HISTORY OF THE SABBATH
AND FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
THE SABBATH COMMITTED TO THE HEBREWS
WE are now to trace the history of divine truth for many ages in almost exclusive connection with the family of Abraham. That we may vindicate the truth from the reproach of pertaining only to the Hebrews,— a reproach often urged against the Sabbath,— and justify the dealings of God with mankind in leaving to their own ways the apostate nations, let us carefully examine the Bible for the reasons which directed divine Providence in the choice of Abraham’s family as the depositaries of divine truth.
The antediluvian world had been highly favored of God. The period of life extended to each generation was twelvefold that of the present age of man. For almost one thousand years, Adam, who had conversed with God in paradise, had been with them. Before the death of Adam, Enoch began his holy walk of three hundred years, and then he was translated that he should not see death. This testimony to the piety of Enoch was a powerful evidence to the antediluvians in behalf of truth and righteousness. Moreover, the Spirit of God strove with mankind; but the perversity of man triumphed over all the gracious restraints of the Holy Spirit. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Even the sons of God joined in the general departure from him. At last, a single family was all that remained of the worshipers of the Most High. Genesis 2 to 6; Heb. 11:4-7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5.
Then came the deluge, sweeping the world of its guilty inhabitants with the besom of destruction. Genesis 7; Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26,27; 2 Peter 3:5,6. So terrible a display of divine justice might well be thought sufficient to restrain impiety for ages. Surely the family of Noah could not soon forget this awful lesson. But alas! Revolt and apostasy speedily followed, and men turned from God to the worship of idols. Against the divine mandate, separating the human family into nations, (Deut. 32:7,8; Acts 17:26; Gen. 9:1; Josephus’s “Antiquities of the Jews,” b. 1, chap. 4.) and the command to scatter abroad and replenish the earth, mankind united in one great act of rebellion in the plain of Shinar. “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Then God confounded them in their impiety, and scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth. Gen. 11:1-9; Josephus’s “Antiquities of the Jews,” b. 1, chap. 4. This took place in the days of Peleg, who was born about one hundred years after the flood. Gen. 10:25 compared with 11:10-16; “Antiquities of the Jews,” b. 1, chap. 6, sec. 4. Men did not like to retain God in their knowledge; wherefore God gave them over to a reprobate mind, and suffered them to change the truth of God into a lie, and to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Such was the origin of idolatry and the consequent heathenism. Rom. 1:18-32; Acts 14:15,17; 17:29,30.
In the midst of this wide-spread apostasy, one man was found whose heart was faithful to God. Abraham was chosen from an idolatrous family, as the depositary of divine truth, the father of all that believe, the heir of the world, and the friend of God. Gen. 12:1-3; Joshua 24:2,3,14; Neh. 9:7,8; Rom. 4:13-17; 2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23. His faith presents a striking contrast to that of his descendants, four hundred years later. It was by faith that he entered Canaan, almost single-handed, not knowing whither he went, and sojourned there in tents, looking forward to that city whose builder and maker is God— and to that better land, wherein dwelleth righteousness. By faith Abraham saw the day of Christ and rejoiced, and erected altars everywhere, proclaiming the “glad tidings.” So strong was his trust in the power of God’s word and Spirit, that even the barren brought forth. Heb. 11:8-16; John 8:56-58; Gen. 12:7,8; Gal. 4:27; Rom. 4:19. As he by the eye of faith beheld the substance of things unseen, it was not only counted unto him for righteousness, but, being a living faith, it wrought obedience to the divine law. God established the everlasting covenant of faith with this believing patriarch, and confirmed it in Christ, his Seed. So ready was Abraham to obey, that he was even willing to offer up his son, his only son, Isaac. Gen. 17:1; Gal. 3:16,17; Heb. 11:17-19. It is thus that Abraham became the father not only of one nation, but of “many nations;” for through his Seed not one nation alone, but “all” peoples were to be so richly blessed that his spiritual children should become as countless as the stars of heaven, “because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Gen. 17:4; 18:18; 26:4,5. He was counted righteous while he was still uncircumcised, and he received the sign of circumcision, that he might be the father not only of the circumcision, but of all those who follow in his footsteps of faith. Rom. 4:10-12. It was in this manner that Israel, who so often erred from Abraham’s simple faith, was outwardly separated from the heathen nations around them, so that they might preserve the knowledge of divine truth, and the memory and worship of the Most High. Eph. 2:12-19; Num. 23:9.
