A Lasting Covenant

Exodus 31:12-18

It might strike the reader of the Book of Exodus as strange that any reference should be made to the Sabbath—coming after the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and its furnishings along with the priestly garments. Mention of the Sabbath had already been made in Chapters 16 and 20. There are no mere repetitions in the Scriptures, and though a thing may be mentioned more than once, or the same command or ordinance be given repeatedly, yet it is always with another view, purpose, or design. Generally, the Spirit’s purpose may be discerned by taking note of the connection in which each repetition is made.

Here Yahweh impresses upon Moses and the Israelites the importance and necessity of keeping the Sabbath even while carrying out the sacred task of constructing the dwelling place of God. Exodus 31:12-13—

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, `You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

Although the work of constructing the Tabernacle was sacred, they could not ignore the Sabbaths. The means never justify the end!

Observing the Sabbaths expressed the rights of God, His claims upon His people, which which He righteously required of them! His commandments were not a yoke to be born grievously, but the making known of a path in which to love was to walk.

In them, God promised to show love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments. They are an expression of His love. To keep His commandments is to love God.

The Israelites were first introduced to the day of rest—the seventh day—with the giving of the manna. Exodus 16:21-26—

Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: `Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'”

So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

With the giving of the FOURTH COMMANDMENT, the Israelites were formally put under law regarding the seventh day. Exodus 20:8-11—

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Sabbath was given to man right after creation. Whether it was observed universally is unrecorded. Certainly, man’s Fall made it impossible for God to impose Sabbath observance upon fallen man. The very thing commemorated, namely, the divine rest in a VERY GOOD creation, had been destroyed by the entrance of sin into the human family. This explains the silence of revelation concerning the Sabbath from Adam to Moses.

When we come to the Mosaic Law, we find that God made it one of the Ten Commandments. At this time, God makes it quite clear that the Sabbath is ONLY for the nation of Israel. It is the quintessential badge of Mosaic Covenant.

The Sabbath was given as a sign for Israel. It was never given to the Church. The Sabbath is a unique sign between Yahweh and Israel.

When someone asks, “When was the Sabbath Day changed?” Our reply should be: “It never was changed! It was done away with, as far as the Church is concerned. We are not under the Sabbath Day which is Saturday. We do not observe Saturday—Jesus was dead that day and we are not serving a dead Christ. On the first day of the week Jesus Christ rose from the dead.”

As Christians, we do not worship on the Sabbath, but Sunday—the LORD’S DAY. Sunday is the resurrection day of Jesus, who, having spent the Sabbath in the tomb, rose triumphant over all powers of darkness; thus leading His people out of the old creation, and all that pertains thereto, into the new creation, of which He is the head, and of which the first day of week is the fitting expression.

It is very evident to the Bible reader that the first day of the week receives honor that no other day of the week gets, having been evaluated by the majestic name—THE LORD’S DAY—in the New Testament.

Therefore, the Church from the very beginning met on the first day of the week. On the first day of the week, Pentecost Sunday, the Church was born. The Church is a new creation, and it was given a new day to observe which the first day of the week is.

However, God rested on the seventh day. Dispensationally, the REST, to which the Sabbath points, is the Millennial Kingdom, the seventh of earth’s great days. The Millennium will be the earth’s great Sabbath. After this world has witnessed six thousand years of strife, turmoil, bloodshed, it will enjoy an unprecedented ear of rest for one thousand years. The Prince of Peace shall be here; Satan shall be in the bottomless pit; war shall be made to cease to the ends of the earth; the curse which now rest upon all creation will be lifted. Christ’s kingdom will be the Sabbath Rest!

The Sabbath also typifies THE ETERNAL STATE. We read in Revelation 21:3—

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

Then there shall be a holy, unbreakable, eternal rest. God will rest in His love, and His sanctified people will rest with Him.

The Sabbath speaks of things brought to completion, so that there is no more work to be done; all is finished, and there is holy rest for God and His people!

The Sabbath was first given to the entire human race, but man turned away from God, and at Mount Sinai, God gave the Sabbath exclusively to Israel.

Notice that God made the Sabbath HOLY for the Israelites. Exodus 31:14-15—

Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.

