THE MOSAIC COVENANTAL SABBATH
"Speak thou also unto the children of
Israel, saying, ‘Verily, My sabbaths ye shall keep’:"
A. THE SABBATH AND THE MOSAIC LAWS
Immediately after the announcement of the permanent and "non-Mosaic"1 Ten Commandments, the temporary Mosaic covenant (to be fulfilled in Christ — Col. 2:8-16) was established. As this covenant only has slight bearing on the perpetuity of the sabbath as such, the subject of this thesis, and as only a few of the higher critics question the celebration of the weekly sabbath throughout the Mosaic covenant, the following analysis in this chapter will only briefly deal with the temporary Mosaic sabbath, and thereafter it will largely concentrate on the permanent post-Mosaic sabbath elements in the sacred history from Joshua to Malachi, and finally close with an account of the sabbath’s progressive deformation from after the time of Malachi to the birth of Christ, during the period between the Old and the New Testament. This first section, "The Sabbath and the Mosaic Laws", will be restricted to an examination of the relationship between the pre-Mosaic sabbath and: (a) the Mosaic law in general; (b) the non-weekly "ceremonial" sabbaths; (c) the weekly Mosaic sabbath; and (d) the temporary Mosaic sabbath in the later life of Moses.
(a) The sabbath
and the Mosaic law in general
Immediately after the giving of the Decalogue, the glory of the Lord covered Sinai for six days, before God spoke on the seventh3. The priests’ clothes and the ritual sacrifices had to be sanctified for seven days4, as did the altar (Ex. 29:36, 37) and the priests themselves (Lev. 8:33-35). And most ritualistic cleansings — such as those after birth (Lev. 12:2, 5), from leprosy5, from issues6, of young sacrificial animals (Lev. 22:27), of defiled Nazarenes (Num. 6:9), of Miriam (Num. 12:14-15), of the water of separation (Num. 19:11-19) and after the camp victory over the Midianites (Num. 31:19-21) — lasted seven days, leading to the defiled’s cleansing on the eighth day, a foreshadowing7 of the Christian’s cleansing on the "eighth day" of the week on which Christ rose from the dead.
(b) The sabbath
and the non-weekly sabbaths
The monthly "sabbaths" derived their idea of being a "day of observance" from the weekly sabbaths8, but were otherwise not in any way related, and bore no trace of the hebdomadal cycle9.
The yearly sabbaths merit special attention. These were the Passover ("Pęsach"), the Days of Unleavened Bread ("Chag hammatstsôth"), Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks ("shevoo'ôth"), the Feast of Trumpets or the seventh new moon ("theroo'ăh"), the day of Atonement ("yôm hakkippurim"), and the Feast of Tabernacles ("chag hassukkôth"). Together with the weekly sabbath ("shabbăth") they all constitute the "feasts of the Lord" ("mô'ade Jahvęh") or the "holy convocations" ("miqră’e qôdesh"), Lev. 23:1-44.
Of these yearly sabbaths, only the day of Atonement is called "a sabbath of rest" ("shabbath shabbăthôn"), Lev. 23:32 — as is the weekly sabbath10 and it is only on the day of Atonement [which, in apparent contradistinction11 to the other feasts, is demarcated from evening to evening, Lev. 23:32] that "ye shall do no manner of work" ("kăl-me1ă’kăh") — as is also the case on the weekly sabbath12. But the day of the Feast of Trumpets and the first and the eighth days of the Feast of the Tabernacles are all called a "sabbath" ("shabbtătôn"). Lev. 23:24 and 39, and on them as well as on the first and the seventh days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the day of the feast of Pentecost, no "servile work", that is, professional or field work, ("me1ę’kęth 'abôdăh"), was to be done, Lev. 23:7, 21, 25, 36-7, as opposed to the stricter restrictions operative in respect of the weekly sabbath and the day of Atonement.
The septennial sabbaths provided13 that the land should be neither sowed nor reaped every seventh year — the year in which the land was to "sabbath". Yet the ground would then yield fruit of its own accord, and the owners, the stranger and the destitute may eat thereof freely14. So too, Hebrew slaves were to be liberated, creditors were to be released and the law was to be read in public every seventh year15. But if the covenant people were to rob the land of its sabbath, God would banish them thence in order to make this possible16. In this way an unhealthy individualism was guarded against in connection with the sabbath, and the agricultural, political and social implications of the institution were stressed.
The quinquagenarian sabbaths provided for the sanctification of the (fiftieth) year following every seventh sabbath year. On the day of Atonement of that fiftieth year, the sound of trumpets was to proclaim the Jubilee, during which nothing was to be sowed or reaped, and every man was to have his possession returned to him (Lev. 25:8f). In this way, extremes of wealth and poverty were avoided, and the Lord of the covenant alone acknowledged as the absolute Owner of all17.
Together with the weekly sabbath in Mosaic times, this entire cycle of non-weekly sabbaths was known as the "sabbatical system of Israel". For the sabbatarian hebdomadal cycle predominated throughout. Every seventh day was the (Mosaic) sabbath; the Passover Feast occurred on the Fourteenth (= seven x 2) day of the (first) month; the Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted seven days, and the seventh day thereof, falling on the twenty-first (= seven x 3) day of the month, was a day of holy convocation on which no servile work was to be done. The Day of Pentecost occurred18 after the seventh seventh (or forty-ninth) day after the Passover, and the remaining feasts (of Trumpets, of Atonement and of Tabernacles) all occurred in the seventh month, whereas the last feast lasted seven days. The sabbath year occurred every seventh year and the Jubilee sabbath after every seventh seventh year.
But if the sabbatical system revealed the seventh-day weekly sabbath of the past as its root, it also declared the eighth-day (or first-day) weekly sabbath of the future as its destination. For Passover was celebrated in the first month; the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, the memorial of the redemption from Egypt, a day of "holy convocation" on which "no servile work" was to be done, was commemorated on the first day of a weekly cycle (fifteenth 7 + 7 + one) in the first month; the Day of Pentecost fell on the first day of an eighth (= 7 + one) weekly cycle fifty days later; the Feast of Trumpets fell on the first day of the first month in the second part of the year (in which month fell all the remaining feasts), and the Feast of Tabernacles’ two "sabbaths" fell on its first and eighth ( 7 + one) days respectively; whereas the Jubilee sabbath fell on the first year of an eighth (= 7+ one) series of septennial cycles19.
(c) The sabbath
and the weekly Mosaic sabbath
The question of governmental punishment for sabbath desecration today is therefore indeed involved: on the one hand, the Mosaic provisions cannot summarily be transferred to Sunday, although some of those principles are of permanent value for the historical development of the permanent pre-Mosaic sabbath in its Mosaic and even post-Mosaic phase. Yet much of permanent value can be learned therefrom, particularly when it is remembered that government (and probably punishment for sabbath desecration too) was instituted in its infralapsarian form at the pre-Mosaic time of the flood.
(d) The sabbath
in the later life of Moses
After again emphasizing on Sinai the necessity of sabbath observance "that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed" (Ex. 23:12), God covered Sinai with His glory for six days, "and the seventh day He called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud"27, revealing that the sabbath was to be a sign between Himself and Israel in all their generations, a sign of the Mosaic covenant, to be sanctified on pain of death, and given as a memorial of God’s six days’ creation and His rest on the seventh day on which "He was refreshed"28. As God later revealed through Ezekiel in respect of the covenant people in the wilderness: "I gave them My sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they may know that I am the Lord that sanctify them"29 and as Nehemiah prayed at a still later date in respect of the Israelites: "Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, . . . and madest known unto them Thy holy sabbath, . . . by the hand of Moses Thy servant" (Neh. 9:13-14).
After the episode of the worship of the golden calf, when Moses out of despair smashed the two tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments "written with the finger of God" (Ex. 31:18; 32:15-19), the Lord nevertheless promised to grant Moses rest (Ex. 33:14), and He again inscribed His Ten Words on two new tables of stone30, after again repeating the Sabbath Commandment to Moses, and adding that "in earing time and in harvest time thou shalt rest" (Ex. 34:21).
Descending from Mount Sinai again, Moses immediately repeated the Sabbath Commandment to the people, adding that "whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death", and that "ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day"31. The kindling of fires may refer to the primitive and laborious method of igniting dry material by friction (particularly in connection with melting metals for the construction of the tabernacle), or it may refer to sabbath food preparation, or to both32. Even work on the construction of the tabernacle, described in the immediately following verses, was to be interrupted for one day each week during which day the sabbath was to be properly observed.
After the completion of the tabernacle, the Lord spoke to Moses out of the tabernacle (Lev. 1:1), stressing the close nexus between the observance of the Fourth and Fifth Commandments (Lev. 19:3) as well as that between sabbath observance and reverence for the sanctuary33 and that between the observance of the weekly sabbaths and the non-weekly annual sabbaths34. Every (weekly) sabbath the high priest was to renew the shewbread in the tabernacle35, every septennial sabbath the land was to rest36, and every quinquagenarian sabbath there was to be a restitutio in integrum37.
Just over one year after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites left Mount Sinai and went into the wilderness of Paran38, whence spies were sent out to reconnoitre the land of Canaan, the symbol of the sabbath rest which remains for the people of God. When they returned, most of them discouraged the people and incited them to murmuring, as a result of which God swore in His wrath that that generation should not enter into that land of His (sabbath) rest39. Yet the people did not on that account cease to enforce the weekly sabbath. Shortly after the return of the spies, when they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day (perhaps for firewood? — cf. Ex. 35:3), he was first imprisoned and then stoned to death40 — an illustration of the politico-governmental aspect of sabbath observance and punishment for its desecration.
