Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another Thought on the Sabbath

I would like to make another point about the Sabbath that I recently discovered. The Ten Commandments are propounded by Moses a second time in the book of Deuteronomy. Exodus is the book of worship; Deuteronomy is the book of succession. In Deuteronomy, Moses gives his farewell address to the people and sets forth the law once again. He calls the heavens to witness the commitment of the people to their renewal of the covenant.

In the second giving of the Ten Commandment, there is a change in the fourth commandment. What in Exodus had been “remember” (זָכוֹר) is now “observe” (שָׁמוֹר). This is understandable in that the first generation in Exodus would have been called to look to the past; the next generation entering into the promised land would be expected to not only remember but to be faithful to continue in the remembrance. Deuteronomy 5:2, 3 makes an intriguing claim: “The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.” The covenant had literally been made with the prior generation. But Moses, declares here that the covenant had been made with the second generation. They must now observe it.

What is most intriguing is a comparison of the prologues of the commandments themselves and the explication of the fourth commandment in both settings.

In Deuteronomy 5:6, Moses gives a verbatim recounting of the introduction of the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20. "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” But in Deuteronomy 5:15, in describing why Yahweh commanded them to keep the Sabbath, he said it was because “you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” Well, no He didn’t. He had said that it was because He had made heaven and earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. What He had said is that because He, Yahweh, had brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery, they were to keep the Ten Commandments.

I suggest that what Moses did was to focus all of the commandments into the keeping of the Sabbath. Just as Moses had done with the consecration of the firstborn, building it upon the foundation of the Passover, Moses was here building the foundation of the commandments on the foundation of the Sabbath. (See Exodus 13) The Sabbath is the pinnacle of the ten. The Sabbath is the covenant sign and seal. The Sabbath is the memorial. Violation of the Sabbath brings on covenant curses. In relationship to the covenant keeping Yahweh, His people are to keep his covenant sign. This does not discount the rest of the commandments. But it does recognize that they were to be kept in the context of a weekly cycle of six days labor and one day rest and worship. The commandments are not given in isolation from life. They are given in the context of a life in a community. Without the cycle of life that the Sabbath provides, the rest of the commandments become meaningless.