The Sabbath in Exodus


Bible Study Guide/ The Forgotten Day: The Seventh Day Sabbath/ 86-004, (Exodus 31:13)/ Key Text: “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” (Exodus 31:13, NKJV)

Lesson Objectives: To analyze the Sabbath texts in in the order in which they occur in the Pentateuch. Today, we are going to consider the Sabbath in Exodus, then next, we will look at Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Lesson Segments:

  1. The Sabbath in Exodus 5:5.
  2. The Sabbath in Exodus 16.
  3. The Sabbath in Exodus 20:8–11.
  4. The Sabbath in Exodus 23:12.
  5. The Sabbath in Exodus 31:13–17.

Opening Remarks: In Exodus, the 4th commandment asks us to “remember” — the seventh day Sabbath — before it asks us to do anything. What we are to remember sets up the meaning of the Sabbath. God sets the Sabbath apart with His holiness, His presence, His faithfulness, His work on our behalf, His covenant blessings to us — before there is any mention of a human response. I’ve heard too many say that the Sabbath is a test of our obedience to God, and that’s true (see Rev 12:17; 13:16-17; 14:6-11, 12, etc.)  However, the Sabbath is also the sign of God’s faithfulness to us. “He who began the work in us is faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). In Revelation 2:10, the Lord says: Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” I remember in two separate occasion when I lost my Job because of the Sabbath, I suffered greatly, but God remembered me and provided for me. Oh Lord, how great is Thy faithfulness!

[1] The Sabbath in Exodus 5:5.

In Exodus 5, we see the tension between the Lord and Pharaoh. We see Moses’s first encounter with Pharaoh to seek permission for the Hebrews to go and worship the Lord. “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness” (v. 1).

Pharaoh’s rhetorical questions: “Who is the LORD?” need to be understood as a direct challenge to God. “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” (v. 2). The king rejected Moses’ request. Pharaoh’s reply is revealing and true—he does not know Yahweh. There is much that can be said about this passage of the scripture, but for the purpose of this study, the point is this:

  • Exodus 5:5 contains sabbath terminology in the statement “And Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are many now, and you make them rest (šābaṯ) from their labor!” (Exodus 5:5, NKJV). While the seventh day of the week is not specifically mentioned, the immediate context implies that this rest had religious significance.
  • “The request put before Pharaoh was a reasonable one. The Israelites could not offer their sacrificial animals in the presence of the Egyptians without provoking an outburst of religious animosity, since among the animals to be slaughtered were some that the Egyptians considered sacred, and therefore not to be killed under any circumstances. To avoid this danger, the feast of the Israelites must be held beyond the boundaries of Egypt, in the wilderness.” (SDA BC 1:519)

[2] Manna & the Sabbath in Exodus 16.

And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’ ” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. 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 shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.”” (Exodus 16:22–26, NKJV)

The setting of this chapter is the giving of Manna to the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sin, two weeks before their arrival at Mount Sinai. There are two important things that are worth remembering in this chapter – (1) A Special Diet (Ex. 16:1–22, 31–36. In spite of the Israelites’ constant complaining, the Lord sends them quail to eat in the evening and provides a daily supply of bread (“manna”) from heaven; (2) A Special Day (Ex. 16:23–30). Moses tells the people to keep the seventh day Sabbath, a weekly day of rest.

According to Exodus 16:5, on the sixth day the Israelites were to gather and bring in “twice as much as they gather daily.” Later in the chapter they are informed that on the seventh day no manna would appear (Ex. 16: 25-26). What amazes me is this: the Manna gathered on each of the other days would spoil overnight, that which was gathered on the sixth day would be preserved sweet and pure, (Ex. 16:19–24). On the seventh day some people went out into the field to look for manna but found none (Ex. 16:27). God’s response was, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?” (Exodus 16:28, NKJV) “See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:29, NKJV) Note: This wording gives the distinct impression that the Sabbath was already known to the Israelites.