Arriving at the plains of Moab (Num. 22:1), some forty years after the Exodus41, Moses was instructed that in addition to the daily burnt offering of two lambs, one in the morning and one in the evening, the people were to sacrifice two lambs on the sabbath, as well as a meat offering of flour mingled with oil and its accompanying drink offering42. Next, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh were allocated their inheritance east of the Jordan, provided they helped to expel the heathen from the land west of the Jordan, "until the Lord have given rest ("nooach") to your brethren" in Canaan, the land of sabbath rest (Deut. 3:20). Then, in the Deuteronomy Decalogue, Moses repeated the Ten Commandments, motivating the Fourth from the realm of redemption rather than from creation, "that thy manservant . . . may rest ("nooch") as well as thou".
Centuries later, Calvin, in his sermon on the Fourth Commandment according to this Deuteronomy Decalogue, wrote of the sacred time each week "when our shop windows are shut on the Lord’s day, when we travel not after the common order and fashion of men", and then asked: "If we employ the Lord’s day to make good cheer, to sport ourselves, to go to the games and pastimes, should (God in this be honoured? Is this not a mockery? Is this not an unhallowing of His name?"43
After his recital of the Deuteronomy Decalogue and its Sabbath Commandment, Moses went on to point out that the people had "not as yet come to the rest ("menoochăh")" and to their inheritance, but that when they went over the Jordan, and dwelt in the land of the inheritance, and when God later gave them "rest ("nooach") from all your enemies round about . . .; then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His Name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all . . . your [sabbath!] offerings and your sacrifices . . ."44, cf. Lev. 19:30. But if the people would not observe the law of God, they would be smitten with the sabbath curse — they would be banished from Canaan, the land of rest, amongst all nations, where they would "find no case, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest" (Deut. 28:11, 58, 65).
After Moses had seen Canaan from Mount Nebo, he died and thus entered his sabbath rest which that land typified45, whereafter the leadership of God’s people devolved on Joshua.
B. THE SABBATH FROM JOSHUA TO MALACHI
Strictly speaking, the history of the sabbath from Joshua to Malachi is post-Mosaic. As such, the post-Mosaic sabbath (except where it clearly represents the mere application of the specifically temporary Mosaic provisions) is permanent, and should rather be regarded as the post-Mosaic continuation of the pre-Mosaic (Adamic or Noachic or Abrahamic) sabbath than as the historical continuation of the temporary Mosaic ordinance. As such, the post-Mosaic sabbath is in no way abolished with the death of Christ (as is the temporary Mosaic sabbath —Col. 2:8-16), and its principles remain in force even for the New Testament Christian (cf. Heb. 4:4-11). Only for the sake of historical chronology do we therefore include the permanent post-Mosaic sabbath from Joshua to Malachi (as the legitimate continuation of the permanent pre-Mosaic sabbath from Adam to Sinai) in this present chapter directly after the specifically temporary Mosaic sabbath.
(a) The sabbath
from Joshua to David
Thus encouraged by the Lord of the Sabbath, Joshua marshalled seven priests with seven trumpets to lead the army round the walls of the besieged city of Jericho, every day for seven days (Josh. 6:3-5, 15-16) [one of which must have been a sabbath, thus proving that holy warfare is a legitimate work of necessity on the sabbath50]; and when they encompassed Jericho seven times on the seventh day, the walls of the city fell down flat.
Having captured Jericho, and ultimately "the whole land", Joshua gave the ‘sabbath land’ of Canaan to Israel as an inheritance, "and the land rested ("sh-q-t") from war"51, when "the Lord gave them rest ("wayyănach") round about"52. Yet an even deeper rest awaited God’s people than the rest of Canaan, a rest which God through David would call "To day". "For if Joshua had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day" (Heb. 4:8, marg.).
After Joshua (and the bones of Joseph) had been laid to rest (Josh. 24:29-33), a period of stagnation set in until the Angel of the Lord swore and renewed the covenant at Bochim, where the people sacrificed to the Lord (Judg. 2:1-5). But when Israel transgressed the covenant (Judg. 2:20), the Lord "sold them into the hand of Chusan-rishathaim King of Mesopotamia", until they cried unto the Lord and were delivered by Othniel to give the land rest for forty years (Judg. 3:8-11). This was to be the repeated pattern throughout this period: apostasy, repentance, deliverance, rest. For from time to time the land "rested" under a deliverer, under a type of the coming Lord of the Sabbath — for eighty years after Ehud [and/or Samgar]53, for forty years after Deborah and Barak (Judg. 5:31), and for forty years in the days of Gideon (Judg. 8:28). And later, after his seven days’ marriage feast54, Samson too attempted to restore Israel’s rest from her enemies55.
After Saul was anointed king by the prophet Samuel in the middle of the eleventh century B.C., the latter instructed him to tarry in Gilgal for seven days prior to the prophet’s sacrificing of burnt offerings (I Sam. 10:8), and to do the same for "the set time" two years later (I Sam. 13:1, 8). And after the death of Saul, the elders of Jabesh [whom Saul had previously rescued after they had asked for "seven days’ respite" from making a covenant with Nahash the Ammonite (I Sam. 11:1-3)] sent their valiant men who came and buried the king, "and fasted seven days."56
To some extent the days of David overlap the latter days of Saul. When Saul, fearful of David’s becoming king in his place, plotted to kill him, David —a man after God’s own heart57 — did not hesitate to flee on the sabbath to Ahimelech the priest of Nob, whom "Samuel the seer" had apparently ordained in his "set office . . . over the shewbread, to prepare it every sabbath". Neither did the hungry fugitive hesitate to request the priest to give him and his companions the hallowed bread of the tabernacle, which was being changed on that sabbath; and neither did David hesitate to continue his urgent flight from Saul into Gath on that very day58. For all these sabbath activities were legitimate works of necessity59.
When David became king "and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies"60, God sent the prophet Nathan to tell him, anthropomorphically61, of His Own desire to "rest" and "dwell" in a temple which David was to instruct his son to build after he himself had entered his own sabbath rest by starting to "sleep" with his fathers (2 Sam. 7:4-12). Hereupon the Lord established His covenant with David, His covenant which was to unfold through his son down to the Davidic Messiah Jesus Christ, the Temple and the Son of David, and thus "endure for ever": "an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David"62.
It was perhaps about this time or thereafter that David, like "Samuel the seer" before him, "did ordain in their set office", amongst other appointees, porters who were to be replaced "after seven days from time to time", that is, apparently on the sabbath, some of whom were to be door-keepers, and others of whom were appointed "over the shewbread, to prepare it every sabbath."63 For David took much interest in the communal worship of God’s people, and composed many Psalms to that end, some of which — almost certainly of Davidic origin — have a distinct bearing on the subject of the sabbath.
In Ps. 16, for example, David64, thinking of his own and of the Messiah’s death and thereafter, expresses his own expectation of entering into his ultimate sabbath rest: "My flesh also shall rest ("shăken") in hope, for Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [or, the grave], neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in Thy presence is fullness of joy, at Thy right hand are pleasures for ever more."65 (Ps. 16:9-11).
The words in italics above show the connection between the rest of death as the believer’s gate of entry into the eternal sabbath rest, which gate was opened in the death and resurrection of the Messianic Second Adam on the first day of the week, to Whom the Apostle Peter applied this Psalm on that other first day of the week, the Sunday of Pentecost66, and the day of rest.
In Ps. 94, the writer, probably David67, exclaims: "Blessed is the ran whom Thou chastenest, . . . that Thou mayest give him rest ("sh-q-t") from the days of adversity" (Ps. 94:13). But it is Ps. 95, almost certainly written by David68, that is of by far the greatest importance to the sabbath. For after praising the Lord God, the Creator of the earth and the sea [cf. Ex. 20:8-11] in the first few verses (Ps. 95:l-7a), the writer entreats his addressees not to harden their hearts, as their fathers did in the wilderness (cf. Ex. 17:2-7; Nu. 14:22), unto whom God sware ["nishbba' thth'", cf. "shęba'", seven] in His wrath, that they should not enter into His rest ("menoochăthi") (Ps. 95:8, 11).
The descendants of the wilderness generation had of course, certainly entered into the "menoochăh" or rest of Canaan, Deut. 12:9-12, yet their descendants, David’s addressees, who were still in Canaan, were nevertheless enjoined: "To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted Me, . . . unto whom I sware in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest." (Ps. 95:7b, 8, 11). This proves that the "menoochăh" of Canaan was never the ultimate rest, not even for the Exodus generation, "for if Joshua [who led the people into Canaan] had given them rest, then would He not afterward [in David] have spoken of another day ["To day"]"69. So the "rest" of Canaan pointed to the deeper rest in God through conversion ("To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart"), and, according to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, to the even deeper rest (or "keeping of a sabbath") that "remaineth . . . to the people of God" which was instituted for man when "God did rest the seventh day from all His works"70.
Ps. 116, probably Davidic71, is also important. The appropriate passage is to some extent parallel to the thought of Pss. 16 and 94 (q.v.), and reads: "Return unto thy rest ("mănôach"), O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 116:7-9).
However, even though David was not favoured with the privilege of building the temple in which the Lord was to "rest", he did assist in the preparations for its construction. After sacrificing on the Jerusalem threshingfloor of Oman the Jebusite (I Chron. 21:28-29), the site of the future temple, David commanded the masons and timbermen to gather together the raw materials for this project, so that his son Solomon, "a man of rest", could build the temple for the Lord Who had given Israel "rest on every side" (I Chron. 22:2-5, 9, 18).
When David was old, he appointed his son Solomon king. After convening a gathering of all the princes of Israel together with the priests and the Levites, he told them all that as "the Lord God of Israel hath given rest unto His people and also to the Levites; [so that] they shall no more carry the tabernacle"; that as God had lessened the Levites’ duties, they should nevertheless continue, amongst other duties, "to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the Lord in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts . . . and . . . they should keep the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation" (I Chron. 23:1-2, 25-26, 3 1-32).
David later declared, almost at the end of his life: "As for me, I had in mine heart to build a house of rest ("beth menoochăh") for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God . . . But God said unto me, ‘Thou shalt not build an house for My Name, because thou hast been a man of war . . . Solomon, thy son, he shall build My house and My courts . . . Moreover, I will establish his kingdom for ever, if he be constant to do My commandments . . ." (I Chron. 28:2-3, 6-7).
