What was the purpose of the Sabbath?
In Exodus Chapter 20, verse 8, the fourth commandment instructed the children of Israel to remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Anyone who profanes the Sabbath will be put to death (Exodus 31:14). Why did the LORD instructed the children of Israel to observe the Sabbath?
In this article, you will discover the link between observing the Sabbath and the blessings that God had planned for the children of Israel.
Why did God give a commandment to observe the Sabbath?
In Exodus 20: 8-11, the LORD instituted the command for the children of Israel to observe the Sabbath:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
Exodus 20:8-11 (NLT)
When we first read this commandment, it seems that the reason for this commandment was given in verse 11, i.e. because the LORD first set it as an example, hence forth, the children should follow likewise. Period.
However, this commandment has to be taken very seriously. Anyone who profanes it will be put to death (Exodus 31:14). So why is this commandment so important? Let’s search for the answer in the scriptures. This is how we are going to approach our research:
1. First -study the context when the Sabbath was first mentioned.
2. Second – examine what the scriptures say about the Sabbath
1. The context when the Sabbath day was first mentioned.
Do you know that the 4th commandment in Exodus 20: 8-11 is not the first time the Sabbath day was mentioned? The first mention of the Sabbath day was in Exodus 16:23. If we study the context of Exodus 16:23, we will have a good starting point to understand the purpose of the Sabbath.
In Exodus 16:1, it was stated that after the children of Israel departed from Egypt, they congregate to complain about the lack of food. The Lord sent the manna. However they were not allowed to store the manna overnight. Nevertheless, on the 6th day, they discovered that they could gather twice as much as other days. That was the time when Moses told them that the following day is a Sabbath rest, a day dedicated to the LORD. That was the first mention of the Sabbath day. So let’s read it in its context:
Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them. After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the flakes they had not picked up melted and disappeared. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much as usual—four quarts for each person instead of two. Then all the leaders of the community came and asked Moses for an explanation. He told them, “This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow.” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it.
Exodus 16:19-24 (NLT)
Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none.
The Lord asked Moses, “How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days. On the Sabbath day you must each stay in your place. Do not go out to pick up food on the seventh day.”
Exodus 16:25-29 (NLT)
Now, let’s look at the whole context. The LORD rained manna. That was a miraculous provision. It was something mankind had not experienced since Adam and Eve sinned. How long was that? It was about 2729 years and 2 months.
Check out how the 2729 years was computed
From the birth of Adam to the time the children of Israel left Egypt is computed to be 2729 years. Refer to the article on how long ago did Adam and Eve exist :
1. From Adam to Noah’s Flood –1656 years
2. From the Flood to Abram leaving Haran — 428 years and 10 days
3. From Abram leaving Haran to the children of Israel leaving Egypt — 645 years
4. In Exodus 16:1, it is stated that on the fifteenth day of the second month after the children of Israel departed from the land of Egypt, they congregate to complain on the lack of food. The LORD rained manna. Then on the 6th day they went to ask Moses why there were double the amount of manna on the 6th day. That was when Moses told them about the Sabbath day.
Hence, the length of time is about 2729 years and 2 months.
However, with that miraculous provision, the children of Israel had to trust completely in the LORD that He is the LORD their God. They have to learn not to depend on their own hard work nor trust in advance storing up of food. (This is so unlike the wisdom of Joseph during the Egyptian Pharoah’s days where they stored up the grains).
For the case of the children of Israel, the LORD wanted them to know that He will take care of everything and will faithfully rain manna everyday. (Remember Jesus taught us not to worry about tomorrow in Matthew 6:34).
The LORD caused the children of Israel to experience how He had provided double portion on the 6th day so that they could rest on the 7th day. The LORD wanted them to have the faith that He loves them so much that He will not let them lack anything. The LORD had everything planned for them. They will not hunger. (Remember Jesus said that anyone who come to Him will not hunger (John 6:35)).
The LORD said in Exodus 16:29 that the Sabbath was given as a gift by the LORD. The Sabbath was given as a gift by the LORD so that the children of Israel can rest without having to worry even a bit.
As they rest and experience the provision and faithfulness of the LORD, they will grow in faith that He is the LORD, their God, who loves them with unfailing love. Recall that Jesus said in Matthew 17:20-21 that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains. Hence, the purpose of the Sabbath was to help the children of Israel to have the faith to receive the blessings that the LORD had planned for them.