DESECRATES contrasts sharply with MAKES YOU HOLY in verse 13. As God’s covenant people, the Israelites were to carefully observe the SIGN of the covenant—the SABBATH.

The Sabbath was the sign of a lasting covenant, a perpetual covenant, as were the rainbow, circumcision, and the Table of the Bread of the Presence. Therefore, the Sabbath was a gift to Israel signifying that they were a separate people.

There are seven divine speeches in chapters 25-31 to correspond to the seven days of creation. Some of the speeches have parallels with creation days, and both accounts conclude with a concern for the Sabbath. Genesis 2:1-3 reads—

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

The next section of Exodus, chapters 32-34 is enclosed by Sabbath regulations at the end of chapter 31 and the beginning of chapter 35. The regulations at the end of Chapter 31 end the previous section and introduce the next section of this book.

The constructing of the Tabernacle will be in tune with the created order. As chapter 31 ends, the possibility of paradise restored is in view. At this small, lonely place in the midst of the chaos of the desert a new creation comes into being. In the midst of disorder, there is order. At the end of the six days of creating, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

This corresponds to Moses SEEING and evaluating the finished product to be exactly as God had commanded. There are no less than sixteen references in Chapters 39-40 that says “AS THE LORD COMMANDED” to confirm that the Tabernacle and its furnishings were constructed according to a heavenly pattern that corresponded perfectly to God’s intention just as it was in the beginning.

The Tabernacle represents the world order that Yahweh intended for Israel. The Tabernacle is a realization of God’s created order in history; both reflect the glory of God in their midst. Moreover, this microcosm of creation is the beginning of a macrocosmic effort on God’s part. In and through this people God is on the move to a new creation for all.

God’s presence in the Tabernacle is a statement about God’s intended presence in the entire world. The glory manifested there is to stream out into the larger world. The shining of Moses’ face in the wake of the experience of the divine glory is to become characteristic of Israel as a whole, a radiating out into the larger world of those glorious effects of God’s dwelling among Israel. As a kingdom of priests, they have a role of mediating this glory to the entire world.

BEZALEL is filled with the Spirit of God to supervise the completion of this new creation—the Tabernacle. Additionally, Yahweh gives skill to all the craftsmen to make everything He commanded Moses.

Every detail is to be made according to God’s specifications and leading. The forms of divine worship are not to be fundamentally a matter of human innovation or effort. And so God is not only the Architect but the Giver of the specifications for the construction and the Bestower of the inspiration for the builders. In every conceivable way the Tabernacle and its associated worship must be built according to the will of God.

When it comes to obedience, attention to particularities is important. It is not enough to be obedient in a general sort of way. And the keeping of the Ten Commandments cannot be ignored even for the sake of this most scared task. The Israelites are to rest every seventh day from the construction. From the very beginning of creation, the seventh day was HOLY—A DAY OF REST.

Because the Sabbath was a sign indicating Israel’s relationship to the LORD, the people were to observe it perpetually. Violation of the Sabbath incurred the death penalty. We read in Numbers 15:32-36—

While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.

This command was explicit and absolute as anything can be. It fixes the seventh day and none other; and it positively forbids, on pain of death, all manner of work. There can be no avoiding the plain sense of this command. And be it remembered that there is not so much as a single line of Scripture to prove that the Sabbath has been changed, or the strict principles of its observance in the smallest degree relaxed.

The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel make it clear that the Sabbath will be reinstated for Israel in the Millennial Kingdom. Jesus predicts its observance in the Tribulation Period in Matthew 24:20—

Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.

Lois and I will spend the next few weeks in Israel. Everything closes down Friday evening to Saturday evening. The one thing Israeli do is observe the Sabbath religiously. However, most Jews observe it because of rabbinical tradition, not as a sign of being God’s covenant people! Exodus 31:16-17 state—

The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.

Again, we are told the Sabbath is a sign between God and the Israelites forever! Yet, we are reminded that on the seventh day the LORD abstained from work and rested. It appears, therefore, from the nature of the FOURTH COMMANDMENT and the wording here, a moral law exists that binds from its own nature. It expresses an obligation arising out of our relationship to God. It binds whether formally enacted or not.

