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:
This language shows a general violation of the Sabbath, and evidently refers to the apostasy of Israel during the first forty days that Moses was absent from them. God did then purpose their destruction; but at the intercession of Moses, spared them for the very reason assigned by the prophet.5 A further probation being granted them they signally failed a second time, so that God lifted up his hand to them that they should not enter the promised land. Thus the prophet continues:
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:
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 land of Canaan, but he did lift up his hand to them in the wilderness, that he would give them up to dispersion among their enemies after they had entered the land of promise. Thus it is seen that the Hebrews while in the wilderness laid the foundation for their subsequent dispersion from their own land; and that one of the acts which led to their final ruin as a nation was the violation of the Sabbath before they had entered the promised land. Well might Moses say to them in the last month of his life: "Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you."7 In Caleb and Joshua was another spirit, for they followed the Lord fully.8
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 Israel together, and said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.12 Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day."13
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 land of Palestine during a part of the year is so cold that fires are necessary to prevent suffering.15
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 Israel on the evening following the fourteenth day of the first month,19 which would fall occasionally upon the Sabbath. The prohibition of fires upon the Sabbath would not conflict with the passover while the Hebrews were in the wilderness; for the passover was not to be observed until they reached that land.20 But if that prohibition did extend forward to the promised land, where the passover was to be regularly observed, these two statutes would often come in direct conflict. This is certainly a strong confirmation of the view that the prohibition of fires upon the Sabbath was a temporary statute, relating only to the wilderness.21
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 land of Canaan, must be abandoned; for it is evident that that prohibition was a temporary statute not even adapted to the land of promise, and not designed for that land. We next read of the Sabbath as follows:
These constant references to the Sabbath contrast strikingly with the general disobedience of the people. And thus God speaks again:
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:
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:
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:
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 wilderness.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:
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:
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:
These words are often cited as proof that the Sabbath originated at the departure of Israel from Egypt, and that it was ordained at that time as a memorial of their deliverance from thence. But it will be observed, 1. That this text says not one word respecting the origin of the Sabbath or rest-day of the Lord. 2. That the facts on this point are all given in the original fourth commandment, and are there referred to creation. 3. That there is no reason to believe that God rested upon the seventh day at the time of this flight from Egypt; nor did he then bless and hallow the day. 4. That the Sabbath has nothing in it of a kind to commemorate the deliverance from Egypt, as that was a flight and this is a rest; and that flight was upon the fifteenth of the first month, and this rest, upon the seventh day of each week. Thus one would occur annually; the other, weekly. 5. But God did ordain a fitting memorial of that deliverance to be observe by the Hebrews: the passover, on the fourteenth day of the first month, in memory of God's passing over them when he smote the Egyptians; and the feast of unleavened bread, in memory of their eating this bread when they fled out of Egypt.39
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:
It will be seen at a glance that this precept was not given to commemorate the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage; nor could that deliverance give existence to the moral obligation expressed in it. If the language in the one case proves that men were not under obligation to keep the Sabbath before the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, it proves with equal conclusiveness in the other that before that deliverance they were not under obligation to treat with justice and mercy the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And if the Sabbath is shown in the case to be Jewish, in the other, the statute of the great Law-giver in behalf of the needy and the helpless must share the same fate. It is manifest that this language is in each case an appeal to their sense of gratitude. You were slaves in Egypt, and God rescued you; therefore remember others who are in distress, and oppress them not. You were bondmen in Egypt, and God redeemed you; therefore sanctify unto the Lord the day which he has reserved unto himself; a most powerful appeal to those who had hitherto persisted in polluting it. Deliverance from abject servitude was necessary, indeed, in each case, in order that the things enjoined might be fully observed; but that deliverance did not give existence to either of theses duties. It was indeed one of the acts by which the Sabbath of the Lord was given to that nation, but it was not one of the acts by which God made the Sabbath, nor did it render the rest-day of the Lord a Jewish institution.
That the words engraven upon stone were simply the ten commandments is evident.
It is said of the first tables:
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:
This is confirmed by the following decisive testimony:
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 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. <Return>
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. <Return>
15 The Bible abounds with facts which establish this proposition. Thus the psalmist in an address to Jerusalem, uses the following language: "He giveth snow like wool; he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels; who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them; he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow. He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel." Ps.147:16-19. Dr. Clarke has the following note on this text: "At particular times the cold in the East is so very intense as to kill man and beast. Jacobus de Vitriaco, one of the writers in the Gesta Dei per Francos, says that in an expedition in which he was engaged against Mount Tabor, on the 24th of December, the cold was so intense that many of the poor people, and the beasts of burthen died by it. And Albertus Aquensis, another of these writers, speaking of the cold in Judea, says that thirty of the people who attended Baldwin I., in the mountainous districts near the Dead Sea, were killed by it; and that in that expedition they had to contend with horrible hail and ice; with unheard of snow and rain. From this we find that the winters are often very severe in Judea; and that is such cases as the above we may well call out, Who can stand against his cold!" See his commentary on Ps.147. See also Jer.36:22; John 18:18; Matt.24:20; Mark 13:18. 1 Maccabees 13:22, mentions a very great snow storm in Palestine, so that horsemen could not march. <Return>
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. <Return>
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 Egypt; and after that, was omitted until they entered the land of Canaan. Num.9; Josh.5. This is proved, not merely from the fact that no other instances are recorded, but because that circumcision was omitted during the whole period of their sojourn in the wilderness; and without this ordinance the children would have been excluded from the passover. Ex.12; Josh.5. <Return>
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
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. <Return>
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 Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.' It stands simply as an example of the presumptuous breach of the law, of which the preceding verses speak. He was one who despised the word of the Lord and broke his commandments [verse 31]; one who with a high hand sinned and reproached the Lord. Verse 30." - The Lord's Day, pp. 31, 32. <Return>