The Sabbath During the day of Temptation
General history of the Sabbath in the wilderness - Its violation one cause of excluding that generation from the promised land - Its violation by their children in the wilderness one of the causes of their final dispersion from their own land - The statute respecting fires upon the Sabbath - Various precepts relative to the Sabbath - The Sabbath not a Jewish feast - The man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath - Appeal of Moses in behalf of the decalogue - The Sabbath not derived from the covenant at Horeb - Final appeal of Moses in behalf of the Sabbath - The original fourth commandment - The Sabbath not a memorial of the flight from Egypt - What words were engraven upon stone - General summary from the books of Moses.
The history of the Sabbath during the provocation in the day of temptation in the wilderness when God was grieved for forty years with his people may be stated in few words. Even under the eye of Moses, and with the most stupendous miracles in their memory and before their eyes, they were idolaters,1 neglecters of sacrifices, neglecters of circumcision,2 murmurers against God, despisers of his law3 and violators of his Sabbath.
Of their treatment of the Sabbath while in the wilderness, Ezekiel gives us the following graphic description:
"But the house of
This language shows a general violation of the Sabbath, and evidently refers to the apostasy of
"Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; BECAUSE they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my Sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness."
This language has undoubted reference to the act of God in excluding all that were over twenty years of age from entering the promised land.6 It is to be noticed that the violation of the Sabbath is distinctly stated as one of the reasons for which that generation were excluded from the land of promise. God spared the people so that the nation was not utterly cut off; for he extended to the younger part a further probation. Thus the prophet continues:
"But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and hallow my Sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God. Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my Sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name''s sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth. I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their father''s idols."
Thus it appears that the younger generation, which God spared when he excluded their fathers from the land of promise, did, like their fathers, transgress God''s law, pollute his Sabbath, and cleave to idolatry. God did not see fit to exclude them from the
Such is the general history of Sabbatic observance in the wilderness. Even the miracle of the manna, which every week for forty years bore public testimony to the Sabbath,9 became to the body of Hebrews a mere ordinary event, so that they dared to murmur against the bread thus sent from heaven;10 and we may well believe that those who were thus hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, had little regard for the testimony of the manna in behalf of the Sabbath.11 In the Mosaic record we next read of the Sabbath as follows:
And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of
The chief feature of interest in this text relates to the prohibition of fires on the Sabbath. As this is the only prohibition of the kind in the Bible, and as it is often urged as a reason why the Sabbath should not be kept, a brief examination of the difficulty will not be out of place. It should be observed, 1. That this language does not form part of the fourth commandment, the grand law of the Sabbath. 2. That as there were laws pertaining to the Sabbath, that were no part of the Sabbatic institution, but that grew out of its being intrusted to the Hebrews, such as the law respecting the presentation of the shew-bread on the Sabbath; and that respecting the burnt-offering for the Sabbath:14 so it is at least possible that this is a precept pertaining only to that nation, and not a part of the original institution. 3. That as there were laws peculiar only to the Hebrews, so there were many that pertained to them only while they were in the wilderness. Such were all those precepts that related to the manna, the building of the tabernacle and the setting of it up, the manner of encamping about it, &c. 4. That of this class were all the statutes given from the time that Moses brought down the second tables of stone until the close of the book of Exodus, unless the words under consideration form an exception. 5. That the prohibition of fires was a law of this class, i.e., a law designed only for the wilderness, is evident from several decisive facts.
1. That the
2. That the Sabbath was not designed to be a cause of distress and suffering, but of refreshment, of delight, and of blessing.16
3. That in the wilderness of Sinai, where this precept respecting fires on the Sabbath was given, it was not cause of suffering, as they were two hundred miles south of Jerusalem, in the warm climate of Arabia.
4. That this precept was of a temporary character, is further applied in that while other laws are said to be perpetual statutes and precepts to be kept after they should enter the land,17 no hint of this kind here appears. On the contrary, this seems to be similar in character to the precept respecting the manna,18 and to be co-existent with, and adapted to it.
