3. The Sabbath Before Sinai
THE giving of the law, according to Usher’s chronology, was about twenty-five centuries after creation week. It is interesting to trace the Sabbath through this long, remote period. The only written history extant covering it is the book of Genesis, with its fifty short chapters, written by Moses. The facts presented in it are invaluable. It gives us brief glimpses of the long-lived race previous to the flood, and of the rise of the most powerful nations of succeeding ages, and of the call of Abraham, with the experiences of his immediate descendants. It presents most valuable historical instruction relative to God’s plan of dealing with his creatures, and the principles of his moral government. It is in no sense a book of laws, but only a very brief history of the earliest ages of antiquity.
The Weekly Cycle
As we have already seen, the book of Genesis commences with the origin of the weekly cycle, as brought to view in the account of creation, and the institution of the Sabbath, without which that cycle would never have existed. The division of time into days, months, and years is easily traceable to nature. The revolution of the earth on its axis, the changes of the moon, and the circuit of the earth around the sun, originate these divisions of time. But no such origin can be found for the weekly cycle. Beyond all question, it owes its existence to the act of Jehovah in setting apart the seventh day at the creation of the world. Not even a plausible conjecture has ever been found for any other origin of it. It is a well-attested historical fact that the weekly cycle was observed, and the seventh day was kept sacred, by nearly all the most ancient nations of the earth besides the Jews. There are decisive evidences to show that the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Arabians, Greeks, and Romans, and even the Chinese, knew of the Sabbath, and at an early period regarded it as a sacred day. We may notice this point more fully hereafter, but will introduce brief evidences of it here.
John G. Butler, a Free-Will Baptist author in his Natural and Revealed Theology, page 396, says: “We learn, also, from the testimony of Philo, Hesiod, Josephus, Porphyry, and others, that the division of time into weeks and the observance of the seventh day were common to the nations of antiquity. They would not have adopted such a custom from the Jews. Whence, then, could it have been derived but through tradition, from its original institution in the Garden of Eden?” The Asiatic Journal says:
“The Prime Minister of the empire affirms that the Sabbath was anciently, observed by the Chinese, in conformity to the directions of the king.”
The Congregationalist (Boston), Nov. 15, 1882, referring to the “Creation Tablets” found by Mr. Smith on the banks of the Tigris, near Nineveh, gives the following:
“Mr. George Smith says in his Assyrian Discoveries (1875): ‘In the year 1869 I discovered, among other things, a curious religious calendar of the Assyrians, in which every month is divided into four weeks, and the seventh days, or Sabbaths, are marked out as days on which no work should be undertaken. The calendar contains lists of work forbidden to be done on these days, which evidently correspond to the Sabbaths of the Jews.”
Much more testimony on this point might be presented, but this is sufficient to show that the weekly cycle and the Sabbath were extensively known among these ancient nations. Brief references to the same thing in the books of Genesis and Exodus demonstrate the existence of the week and the Sabbath previous to the giving of the law.
In the history of the deluge there are several references to the weekly division of time. “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth.” Genesis 7:4. “And he stayed yet other seven days,” etc. Genesis 8:10, 12. Three different weekly periods are brought to view in this short account of the flood. It could not have been accidental that this period of seven days should be chosen three successive times. It points unmistakably to the fact that the weekly cycle was in constant use in that age of the world.
In the history of Jacob’s marriage to the daughters of Laban, the week is also mentioned. “Fulfil the week of this one, and we will give thee the other also for the service which thou shall serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week.” Genesis 29:27, 28.
The Sabbath is inseparably connected with the weekly division of time; hence, if the week existed, the Sabbath must also have been known. We are forced to conclude, therefore, that these inhabitants of Chaldea were well acquainted with its sacred obligation. Notice the testimony, already referred to, of those tablets dug out of ancient ruins found in that country.
The Sabbath Before Sinai
A decisive proof that the Sabbath was well known to the Israelites previous to the giving of the law, is found in Exodus 16:4, 5, 22-30: “Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” Then we have an account of the falling of the manna. He continues in verses 22-30: “And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, “Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord; bake that which you will bake to-day, and seethe that you will seethe. And that which remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade; and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that today; for to-day is a Sabbath unto the Lord: to-day you shall not find it in the field. Six days shall you gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the Sabbath, therefore he gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide you 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.”
From the foregoing language the following conclusions are inevitable:
1. God had a law, of which the seventh-day Sabbath was a part, more than a month previous to proclaiming his commandments from Mount Sinai.
2. He proved his people by giving them bread from heaven, to see whether they would obey his law or not, the test coming on their observance of the Sabbath, which, therefore, must be a most important part of that law.
3. The language shows that the people had a knowledge of the Sabbath, and that many of them desired to keep it before any commandment whatever was given them as a people concerning it. For the record of their deliverance from Egypt does not give a single hint concerning the Sabbath previous to this point.
4. We are constrained, therefore, to conclude that when he says, “How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws?” He must refer to the original institution of the Sabbath at creation, the knowledge of which had been preserved by the patriarchs and the general acquaintance of the ancient nations with the Sabbath.
The fall of manna, which continued through the forty years of their wanderings, with its double portion on the sixth day of the week and none upon the seventh. Its being kept from corruption on the Sabbath, while it would soon spoil on other days, attested which was the true creation Sabbath at that time, and their perfect knowledge of it.
An objection is sometimes offered upon the passage, “See, for that the Lord hath given you the Sabbath,” etc., that it belonged wholly to the Israelites. But surely it must have had a previous existence or it would not have been proper to say he had given it to them. He did this in precisely the same sense that he gave himself to that people, and thus became the God of Israel. The nations had gone into idolatry, or were fast doing so, rejecting alike the true God and the great memorial of his creation work, the Sabbath. He had separated from among them the descendants of Abraham who still regarded both. From this time on, the Sabbath and the knowledge of the true God rapidly disappeared from the nations of the earth, and they became heathen. While the Israelites remembered God and his Sabbath, and preserved the knowledge of each, to be given again under more favorable auspices to the Gentile nations.
From these considerations we cannot doubt that Israel regarded the Sabbath more or less sacredly while in Egyptian bondage, although it is not to be supposed that they could keep it as fully then as they were able to do afterward. It seems unreasonable to conclude, however, that they lost all regard for it, or that the most pious among them gave it no respect. God says of their great progenitor, “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” We are certain that Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph followed the same example, and therefore must have kept the Sabbath. The last two were in Egypt, and no doubt their kindred followed their example, and regarded the Sabbath as sacredly as the circumstances would permit. They looked back to these noble patriarchs with the deepest respect. They still had a regard for the Sabbath, as we learn in Exodus 16, even before the giving of the law. Hence it was not to them a new institution.
In this brief account it has been plainly shown that the Sabbath of the Lord was given to the human family at creation, and was well known to those who had any regard for the true God. It certainly was not a Jewish institution; for it existed, and was commanded to be observed by the God of heaven, long ages before a Jew lived. The Jews sprung from Judah, one of the sons of Jacob; but the Sabbath was set apart in Eden for man’s benefit. It was “made for man.”