Thursday, January 23, 2014

Keep The Commandments, Yes, But What About His Instructions? Just What Can We Do On The Sabbath? -- Exodus 16:25-30

And Moses said, “Eat it 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, the Sabbath, there will be none.”  And it came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.  Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?  See, the Lord has given you the Sabbath, therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day.  Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”  So the people rested on the seventh day.
The provision of manna for the physical wellbeing of the Israelites was being provided daily by God.  This was an early demonstration of what Jesus had mind many years later when He taught us to pray asking God to “give us this day our daily bread”.  But when it came to the Sabbath, the provision for physical wellbeing was provided the day before when God gave them manna enough for two days.
On the “Sabbath to the Lord” no manna was to be found in the fields.  The word sabbath is from the Hebrew word SHABÀT, meaning ‘cessation,’ or ‘time of rest.’  Interestingly, as God wanted His people to rest on that day, He was, in one sense, also resting, as He was not providing them with food.
What do we take from this?  First, God was serious about His Sabbath requirement for us.  Second, God modelled the required behavior.  Third, God made alternative provisions in order for Him and His people to observe the Sabbath.
A couple of interesting things to note here:  First, the fact that the manna was not provided on the seventh day provides our non-believer scientists with a problem.  What was it in the “evolutionary nature of things” that prevented the manna from falling from the sky every seventh day?  Interesting.  Instead, we can boldly answer, it was a “God thing”.  Second, you will note that the original intent of the Sabbath was not about worship.  God was basically saying to the Israelites “On the Sabbath, rest as I did at the time of creation, and stay in your tents; your bodies need you to.”  We, however, while we make the pretence of not working on the Sabbath, have turned the day into one of much activity in worship.  Although I do not see an easy alternative at this point, I think it would do us good to stop and realize that perhaps what we are doing on Sundays was not the original intent of God.  To Him, our worship was to take many forms and be required of us 24/7 rather than on an hour or so Sunday morning or worse still during the time of pre-sermon singing we are involved in.  But we will save our thoughts on worship for another time.
No manna and clear instruction from Moses as to what they were to do, and yet some of the people of Israel still did not believe God.  Instead, they went out and tried to gather manna on the Sabbath – maybe because they wanted more, or they ate twice as much on the day before and did not save any, or maybe because they really wanted to check it out for themselves as to whether or not Moses, or perhaps God Himself, was giving them the straight goods.  There is a possibility, some may argue, those who did this had not heard Moses’ instructions on this matter; after all, it was a very big camp encompassing a very large area and word does not get around that easily.  But if that were the case, God would have known that and He would not have said what He said to Moses in the next sentence.  Instead He shared His anger of the people with him .
At this point in the text we note that God is angry because the people refused to keep both His commandments and also His instructions.  Many have often argued that God’s commandments must be kept, but many other requests of His are optional.  I do not see it that way.  God is God and I would have a hard time suggesting to Him, “Okay, I will not steal but I cannot possibly really love my neighbour as I love myself because he just is not as nice a guy as I am.”  You get the idea.  Having said that, however, I realize that the perfect keeping of both commandments and instructions is impossible and thus God’s grace allows us to remain in relationship with Him even though we mess up regularly.  And please note I am not in any way condoning the idea that it is acceptable to mess up regularly and thus we should not worry about not messing up.  God forbid.  Instead, I believe messing up is forgivable when we repent with a pure heart and truly regret our sin, because of Who God is and how much He loves us.
So what then did God intend for us to do on the Sabbath and what does that mean for us in the early 21st century?  Let’s get technical but avoid being legalistic if we can.  God clearly told the Israelites a) to rest, and b) to remain at home and not to go out.
Okay, the ‘rest’ part we get.  Most of us do try to rest on the Sabbath.  The problem with the resting component however is not so much the rest itself, but what qualifies as rest for purposes of the Sabbath these days?  Can I read novels?  Can I watch Hollywood movies?  Can I play Scrabble or Monopoly?  Can I work on finishing my basement?  Can I play contact hockey with my teenage children or grandchildren or my friends?  Can I moonlight to make ends meet?
Wait.  There is a part about staying at home on the Sabbath?  Every time we go to church on the Sabbath are we not breaking God’s instruction as given in Exodus to the children of Israel?
I cannot answer any of these questions definitively.  I do not believe anyone can.  But I do know this – Jesus Okayed the pulling of one’s oxen (read automobile today) out of a ditch on the Sabbath.  He also did not want us to stop doing good deeds on the Sabbath.  Is it possible God was only speaking to the Israelites?  (If you think that way, you then get to pick and choose what God intends for you to learn from the Scriptures.)  Well, what about the idea of the New Covenant erasing the Old Covenant (the laws, etc.)?  (Well maybe, but then again you have to deal with Jesus saying He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it, to complete it, to perfect it as we read in Matthew 5:17.) So just how does an individual resolve all of this for him or herself?

For me it simply goes something like this: My purpose in life is to get to know God better.  All of my priorities and activities – every day, not just on the Sabbath – should be ordered or arranged and carried out in such a way that through it all, I am in relationship with my Redeemer and am getting to know Him better all the time.  If I make that my top priority, then as I live and breathe and move about on the Sabbath, I am giving it “to the Lord”.  (Well, maybe not that ‘simply’ but certainly pursuable.)
And how I do that may be very different than how you do that.  While you and I can both rest in the same room, we are not in essence “resting together”.  Our bodies rest independently of other bodies.  You may prevent me from resting, but when I am resting, I do it alone, just as I breathe alone, or heal my physical scars alone.  And as we breathe and heal differently, we may also rest differently.  What really matters is our heart’s passion for God and desiring to know more about Him.  Finally, the motives behind our actions on the Sabbath are critical, as they are for the other six days.  Get those right and enjoy your Sabbath!

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  1. I sometimes wish I could have more than one Sabbath a week!

    1. Wouldn't that be nice. But you know, in one sense if we consider that a Sabbath is a day "unto the Lord" -- shouldn't we be making every day a Sabbath -- although admittedly, there would be an ethical problem as we would not get any work done. Come to think of it, many do have seven Sabbaths in their lives -- for the wrong reasons. Thanks for sharing Inday.