5. If the prohibition respecting fires did indeed pertain to the promised land, and not merely to the wilderness, it would every few years conflict directly with the law of the passover. For the passover was to be roasted by each family of the children of
From these facts it follows that the favorite argument drawn from the prohibition of fires, that the Sabbath was a local institution, adapted only to the
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of
These constant references to the Sabbath contrast strikingly with the general disobedience of the people. And thus God speaks again:
"Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings." 23
Thus does God solemnly designate his rest-day as a season of holy worship, and as the day of weekly religious assemblies. Again the great Law-giver sets forth his Sabbath:
"Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it; for I am the Lord your God. Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord."24
Happy would it have been for the people of God had they thus refrained from idolatry and sacredly regarded the rest-day of the Creator. Yet idolatry and Sabbath-breaking were so general in the wilderness that the generation which came forth from Egypt were excluded from the promised land.25 After God had thus cut off from the inheritance of the land the men who had rebelled against him,26 we next read of the Sabbath as follows:
"And while the children of
The following facts should be considered in explaining this text: 1. That this was a case of peculiar guilt; for the whole congregation before whom this man stood in judgment, and by whom he was put to death, were themselves guilty of violating the Sabbath, and had just been excluded from the promised land for this and other sins.28 2. That this was not a case which came under the existing penalty of death for work upon the Sabbath; for the man was put in confinement that the mind of the Lord respecting his guilt might be obtained. The peculiarity of his transgression may be learned from the context. The verses which next precede the case in question read thus:
"But the soul that doeth aught presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.29
These words being followed by this remarkable case were evidently designed to be illustrated by it. It is manifest, therefore, that this was an instance of presumptuous sin, in which the transgressor intended despite to the Spirit of grace and to the statutes of the Most High. This case cannot therefore be quoted as evidence of extraordinary strictness on the part of the Hebrews in observing the Sabbath; for we have direct evidence that they did greatly pollute it during the whole forty years of their sojourn in the wildeess.30 It stands therefore as an instance of transgression in which the sinner intended to show his contempt for the Law-giver, and in this consisted his peculiar guilt.31
In the last month of his long and eventful life Moses rehearsed all the great acts of God in behalf of his people, with the statutes and precepts that he had given them. This rehearsal is contained in the book of Deuteronomy, a name which signifies second law, and which is applied to that book, because it is a second writing of the law. It is the farewell of Moses to a disobedient and rebellious people; and he endeavors to fasten upon them the strongest possible sense of personal obligation to obey. Thus, when he is about to rehearse the ten commandments, he uses language evidently designed to impress upon the minds of the Hebrews a sense of their individual obligation to do what God had commanded. Thus he says:
"Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day."32
It was not the act of your fathers that placed this responsibility upon you, but your own individual acts that brought you into the bond of this covenant. You have personally pledged yourselves to the Most High to keep these precepts.33 Such is the obvious import of this language; yet it has been gravely adduced as proof that the Sabbath of the Lord was made for the Hebrews, and was not obligatory upon the patriarchs. The singularity of this deduction appears in that it is brought to bear against the fourth commandment alone; whereas, if it is a just and logical argument, it would show that the ancient patriarchs were under no obligation in respect to any precept of the moral law. But it is certain that the covenant at Horeb was simply an embodiment of the precepts of the moral law, with mutual pledges respecting them between God and the people, and that that covenant did not give existence to either of the ten commandments. At all events, we find the Sabbath ordained of God at the close of creation34 and obligatory upon the Hebrews in the wilderness before God had given them a new precept on the subject.35 As this was before the covenant at Horeb it is conclusive proof that the Sabbath did no more originate from that covenant than did the prohibition of idolatry, theft or murder.