So Solomon, the "man of rest" (I Chron. 22:9, 18), was ordained to build the "house of rest" (I Chron. 28:2). And the sabbath-keeping (I Chron. 23:25-26 3 1-32) David died, knowing that God would not suffer His soul to see corruption, but, through faith in the coming Son of David, the Lord of the Sabbath, He would show him "the path of life" (Ps. 16:9-11), the path of the eternal life of the sabbath rest remaining for David and the people of God.
(b) The sabbath
from Solomon to Hosea
When the building was finished, the temple was dedicated before all the men of Israel in the seventh month (I Kings 8:2), when Solomon prayed that the covenant-keeping God would protect and forgive His covenantal people their sins (2 Chron. 6:14f), and at the end of which prayer he supplicated: "Now therefore arise, O Lord God, into Thy resting place ("nooach")" (2 Chron. 6:41); whereupon, as on a later Pentecost ("Sunday") sabbath72, "fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house" (2 Chron. 7:1). Then Solomon blessed all the congregation of Israel, saying: "Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest ["menoochăh"] unto His people Israel, according to all that He promised" (2 Kings 8:54-56f); and he led the people in sacrificing thousands of animals while the Levites praised the Lord on their musical instruments73.
This was followed by a seven days’ feast, "and in the eighth day they made a solemn assembly [a foreshadowing of Sunday!]: for they kept the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. And on the three and twentieth day of the seventh month he sent the people away into their tents, glad and merry in heart for the goodness that the Lord had shewed"74 [all of which foreshadowed the life, death and resurrection of the Lord of the Sabbath Who would come to His temple and then consecrate His church as His living temple75], after which the Lord immediately renewed the covenant with Solomon, promising to "stablish the throne of thy kingdom, according as I have covenanted with David thy father"76.
Twenty years later, Solomon continued to offer burnt offerings on the temple altar "according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths" (2 Chron. 8:1, 12-13), and he appointed the temple officials, including those responsible for sabbath duties77.
It was probably Solomon78 who wrote Ps. 132 in which the Psalmist petitions the Lord to remember His promises to David that his descendants should always rule the covenantal people (Ps. 132:1, 10-12, 17). For the writer resolved not to sleep or to slumber until he had found "an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob" (Ps. 132:4-5). He described the tabernacle as God’s "rest" ["menoochăh"]79, and the words: "Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah, we found it in the fields of the wood. We will go into His tabernacles: we will worship at His footstool. Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest" (Ps. 132:6-8), seem to have distinct Messianic reference to the coming Lord of the Sabbath80.
Ps. 118 is also definitely Messianic, but the author is unknown81. Whatever its immediate significance, at a deeper level it also refers to the excruciating suffering of the coming Messiah in His death struggles (Ps. 118:10-17), but also to His conquest of death in His resurrection on "the Lord’s doing . . . the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it"82 — a clear prophecy of the Messianic appointment of Resurrection Sunday as the eschatological day of joy and gladness in praise of "the Lord Which hath shewed us light" (Ps. 118:27).
The superscription83 above the anonymous Ps. 92 reads: "A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day". It is a Psalm of sabbath praise to God including musical accompaniment84, magnifying "the works of Thy hands"85, cf. Ex. 20:8-11. Anchored in creation, the Psalm also looks forward down through regular (sabbath) worship "in the house of the Lord"86, past "old age"87 to the eschatological sabbath88, the coming Day of the Lord on which "the workers of iniquity . . . shall be destroyed for ever: But Thou, Lord, art most high for evermore"89.
The words of the Davidic king of Jerusalem90 in Ecclesiastes have the problem of the futility of labour to the unbeliever91 as one of their main themes, and regard the state of non-being as even more of a "rest" ("n-ch-th") than the existence after death of a wealthy and long-lived man whose "soul be not filled with good" (Eccl. 6:3-5). This throws light on another dimension of the sabbath — the eternal restlessness of the wicked, especially in the next life.
After the death of Solomon and the division of his empire into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, in spite of increasing moral decline in general and (ultimately) sabbath desecration in particular, God maintained His covenant and His sabbath, particularly in the southern kingdom of Judah.
After the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam and grandson Abia, the latter’s son Asa ascended the Judean throne at the end of the tenth century B.C. Because "Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God", God saw to it that, "in his days the land was quiet ("sh-q-t") ten years" (2 Chron. 14:1-2). "The land had rest, . . . because the Lord had given him rest" (2 Chron. 14:6-7), because Asa and his people entered into a covenant and swore to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart92.
It was the same in the reign of Asa’s son Jehoshaphat. The "fear of God was on all the kingdoms . . . so the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet ("sh-q-t"), for his God gave him rest ("nooach") round about" (2 Chron. 20:29-30). The sabbath was still being piously observed by the godly. For at some time after the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat’s reign, a "great woman" of Shunem (whose son suddenly died) requested her husband: "Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God [Elisha], and come again." But her husband replied: "Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath." But she insisted: "It shall be well", and so she saddled an ass and, accompanied by a servant, "she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel"93.
This simple episode proves, firstly, that the sabbath was still being celebrated by the godly in the days of Jehoshaphat. Secondly, it proves that prophets like Elisha often officiated at (local) religious meetings on the sabbath. And thirdly, it probably94 establishes that works of mercy [such as healing] or religion [such as performing miracles] and works of necessity [such as travelling the twenty-eight miles95 from Shunem to Carmel] are permissible on the sabbath.
J(eh)oram the son of Jehoshaphat, however, was a weak king, and his wife Athaliah was a wicked woman like her mother queen Jezebel of Israel96. When their son Ahaziali [who "had no power to keep still ("'-ts-r") the kingdom"] was slain by Jehu after reigning for only one year over Judah, his mother Athaliah attempted to usurp the throne by destroying all of Ahaziah’s sons, her own grandsons. But Jehoshabeath, Athaliah’s own daughter and the wife of the priest Jehoiada, succeeded in concealing her brother J(eh)oash [the only remaining heir apparent] in the temple for six long years97.
However, in the seventh year of queen Athaliah’s reign, Jehoiada summoned "the Levites out of all the cities of Judah, and the chief of the fathers of Israel, and they came to Jerusalem. And all the congregation made a covenant with the king [Joash] in the house of the Lord", in terms of which "the king’s son shall reign, as the Lord hath said of the sons of David" (2 Chron. 23:1-3). A third part of the priests and the Levites were to enter the house of the Lord on the sabbath as porters98 of the doors, a third part were to be at the king’s house, and a third at the gate of the foundation99, namely, to protect the young king and to put to death whosoever should then enter God’s house (2 Chron. 23:4-7).
"So the Levites and all Judah did according to all things that Jehoiada the priest had commanded, and took every man his men that were to come in on the sabbath with them that were to go out on the sabbath: for Jehoiada the high priest dismissed not the courses"100.
Arming the captains of hundreds on the sabbath day (2 Chron. 23:9), Jehoiada arranged them round about young Joash in the house of the Lord, and proceeded to "put the crown upon him" (2 Kings 11:12) and to anoint him king (2 Chron. 23:10-11). When queen Athaliah came into the house of the Lord to investigate the tumult, she was summarily arrested, taken outside, and slain at "the horse gate by the king’s house" (2 Chron. 23:12-15). Then Jehoiada immediately "make a covenant between him, and between all the people, and between the king, that they should be the Lord’s people" (2 Chron. 23:16). The house of Baal was broken down, new officials were appointed "to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord" in God’s house (2 Chron. 23:18), "and all the people of the land rejoiced: and the city was quiet ("sh-q-t"), after that they had slain Athaliah with the sword" (2 Chron. 23:21).
From the above record of the days of Joash, it may readily be ascertained (firstly) that at that time the priests and Levites changed "the courses" regularly every sabbath day, and that they also performed sacred work in the sanctuary on that day. Secondly, it is clear that on the sabbath day door-porters were regularly on duty in the sanctuary, and that guards were also apparently on regular duty both at the king’s house and at the gate of the foundation — thus indicating the necessity for the maintenance of civil law and order even on the sabbath. Thirdly, it can be seen that a coup d’etat was in order even on the sabbath for the purpose of ridding the land of the wicked tyrant queen, who was summarily executed rather than risk a counter-revolution by sparing her till after the sabbath. Fourthly, the covenant was renewed between God and His people on the sacred day, as a result of which the city became "quiet".
According to many commentators, the almost undatable prophecy of Joel was proclaimed in the first half101 of the reign of Joash, who was succeeded at the beginning of the eighth century by his son Amaziah and about a further twenty years later by his grandson Uzziah. Joel records that after God had punished His apostate children with plagues of locusts, heat and drought (Joel 1:17-20), He called them unto repentance and forecast the eschatological outpouring of His Spirit like the latter rain (Joel 2:15, 23, 28-32) [fulfilled centuries later on the Pentecost Sunday sabbath102] and the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord, the day of judgement103 [fulfilled in principle on the Resurrection Sunday sabbath between Calvary and Pentecost104], which Day of the Lord is also forecast by many of the subsequent prophets such as Obadiah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Malachi105.
Meanwhile, the sabbath was being horribly desecrated in the northern kingdom of Israel about the middle of the eighth century B.C. The ordinance was still being observed outwardly, but it was accompanied by a total lack of inward piety. Israel was being threatened by her enemies, and longed for the arrival of the eschatological time of redemption. But: "Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord!", thundered the prophet Amos. "To what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light" (Amos 5:18). For the people "kept" the (seventh-day) sabbath, which pointed to the coming (Eighth) Day of the Lord, yet the people of Israel longed for the sabbath to pass so that they could sell corn and wheat by false weight and fleece their neighbours on the morrow. And they even sought to fleece God of His sabbath. Hence God would punish them by causing the land to tremble and by turning their feasts — including their sabbaths — into mourning106.
