty with the above passages. The key to them is surely found in noting the character and design of the Mosaic economy. That Dispensation was a legal and a probationary one. It was preparatory to the fuller and final revelation which God made of Himself in and through Christ. It is a mistake to look upon it as a stern regime of unmixed law. True, it was marked at the beginning by the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, but it should not be forgotten that this was immediately followed by the revelation concerning the Tabernacle and the institution of the priesthood, and (see the book of Leviticus) by the Divine appointment of a series of offerings and sacrifices, wherein provision was made for God’s people to approach unto Him through their representatives. Though all of this was a typical foreshadowing of that which was to be made good and secured by and through the person and work of Christ, yet it should not be forgotten that it was also a most gracious provision of God for His people at that time.
On the other hand, there was not, and, in the nature of the case, could not be, a full and perfect revelation of the grace of God during the Mosaic economy. Law is law, and righteousness requires the strict enforcing of its terms and penalties. Mercy might, and did, make provision for "sins of ignorance" (Lev. 4:2-4; Numbers 15:27, 28), and for the unavoidable contact with that which defiled (Num. 10:11-19); but for pre-meditated or deliberate transgressions no sacrifice was available—"he that despised Moses’ law died without mercy" (Heb. 10:28). A notable case in point which illustrates this distinction is to be found in connection with the requirement of the Mosaic law when a man had been slain. We refer to the "cities of refuge": let the reader carefully consult Numbers 35:9-24. If any person had been killed "unawares" (vv. 11, 15)—that is, without "malice aforethought"—then he might find an asylum in one of those cities; but if that person had been deliberately slain, then the word was, "the murderer shall surely be put to death" (vv. 16:17). What has just been said explains a reference in Psalm 51, which, though very familiar, is understood by but few. That Psalm records the deep penitence of David. He was guilty of murder, the murder of Uriah. In v. 16 he says, "For Thou desireth not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering." No "sacrifice" was available for murder! What, then, could poor David do? This: cast himself on the "mercy" of God (v. l), acknowledge his transgression (v. 3), and cry for deliverance from "blood-guiltiness’ (v. 14). That his cry was heard, we all know, and the very hearing of it testified to the blessed truth that "mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (James 2:13).
What has just been pointed out should greatly modify the prevailing conception of the harshness of the Mosaic dispensation. True, the Law, as such, showed no mercy; but side by side with the Law was the Levitical sacrifices, and over and above these was the mercy of God, available for those who sought it out of a broken heart. Thus, unless we keep both of these facts in mind, and learn to distinguish between things that differ, confusion of thought and conception must necessarily ensue.
"Whosoever doeth any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death." This was the exaction of Law as such, the righteous enforcement of its penalty. Nor was this peculiar to the fourth commandment; it obtained equally with the other nine. The following passages may serve as illustrations and proofs, "And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death" (Ex. 21:15); "And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that commiteth adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death" (Lev. 20:10); "And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death" (Lev. 24:16); see also Deuteronomy 13:6-10, etc.
Our chapter closes with the mention of God’s giving the tables of testimony unto Moses: "And He gave unto Moses, when He had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (v. 18). This completes the section of the book of Exodus begun at 24:18. For forty days Moses had been in the mount receiving instructions from Jehovah. That those instructions closed with the giving of these two tables of stone is most significant. Coming here after the appointing of the tabernacle-artificers and the mention of the Sabbath it announces, typically, that the rights and claims of God have been made good and eternally secured by and through the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Grace now "reigns," but "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21). That there is also a close connection between Exodus 31:18 and what follows will, D.V., be shown in our next article.