Practical Sabbath Lessons:

  • “God requires that His holy day be as sacredly observed now as in the time of Israel. The command given to the Hebrews should be regarded by all Christians as an injunction from Jehovah to them. The day before the Sabbath should be made a day of preparation, that everything may be in readiness for its sacred hours. In no case should our own business be allowed to encroach upon holy time. God has directed that the sick and suffering be cared for; the labor required to make them comfortable is a work of mercy, and no violation of the Sabbath; but all unnecessary work should be avoided. Many carelessly put off till the beginning of the Sabbath little things that might have been done on the day of preparation. This should not be. Work that is neglected until the beginning of the Sabbath should remain undone until it is past. This course might help the memory of these thoughtless ones, and make them careful to do their own work on the six working days.”
  • “Every week during their long sojourn in the wilderness the Israelites witnessed a threefold miracle, designed to impress their minds with the sacredness of the Sabbath: a double quantity of manna fell on the sixth day, none on the seventh, and the portion needed for the Sabbath was preserved sweet and pure, when if any were kept over at any other time it became unfit for use.”
  • “In the circumstances connected with the giving of the manna, we have conclusive evidence that the Sabbath was not instituted, as many claim, when the law was given at Sinai. Before the Israelites came to Sinai they understood the Sabbath to be obligatory upon them. In being obliged to gather every Friday a double portion of manna in preparation for the Sabbath, when none would fall, the sacred nature of the day of rest was continually impressed upon them. And when some of the people went out on the Sabbath to gather manna, the Lord asked, “How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws?” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 296–297).

[3] The Sabbath in Exodus 20:8–11.

“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, NKJV)

“Exodus 20 sets forth the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses at Sinai. In this law the fourth commandment specifies that work should be done six days and that the seventh day is to be observed as a day of rest. The basis for this injunction is that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it” (verse 11).

The language used here summarizes the content of Genesis 2:2, 3, leaving no doubt that Exodus 20:11 points to the Creation Sabbath. Also significant is that the Sabbath commandment appears within the ten-commandment law, which in turn was the center of God’s covenant. That this ten-commandment law was distinctive, with the other Pentateuchal laws as additions or commentary, is clear from the statement in Deuteronomy 5:22 that to these Ten Commandments God had “added no more”—i.e., the Decalogue was a complete entity in and of itself.

Furthermore, the covenant basis that is set forth in Exodus 20 for keeping the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment, is redemptive history, or more properly, divine redemption itself. The children of Israel had come into covenant relationship with Yahweh (see Ex. 19). Then in the preamble and historical prologue to the Decalogue, God states the prime element in the redemption which the Israelites had experienced: “I (Yahweh) am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 20:2). The Israelites had been redeemed from slavery, and this prior goodness of Yahweh provided the foundation for the covenant relationship in which the Israelites were, in turn, to be obedient to God’s commandments.

At times the Sabbath and the concept of God’s covenant became virtually synonymous (cf. Ex. 31:16). More than any of the other nine precepts of the Decalogue, the Sabbath provided a visible distinctive that set God’s people apart from any and all who did not serve Yahweh. Thus in a very real way it embodied the true meaning of covenant relationship with God, for it identified Israel as a people in fellowship with their Creator and Redeemer.

Moreover, the Sabbath commandment is the only one in the Decalogue that has the three distinguishing marks of a seal impression: the name, the office, and the domain of the individual or entity whose authority the seal represents. Thus the Sabbath commandment may be considered the seal of the Decalogue. (See also the discussion of the Sabbath as “sign” in connection with Exodus 31:13–17 and Ezekiel 20:12, 20.) The Sabbath commandment is distinctive not only by containing the three essentials of a seal, but also by utilizing a unique introduction, the word “remember.” This word may carry several concepts: to remember the Sabbath as an institution that is already time-honored; to remember, because there may be a danger of forgetting; and to remember with a forward look, because the Sabbath is so central to the ongoing covenant experience. Whatever nuance or nuances the term may have had in the context of its original statement at Sinai, one thing is certain: The word “remember” is emphatic as an introduction here, and serves to call special attention to the Sabbath commandment.” [Raoul Dederen, Handbook of Seventh-Day Adventist Theology, Commentary Reference Series, electronic ed., (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2001), 12:496].