About ten years later107, God again announced His judgement against the formalistic sabbath observance of the northern house of Israel, but this time through the prophet Hosea: "I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feasts days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts" (Hosea 2:11 ). Here the Lord (literally) declared: "I will cause all her sabbaths . . . to sabbath"108. Yet even amidst all threats of impending destruction. God promised His forgiveness on their repentance:
"Come, and let us return to the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight . . . and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth . . . O Ephraim, O Judah, . . . they like Adam have transgressed the covenant"109.
In a certain sense, eschatologically, God did cause Israel’s (Saturday) sabbaths to cease110, caused them to yield to the Messianic Sunday when the Second Adam kept the covenant on God’s people’s behalf by Himself being torn and smitten (in their stead at the commencement of that last Saturday sabbath), by being raised up on the third day unto life (on that first Sunday sabbath morn), and by sending His Divine Spirit as the latter and former rain unto the earth (on that first Pentecost Sunday after His ascension into heaven)111.
(c) The sabbath
in the days of Isaiah
Isaiah likened the rulers of Judah to those of Sodom — for their hands were crimson with the blood of the widows and the fatherless whom they had oppressed. But to salve their conscience, the covenant-breaking leaders had continued to observe the covenantal signs and feasts, including the sabbath, and to perform the prescribed offerings. Hence God proceeded to denounce His hypocritical, formalistically sabbath-conscious people through His prophet:
"Bring no more vain oblations, incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth: they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them"112.
From this passage it is obvious how the Lord detests an outward "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:5), particularly in respect of sabbath observance. As Isaiah’s older contemporary the prophet Micah had also remarked to the covenant-breaking people of God, they should rather "arise . . . and depart; for this is not your rest ("menoochăh"); because it is polluted, it shall destroy you" (Micah 2:10).
Under Jotham’s son, the wicked king Ahaz, the situation worsened dramatically He not only instituted idolatry, but also set about destroying the true worship of the Lord. To win the affections of the heathen king of Assyria, he even undertook sweeping alterations to the house of the Lord — "the covert for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king’s entry from without, turned he from the house of the Lord for the king of Assyria"113. So they thus insulted Lord of the Sabbath righteously announced terrifying prophecies of the people’s future sufferings at the hands of Assyria and Babylon: "Howl ye: for the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty" (Is. 13:6).
Yet the Lord also mercifully revealed optimistic Messianic and eschatological perspectives. For after the prophesied Babylonian captivity, God’s people would return to their land (Is. 14:2). God would then give them rest ("nooach") from their sorrow and from their fear and from the hard bondage ("'abôdăh") in which they were made to serve ("'-b-d"), so that they would then take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say: "How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! ("sh-b-th"!) . . . The whole earth is at rest ("nooch"), and is quiet ("sh-q-t"): they break forth into singing"114. Indeed, there was reason to sing. For even beyond the return from captivity, the coming Messiah was distinctly if distantly discerned: Emmanuel, Who was to be born of a virgin (Is. 7:14); the Great Light of Galilee Who was to be the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:1-2, 6); the Rod and Branch of Jesse, the Lord of the Sabbath Himself on Whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest ["nooch"] (Is. 11:1-2) and Whose rest ["menoochăh"] would be glorious (Is. 11:10).
In the days of Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, Isaiah prophesied that the wicked city of Tyre (Is. 23:12) would have no rest ("nooch"). But to Ephraim he delivered the following word of the Lord:
"‘This is the rest ("menoochah") wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest ("nooch"); and this is the refreshing ("margge'cah"): yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them . . . here a little, there a little: that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.’ Wherefore, hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death, and with hell we are at agreement . . .‘, therefore, thus saith the Lord God, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion for a Foundation Stone, a tried Stone, a precious Corner Stone, a sure Foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste . . . And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand’" (Is. 28:12-18).
The immediate context of these verses, like that of Hos. 6:1-7, is, of course, the then apostasy of God’s people — in Isaiah’s day, their God-dishonouring covenant with the hell-bound Egyptians against the threats of Assyria115. Yet behind that immediate context [like that of Isa. 14 and Ezek. 28 where the devil is discerned behind the kings of Babylon and of Tyre116], behind the "drunkards of Ephraim" (Isa. 28:1, 3, 7), one discerns Adam’s disobedience117 and his "covenant with death and hell" (v. 15) and the Second Adam’s disannulment thereof (v. 18), when He, the tried Stone and precious Corner Stone (v. 16), was laid in Zion on Resurrection Sunday morn, the new sabbath, the "day which the Lord hath made"118. And so, looking beyond the immediate context, looking back on Adam’s disobedience and looking forward to the Second Adam’s obedience to the covenant, Isaiah could truly say in respect of the coming Lord of the Sabbath: "This is the Rest Wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest" (Is. 28:12). "In returning and rest ("nachath") shall ye be saved; in quietness ("hashqet") and in confidence" (Is. 30:15).
The prophecy in Isa. 32:13-18 concerning the terrible destruction of Jerusalem and her inhabitants also hearkens back to the curse on creation. For the Lord prophesied through Isaiah that "upon the land of My people shall come up thorns and briers . . . UNTIL the Spirit be poured upon us from on high119, an optimistic eschatological perspective to be fulfilled particularly in the birth (Luke 1:72, 78), death and Sunday resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of His Spirit on Pentecost Sunday120, when "the work of righteousness shall be peace ("shalom"); and the effect ("'ibôdah") of righteousness, quietness ("hashket") and assurance for ever ("'ad 'ôlam"). And My people shall dwell . . . in quiet resting places ("menoochôth sha’anannôth"); when it shall hail, coming down on the forest", Isa. 32:17-19; cf. Acts 2: 1-4. And in the next few chapters, the coming of "the day of the Lord’s vengeance" (Is. 34:8) and the resulting cosmic peace (Is. 35) conclude the prophet’s then current thoughts.
The following three chapters (Isa. 36-39) describe events in the life of the good king Hezekiah, which are also covered in detail in II Chr. 29-32. In II Chr. 29 it is recorded how Hezekiah immediately repaired God’s house in the first month of the first year of his reign121 and had the temple cleansed in eight days, beginning on the first day of the first month, and thereafter had the house of the Lord sanctified in another eight days, the work being finished on the sixteenth Nisan122, too late to hold the Passover (2 Chron. 29:17), which Hezekiah nevertheless commanded should be held on the fourteenth of the next month (2 Chron. 30:3, 13-15), and which was then followed by the keeping of "the feast of the unleavened bread seven days with great gladness", to the accompaniment of priestly praise and instrumental music, and together with peace offerings and confession of sin to the Lord, followed by the keeping of yet another "seven days with gladness" (2 Chron. 30:3, 13-15, 21-22).
Having "set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment123 of David" (2 Chron. 29:25), "Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites . . . to minister", and "he appointed also the king’s portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the Lord" (2 Chron. 31:2-3).
Six years later124, Israel and its capital Samaria fell to the king of Assyria in 722 B.C., and another eight years later, all the fenced cities of Judah fell too (2 Kings 18:13). Yet amidst all these political threats, Jerusalem itself was spared, for "Hezekiah humbled himself . . ., so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah" (2 Chron. 32: 26).
After this description of some events in the life of Hezekiah, Isaiah next looked even beyond the coming wrath of the Lord, beyond the Babylonian captivity. In so-called "Deutero-Isaiah"125, Isaiah, still prophesying in the days of Hezekiah, swept his prophetic gaze down through the future centuries in his optimistic eschatological description of the restoration of the remnant of God’s people to their own land after the divine wrath of the captivity. After the captivity, Babylon would be destroyed126. Cyrus the Persian would be raised up by God to redeem His people127, and God would restore them to their land of Palestine128 where — through the Messianic merits of the "Suffering Servant", the coming Lord of the Sabbath (Isa. 53) — Zion would have a glorious future129. For God would always remain faithful and merciful. Even as He previously swore "that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth", so did He also through Isaiah swear centuries later unto His people: "My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of peace be removed" (Is. 54:9-10).
Two chapters later — after a plea for repentance (in ch. 55) — the prophet disclosed what is involved from man’s side, if he is to enjoy the benefits of this "covenant of peace". After insisting on judgement and justice, the prophet declared: "Blessed is the man . . . that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it"130. The covenant was about to be progressively universalized, extended to eunuchs and strangers and ultimately fulfilled in Christ:
(1) "Thus saith the Lord, ‘Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed. (2) Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. (3) Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, "The Lord hath utterly separated me from His people": neither let the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree"’. (4) For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep My sabbaths, and choose the things that please Me, and take hold of My covenant; (5) ‘Even unto them will I give in Mine house and within My walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. (6) Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the Name of the Lord, to be His servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of My covenant; (7) Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar; for Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.’ (8) The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, ‘Yet wilt I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.’" (Is. 56:1-8; cf. Mark 11:17)
As Bickersteth points out, Is. 56:2 "must refer to the moral duties specified in the preceding verse; so that, as the passage refers to the future times of the Christian Church, it is deserving of particular notice that the Sabbath is not only spoken of as an institution still existing in that more enlarged and spiritual condition of society, but as partaking of a moral character, which, indeed, from its place in the midst of the Decalogue, it possessed from the first, and demanding a sacred observance . . . This prophecy pointing to a period when the house of God was to be called an house of prayer for all people; and at that period the man who should keep the Sabbath from polluting it should inherit the blessing of God." And commenting on Is. 56:6, Bickersteth states: "This is a particular phase of the same prophecy containing a distinct promise of the Divine favour and acceptance being extended to Gentile converts, and in this part of it a repetition of the sabbath, in a manner so explicit that it is scarcely possible to imagine a stronger testimony could be given to the continued observance of the Sabbath in the Christian Church"131.
In the next chapter (Isa. 57), the prophet dealt with the eschatological destinies of the righteous and the wicked. "The righteous perisheth", he declared, yet no one considered "that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come." For "he shall enter into peace ("shalom"): they shall rest ("nooch") in their beds." Then the Lord promised to "restore comforts unto him and to his mourners", to give "Peace, peace ("shalom") to him that is far off, and to . . . heal him. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest ("hashqet"). . . ‘There is no peace ("shalom")’, saith my God, ‘to the wicked132.
