4. The Sabbath at the Giving of the Law
WE now come to that sublime event in the history of God’s dealings with mankind, the proclamation of his law from Sinai. In the sixteenth chapter of Exodus we have the account of his giving his Sabbath to Israel; in chapter nineteen we have the full statement of his giving himself to that people by a solemn covenant; and in chapter twenty, the history of his committing his law to them. This was a wonderful honor which he conferred upon the posterity of Abraham, the friend of God. The Jews were indeed favored in this respect above all the nations of the earth. The apostle Paul inquires, “What advantage, then, hath the Jew?” and he immediately answers, “Much every way; chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” Romans 3:1, 2. But while these acts honored that people, they in no way dishonored God, or the law, or the Sabbath, nor made them Jewish.
Some thirty days after the manna began to fall, all Israel were camped at the base of Sinai, waiting to hear from the mouth of Jehovah the Ten Commandments. The mountain burned with fire, and the smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace. Thundering and lightning were seen, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud was heard. The solid earth trembled. So terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” The voice of God was then heard proclaiming the “ten words which, not only in the Old Testament but in all revelation, are the most emphatically regarded as the synopsis of all religion and morality.”
In this law he thus speaks of the Sabbath:
“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shall thou labor and do all thy work but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shall not do any work. Thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. 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.” Exodus 20:8-11.
Here we have a precept, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” then an explanation of the precept, and, finally, the reason why it is given. It begins with the word, “Remember.” This word recognizes it as already existing; therefore the fourth commandment did not originate the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a commemorative institution; it plainly points us back to the creation of the world for its beginning. “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is; wherefore [for this reason] the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” The Sabbath is God’s memorial of creation; hence every intelligent creature is under obligations to keep it. This is far higher than any mere Jewish reason. It existed at the birth of the race. There is nothing about the wilderness of Sin or the coining out of Egypt, in this original Sabbath commandment. It sets forth reasons for its observance which should convince every man and woman who lives on the earth.
How forcibly these words harmonize with the historical account in the second chapter of Genesis: “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” In the fourth commandment He states, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth . . . and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” It would be folly and presumption to undertake to separate between the Sabbath of creation and that of the fourth commandment.