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Few practices of most sects of Judaism set them apart from the rest of the world more than the Sabbath. This becomes true for Seventh-day Adventist, Seventh-day Baptists, and many Messianic Jews, as well. The idea of resting from all labor on a specific day of the week isn’t unknown in secular culture or other religions (like Islam), but the reasons for it, and the specific day of rest, is unique in the Bible. How does the Sabbath function within the covenant? In what way can the Sabbath be a “sign” of God’s covenant people?
The Hebrew word for Sabbath is tied directly here to God’s ceasing of creative activity, a noted “stopping.” Thus Genesis 1:1-2:4 are like bookends—God beginning to create and God ceasing to create. The specialness associated with the Sabbath is often missed by Christians who believe that it is simply rest that God values, something that can happen at any time; but Genesis 2:1-4 clarify that God did something special with Time Itself. He didn’t sanctify or bless “rest,” but the seventh day itself. This act predates Sinai and the 10 Words, yet forms a foundation for the heart of God’s covenant law.
Why do you think God blessed a certain day of the week and not just rest itself? What is the value of sharing the same day off with other people around us? Doesn’t that create some liabilities in society if someone isn’t working?
The sun, moon, and stars were created partially as signs in the heavens as markers for days of the week, months, seasons, and years. Where do we get the seven-day weekly cycle, then?
Manna and the Sabbath: Exodus 16
It’s noteworthy that the Sabbath is clarified to Israel before they receive the law at Sinai. Providence saw fit to rain bread from heaven, but with stipulations. Not only was the manna a daily occurrence except on the 7th day of the week, it couldn’t be saved for the next day unless that day was a Friday.
What lessons did Israel learn about the Sabbath from the manna? How might this gathering/resting cycle have solidified or engrained the 7-day week in their culture?
How many different miracles were encapsulated in this “Bread from heaven”?
Many cultures around the world share a 7-day weekly cycle even if the Sabbath isn’t part of their religious culture. How might you explain this?
Sabbath as a Sign
The quarterly listed the four places in the Old Testament where the Sabbath is referred to as a sign or mark of Israel’s covenant-constituted people (Exo 31:13, 17, Ezekiel 20:12, 20). But it was a sign also of God’s transforming power, His ability to make them Holy. If God can make a day holy, certainly He can make a people holy, special, set apart. After all, re-creation is akin to creation.
Some scholars have suggested that God was the first to ever create labor-laws by gifting people with the Sabbath. Thus, part of the covenant sign is resting, trusting that God has our back, that He will care for us. We are to labor six days, and believe in His providence for the 7th, just as Israel did concerning manna.
What makes the weekly Sabbath such an ideal outward sign of our covenant loyalty to the Creator?
Remembering: Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5
There is only one commandment that begins with the words, “remember.” Ironically (or not so much, given the Great Controversy), it’s the one command that much of the world has neglected to take seriously. But how much we need rest! Though keeping the Sabbath on a specific day, honoring specific time, is often termed “legalism” by those who haven’t tasted the beauty of Sabbath, those who truly experience God’s rest—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—have found it to be one of the most freeing of experiences.
How has the Sabbath been meaningful in your experience? Do you have traditions that make the day special? Are there Sabbath traditions or rules today that do not have their foundation in Scripture, and might even violate the Sabbath in principle?
Why is physical rest so important for humans?
How is resting from work an act of loyalty, an act of worship, and a covenant sign to God, people around us, and the onlooking universe?
As with any of the gifts God entrusted to Israel at Sinai, the Sabbath was intended to be shared. When the workaholic world around us sees the beauty and rest of Sabbath, God’s people putting their trust in Him for everything, and seeing that the God of Heaven won’t allow us to become slaves to labor, they will be drawn to this amazing, gracious God. How can you keep the Sabbath special from this day on?