The following chapter (Isa. 58) is condemnatory and parenetic. There the prophet accused the people of gross unrighteousness, and terminated his indictment with the charge of sabbath desecration and a call to repair the breach and to restore the paths"133.
The people, he accused, had been trampling God’s sabbath under their feet. They had been doing their own pleasures on the holy day of the Lord. They had been dishonouring God’s holy day and thereby dishonouring God Himself. They had sought their own enjoyments and spoken their own minds as to how the sabbath should be kept. Their formal and lifeless sabbath observance had become burdensome to them — and to the Lord, and they had lost sight of its deep eschatological significance. And so God called the sabbath-desecrators unto repentance:
"If thou turn away ("thashib") thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure ("chafatsęyka") on My holy day; and call the sabbath a delight ("'ôneg"), the holy (day) of the Lord honourable ("mekubbad"); and shalt honour Him ("wekibbadthô"), not doing thine own ways ("derakzyka"), nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shall thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride ("wehirkabththika") upon the high places of the earth ("bămovthe 'arzts") and feed thee ("weha'akalththika") with the heritage of Jacob thy father".
The language here used is somewhat figurative, yet the following propositions would nevertheless surely seem to be taught in this passage: —
1. The sabbath sin: Man does as he wishes ("ch-f-ts") on God’s holy day, ignoring all divine injunctions and rationalizing to excuse his own dishonourable behaviour.
2. The sabbath warning: Man is commanded to repent of his wickedness and "turn away" (his foot) from desecrating God’s holy day and to "delight" himself in the sabbath and its Lord.
3. The sabbath goal: man is rewarded in sabbath-keeping; week by week he moves through time towards his eschatological destiny — his dominion over the new earth ["ride (cf. Jer. 17:25) on the high places of the earth"], and his enjoyment of the covenantal benefits ["the heritage of Jacob", cf. Gen. 28:13f].
In the so-called "Trito-Isaiah" (Isa. 60-66), the prophecies reach a Christocentric eschatological climax. Already in ch. 42, God had announced that He would call His Messianic Servant to give Him "for a covenant of the people" (Is. 42:6), and cause Him to "magnify the law and make it honourable" (Is. 42:21) [rather than abolish it, as the Antinomians so falsely teach]. But in the first verses of Isa. 61 are found the very lines of Christ’s first recorded public sermon in Galilee when, "as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the sabbath and began to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:17-19).
Finally, Isaiah closed his book with a glimpse of the beginning [and, in the opinion of many scholars133a, also of the end] of the New Testament dispensation. "Where is the place of My rest ("maqom menoocaathi")?", the Lord asked rhetorically, Is. 66:1. Undoubtedly this question was partially answered by the Lord Himself when His Holy Spirit later tabernacled in His Incarnate Son134, yet that same Spirit thereafter tabernacled in His Church, and will also tabernacle eschatologically in the New Jerusalem on the new earth (Rev. 21:10. For at the end of the same chapter (Isa. 66:22-4), God declared His intention to make "the new heavens and the new earth", when "it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another", all flesh shall come to worship before Him. Undoubtedly, this prophecy was at least partially fulfilled after the first advent of the Messiah (cf. Isa. 66:1, above), particularly as the "new heavens and the new earth", i.e. the re-creation of these heavens and this earth, in principle commenced with Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection135. The going forth of the saved to look upon the carcasses of the transgressors is highly figurative, and, of course, quite inapplicable to conditions on the new earth (Is. 66:22-24). Similar problems arise in considering the passage of time "from one sabbath to another" on such a new earth"136, and these words are perhaps best taken to refer to Sunday sabbath observance after the recreation of the (new) earth (in principle), between Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of all flesh. Particularly in the New Testament age, between the heavenly ascension and second coming of the Messiah, and particularly as a result of the execution of the Great Commission to preach the Gospel to all nations and to every creature (Matt. 28:19 and Mark 16:16), "it shall come to pass, that . . . from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me [namely on the sabbath — from one sabbath to another], saith the Lord" (Is. 66:23). Hence the sabbath will more and more be kept throughout the New Testament age as more and more nations are converted to Christ and as "all flesh" comes to worship the Lord of the Sabbath (Is. 56:2-7 and 66:12, 19, 22-23 cf. Mark 2:28 and 11:17). Yet the verses Is. 66:22-23 themselves also clearly apply to "the new earth"137, and so any EXCLUSIVE Verdiesseitigung (or: "this-world-ification") thereof to the EXCLUSION of its equally jenseitige (or: "other-worldly") signification, is impermissible exegesis [thus Calvin138 and Berkouwer139]. See too pp. 38 and 58 above, and pp. 238-239 below.
Thus the testimony of Isaiah concerning conditions in Judah from the death of King Uzziah just after the middle of the eighth century through the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz and Hezekiah down to perhaps140 the end of the first quarter of the seventh century B.C., describes a state of progressive sabbath desecration. Yet the prophet constantly called the people to repentance and spiritual sabbath observance by reaching back to the days of Noah on the one hand (Isa. 54:9-10), and on the other hand by stretching his eschatological perspectives past the captivity and the restoration to the Messianic period and indeed even unto the end of time.
(d) The sabbath
from Jeremiah to Daniel
Yet Jeremiah, called to the prophethood some five years previously and destined to proclaim God’s Word faithfully for some forty years in all143, was not deceived by the repeated covenant-breaking of Judah even in spite of their momentary "repentance" at the time of Josiah’s Passover144. The people constantly transgressed the covenant of circumcision, he said, and they must circumcise the foreskins of their hearts145. He enjoined them to walk in the old paths, and thus find rest ("marggô'a") for their souls (Jer. 6:16). But the people would not do this, and the national sins steadily increased until sabbath desecration had to be avenged by God’s sabbath curse — banishment (Lev. 26:32-5). Yet God mercifully spared good king Josiah that sorrow, by gathering him unto his fathers and into his grave in peaceful sabbath rest before the storm broke (2 Kings 22:3, 20).
After the death of Josiah, with Judah torn between nationalism on the one hand and capitulation to the powers of Egypt or Babylon on the other, events moved rapidly from bad to worse. Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, succeeded to the throne in 608 B.C., only to be deposed and replaced by his brother Jeholakim the same year146. Under the latter’s reign, sabbath observance reached an all-time nadir. For as Calvin has remarked147, previously, from Uzziah’s death to Hezekiah, the sabbath was still outwardly observed, even though it was inwardly desecrated. But under Jehoiakim, even the very outward observance had ceased!
Instead of keeping the sabbath, the kings and all Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem had apparently resorted to trading on God’s holy day148, and were carrying burdens ("thisoo massa") (which probably included merchandise) in, through and out of all the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day149. The sabbath was thus being publicly desecrated in the gates of the city. But it was also being desecrated in private life. For the people were working and carrying forth burdens out of their own houses too150. The sabbath was not being hallowed as enjoined by the covenant, and the people had become stubborn, unteachable and stiff-necked (Jer. 17:22-23).
In these circumstances, God commanded Jeremiah to go and stand in the gate of the children of the people through which the kings passed, as well as in all the other gates of the city (Jer. 17:19), and to warn both king and people to take heed, to cease their trade and burden-bearing and all other work both publicly and privately and to hallow the sabbath day (Jer. 17:21-22). If they would heed His voice, God promised His people a sabbath blessing, namely that Davidic kings and princes and men of Judah and indeed all the inhabitants of Jerusalem would come from all the surrounding environs bringing (sabbath?!) offerings and sacrifices of praise unto the house of the Lord, and that they would enter the city gates riding in chariots and on horses (Jer. 17:25-26). But if His people would not heed and continued to transgress His covenant, God promised them a sabbath curse: He would kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of the city which would even devour the palaces of Jerusalem (Jer. 17:27). The sabbath blessing, which included "riding in chariots", in addition to its diesseitige (or: "this-world-ly") significance, also involved a jenseitige (or: "next-world-ly") eschatological promise (cf. Isa. 58:14); and the same applies in respect of the sabbath curse’s "unquenchable fire", which of course, achieves its deepest jenseitige (or "next-world-ly") fulfilment in the restless fires of hell151.
But the people would not heed. And so, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, just before the end of the seventh century B.C., Jeremiah announced the sabbath curse of the Babylonian captivity152. The nation would serve the king of Babylon for seventy (seven X 10) years, during which time the whole land was to be a desolation, during which time it could be "compensated" for the sabbath years of which it had been deprived153. Yet in the midst of His wrath, God also remembered His mercy154, for He promised to punish the Babylonians after seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12), and to restore His people to their land. When the sabbath curse had run its full term, "Jacob shall return, and be in rest and at ease ("weshaqat wesha'ianan") (Jer. 46:27), and the strong Redeemer would then "give rest ("hirgi'a") to the land, and disquiet ("hirgiv") the inhabitants of Babylon" (Jer. 50:34). And ultimately, God would establish a "New covenant" to write the law on His people’s heart through the merits of "the Lord our Righteousness", the coming Messianic Lord of the Sabbath Himself (Jer. 31-33).
By 602 B.C., the Babylonians had gained such a mastery over the rival power of Egypt, that Jehoiakim gave his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. However just after he had subsequently very unwisely rebelled against the latter in 597, he conveniently died, leaving his son Jehoiachin to face the wrath of Babylon at the tender age of eighteen. Understandably, he surrendered, and was deported to Babylon together with the best citizens of Judah, leaving Nebuchadnezzar to install his uncle Zedekiah on the throne of Judah in the same year, to reign over the leaderless remnant as a puppet viceroy to Babylon155.