But they could not possess the land designed for them until the iniquity of the Amorites, its inhabitants, was full, that they should be thrust out before them. The horror of great darkness and the smoking furnace seen by Abraham in vision, foreshadowed the iron furnace and the bitter servitude in Egypt. The family of Abraham must go down thither. Brief prosperity and long and terrible oppression follow. Genesis 15; Exodus 1 to 5; Deut. 4:20.
This oppression consisted not only in physical bondage, but involved the right to worship the true God, the Creator of the heavens and earth, and to keep his commandments, particularly in the matter of observing the Sabbath. This question became a direct issue, and came to a crisis, during the latter part of their stay in Egypt, the power of the oppressor being broken and the people being delivered only through the terrible plagues which followed, and the direct intervention and miraculous power of God.
That the question of keeping the Sabbath in Egypt became not only a prominent one but a national issue, is confirmed by the book of Jasher, which, though not a part of the Bible, is twice mentioned in the Bible. See Joshua 10:12,13, and 2 Sam. 1:18. Relating an incident which occurred under the reign of the Pharaoh called Melol, prior to Moses’ flight to the land of Midian, this book says:—
“And the day arrived when Moses went to Goshen to see his brethren, that he saw the children of Israel in their burdens and hard labor, and Moses was grieved on their account. And Moses returned to Egypt and came to the house of Pharaoh, and came before the king, and Moses bowed down before the king. And Moses said unto Pharaoh, I pray thee, my lord, I have come to seek a small request from thee, turn not away my face empty; and Pharaoh said unto him, Speak. And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Let there be given unto thy servants the children of Israel who are in Goshen, one day to rest therein from their labor. And the king answered Moses and said, Behold I have lifted up thy face in this thing to grant thy request. And Pharaoh ordered a proclamation to be issued throughout Egypt and Goshen, saying, To you, all the children of Israel, thus says the king, for six days you shall do your work and labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest, and shall not perform any work; thus shall you do in all the days, as the king and Moses the son of Bathia have commanded. And Moses rejoiced at this thing which the king had granted to him, and all the children of Israel did as Moses ordered them. For this thing was from the Lord to the children of Israel, for the Lord had begun to remember the children of Israel to save them for the sake of their fathers. And the Lord was with Moses, and his fame went throughout Egypt. And Moses became great in the eyes of all the Egyptians, and in the eyes of all the children of Israel, seeking good for his people Israel, and speaking words of peace regarding them to the king.”— Book of Jasher 70:41-51.
Upon the death of Melol, his son Adikam came to the throne. He revoked the permission to keep the Sabbath granted by his father to the children of Israel, and made their burdens still harder, as further narrated in the same book:—
“And Pharaoh sat upon his father’s throne to reign over Egypt, and he conducted the government of Egypt in his wisdom. And whilst he reigned, he exceeded his father and all the preceding kings in wickedness, and he increased his yoke over the children of Israel. And he went with his servants to Goshen to the children of Israel, and he strengthened the labor over them, and he said unto them, Complete your work, each day’s task, and let not your hands slacken from our work from this day forward as you did in the days of my father. And he placed officers over them from amongst the children of Israel, and over these officers he placed taskmasters from amongst his servants. And he placed over them a measure of bricks for them to do according to that number, day by day, and he turned back and went to Egypt. At that time the taskmasters of Pharaoh ordered the officers of the children of Israel according to the command of Pharaoh, saying, Thus says Pharaoh, Do your work each day, and finish your task, and observe the daily measure of bricks; diminish not anything. … And the labor imposed upon the children of Israel in the days of Adikam exceeded in hardship that which they performed in the days of his father.”— Book of Jasher 77:7-13,21. Published by M. M. Noah and A. S. Gould, New York, 1840.