The man of God then repeats the ten commandments. And thus he gives the fourth:
"Keep the Sabbath day, to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labor and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, not any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou was a servant in the
It is a singular fact that this scripture is uniformly quoted by those who write against the Sabbath, as the original fourth commandment; while the original precept itself is carefully left out. Yet there is the strongest evidence that this is not the original precept; for Moses rehearses these words at the end of the forty years'' sojourn, whereas the original commandment was given in the third month after the departure from Eqypt.37 The commandment itself, as here given, contains direct proof on the point. Thus it reads; "Keep the Sabbath day, to sanctify it, AS the Lord thy God HATH COMMANDED thee;" thus citing elsewhere for the original statute. Moreover the precept as here given is evidently incomplete. It contains no clue to the origin of the Sabbath of the Lord, nor does it show the acts by which the Sabbath came into existence. This is why those who represent the Sabbath as made in the wilderness and not at creation quote this as the fourth commandment, and omit the original precept, which God himself proclaimed, where all these facts are distinctly stated.38
But while Moses in this rehearsal omits a large part of the fourth commandment, he refers to the original precept of the whole matter, and then appends to this rehearsal a powerful plea of obligation on the part of the Hebrews to keep the Sabbath. It should be remembered that many of the people had steadily persisted in the violation of the Sabbath, and that this is the last time that Moses speaks in its behalf. Thus he says:
"And remember that thou was a servant in the
These words are often cited as proof that the Sabbath originated at the departure of
But what then do these words imply? Perhaps their meaning may be more readily perceived by comparing them with an exact parallel found in the same book and from the pen of the same writer:
"Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow''s raiment to pledge; but thou shalt remember that thou was a bondman in
It will be seen at a glance that this precept was not given to commemorate the deliverance of
That the words engraven upon stone were simply the ten commandments is evident.
It is said of the first tables:
"And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone."41
2. Thus the first tables of stone contained the ten commandments alone. That the second tables were an exact copy of what was written upon the first, is plainly stated:
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou breakest." "And I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou breakest and thou shalt put them in the ark."42
This is confirmed by the following decisive testimony:
"And he wrote upon the table the words of the covenant, the ten commandments," margin, Heb., "words." "And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments [margin, words], which the Lord spake unto you in the mount, out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the Lord gave them unto me."43
These texts will explain the following language: "And the Lord delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words which the Lord spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly."44 Thus God is said to have written upon the tables according to all the words which he spoke in the day of the assemble; and these words which he thus wrote, are said to have been TEN WORDS. But the preface to the decalogue was not one of these ten words, and hence was not written by the finger of God upon stone. That this distinction must be attended to, will be seen by examining the following text and its connection:
"THESE WORDS the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me."45
THESE WORDS here brought to view as written by the finger of God after having been uttered by him in the hearing of all the people, must be understood as one of two things. 1. They are simply the ten words of the law of God; or, 2. They are the words used by Moses in this rehearsal of the decalogue. But they cannot refer to the words used in this rehearsal; for, 1. Moses omits an important part of the fourth precept as given by God in its proclamation from the mount. 2. In this rehearsal of that precept he cites back to the original for that which is omitted.46 3. He appends to this precept an appeal in its behalf to their gratitude which was not made by God in giving it. 4. This language only purports to be a rehearsal and not the original itself; and this is further evinced by many verbal deviations from the original decalogue.47 These facts are decisive as to what was placed upon the tables of stone. It was not an incomplete copy, citing elsewhere for the original, but the original code itself. And hence when Moses speaks of THESE WORDS as engraven upon the tables, he refers not to the words used by himself in this rehearsal, but to the TEN WORDS of the law of God, and excludes all else.
Thus have we traced the Sabbath through the books of Moses. We have found its origin in paradise when man was in his uprightness; we have seen the Hebrews set apart from all mankind as the depositaries of divine truth; we have seen the Sabbath and the whole moral law committed as a sacred trust to them; we have seen the Sabbath proclaimed by God as one of the ten commandments; we have seen it written by the finger of God upon stone in the bosom of the moral law; we have sen that law possessing no Jewish, but simply moral and divine, features, placed beneath the mercy-seat in the ark of God''s testament; we have seen that various precepts pertaining to the Sabbath were given to the Hebrews and designed only for them; we have seen that the Hebrews did greatly pollute the Sabbath during their sojourn in the wilderness; and we have heard the final appeal made in its behalf by Moses to that rebellious people.
We rest the foundation of the Sabbatic institution upon its sanctification before the fall of man; the fourth commandment is its great citadel of defense; its place in the midst of the moral law beneath the mercy-seat shows its relation to the atonement and its immutable obligation.
1 Ex.32; Josh.24:2, 14, 23; Eze.20:7,8,16,18,24.
2 Amos 5:25-27; Acts 7:41-43; Josh.5:2-8.
3 Num.14; Ps.95; Eze.20:13.
8 Num.14; Heb.3:16.
9 Ex.16; Josh.5:12.
11 A comparison of Ex.19; 20:18-21; 24:3-8, with chapter 32, will show the astonishing transitions of the Hebrews from faith and obedience to rebellion and idolatry. See a general history of these acts in Ps.78; 106.