The end came soon afterwards when Zedekiah and the people apparently broke the sabbath covenant in a particularly vile way. The Mosaic law demanded the liberation of all Hebrew slaves in the seventh or sabbath year. The king had made a covenant with all his people to liberate all the Hebrew slaves156, but after this had been done, the slave-owners, no doubt feeling economically depressed, suddenly illegally and heartlessly re-enslaved their erstwhile vassals. Thereupon the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying that because the people of Judah had transgressed the (sabbath!) covenant157, He would give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, and destroy Jerusalem by fire and make the cities of Judah a desolation.
This came about in 586, when the Lord took away His tabernacle, destroyed His places of assembly, and "caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion" (Lam. 2:6). Judah now went into captivity and, dwelling amongst the heathen, "she findeth no rest ("manoach")" (Lam. 1:3). "Jerusalem remembered . . . when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, and laughed at her sabbaths"158. "Our necks are under persecution", complained the captives. "We labour ("yaga'noo") and have no rest ("lô' hoonach lanoo")" (Lam. 5:5).
But although the previous inhabitants of the holy land had no rest after their banishment, at least their erstwhile land itself did. For now the much misused land of sabbath rest could "sabbath". Now Canaan could rest — "to fulfil the Word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept the sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years" (2 Chron. 36:21).
Among those taken into the first stage of captivity with Jehoiachin in 597, was the priest Ezekiel, who was dramatically called to start prophesying five years later, when encamped "among the captives by the river Chebar" in Babylonia (Ez. 1:1-3), after which call he "sat and remained there astonished among them seven days" (Ez. 3:15).
After seven days, the Word of the Lord came unto Ezekiel (Ez. 3:16) concerning the fall of Jerusalem and the causes thereof (Ez. 4:24), and came to him repeatedly on this subject over the next four years159. Not unsurprisingly, one of the last of this series of prophecies on this subject dealt with the matter of the sabbath and how it had been desecrated by God’s people ever since the exodus from Egypt.
When certain of the elders came to Ezekiel to enquire of the Lord (Ez. 20:1) — no doubt to enquire how long their punishment of captivity, etc., was still to be endured — God replied to them through his prophet that He would not be enquired of by them, and proceeded to relate the causes of the captivity, namely "the abominations of the fathers" (Ez. 20:4-5). Long ago, declared the prophet, God had not only brought His undeserving people forth out of Egypt, but He also gave them His sabbaths as a covenantal sign ("'ôth") between Him and them that they might sanctify them and know that He was the Lord160. Yet the people defied God’s statutes and "greatly polluted" ("chilleloo") His sabbaths (Ez. 20:13). But because He was merciful, God nevertheless spared that first generation which He delivered from Egypt (Ez. 20:17).
Then God enjoined their children, the second generation, to keep His statutes and "hallow" His "sabbaths" as the sign of the covenant, but here again His sabbaths were disobeyed and polluted by His children (Ez. 20:18, 21, 24). Yet nevertheless God graciously brought those sabbath-breakers into the sabbath land of Canaan. But when they persevered in their iniquity, He gave them over to their own wicked idolatries, and ultimately scattered them amongst the heathen (Ez. 20:23).
Israel had broken God’s covenant, but God could not break it from His side. For He is faithful! Therefore He announced that He would continue to rule His covenantal people with His mighty hand — even in their captivity. Nay more, He would gather them out of the countries wherein they were scattered, and cause them to pass under the rod, and bring them "into the bond ("masorzth") of the covenant" (Ez. 20:33-37).
Next, the sins of the "city of Blood" are described in greater detail. That city (of Jerusalem) had "despised ("bazith") Mine holy things, and . . . profaned My sabbaths" (Ez. 22:8); indeed, even "her priests . . . have put no difference between the holy and the profane, . . . and have hid their eyes ("hę'limoo 'enehzm") from My sabbaths, . . . therefore have I poured out My indignation upon them" (Ez. 22:26, 31). And then God accused both Samaria and Jerusalem of having defiled His sanctuary and of having profaned His sabbaths (Ez. 23:38).
However, the Lord not only chastised His disobedient covenantal people through Ezekiel. He also promised to restore them. In a message fulfilled in its deepest sense on Pentecost Sunday, God prophesied:
"Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be My people, and I will be your God.. . . Neither will I hide My face any more from them: for I have poured out My Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God"161.
Transported next in visions to the land of Israel (Ez. 40:2), Ezekiel was shown the new temple of the holy city. Inside, the altar was to be purged and purified seven days’ long, and "upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make . . . burnt offerings upon the altar" (Ez. 43:25-27). The priests were to be cleansed for seven days before ministering in the sanctuary, and their duties were to include keeping God’s laws and hallowing His sabbaths (Ez. 43:24-27).
The duties of the prince in the new Temple were to have great bearing upon the sabbath, for "it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths" (Ez. 45:17). As regards the feasts, the Passover would then be held in the fourteenth of the first month and was to last for seven days, during which time seven bullocks and seven rams would be offered daily as a burnt offering to the Lord (Ez. 45:21-23). The same procedure would be adopted in respect of "the feast of seven days" (i.e., the Feast of Tabernacles) in the seventh month on the fifteenth [the first day of a (third) hebdomadal cycle] day of the month (Ez. 45:25). As regards the weekly sabbath, the gate of the inner court facing east, shut on the six working days, would then be opened, thus enabling the prince to enter and worship at the threshold and bring his ‘offering (of six lambs and one ram, = seven offerings) unto the Lord in the sabbath day". The gate was not to be shut until sabbath evening, thus also enabling "the people of the land" to "worship at the door of this gate before the Lord"162.
The captivity was also experienced by Ezekiel’s younger contemporary163 Daniel, whose prophecies are fraught with singular difficulties regarding their interpretation. While rejecting the unconvincing arguments of Seventh-day Adventists164 that the "times and laws" which the little horn (Dan. 7:7-11, 19-25) will "think to change" is in fact the group of apostate Sunday-keeping Churches which [via the Pope or Emperor Constantine] "think to change" the "times and laws" of the Saturday sabbath, it is nevertheless instructive to note that these laws may (especially in the light of Dan. 9, q.v. below) have some obscure sabbath significance, particularly as they would be given into the hand of the little horn "until a time ["'iddan" — singular] and times ["'iddanin” — plural165] and the dividing of time ("'pelag 'iddan")", which possibly means: one plus two plus one-half, that is, three and one-half, or precisely half of the sabbatical number seven. The same applies to the "time, times and a half ("mô'ed mo’adim wachetsi")" of Dan. 12:7, cf. Rev. 12:14. Further than this, however, the significance of this term must fall outside the scope of this present thesis166.
Equally difficult of interpretation, and perhaps of even more sabbath significance, are the prophecies of Dan. 9. The chapter commences with a statement that Daniel had understood the "sabbath year" prophecy of Jeremiah that the Lord "would accomplish seventy years ( seven X 10) in the desolations of Jerusalem"167, and continues with Daniel’s acknowledgement in prayer to God that the Lord had been "keeping the covenant" even though His people had been divinely cursed for their transgression of the law (Dan. 9:4, 8, 11).
While Daniel was still praying, about the time of the evening oblation (Dan. 9:21), the angel Gabriel touched him in a vision (Dan. 9:21-22), and told him that "seventy (= seven X 10) weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity (Dan. 9:24) [probably referring to the land’s compensation for the sabbaths of which it had been deprived before the captivity168], and to bring in everlasting righteousness". Daniel was further to understand that "seven weeks and threescore and two weeks" were to elapse from the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem until "Messiah the Prince" [probably meaning Jesus Christ169]. Then, after those sixty-two "weeks", Messiah was to be "cut off" ["yikkareth", from "kôrath", the covenantal term170], but not for Himself [hence, in all probability, meaning: substitutionarily for others171]. After "the people of the prince that shall come" [apparently another personage172] had come and destroyed the city and the sanctuary, "he" [it being difficult to ascertain which of the two "princes" is hereby intended, though perhaps the Messiah is intended173] would confirm the covenant with many for one week [which, being added to the previous sixty-two weeks, gives sixty-three (= seven X 9) weeks; and which, if again added to the previous seven weeks. gives the perfect figure of sei’cnty weeks (" seve,i X 10), cf. Dan. 9:2, 24]. in the midst of which latter week [cf. the three and one-half days of Rev. 11:11 with 12:14 and Dan. 7:25; 12:7] the prince "shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease" (Dan. 9:24-27) [probably referring to the supersession of the ceremonial law and sacrifices by the covenantal Lord of the Sabbath Himself, when He was "cut off"174 on that last Saturday sabbath at Calvary’s cross and tomb, and when He inaugurated the New Testament by His resurrection on the following Sunday, the first day of the new week175].
The prophecy is extremely difficult to analyze in detail, and further consideration cannot possibly be given to it here176. Suffice it to claim that the following is nevertheless clearly established thereby:
1, that the passage is anchored to restoration from the sabbath curse of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:1, 24).
2, that figures of sabbatical significance [such as seventy, seven, sixty-three (= seven X 9), etc.] frequently occur therein (Dan. 9:24-26);
3, that the coming and dying of the true Messiah is somehow connected with these sabbatical weeks (Dan. 9:25 or 26 or 27);
4, that — in connection with the Latter’s coming — "Messiah" shall substitutionarily be "cut off", and the "prince" shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, in the midst of which sacrifice shall cease.
The passage is also, of course, of immediate significance in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, as well as of ultimate eschatological significance. This latter is also the case in respect of all the prophecies of Daniel, for "the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Dan. 12:9). Even Daniel "understood not" (Dan. 12:8), but was enjoined to enter into his own sabbath "rest" ["wethannooach", from "nooch"] (through death), "till the end be"177.
(e) The sabbath
from Zerubbabel to Malachi
The following year  they began to rebuild the temple182, but were frustrated in their purpose by the adversaries "all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia" (Ezra 4:1-5), which commenced in 521. "Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem . . . unto the second year of the reign of Darius" (Ezra 4:24).
