The Origin of the Sabbath: Part 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on Genesis)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.


“And God blessed the seventh day” to indicate that it was to be different than the other six days of the week. The original word “barach,” which is generally translated “to bless,” has a very broad meaning. It is frequently used in Scripture in the sense of speaking well of or to a person. So God has spoken well of the Sabbath, and of those who conscientiously observe it. Blessing is applied both to God and man: when God is said to bless, we usually understand the expression to mean that He communicates something good; but when man is said to bless God, we surely cannot imagine that he bestows any gifts or confers any benefit on his Maker. When God is said to bless, either in the Old or New Testament, it signifies his speaking good TO man; and this comprises the whole range of his exceedingly great and precious promises. And when man is said to bless God, it always implies that he speaks good OF Him, for making and fulfilling His promises. This insight will be helpful when we examine the various places where the word occurs in the Holy Scriptures. Christian brothers and sisters, God blesses you when by His promises He speaks good TO you; and you bless Him when, from an awareness of His kindness to your body and soul, you are thankful to Him, and speak well OF his name.

The seventh day must have been a twenty-four-hour period like the previous six and this is supported by Exodus 20:11—“In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Since the creation week, God has been engaged in the work of providence—“But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I am working’” (John 5.17; RSV); and there is no clear evidence (from the testimony of Scripture) that God commanded man to observe the Sabbath until the days of Moses. Before then scripture only mentions a seven-day week (see Gen 8:10–12 and 29:27–28, with 29:30). It was just before the giving of the Ten Commandments that God prepared Israel for the Sabbath law by permitting them only six days to gather manna—“he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay by to be kept till the morning.’” (Ex 16:23; RSV).

“Blessed and sanctified the seventh day” (See below for definition of Bless, Sanctification, and Sabbath.) denotes the extraordinary distinction placed upon the seventh day, and shows that it was devoted to sacred purposes. It is a wise and beneficial law, providing that regular interval of rest which the physical nature of man and the animals utilized in his service requires, and the neglect of which may cause both to incur premature physical, mental, and spiritual decay. Additionally, it provides an allotted time for religious worship, and if God thought it was necessary in a state of primeval innocence, how much more necessary is it now, when mankind has a strong tendency to forget God and His Word?

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” is a command of God (Gen 20.8). Since this was the most ancient tradition, God commanded Israel to remember it; as if he had said, Do not forget that when I had finished my creation I instituted the Sabbath, and remember why I did so, and for what purposes. The word ‏shabbath signifies rest or cessation from labor; and the sanctification of the seventh day is commanded, as having something representative in it; and indeed it does, because it represents the rest which remains for the people of God, and evidentially this is how it appears to be understood by the apostle, (see Hebrews 4). Because this commandment has not been specifically mentioned in the New Testament as a moral precept binding on all, some have presumed that there is no Sabbath under the Christian dispensation. The truth is, the Sabbath is considered as a type: all types are in full force until the thing signified by them takes place; but the thing signified by the Sabbath is

that rest in glory which remains for the people of God, therefore the moral obligation of the Sabbath must continue till time be swallowed up in eternity.

“Because that in it he had rested” is also why we should rest. Shabath, he rested; hence Sabbath, the name of the seventh day, signifying a day of rest—rest to the body from labor and toil, and rest to the soul from all worldly care and anxieties. One who labors with his mind on the Sabbath day is as guilty as one who labors with his hands. It is by the authority of God that the Sabbath is set apart for rest and religious purposes, as the six days of the week are appointed for labor. This continues today to be a wise provision! It is essentially necessary, not only to the body of man, but to all the animals used in his service: take this away and labor has the potential of being too great, so that both man and beast could break down under it. Without this consecrated day religion itself would fail, and the human mind would become desensitized, would soon forget its God. Even as a political regulation, it is one of the wisest and most beneficial in its effects of any ever instituted.

SANCTIFICATION—the process of God’s grace by which the believer is separated from sin and becomes dedicated to God’s righteousness. Accomplished by the Word of God (John 17:7) and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:3–4), sanctification results in holiness, or purification from the guilt and power of sin.

Sanctification as separation from the world and setting apart for God’s service is a concept found throughout the Bible. Spoken of as “holy” or “set apart” in the Old Testament were the land of Canaan, the city of Jerusalem, the tabernacle, the Temple, the Sabbath, the feasts, the prophets, the priests, and the garments of the priests. God is sanctified by the witness of believers (1 Pet. 3:15) and by His judgments upon sin (Ezek. 38:16). Jesus also was “sanctified and sent into the world” (John 10:36).

SABBATH—(Heb. verb shabbath, meaning "to rest from labour"), the day of rest. It is first mentioned as having been instituted in Paradise, when man was in innocence (Gen 2:2). "The sabbath was made for man," as a day of rest and refreshment for the body and of blessing to the soul.

It is next referred to in connection with the gift of manna to the children of Israel in the wilderness (Ex 16:23); and afterwards, when the law was given from Sinai (Ex 20:11), the people were solemnly charged to "remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." Thus it is spoken of as an institution already existing.

In the Mosaic Law, strict regulations were laid down regarding its observance (Ex 35:2, 3; Lev 23:3; Lev 26:34). These were peculiar to that dispensation.

In the subsequent history of the Jews, frequent references are made to the sanctity of the Sabbath (Isa 56:2, 4, 6, 7; Isa 58:13, 14; Jer 17:20-22; Neh 13:19). In later times they perverted the Sabbath by their traditions. Our Lord rescued it from their perversions, and recalled to them its true nature and intent (Mat 12:10-13; Mark 2:27; Luke 13:10-17).

BLESS—
(1.) God blesses his people when he bestows on them some temporal or spiritual gift (Gen 1:22; Gen 24:35; Job 42:12; Ps 45:2; Ps 104:24, 35).
(2.) We bless God when we thank him for his mercies (Ps 103:1, 2; Ps 145:1, 2).
(3.) A man blesses himself when he invokes God's blessing (Isa 65:16), or rejoices in God's goodness to him (Deut 29:19; Ps 49:18).
(4.) One blesses another when he expresses good wishes or offers prayer to God for his welfare (Gen 24:60; Gen 31:55; 1Sa 2:20). Sometimes blessings were uttered under divine inspiration, as in the case of Noah, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (Gen 9:26, 27; Gen 27:28, 29, 40; Gen 48:15-20; Gen 49:1-28; Deut 33). The priests were divinely authorized to bless the people (Deut 10:8; Num 6:22-27). We have many examples of apostolic benediction (2Co 13:14; Eph 6:23, 24; 2Th 3:16, 18; Heb 13:20, 21; 1Pe 5:10, 11).
(5.) Among the Jews, in their thank-offerings, the master of the feast took a cup of wine in his hand, and after having blessed God for it and for other mercies then enjoyed, handed it to his guests, who all partook of it. Ps 116:13 refers to this custom. It is also alluded to in 1Co 10:16, where the apostle speaks of the "cup of blessing."

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