[4] The Sabbath in Exodus 23:12.

Sabbath laws (Exodus 23:10–19).

  • The final legal section of the Book of the Covenant lays down the religious festivals to be observed in ancient Israel. This is the oldest sacred calendar in the Bible. The foundational unit of the calendar is the weekly Sabbath observance (23:10–13). Tied to and built upon the Sabbath are the three national pilgrim festivals that Israel was required to celebrate yearly.

23:10–11. ‘For six years you shall sow your land, and you shall gather its yield. But you shall suspend it (in) the seventh year and abandon it, so that the needy of your people might eat. And (whatever) they leave behind, the animal of the field may eat. Thus you shall do to your vineyard (and) to your olive grove.’

  • Here begins Moses’ exposition of the Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath statute found in Exodus 20:8–11. One application of that directive is that the Hebrews are to institute a seven-year fallow system in their agricultural practice. Further details of this requirement are given in Leviticus 25:1–7, 18–22. There are two reasons for the land’s being given a Sabbath, according to our passage: it is, in the first place, humanitarian, so that those who have no inheritance or are needy may have something to eat. It is what Kaufman calls ‘a welfare system for the poor.’ The law is also for the benefit of wildlife, so that animals may have food to eat.
  • It is unlikely that all Israel celebrated the land Sabbath in the same year. It probably rotated so that some land was left fallow each year, but much was also cultivated. Thus, the poor would be able to gather food each year, not only one in seven.

23:12. ‘Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh you shall stop, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your handmaid and the sojourner may be refreshed.’

  • Whereas in verses 10–11 the land is granted a rest every seven years, humanity is allotted a rest every seven days. Although the time-span is different, the Sabbath pattern is the same. In addition, the two groups who benefit from the land’s lying fallow, the needy and the animals, find parallels in the servant and sojourner, on the one hand, and the ox and donkey, on the other, of the present law.
  • The verb for ‘stop’ is the Hebrew shābat, from which derives the word ‘Sabbath’. It bears the idea of ceasing and desisting from normal, everyday work practices. Human beings will also be ‘refreshed’ on this day. That is a rare verb in Hebrew (used only three times). In Exodus 31:17 God is said to have been ‘refreshed’ on the seventh day of creation because of his resting. Thus, God’s work and rest in creation serve as a paradigm for man’s work and rest each week.” [John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus: Exodus 19–40, EP Study Commentary, (Darlington, England; Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:117–118].

[5] The Sabbath in Exodus 31:13–17.

Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:13–17, NKJV)

  • In Exodus 31:13–17 we find a statement very similar to those in Genesis 2:2–3 and Exodus 20:11, but with several added features. 1. The keeping of God’s Sabbath is a sign, not only of Creation (verse 17), but also of His sanctifying His people (verse 13). 2. The covenant relationship, earlier set forth in the context of the Decalogue (chaps. 19 and 20), is now explicitly applied to the Sabbath and termed “a perpetual covenant” (verse 16). 3. The penalty of death is decreed for profanation of the Sabbath (verses 14, 15). 4. The emphatic terminology šabbaṯ šabbāṯôn, “sabbath of solemn rest,” is used for the first time (verse 15). 5. In reference to the Creation Sabbath, the statement speaks not only of God’s resting, as in Genesis 2:2, 3 and Exodus 20:8–11, but also adds that God “was refreshed” (verse 17), obviously not in the sense of recovery from weariness, but rather as a pleasant relaxation subsequent to, and because of, God’s completion of His work in producing a perfect Creation.
  • The use of the word “sign” in verse 13 is noteworthy. A sign is something that points beyond itself to reveal a more profound reality. With respect to the Sabbath, that reality is twofold: The Sabbath provides an ever-present assurance of God’s sanctifying of His people (verse 13), and it serves as a constant reminder of God’s Creatorship (verse 17). In both aspects, the keeping of the Sabbath is what gives it effectiveness as a sign (verses 13, 16). [Raoul Dederen, Handbook of Seventh-Day Adventist Theology, Commentary Reference Series, electronic ed., (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2001), 12:497].
  • “The final note regarding the building of the tabernacle and the laws of the priesthood is a command relating to the Sabbath. It all reaches its climax in the Sabbath. As Matthew Henry points out, the reason it all ends here is ‘because the observance of the Sabbath is indeed the hem and hedge of the whole law’. The Sabbath ordinance appears here also for a very practical purpose: so that the Hebrews should not work on building the tabernacle on the Sabbath in order to get it completed sooner. The building of the place of worship on the day of worship would be a great sin.” [John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus: Exodus 19–40, EP Study Commentary, (Darlington, England; Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:264].