Here we find another testimony to the fact that the Sabbath existed and was known before the giving of the law on Sinai, and even before the experience in the wilderness or the exodus from Egypt. The conflict over the keeping of the Sabbath here so clearly brought to view gives added force to the reason assigned in Deut. 5:15 why the children of Israel should keep the Sabbath,— “Remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, … therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.”
The conflict here referred to is briefly narrated in Exodus, chapters five to twelve inclusive. When Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and said, “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness,” Pharaoh replied, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” Ex. 5:1,2. Pharaoh at once began to accuse Moses and Aaron, saying, “Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let [hinder] the people from their works? Get you unto your burdens.” Ex. 5:4. In what way were Moses and Aaron hindering the Israelites from their works? It can not be supposed that they were teaching them not to work at all. No; they were teaching them to keep the Sabbath.
“In their bondage the Israelites had to some extent lost the knowledge of God’s law, and they had departed from its precepts. The Sabbath had been generally disregarded, and the exactions of their taskmasters made its observance apparently impossible. But Moses had shown his people that obedience to God was the first condition of deliverance; and the efforts made to restore the observance of the Sabbath had come to the notice of their oppressors.”— “Patriarchs and Prophets,” p. 260.
This is confirmed by the very next verse in the narrative: “And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest [Heb. Shabbath] from their burdens.” Ex. 5:5.
How Pharaoh regarded this instruction, on the part of Moses and Aaron, to keep the Sabbath, is shown by his instruction to the taskmasters of the people and their officers: “Let there more work be laid upon the men, … and let them not regard vain words.” Ex. 5:9. Thus did this heathen and idolatrous king show his contempt for God and his law. And so blind was his heart and so stubborn his resistance that he utterly refused to let Israel go until his land was laid waste, and the angel of death had visited every family, and “there was not a house where there was not one dead.” Ex. 10:7; 12:30.
At length the power of the oppressor is broken, and the people of God are delivered. The expiration of four hundred and thirty years from the promise to Abraham marks the hour of deliverance to his posterity. Ex. 12:29-42; Gal. 3:17. The nation of Israel is brought forth from Egypt as God’s peculiar treasure, that he may give them his Sabbath, and his law, and himself. The psalmist testifies that God “brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness: and gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labor of the people; that they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws.” And the Most High says, “I am the Lord which hallow you, that brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God.” Ps. 105:43-45; Lev. 22:32,33; Num. 15:42. Not that the commandments of God, his Sabbath, and himself had no prior existence, not that the people were altogether ignorant of the true God, his Sabbath, and his law; for the Sabbath was appointed to a holy use before the fall of man; and the commandments of God, his statutes, and his laws were kept by Abraham; and the Israelites themselves, before the law was given on Mount Sinai, when some of them had violated the Sabbath, were reproved by the question, “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” Gen. 2:2,3; 26:5; Ex. 16:4,27,28; 18:16. And as to the Most High, the psalmist exclaims, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Ps. 90:2. But there must be a formal public espousal of the people by God, and of his law and Sabbath and himself by the people. Ex. 19:3-8; 24:3-8; Jer. 3:14 compared with last clause of Jer. 31:32. But neither the Sabbath, nor the law, nor the great Lawgiver, by their connection with the Hebrews, became Jewish. The Lawgiver, indeed, became the God of Israel, Ex. 20:2; 24:10. (and what Gentile shall refuse him adoration for that reason?) but the Sabbath still remained the Sabbath of the Lord, Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14; Neh. 9:14. and the law continued to be the law of the Most High.