In that year  Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and others began to build God’s house (Ezra 5:1-2), as the sabbath curse had now run its full seventy year course. For, as the prophet Zechariah then wrote (Zech. 1:1-2), God had now returned to Jerusalem where His house was to be built (Zech. 1:16), for He would now show "mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah" against which He had "had indignation these threescore and ten years"; for now, "behold, all the earth sitteth still ("yôshębęth") and is at rest ("shaqtzth")"183. God would now once again "sabbath" in His house, which would incorporate a Messianic "stone with seven eyes"184 laid before the priest Joshua [or Jesus185]. For in the fullness of time God would bring forth His Servant, the BRANCH186, Who would remove the iniquity of the land in one day [the day of Calvary!]187 and usher in the eternal sabbath rest for the people of God188 [on Resurrection Sunday], after which the risen Lord would "pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and supplications" (Zech. 12:10) [on Pentecost Sunday, the Lord’s day], and at the end of history, when "the Day of the Lord cometh", He would come the second time and "stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, . . . and the Lord shall be king over all the earth" (Zech. 14:1,4, 9) [In God’s Eighth Day, the Day of the Lord].
In the sixth year of Darius [516 B.C.], the temple, which prefigured so many of these Messianic truths, was completed (Ezra 6:15). And immediately thereafter, the returned exiles kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, and on the next day the Feast of the Unleavened Bread "seven days with joy" (Ezra 6:19, 22).
Meanwhile, the bulk of the Jews had remained in exile in Persia, where Ahasuerus [Xerxes189] succeeded his father Darius as king in 486. Three years later (Esth. 1:3), he held a great feast at his palace, seven days long (Esth. 1:5), on the seventh day of which he sent his seven chamberlains to fetch queen Vashti (Esth. 1:10). When she refused to come, one of the seven princes of Persia (Esth. 1:14) suggested to the king that the queen be deposed (Esth. 1:19), whereafter Ahasuerus himself ultimately chose the Jewess Esther as his new queen (Esth. 3).
Ahasuerus’ choice of a queen was indeed fortunate for the Jews in Persia, for Esther was able to use her royal influence to frustrate a genocidal plot against them in the last month of 475 B.C190, after which they "had rest ("nooach") from their enemies". The Jews in the king’s provinces slew seventy-five thousand of their foes on the thirteenth and celebrated that rest by themselves resting ("nooch") on the fourteenth (= seven X 2) day of that month, making it a good day of feasting and gladness and of sending portions (or dainties) to one another, whereas the Jews at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth and fourteenth, slaying three hundred of their enemies on that latter day, and rested on the fifteenth (= seven X 2 + one), making that latter day one "of feasting and gladness"191. Thus was instituted the Purim feast, for the Lord of the Sabbath had again saved His covenant people. And from this "resting" [to celebrate their "rest" from their enemies] of the Jews in Shushan on the fifteenth day (or first day of a new hebdomadal cycle), one may perhaps discern a foreshadowing of the New Testament (Sunday) sabbath day of rest.
Eleven years after the institution of the Purim feast, Artaxerxes succeeded Ahasuerus to the throne of Persia in 464, and six years later, on the first day of the seventh year of his reign192, the king and his seven counsellors decreed (Ezra 7:13-14) that Ezra the priest with a company of Jewish priests, Levites, singers, porters and ministers of the house of the Lord be permitted to return from Persia to Jerusalem "to beautify the house of the Lord" (Ezra 7:24, 27).
Thirteen years after Ezra’s return, Nehemiah and some few men with him (Neh. 2:12) obtained permission in the twentieth year of Artarxerxes 193 to return and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and her walls and gates (Neh. 2:3, 5, 8). Having accomplished this in spite of much hostility from the strangers there, a great assembly was convened "upon the first day of the seventh month" (Neh. 8:2), which was a ceremonial sabbath day [the feast of trumpets194], at which Ezra the scribe read the book of the covenant to the whole assembled populace (Neh. 8:2, 5, 8), and Nehemiah enjoined them not to mourn or weep on that day, "for the joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:9-11), but rather to "eat and to drink and to send portions ["manoth", cf. Est. 9:19] (or dainties), and to make great mirth."
The second day’s public reading of the law of the covenant revealed that the feast of tabernacles was approaching [and the context seems to indicate that the feast’s celebration had fallen into disuse during the captivity] (Neh. 8:13-14). The feast was immediately proclaimed throughout the land, and the people started to prepare their tabernacles or "booths" [which they had last done in the days of Joshua the son of Nun while still in the wilderness (Neh. 8:17), after which time they had celebrated the feast without booths until the time of the return from captivity (Ezra 3:4 etc.)]. The feast was kept seven days long [one of which days must have been the weekly sabbath] with "very great gladness" [thus proving that even the weekly sabbath at that time was a day of "gladness"195], the law being read publicly from the first day until the last, "and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly ("'atszrzth") (Neh. 8:18), in which yet another preview of the coming (Sunday) sabbath may be discerned.
Hereafter the Levites conducted a public prayer to the Lord, mentioning how He had given the people the law upon Mount Sinai, how He had made known unto them His "holy sabbath" (Neh. 9:13-14), and how He had not permitted them to return to the Egyptian bondage ("'abôdah") (Neh. 9:17), but brought them into the ("sabbath") land of Canaan (Neh. 9:15-24), where He gave them rest ("nooach") from their enemies196.
After this prayer, the people gratefully made and sealed "a sure covenant" (Neh. 9:38) with "the terrible God, Who keepest covenant and mercy" (Neb. 9:32), entering "into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law (Neb. 10:29) and not to buy any ware ("maqqachoth") or any victuals" ("kal-shzbzr") "on the sabbath, or on the holy day ("yôm qôdęsh")" (Neb. 10:31), but to make annual provision "for the service for the house of our God.., and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths (Neh. 10:32-33), and also to "leave [the land fallow197] the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt."198
It was not long, however, before God’s people were again transgressing the sabbath and the covenant. In those days, Nehemiah saw some people treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses. Wine, grapes, and figs, and indeed all kinds of burdens, were also being brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. This was apparently being done by the covenant people themselves, perhaps under the influence of the men of Tyre resident in Jerusalem, which latter, however, were also desecrating the sabbath by bringing fish and all kinds of wares into the holy city and selling them to the children of Judah and Jerusalem on the sabbath day199.
Unlike many modern public figures200, Nehemiah was determined to put a stop to this flagrant sin. First of all he testified against the merchants on the very day on which they sold their merchandise; he protested on the sabbath as soon as he caught them red-handed, not even waiting for the morrow and the working days which were to follow on which to voice his complaints (Neh. 13:15). Next, he approached the local politicians, the civil authorities. Contending with the nobles of Judah, he roundly accused them of themselves doing evil and themselves profaning the sabbath, by virtue of their own permissive connivance regarding the public desecration; and he went on to threaten them that God would bring even more wrath upon Israel than the previous sabbath curse of the captivity, if they did not act against that evil (Neh. 13:17-18).
Perhaps as a result of the unwillingness of the spineless political leaders to put a stop to the sabbath trading — which leaders were no doubt under bribery or pressure from the resident heathens from Tyre not to enforce the sabbath in public life — Nehemiah himself commanded that the gates of the city be shut when it "began to be dark before the sabbath"201 and that they should "not be opened till after the sabbath". Then he appointed some of his own servants to stand at the gates and see that no burdens be brought in on the sabbath day (Neh. 13:19).
But this only led to the unscrupulous merchants camping right outside the city walls with all their wares on at least two successive sabbaths, waiting for the gates to be reopened on the morrow!202.
Yet Nehemiah was still not satisfied. Warning them, he threatened to have them arrested if they camped outside the walls on the next sabbath, and he ordered the Levites203 to cleanse themselves and come and watch the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day — clearly illustrating the need of maintaining law and order on the sabbath precisely as part of the state’s duty to prevent sabbath desecration. Only then was there sabbath peace, when the merchants "came no more on the sabbath"204. Thus did Governor Nehemiah stop public sabbath desecration!
The Old Testament closes with the prophecies of Malachi, who was apparently a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah205. The Saturday sabbath is not mentioned, but there is mention206 of "another day" (cf. Heb. 4: 8f!), a day loaded with Messianic significance — the Day of the Lord.
According to Malachi, the prophet Elijah [cf. John the Baptist207] would be sent "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5), to preach repentance to both fathers and children (Mal. 4:6). John, the messenger, coming in the power and stature of Elijah, would prepare the way before the coming of the Lord and His day — the Lord’s day208. And then the Lord shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant. ". . . behold, He shall come . . ." (Mal. 3:16).
"But who may abide the day of His coming? . . . For He is like a refiner’s fire" (Mal. 3:2). "For behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up . . . But unto you that fear My Name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings . . . in the day that the Lord shall do this" (Mal. 4:1-3). ‘And they shall be Mine’, saith the Lord of hosts, ‘in the day when I make up My jewels," (Mal. 3:17). "‘And they shall be My property’, saith the Lord of hosts, ‘in the day which 1 shall create’"209.
The coming Day of the Lord, is ". . . the day which I shall create" ["(lay)yôm `asher `ani 'ôsęh"]; and "create", 'ôsęh (as opposed to "bara’"), implies a further day of Divine formation (as opposed to a brand new creation), implies "another day" (cf. Heb. 4:8) after the expiry of God’s Seventh Day of formation (cf. Heb. 4:4); in other words, 'ôsęh [from the verb "'asah"] implies that Gods Seventh Day will eschatologically be followed by the Day after the Seventh in terrestrial creation week — God’s "Eighth Day". And on this Eighth "Day which I shall create", saith the Lord (positively) I shall "make up My jewels" (Mal. 3:17), that is, reward the elect; and (negatively) shall I make that Day to "burn as an oven" and cause the elect to "tread down the wicked"210, that is, to punish the reprobate.