[6] The Sabbath in Exodus 34:21.

“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest (on the Sabbath).” (Exodus 34:21, AMP)

  • The noun “Sabbath” does not occur in this text, but “the seventh day” is explicitly indicated and the verb for both occurrences of “rest” is šābaṯ.
  • In an agricultural economy the Sabbath was to be kept faithfully during the two most crucial seasons for labor: “plowing time” and “harvest time.”
  • This emphasizes the great sanctity with which God had invested the day. The times of plowing and of harvest were the seasons of greatest temptation to violate the Sabbath.

“The Sabbath law is now briefly summarized (see commentary on Ex. 20:8–11 and 23:12). Two seasons are specifically mentioned in regard to cessation of work for the Sabbath: ‘ploughing-time’ and ‘harvest-time’. These are the two busiest times of the agricultural calendar and, thus, even they come under the strictures of Sabbath law. In addition, the two terms when used together in the Old Testament are idiomatic for the entire calendar year (see Gen. 45:6; 1 Sam. 8:12). Consequently, the Hebrews are prohibited from working on any Sabbath during the whole year. There are no exceptions.” [John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus: Exodus 19–40, EP Study Commentary, (Darlington, England; Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:318].

[7] The Sabbath in Exodus 35:2-3.

Exodus 35:1–3 (NKJV)1 Then Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said to them, “These are the words which the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”

  • All the congregation. The Israelites were now ready to begin the construction and setting up of the tabernacle that had been planned (chs. 25–31) but delayed because of their apostasy (ch. 32; PP 343) and the need of renewing the covenant (chs. 33, 34). Since this was a project in which all the people were vitally interested and involved by reason of their offerings (ch. 25:2–7) and their labor (see chs. 28:3; 35:10, 25; 36:4; 39:42), Moses “gathered” them “together” for preliminary instructions.
  • Six days. The Hebrews were to be engaged in a holy enterprise and might think this an excuse for working on the Sabbath. But they were not to permit the sacred nature of their work to deceive them into a neglect of the holy observance of that day or to tread thoughtlessly on its sacred time. Herein is a pointed lesson for ministers and others who do God’s work on God’s day. The construction of the tabernacle, with the different skills and materials required for it was a secular matter, and therefore not a fit occupation for God’s holy day. [Francis D. Nichol, Ed., The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978), 1:679].

The first two sections of this chapter discusses Sabbath Regulations (vv. 1-3) and Tabernacle Materials (vv. 4-19). “Before the actual building of the tabernacle takes place, God gives two preliminary commands through Moses. The first is regarding the Sabbath, and the second concerns the contributions necessary for the construction project.

The instructions to build the tabernacle ended with a Sabbath command (see commentary on Ex. 31:12–17). Now the actual construction of the sanctuary begins with a Sabbath command. In fact, the present passage is, for the most part, a repetition of 31:15. It serves as a prefatory admonition: the Hebrews are not allowed to work on the Sabbath, even in the erection of the holy sanctuary!

One addition appears here that was not present in the earlier injunction. The Israelites are prohibited from lighting fires in their ‘dwelling-places’ on the Sabbath. This noun often has a more expanded meaning than merely ‘houses’—it is frequently used of ‘territory / district / habitable places in a land’ (Gen. 10:30; 27:39; Exod. 10:23). And so the point is that the Hebrews are not to light fires in their settlements on the Sabbath. Fire was, of course, necessary for various types of work connected with the construction of the tabernacle, such as metal-working. Again, the Hebrews were not permitted to work on the tabernacle on the Sabbath.” [John D. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus: Exodus 19–40, EP Study Commentary, (Darlington, England; Carlisle, PA: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:327–328].