12 For a notice of this penalty see chapter 5.
14 Lev.24:5-9; Num.28:9, 10.
15 The Bible abounds with facts which establish this proposition. Thus the psalmist in an address to
16 The testimony of the Bible on this point is very explicit. Thus we read: "Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thine handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed." Ex.23:12. To be without fire in the severity of winter would cause the Sabbath to be a curse and not a refreshment. It would ruin the health of those who should thus expose themselves, and render the Sabbath anything but a source of refreshment. The prophet uses the following language: "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day: and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable." etc. The Sabbath then was designed by God to be a source of delight to his people, and not a cause of suffering. The merciful and beneficent character of the Sabbath is sen in the following texts: Matt.12:10-13; Mark 2:27,28; Luke 14:3-6. From them we learn that God regards the sufferings of the brute creation, and would have them alleviated upon the Sabbath; how much more the distress and the needs of his people, for whose refreshment and delight the Sabbath was made.
17 Ex.29:9; 31:16; Lev.3:17; 24:9; Num.19:21; Deut.5:31; 6:1; 7. The number and variety of these allusions will surprise the inquirer.
19 Ex.12; Deut.16.
20 The law of the passover certainly contemplated the arrival of the Hebrews in the promised land before its regular observance. Ex.12:25. Indeed, it was only once observed in the wilderness: namely, in the year following their departure from
21 Dr.Gill, who considered the seventh-day Sabbath as a Jewish institution, beginning with Moses, and ending with Christ, and one with which Gentiles have no concern, has given his judgment concerning this question of fire on the Sabbath. He certainly had no motive in this case to answer this popular objection only that of stating the truth. He says: "This law seems to be a temporary one, and not to be continued, nor is it said to be throughout their generations, as elsewhere, where the law of the Sabbath is given or repeated; it is to be restrained to the building of the tabernacle, and while that was about to which it is prefaced; and it is designed to prevent all public or private working on the Sabbath day in anything belonging to that;" etc. - Commentary on Ex.35:3. Dr. Bound gives us St. Augustine''s idea of this precept: "He doth not admonish them of it without cause; for that he speaketh in making the tabernacle, and all things belonging to it, and showeth that, notwithstanding that, they must rest upon the Sabbath day, and not under the color of that (as it is said in the text) so much as kindle a fire." - True Doctrine of the Sabbath, p. 140.
23 Lev.23:3. It has been asserted from verse 2, that the Sabbath was one of the feasts of the Lord. But a comparison of verses 2 and 4, shows that there is a break in the narrative, for the purpose of introducing the Sabbath as a holy convocation; and that verse 4 begins the theme anew in the very language of verse 2; and it is to be observed that the remainder of the chapter sets forth the actual Jewish feasts; viz., that of unleavened bread, the Pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles. What further clears this point of all obscurity is the fact that verses 37, 38, carefully discriminate between the feasts of the Lord and the Sabbaths of the Lord. But Ex.23:14, settles the point beyond controversy: "Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year." And then verses 15-17 enumerate these feasts as in Lev.23:4-44. See also 2Chron.8:13.
26 Num.13; 14.
28 Eze.20:15, 16 comp. with Num.14:35.
31 Hengstenberg, a distinguished German Anti-Sabbatarian, thus candidly treats this text: "A man who had gathered wood on the Sabbath is brought forth at the command of the Lord, and stoned by the whole congregation before the camp. Calvin says rightly, `The guilty man did not fall through error, but through gross contempt of the law, so that he treated it as a light matter to overthrow and destroy all that is holy.'' It is evident from the manner of its introduction that the account is not given with any reference to its chronological position; it reads, `And while the children of
33 See the pledges of this people in Ex.19; 24.
34 See the second chapter of this work.
35 See chapter third.
37 Compare Ex.19; 20; Deut.1.
39 Ex.12; 13.
42 Ex.34:1; Deut.10:2.
43 Ex.34:28; Deut.10:4.
46 Deut.5:12-15, compared with Ex.20:8-11.
47 Deut.5, compared with Ex.20.