The Sabbath was given as a gift by the LORD so that the children of Israel can rest and know that He is the LORD their God. It enables them to have the faith to receive the blessings the LORD had planned for them.
Why the need to grow in faith?
For 2729 years, people on earth had learned to work for a living. If there is anything that is certain about life on earth, it is that if you do not labour, you will not have food. In fact, even if you labour, you may not make ends meet. It is the curse of Genesis 3:17. I believe, many people had been brought up to work hard, to save and to provide for their loved ones. If they were to rest, they would feel very guilty that they were not making the most of their time. People live in fear, worrying about the future, regardless of how much wealth they may have. People on earth cannot rest.
However, it has always been God’s will to give rest to His people. The LORD God had never made mankind to labour and sweat to make things happen. He created Adam and Eve to enter this world resting and enjoying His lavish love. Everything was already provided for. Adam and Eve need not have to fear nor worry. It is always God’s plan to restore mankind to this position of rest, where mankind can rest completely in the perfect love and provision of God.
Hence, when the LORD led the children of Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery, His plan was to give them rest:
The LORD replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”
Exodus 33:14 (NLT)
“The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.
Deuteronomy 6:10-14 (NLT)
Although the LORD’s plan is to give rest to His people, they can only unlock these blessings when they have the faith. In fact, in Numbers 14, we read that the children of Israel did not have the faith to go and possess the promised land. The LORD had to reject that entire generation. Only the new generation that grew up in the wilderness, feeding on the manna for 40 years, experiencing the faithfulness of the LORD had the faith to enter and possess the promised land.
2. What the Scriptures say about the Sabbath?
The next thing we are going to do is to examine what the scriptures said the Sabbath is. If you search the scriptures, you will discover the following:
1. The Sabbath is a gift from the LORD (Exodus 16:29, Exodus 31:13)
2. The Sabbath is correlated to the 7th day of creation when He rested. (Exodus 20:11, 31:17)
3. The Sabbath is to be kept holy (Exodus 20:8, 31:14-15, 35:2, Leviticus 23:32,Deuteronomy 5:12, Isaiah 58:13)
4. The Sabbath is a day set apart for the LORD, dedicated to Him. (Exodus 16:23, Exodus 16:25, Exodus 20:10, Exodus 35:2, Leviticus 19:3, Leviticus 23:3, Deuteronomy 5:14, Isaiah 58:13)
5. The Sabbath is kept as a reverence to the LORD. (Leviticus 19:30,Leviticus 26:2)
We have covered item 1 when we analyse the context when the Sabbath was first put in place. Let’s now study item 2 on why was there a correlation between the Sabbath and the 7th day of creation. In Genesis 2:1-3, we read that the LORD God declared the 7th day holy. So in analysing the correlation, we will also cover item 3. In this blog post, we will not cover item 4 and 5 because when we have understood item 1 to 3 to discover the immense love of the LORD, our hearts will naturally want revere the LORD and want to set apart time/day/weeks/months/years, dedicated to the LORD.
Why the correlation between the Sabbath and the 7th day?
In Exodus 20:11 and Exodus 31:17 the LORD correlates the Sabbath to His rest on the 7th day of creation. Why was there this correlation? We could assume that the correlation of the Sabbath to the LORD resting on the 7th day of creation was to tell us that just as He had rested on the 7th day, so should we.
However, let us study God’s rest on the 7th day to better understand this correlation. We have discovered in the article on why did God rest on the 7th day, that the reason God rested was not because He was tired. It was because He loves mankind so much that He stopped work and spent time with Adam and Eve. In fact God declared that day as holy:
And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.
Genesis 2:3 (NLT)
Let’s correlate Genesis 2:3 to Exodus 31:13
“Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
Exodus 31:13 (NLT)
From the above scriptures, we learn that when God spend time with us, He makes us holy. On our own, we can never be holy. However, in the presence of God, we are made holy.
On the 7th day of creation, the LORD stopped work to enjoy the time with Adam and Eve so that they are made holy to receive all of God’s blessings. The 7th day was a day that pleased the LORD God greatly because it was a day where Adam and Eve was resting in the lavish love of our heavenly Father.
In the same way, when the LORD put in place the Sabbath, He is spending time with the children of Israel on the Sabbath. In His presence, the children of Israel were made holy (Exodus 31:13) to receive all the blessings that the LORD had promised. It pleased the LORD greatly when the children of Israel can receive His blessings. It is for this reason that the LORD commanded that the Sabbath be kept holy.