DEVOTIONAL IMPLICATION: “The Sabbath points us back to a perfect world in the long ago (Gen. 1:31; 2:1–3), and reminds us of the time when the Creator will again “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). It is a reminder also that God stands ready to restore within our hearts and lives His own image as it was in the beginning (Gen. 1:26, 27). He who enters into the true spirit of Sabbath observance will thus qualify for receiving the seal of God, which is the divine recognition that His character is reflected perfectly in the life (Eze. 20:20). It is our happy privilege once each week to forget everything that reminds us of this world of sin and to “remember” those things that draw us closer to God. The Sabbath may become to us a little sanctuary in the wilderness of this world, where we may for a time be free from its cares and enter, as it were, into the joys of heaven. If the Sabbath rest was desirable for sinless beings in Paradise (Gen. 2:1–3), how much more essential it is for erring mortals preparing to re-enter that blest abode!” [Francis D. Nichol, Ed., The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978), 1:604].

ACTION STEP: What response do you think this lesson should inspires us to do? “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

[1] We must think of the Sabbath throughout the week and make the preparations necessary to observe it in a manner pleasing to God.

[2] As God “rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen 2:2), Likewise, we must rest, take a break, and “cease” from our labor! We ought not to engage in unnecessary secular labor on the Sabbath day.

[3] The Sabbath day is to be spent in religious reflection, the study of God’s word, the worship, the service for God, and acts of mercy/ kindness towards our fellow man (see Isa. 58).

  1. To lose the bonds of wickedness,
  2. To undo the heavy burdens,
  3. To let the oppressed go free,
  4. To break every yoke of bondage, suffering, etc.
  5. To share your bread with the hungry,
  6. To bring to your house the poor who are cast out,
  7. To cover the naked,
  8. To care for the sick, the injured, the disadvantaged, etc.
  9. To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, (James 1:27).

Note: These things ought to be done not just on Sabbath day, but around the clock, 24/7.

[4] The Sabbath also provides, an opportunity for physical rest. This feature of the Sabbath is peculiarly important to man in his sinful state, when he must earn his bread by the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:17–19).

Sabbath is the great equalizer, the liberator of all inequities in the social structure. Notice the prohibitive clause in this command: All must refrain from doing any work on the Sabbath day: “you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant.” Even the domestic animals, as well as any guests (stranger) in the home, are included. (Ex. 20:8-11). Beloved, God means what He says; and He says what He means! Many have missed divine blessings for not adhering to the Sabbath command.

One more point: Jesus (who is the Author of Sabbath) rested on the Sabbath even on His death! (see Mt 27:57-61; Lk 23:50-56)

Then he [Joseph of Arimathea] bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. (Mk 15:46)

“At last Jesus was at rest. The long day of shame and torture was ended. As the last rays of the setting sun ushered in the Sabbath, the Son of God lay in quietude in Joseph’s tomb. His work completed, His hands folded in peace, He rested through the sacred hours of the Sabbath day….. Now Jesus rested from the work of redemption; and though there was grief among those who loved Him on earth, yet there was joy in heaven.” (The Desire of Ages, p. 769).

MY DESIRE TODAY. Check the Box which reflect your decision today:

  • I want to learn more about the Sabbath.
  • I want to share with others the truth about the Sabbath.
  • I want to keep all God’s commandment, including the Sabbath.
  • It is my desire to obey the Lord by keeping His Day (the seventh –day Sabbath) holy, Ex. 20:8.

Have a Blessed Day: “Moreover, also I gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might understand and realize that I am the Lord who sanctifies them [separates and sets them apart].” (Ezekiel 20:12, AMP)

The Gospel’s Voice/ Bible Study Guide/ Doctrines/ The Seventh-Day Sabbath / Lesson # 4.