There are no doubt positive elements in the FOURTH COMMANDMENT stand in the Bible. There is to be a day where we abstain from work and rest. It is of moral obligation that God and His great works should be remembered. It is a moral duty that the people should assemble for religious instruction and for the united worship of God. All this was obligatory before the time of Moses, and would have been binding had he never existed. All that the Fourth Commandment did was to put this natural and universal obligation into a definite form. God allowed the Israelites to gather manna and prepare meals for six days, but on the seventh they were to rest. The obligation existed before the Law!

As the other nine commandments are fundamental revelations of the duties of men to God and to their neighbor, so is the fourth! It is a moral and permanent obligation! It would be inconsistent and unnatural if the fourth should be a solitary exception!

The penalty attached to the violation to Sabbath breaking is death. This penalty is not attached to a merely ceremonial law. Even the neglect of circumcision, although it involved the rejection of both the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenant, was not a capital offense. The law of the Sabbath by being thus distinguished was raised to a special sanctity.

Sabbath observance is critical to Israel’s physical and spiritual welfare. Listen to Isaiah 58:13-14—

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

All of the Ten Commandments are founded on the permanent relations of men either to God or their neighbors. Men are bound to worship God. Marriage is as sacred now as it ever was. Homicide is as great a crime now as under the Mosaic economy. The rights of property remain unimpaired under the Gospel. The same is true with regard to the Sabbath! We are as much bound to keep one day in seven holy unto the LORD, as were the patriarchs or Israelites.

This law binds all men as men, because given to all mankind, and because it is founded upon the nature common to all men, and the relation which all men bear to God.

It is a simple historical fact that the Christians of the apostolic age ceased to observe the seventh, and did observe the first day of the week as the day for religious worship. Out of sound theological reasons, the first day of the week became the day to abstain from work and rest.

How important is THE LORD’S DAY to you?

Tom Osborne the head of coach of the Nebraska football team was elected to the Football Hall of Fame this week. He said at one of the recent home games he noticed an empty seat. Being curious why this empty seat was empty, he asked the woman sitting in the seat next. She told him that it belonged to her husband. So Tom asked, “Is your husband sick?” “OH NO!” the lady replied, “HE’S DEAD!” “Why didn’t you give his seat to someone in the family?” Tom responded. Without any hesitation she stated, “All of them are at my husband’s funeral!”

Now that’s commitment! God asks for that kind of commitment to His law! Not out of duty, but out of love for Him! Undoubtedly, this lady loved football more than anything else! That’s the kind of love God wants from you and me! A love of deep commitment reflected in our actions—which begin with things like keeping the day of rest holy!

Verse 18 is a fitting interlude that connects the importance and sanctity of the Sabbath with the breaking of the covenant that follows in Chapter 32—

When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.

The two tablets contained THE TEN COMMANDMENTS also called THE TESTIMONY.

INSCRIBED BY THE FINGER OF GOD points to the fact that Yahweh cut the words into the two tablets. Exodus 24:12 records—

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

Exodus 32:15-16 tells us—

Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

Deuteronomy 5:22 adds—

These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.

It is evident therefore that this writing was properly and literally the writing of God Himself. God wrote now on tables of stone what he had originally written on the heart of man. In mercy God placed that before man’s eyes what by sin had been obliterated from his heart; and by this Yahweh shows us what, by the Spirit of Christ, must be rewritten in the heart. Of Christians, it is said in 2 Corinthians 3:3 —

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

INSCRIBED BY THE FINGER OF GOD also suggests that Yahweh is the SOURCE and AUTHORITY of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. An experience during the plagues substantiates such an interpretation, for when the Egyptian magicians found themselves unable to duplicate the third plague, they conceded, “THIS IS THE FINGER OF GOD” (Exodus 8:19).

Jesus would later say in Luke 11:20—

But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

Therefore, we understand THE FINGER OF GOD to refer to divine source and authority.


tabernacleThese serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. For He said, Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain (Hebrews 8:5; Exodus 25:40). tabernacle type contents of ark cross tabernacle ark metals and colors symbolic materials


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