That is the reason why Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man.:
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27 (NLT)
In other words, the LORD gave the commandment for the children of Israel to observe the Sabbath so as to sanctify them, to make them holy, so they can receive all the blessings that God had intended for them.
the LORD gave the commandment for the children of Israel to observe the Sabbath so as to sanctify them, to make them holy, so they can receive all the blessings that God had intended for them.
Faith and Holiness to unlock blessings
The LORD gave to the Israelites a land described as follows:
I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.
Joshua 24:13 (NLT)
Did you notice that these are like the blessings of Adam and Eve who inherited the kingdom they did not build?
The LORD blesses the children of Israel just like He did for Adam and Eve. Notice that the curse of Genesis 3:17 has no more effect on the children of Israel? Why?
The answer lies in observing the Sabbath. As we have seen above, the purpose of the Sabbath was to help the children of Israel see the LORD’s provision even as they rest and hence enabling them to grow in faith. In addition, as they spend time with the LORD, they are made holy. When they are made holy, and when they have the faith, blessings pour on them.
We can therefore conclude that the Sabbath was put in place so that the children of Israel can be restored to have the blessings that Adam and Eve once had. In fact, the LORD blessed the children of Israel even much more. In Exodus 34:10, we read that the LORD gave the following promise:
The Lord replied, “Listen, I am making a covenant with you in the presence of all your people. I will perform miracles that have never been performed anywhere in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people around you will see the power of the Lord—the awesome power I will display for you.
Exodus 34:10 (NLT)
As a result of this promise, the Israelites crossed the river Jordan on dry land to enter the promised land. When they were fighting the Amorites, Joshua asked of the LORD and the Sun stood still for them.
Do Christians need to observe the Sabbath?
We can see that just as Jesus said, the Sabbath was made to meet the needs of man. It was given as a commandment so that the children of Israel can be made holy, it was given as a gift so that they can rest and grow in faith. It was all done out of the deep love of God so that they can receive His blessings. Now, many people ask if Christians need to observe the Sabbath too? Check out the detailed study of the scriptures on this topic in the article “The Promise of Rest”.
For Christians, because Jesus has died for our sins, we are already made holy (Colossians 1:22). Apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews chapter 4 that there is a special (Sabbath) rest waiting for the people of God who have believed (Hebrews 4:3) and we have to do our best to enter that rest. Our LORD Jesus had taught us to remain in Him (John 15:7) to be fruitful. When we remain in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit of God living in us (Romans 8:9, John 20:22). When Christians choose to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), they are directed by the Spirit and hence are not under obligation to the law of Moses (Galatians 5:18).
When we remain in Christ and His words remain in us (John 15:7), we will have the faith (Romans 10:17) to unlock our blessings (Mark 11:24).
My child, can you see the love of our LORD Jesus? He sacrificed everything so that we can be in this blameless, holy, blessed position to enter God’s rest. We do not need to observe a law to become holy. We are already forgiven and made holy. The Holy Spirit of God lives in us. We just need to take our position, believe in what our LORD Jesus had promised us and rest in our heavenly Father’s perfect love (Romans 8:31). The Sabbath rest is a promise given to us. We just need to go to our LORD Jesus who had called out to us :
“Come to me,all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NLT)
I pray for the person reading this post that the Holy Spirit will give you the courage and peace to let go all your worries, unload them to our LORD. He cares for you. You can rest. He has already gone ahead of you into the future, making all provisions for you.
If you are not yet a believer, you can pray this prayer to receive Jesus into your life:
“Dear LORD Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God and that you love me so much that you left your throne in Heaven to come into this world to suffer on my behalf. You chose to die for my sins so that I can be set free from a life of poverty, pain, defeat and bondages of sins. I pray that You come into my life and be my LORD and Saviour. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit so that I can lead a victorious life. I believe that from this moment on, I am a new creation. Help me to walk with you each day so that I am able to enjoy the rich and satisfying life that God had planned for me when He formed me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”
If you have said the above prayer, you are born again by the Holy Spirit. Write down this date so that you will never forget this new birthday. You are now a child of God, you are a new creation. You have the Kingdom of heaven to inherit. You have a new life, you are called a Christian. Look for a church near you, start reading the bible everyday and walk with Jesus. You can turn to Jesus with all your cares and worries. He is with you always and He will guide you. You will be amazed as you walk this new journey.