In the month following their passage through the Red Sea, the Hebrews came into the wilderness of (Sinai). It is at this point in his narrative that Moses for the second time mentions the sanctified rest day of the Creator. The people murmured for bread:—
“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. … I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God. And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoarfrost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating. And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they harkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread,
On this verse, Dr. A. Clarke thus comments: “On the sixth day they gathered twice as much. This they did that they might have a provision for the Sabbath.”
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,
The Douay Bible reads: “To-morrow is the rest of the Sabbath sanctified unto the Lord.” Dr. Clarke comments as follows: “To-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath] There is nothing either in the text or context that seems to intimate that the Sabbath was now first given to the Israelites, as some have supposed; on the contrary, it is here spoken of as being perfectly well known, from its having been generally observed. The commandment, it is true, may be considered as being now renewed; because they might have supposed that in their unsettled state in the wilderness they might have been exempted from the observance of it. Thus we find, (1) That when God finished his creation, he instituted the Sabbath; (2) when he brought the people out of Egypt, he insisted on the strict observance of it; (3) when he gave the law, he made it a tenth part of the whole; such importance has this institution in the eyes of the Supreme Being!”
Luther comments thus upon this passage: “Hence you can see that the Sabbath was before the law of Moses came, and has existed from the beginning of the world. Especially have the devout, who have preserved the true faith, met together and called upon God on this day.”— “Luther’s Works,” vol. 35, p. 330.
Richard Baxter, a famous divine, in his “Divine Appointment of the Lord’s Day,” thus clearly states the origin of the Sabbath: “Why should God begin two thousand years after [the creation of the world] to give men a Sabbath upon the reason of his rest from the creation of it, if he had never called man to that commemoration before? And it is certain that the Sabbath was observed at the falling of the manna before the giving of the law; and let any considering Christian judge … (1) whether the not falling of manna, or the rest of God after the creation, was like to be the original reason of the Sabbath; (2) and whether, if it had been the first, it would not have been said, Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day; for on six days the manna fell, and not on the seventh; rather than ‘for in six days God created heaven and earth, etc., and rested the seventh day.’ And it is casually added, ‘Wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.’ Nay, consider whether this annexed reason intimates not that the day on this ground being hallowed before, therefore it was that God sent not down the manna on that day, and that he prohibited the people from seeking it.”— “Practical Works,” vol. 3, p. 774. Edition 1707.
To-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth 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 to-day; for to-day is a Sabbath unto the Lord: to-day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall 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 ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the Sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye 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.” Exodus 16.
This narrative shows, 1. That God had a law and commandments prior to the giving of the manna. 2. That God, in giving his people bread from heaven, designed to prove them respecting his law. 3. That in this law was the holy Sabbath; for the test relative to walking in the law pertained directly to the Sabbath; and when God said, “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” it was the Sabbath which they had violated. 4. That in proving the people respecting this existing law, Moses gave no new precept respecting the Sabbath, but remained silent relative to the preparation for the Sabbath until after the people of their own accord had gathered a double portion on the sixth day. 5. That by this act the people proved, not only that they were not ignorant of the Sabbath, but that they were disposed to observe it.
It has indeed been asserted that God by a miracle equalized the portion of every one on five days, and doubled the portion of each on the sixth, so that no act of the people had any bearing on the Sabbath. But the equal portion of each on the five days was not thus understood by Paul. He says: “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: as it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.” 2 Cor. 8:14,15.
6. That the reckoning of the week, traces of which appear through the patriarchal age, Gen. 7:4,10,12; 29:27,28; 50:10; Ex. 7:25; Job 2:13. had been rightly kept; for the people knew when the sixth day had arrived. 7. That had there been any doubt existing on that point, the fall of the manna on the six days, the withholding of it on the seventh, and the preservation of that needed for the Sabbath over that day, must have settled that point incontrovertibly.
