The Ten Commandments

Day Four – Our Sabbath Rest

 Several stories in the Old Testament are so difficult to fathom that I must pause to contemplate their meaning. One such account can be found in the book of Numbers:

While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron, and the entire community. They placed him in custody because it had not been decided what should be done to him. Then the Lord told Moses, “The man is to be put to death. The entire community is to stone him outside the camp.” So the entire community brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord had commanded Moses. Numbers 15:32-36 (HCSB)

Wow! A man was stoned to death for picking up sticks. The response seems a bit over the top—as though the punishment far outweighs the offense. There are those who would say that God was stressing the importance of obedience, and that might be true to a degree, but something of greater significant was also going on.

The Fourth Commandment

Let’s take a brief look at the fourth item listed in the Ten Commandments:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11 (HCSB)

Not long after the Ten Commandments were given, and before that man went and got himself stoned, the Lord added that observing the Sabbath was to be a perpetual commandment for the nation of Israel, and that breaking it was punishable by death (Exodus 31:12-17).

The New Testament Sabbath

When we consider the Sabbath in the New Testament, we seem to find conflicting messages. Hebrews 4:9 reminds us that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” But the apostle Paul also tells the Colossian church to “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16).

What is going on here? Are we looking at a contradiction in the Scriptures? Or is some greater truth being communicated?

Shadow and Substance

The key to unlocking this puzzle can be found in Colossians 2:17: “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Shadow and substance—these two words help to establish the relationship between the Old Testament and the New.

The Old Testament emphasis was primarily physical. Its promises proclaimed physical blessings such as children, wealth, and a fruitful land. And though such tangible blessings might seem to be of primary importance, they are only temporal.

When Jesus established the new covenant, the emphasis changed. Its promises proclaimed spiritual blessings such as salvation from sin, along with the spiritual fruits of joy and peace. As a whole, new covenant blessings are eternal in nature (Ephesians 1:3).

A primary key to understanding the relationship between the Old and New Testaments is to realize that the physical realm serves as a shadow of the greater eternal substance of the spiritual realm. Think for a minute of the story of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh represents the devil, and slavery represents bondage to sin. Moses was a type (symbol) of Christ, and the Promised Land that flowed with milk and honey represents the victorious Christian life of peace and rest.

Our Sabbath Rest

If we take this concept of typology—where physical symbols represent greater eternal realities—and apply it to the Sabbath, we can see that the Biblical emphasis changes. It goes from requiring a day of physical rest in the Old Testament to embracing a spiritual state of rest under the new covenant. In short, Jesus has become our Sabbath rest.

The physical penalty of a man being stoned for picking up sticks on the Sabbath is another way of communicating that eternal death is the penalty for those who try to earn their salvation.

Contrary to natural human thought, no person can be good enough to work his or her way into heaven. No number of good deeds accomplished, no amount of money given, and no number of religious services observed can earn us favor in the eyes of our Creator.

Only by Grace

The apostle Paul communicated the message of salvation this way in his letter to the Ephesian church:

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (HCSB)

Salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ is tied to our spiritual rest. If we are unwilling to give up our quest to earn heaven’s favor through good works, true rest will be impossible to find.

If, on the other hand, we will surrender our own way to fully rest our trust in Jesus—the Prince of Peace—we will discover a sense of rest that far surpasses anything this world has to offer!

*This book post is drawn from an upcoming book by Bob Santos titled The Search for Rest.

Image by Angi Yowell from Pixabay