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Exodus 31:12-17 – Daily Bible Study

Exodus 31:12-17 – Daily Bible Study

As I continue my posts on the Daily Bible Study readings for this week’s Sunday School lesson, I come to what may be, for many, a somewhat more troubling passage. It’s not that the passage mandates no work on the seventh day of the week, though that bothers some, but more that the penalty for violating this law is death.

This frequently brings on the standard Christian response, which is dismissal: This is from the Old Testament, so we don’t have to worry about it. The big problem with that is that, by incorporating themes from Hebrew scripture into the New Testament and by basing any number of beliefs on it, Christianity has accepted this as part of our history, and part of our scripture.

We face the fact that most of us work on the seventh day. Certainly by rabbinic definitions, but also by practically any definition, I have already worked on this seventh day. Some of the actions involved in posting this blog count as work. So I have violated a law from the scripture.

I grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, so I have another perspective from which to look at this. I grew up refraining from work, as we defined it (which differed from rabbinic definitions). Some Seventh-day Adventists have told me they believe I left the church because I didn’t like the Sabbath. This is quite incorrect. The Sabbath is one of the things I miss about the Seventh-day Adventist community. I don’t actually believe this is a command applying to Christians, so I do not feel obligated, but there was a great value in the obligation to rest at specific times.

I believe the New Testament view would make all time sacred to God and all time to be used by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I see a violation in failing to take the appropriate rest, not in the keeping of a specific day. This is because there has been a revolutionary shift brought on by the death and resurrection of Jesus. But this is not my primary topic.

The focus of this statement of the Sabbath command is on God as the creator. This is quite frequently the case, such as in Genesis 2:1-4a and the Sabbath command in the Ten Commandments. The rest is tied to the creator. The authority for the rest is tied to creative activity. This is a theme repeated from most of our scriptures this week. God, as creator, asserts God’s power as legislator.

In Israel, this law was particularly tied to idolatry, which, as we have seen in other scriptures this week, is a fundamental sin. The most attractive form of the temptation to idolatry is the temptation to attribute divinity to what is created. The sun, for example was seen in much of the ancient near east as the god of justice. This is why Psalm 19 asserts God’s authority over justice, and his creative and controlling power over the sun itself.

I could discuss the nature of and use of the death penalty, but I’m going to avoid that on this occasion, except in the sense that it emphasizes the importance of the command in question. Idolatry separates one from God in a way that nothing else can. Nothing else can do so — logically — because all the other ways we might think of separating ourselves from God turn out to involve idolatry.

When, for example, I do not rest as God would direct, and do not maintain my health, I am putting my own labor above God. This is a form of idolatry. I am more concerned with my own activities than I am with that Ultimate Concern.

Thus the Sabbath command was very much central for Israel, and the thing to which it points—constantly reminding ourselves that God is Creator and the true Ultimate Concern, remains central for us.

Is Sunday my Sabbath?

Is Sunday my Sabbath?

As an ex-Seventh-day Adventist I get this question frequently. This fine Sunday morning while I’m playing with my computer, let me answer both yes and no!

There are several ways in which ex-SDAs deal with the Sabbath. The first is to accept the Sunday as the Sabbath in accordance with the letter of the commandment, with the day changed by authority of Jesus or the apostles. I find this change unsubstantiated. The second is to apply the Sabbath command in some other way, but nonetheless explicitly, such as to the command to “rest in Christ.” I take neither of these approaches, though I think the second of them has some merit.

For me, Jesus presented the ideal that all commands were to be taken in spirit and from the heart rather than in terms of simply following the letter. In fact, the letter could get in the way of living right if one didn’t find a way to soften it from time to time. The difference would be between an employer giving one employee a list of work rules, while telling another employee to work as he pleased, but to make sure to get certain tasks done.

Thus for me the fourth commandment simply provides a guideline. That was how sacred time was delineated for a specific time, place, and group of people. I do not live at that time, nor in that place, nor am I part of that group to whom the specific command was specifically addressed. (However you read this, don’t assume I think I’m better than that group of people. Just different.)

So in answer to the immediate follow-up question: Do you discard the rest of the commandments? Yes and no, and in the same sense. The ten commandments were part of Jewish law. They express principles that would be part of any divine law, but they do not apply as letter to all of us.

Sunday is time I set aside to spend with God, along with many other specific times during the week, but it’s not a fulfillment of the letter of the commandment. Rather, it’s the application of the principle of time set aside for God as I believe it applies to my life, my place, and my time.