By this threefold miracle, occurring every week for forty years, the great Lawgiver distinguished his hallowed day. The people were therefore admirably prepared to listen to the fourth commandment, enjoining the observance of the very day on which he had rested. Ex. 16:35; Joshua 5: 12; Ex. 20:8-11.
8.That there was no act of instituting the Sabbath in the wilderness of (Sinai); for God did not then make it his rest day, nor did he then bless and sanctify the day. On the contrary, the record shows that the seventh day was already the sanctified rest day of the Lord. 9. That the obligation to observe the Sabbath existed and was known before the fall of manna; for the language used implies the existence of such an obligation, but does not contain a new enactment until after some of the people had violated the Sabbath. God says to Moses, “On the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in,” but he does not speak of the seventh. And on the sixth day, Moses said, “To-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord,” but he does not command them to observe it. On the seventh day he says that it is the Sabbath, and that they would find no manna in the field. “Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none.” But in all this there is no precept given, yet the existence of such a precept is plainly implied. 10. That when some of the people violated the Sabbath, they were reproved in language which clearly indicated a previous transgression of this precept. “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” 11. And that this rebuke of the Lawgiver restrained for the time the transgression of the people, for the record says, “So the people rested on the seventh day.”
“See, for that the Lord hath given you the Sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days;
This implies, first the fall of a larger quantity on that day, and second, its preservation for the wants of the Sabbath.
Abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”
This must refer to going out for manna, as the connection implies; for religious assemblies on the Sabbath were commanded and observed. Lev. 23:3; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:16; Acts 1:12; 15:21.
As a special trust, God committed the Sabbath to the Hebrews. It was now given them, not now made for them. It was made for man at the close of the first week of time; but all other nations having turned from the Creator to the worship of idols, it was given to the Hebrew people. Nor does this prove that all the Hebrews had hitherto disregarded it; for Christ uses the same language respecting circumcision. Thus he says, “Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers.” John 7:22. Yet God had enjoined that ordinance upon Abraham and his family four hundred years previous to this gift of it by Moses, and it had been retained by them.
Gen. 17:24; Exodus 4. Moses is said to have given circumcision to the Hebrews; yet it is a singular fact that his first mention of that ordinance is purely incidental, and plainly implies an existing knowledge of it on their part. Thus it is written: “This is the ordinance of the Passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: but every man’s servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof.” Ex. 12:43,44. And in like manner, when the Sabbath was given to Israel, that people were not ignorant of the sacred institution.
The language, “The Lord hath given you the Sabbath,” implies a solemn act of committing a treasure to their trust. How was this done? No act of instituting the Sabbath here took place. No precept enjoining its observance was given until some of the people violated it, when it was given in the form of a reproof; which evinced a previous obligation, and that they were transgressing an existing law. And this view is certainly strengthened by the fact that no explanation of the institution was given to the people,— which indicates that some knowledge of the Sabbath was already in their possession.
But how, then, did God give them the Sabbath? He did this, first, by delivering them from the abject bondage of Egypt, where they were a nation of slaves; and secondly, by providing them with food in such a manner as to impose the strongest obligation to keep the Sabbath. Forty years did he give them bread from heaven, sending it for six days, and withholding it on the seventh, and preserving food for them over the Sabbath. Thus was the Sabbath specially entrusted to them.
As a gift to the Hebrews, the Creator’s great memorial became a sign between God and themselves. “I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.” As a sign, its object is stated to be, to make known the true God; and we are told why it was such a sign. “It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” Eze. 20:12; Ex. 31:17. The institution itself signified that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested on the seventh. Its observance by the people, therefore signified that the Creator was their God.
The Sabbath was a sign between God and the children of Israel, because they alone were the worshipers of the Creator. All other nations had turned from him to “the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth.” Jer. 10:10-12. For this reason the memorial of the great Creator was committed to the Hebrews. Thus was the Sabbath a golden link uniting the Creator and his worshipers.