by Dr. John Murray
If we accept the witness of Scripture there can be no question that the weekly Sabbath finds its basis in and derives its sanction from the example of God himself. He created the heavens and the earth in six days and “on the seventh 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” (Gen. 2:2,3). The fourth commandment in the decalogue sets forth the obligation resting upon man and it makes express appeal to this sanction. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exod. 20:11).
Many regard this Sabbath institution as a shadow of things to come and, therefore, as an ordinance to be observed, has passed away because that of which it was a shadow has been realized in the full light of the new and better covenant. At this point suffice it to ask the question: has the pattern of God’s work and rest in creation ceased to be relevant? Is this pattern a shadow in the sense of those who espouse this position? The realm of our existence is that established by creation and maintained by God’s providence. The new covenant has in no respect abrogated creation nor has it diminished its relevance. Creation both as action and product is as significant for us as it was for Israel under the old covenant. The refrain of Scripture in both Testaments is that the God of creation is the God of redemption in all stages of covenantal disclosure and realization. This consideration is invested with greater significance when we bear in mind that the ultimate standard for us is likeness to God (cf. Matt. 5:48; 1 John 3:2,3). And it is this likeness, in the sphere of our behaviour, that undergirds the demand for Sabbath observance (Exod. 20:11; 31:17).
The Redemptive Pattern
It is noteworthy that the Sabbath commandment as given in Deuteronomy (Deut. 5:12-15) does not appeal to God’s rest in creation as the reason for keeping the Sabbath day. In this instance mention is made of something else. “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and an out-streched arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15). This cannot be understood as in any way annulling the sanction of Exodus 20:11; 31:17. Deuteronomy comprises what was the reiteration of the covenant made at Sinai. When the Sabbath commandment is introduced Israel is reminded of the earlier promulgation: “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee” (Deut. 5:12). And we should observe that all the commandments have their redemptive sanction. The preface to all is: “I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut. 5:6). So what we find in Deut. 5;15 in connection with the Sabbath is but the application of the preface to the specific duty enunciated in the fourth command. It is supplement to Exodus 20:11, not suspension. We have now added reason for observing the Sabbath. This is full of meaning and we must linger to analyze and appreciate.
The deliverance from Egypt was redemption. “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed” (Exod. 15:13). It is more than any other event the redemption of the old Testament. It is the analogue of the greater redemption accomplished by Christ. The Sabbath commandment derives its sanction not only from God’s rest in creation but also from redemption out of Egypt’s bondage. This fact that the Sabbath in Israel had a redemptive reference and sanction bears directly upon the question of its relevance in the New Testament. The redemption from Egypt cannot be properly viewed except as the anticipation of the greater redemption wrought in the fullness of time. Hence, if redemption from Egypt accorded sanction to the Sabbath institution and provided reason for its observance the same must apply to the greater redemption and apply in a way commensurate with the greater fullness and dimensions of the redemption secured by the death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, it is the fullness and richness of the new covenant that accord to the Sabbath ordinance increased relevance, sanction, and blessing.