Wonderful eschatological perspectives open on this last page of the Old Testament, as the coming Day of the Lord is announced in all its various stages: The first stage, when the Messianic "Messenger of the covenant" shall be born and "shall suddenly come to His temple"208[when "the Day-Spring (margin: "Sunrising") from on high will visit His people" (Luke 1:78)]. The second stage, on Resurrection Sunday morn, when "the Sun of righteousness" shall "arise with healing in His wings" (Mal. 4:2) "in the end of the [Saturday] sabbath", and when the [Saturday] sabbath was past"211 — past forever. And the third stage, when the (Sunday) Lord’s day melts away at the end of history into its fulfilment, the cosmic Day of the Lord — the Day when the Lord shall make up His jewels and burn the proud as an oven212.
The Lord of the Sabbath, the "Messenger of the covenant", "shall suddenly come . . ." "But who", asks Malachi, "may abide the day of His coming?" Therefore, saith the Lord, let "the law of Moses" (including its sabbath) be remembered (Mal. 4:4), "lest (as in the last sabbath-desecrating days before the Babylonian captivity) I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:6).
C. THE SABBATH DURING THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
The way in which the sabbath was observed by God’s covenant people during the period between the Old and the New Testament was, of course, only normative for the people of God then to the extent to which it was in accordance with the Old Testament provisions. And it is only normative for God’s New Testament people today to the extent to which it corresponds to the (specifically pre-Mosaic and post-Mosaic) Old Testament and New Testament sabbath provisions (Col. 2:8-16; Heb. 4:4-11). It is very necessary, then, to bear these important facts in mind in the following discussion of sabbath observance after the termination of the Old Testament revelation during the period following the demise of the prophet Malachi up to the time of the birth and earthly life of Christ.
If God’s people had grossly neglected the sabbath before the Babylonian captivity, they had learned their lesson well, and were determined not to do so again after their return. Perhaps for fear of Malachi’s curse on all transgressors of the law of Moses (and its sabbath!) promised in the last verse of the Old Testament (Mal. 4:6), God’s covenant people between Old and New Testament times now went to the opposite extreme in their sabbath-keeping as they awaited the arrival of the Messianic "Messenger of the covenant" on "the day of the Lord" (Mal. 3:1-2). It even came to be believed that if God’s people would only keep a single sabbath perfectly, Messiah and full redemption would immediately be at hand213.
So it was, then, that the eschatological significance of the sabbath became more and more pronounced. Particularly as a reaction against the this-worldly misfortunes of the covenant people at the hands of conquerors during and after the exile, their ideas of the sabbath progressively underwent more and more Verienseitigung (or "next-world-ification"). On the strength of a rather literalistic interpretation of Isa. 66:23, it came to be believed that the weekly sabbath would still be observed even after the creation of the new heaven and the new earth214. An equally literalistic Biblical chronology led to the idea that after the world had laboured through time for six "days" of one thousand years each (cf. Ps. 90:4), it too would enter its millenial sabbath rest at the end of time in the year seven thousand anno mundo condito215.
This "next-world-ification" meaning of the sabbath, coupled with such a large measure of freedom of worship under the Persian regime, led in its turn to an ever-increasing this-worldly observance of the sabbath. If the Jews were to be continually subjected politically to the foreign conquerors, successively subjected to the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, they would certainly not be subjected religiously. Religion was to keep alive their national consciousness, and the sabbath was to keep alive their religion. But this practice inevitably led to a nationalization and despiritualization of God’s holy day. Scriptural sabbath observance degenerated into an ultra-strict, sabbatarian, formalistic externalism216. For centuries before the captivity their sabbath-keeping had not been Scriptural enough; within a few centuries after the return from captivity, their sabbath-keeping had become hedged around with all sorts of extra- and anti-Scriptural accretions.
The Persian empire, still including the province of Jerusalem, was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. After his death in 323, his own Macedonian empire was divided up amongst his four generals, one of whom, Ptolemaeus I Lagus, occupied Jerusalem about 301 without resistance on the sabbath day, as the Jews [quite unscripturally217] then refused to fight218. In this way, Palestine came under the influence of the Egyptian Ptolemies until 198, and Judaism flourished both there and in Alexandria219 [where the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was undertaken].
However, the situation changed dramatically in 198 when Antiochus III (the Great) of Syria took possession of Palestine, and particularly under Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled from 175 to 164 and who attempted to exterminate the Jewish religion and to hellenize the people. Plundering the temple, he instituted idol worship and prohibited the observance of the sabbath and of circumcision and destroyed the covenantal Scriptures in 168 B.C.220.
But certain brave Jews called the Chassidim, amongst whom were the priest Mattathias Bar-Hasmonai and his five sons, incurred the wrath of the conqueror by refusing to worship the heathen idols. Declining to fight on the sabbath221, many were attacked and murdered on the day of rest by a Syrian army division222. This massacre led Mattathias to decree that the Jews would forthwith be permitted to defend themselves on the sabbath, but not to attack223, which decree was henceforth generally224, but not always225, followed226.
After Mattathias’ death in 167, his son Judas (Maccabeus) took over the leadership of the revolt, and succeeded in capturing and cleansing the temple in 165 B.C.227, as a result of which the Chanukah or "Feast of Dedication"228 was instituted (cf. John 10:22). The following year Antiochus died, after which Judas made considerable gains — albeit with the connivance of Rome — until he was killed in battle in 161229. Thereupon his brother Jonathan took over the leadership (from 161-143), who in his turn was succeeded by his brother Simon (142-135), who in 141 managed to secure recognition of Judah’s independence from Syria and a similar undertaking from Rome.
After Simon was succeeded by his son John Hyrcanus in 135, a period of great instability and subterfuge followed, until, at the request of two conflicting Jewish parties, Pompey’s Roman armies marched into Jerusalem and installed a puppet regime in 63 B.C.230 After this, largely under the influence of the Pharisees, the sabbath became the very centre of the Jewish religion in their struggle for national survival. It was adorned with more and more unscriptural traditions. Covenantal sabbath-keeping became transformed into an intolerable sabbatarianism.
The legalistic and traditionalistic Pharisees, [or "separatists"231], degenerated and joyless descendants of the Maccabean Chassdim [or "select ones"232], were, however, not the only school of Jewish thought. Diametrically opposed to them were the rationalistic Sadducees [or "the just ones"233]. In the later (Herodian) days of the first century B.C., the pro-Roman Herodian party was formed, which believed Herod the Great to be the promised Messiah; and they in their turn were again opposed by the chauvinistic nationalists known as the Zelotes234. Finally, and of perhaps greater importance, were the Essenes [or "the silent ones"235] of the mid-second century B.C., contemporaries of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and who observed the sabbath very strictly in religious exercises and Scriptural exposition throughout that day, and who would at that time not even kindle a fire or remove a vessel from its place236.
It should not be thought that the sabbath religious observance of the Jews in the first century B.C. was wholly unprofitable, however. On Friday evenings the pious father would celebrate the commencement of the sabbath by offering special prayers and blessings at his family table (Qiddush), as well as at the close of the sabbath on Saturday nights (Habdalah). Meetings were also held on Saturday morning and afternoon in the local synagogues, where prayer was offered and where the law and the prophets were read and interpreted237.
The origin of the synagogue238 is unknown239, but it probably arose during the Babylonian captivity while the temple was in ruins and while many of the Jews were banished from their fatherland240. It was open on two market-days (Monday and Thursday) as well as on sabbaths and festivals, at which latter times lamps were lighted and additional prayers and sacrifices were offered241. Every synagogue had its own "minister", who announced the commencement and the termination of the sabbath by thrice sounding a trumpet, as well as a specially appointed elder known as the "chief ruler" (cf. Acts 18:8), who was usually a man of considerable influence in the smaller villages, and whose duty it was to appoint the readers and interpreters of the law and the prophets at the synagogue services, for at least seven (!) persons were generally requested beforehand to participate actively in the sabbath services242.
But in spite of all these "improvements" — or perhaps because of them? —the Word of God became more and more eclipsed. For example, it was directed that that part of the Old Testament Scriptures known as the Hagiographa should not be read except in the evening, whereas the study of the Mishnah was ultimately considered of more importance than that of the Bible243.
The Mishnah is one of the two parts of the Jewish Talmud, a vast body of unscriptural and even anti-Scriptural (originally oral) teaching, the other part being the Gemara, a later commentary on the text of the Mishnah. Although the rabbis claim that the Mishnah is of Mosaic origin244, it seems rather certain that it is of post-exilic origin and quite uncanonical245. First orally systematized by Rabbi Jehuda Hakkadosh Hannasi, who died not later than 220 A.D.246, it played a leading part in regulating the worship of Judaism about the time of Jesus Christ (and ever since), particularly as regards sabbath observance.
The Mishnic tract Shabbath is the first of twelve which collectively comprise the second of the six sections of the Mishnah, which second section (Seder Moed) deals with the various Jewish feasts247. Shabbath embraces no fewer than twenty-four chapters248, the seventh(!) of which is the most important. For this seventh chapter contains, amongst other material, a list of thirty-nine "Aboth" or main categories of activities prohibited on the sabbath, each of which is subdivided into a further thirty-nine "Toledoth", thus making no fewer than one thousand five hundred and twenty nine (= 39 X 39) "offsprings"249.
The thirty-nine "Aboth" — thirty-nine being the number of times the word "labour" appears in the Jewish Scriptures250 — were thought to have been drawn up by the Great Synagogue251 under the presidency of Ezra252 himself, and broadly refer to the preparation of bread [sowing, ploughing, reaping, sheaf-binding, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading and baking]; to matters of dress [wool-shearing, washing, beating, dyeing, spinning, beam-weaving, thread-making, thread-weaving, thread-separating, knotting, unknotting, sewing and tearing]; to matters of writing [deer-catching (for vellum), deer-killing, skinning, salting, skin-preparing, hair-scraping, cutting, writing and erasing]; and to household matters [building, demolishing, fire-extinguishing, fire-lighting, hammer-beating and carrying]253. Indeed a formidable and punctilious list253. Just how punctilious will be seen below.
As regards sabbath work in general, these miserable anti-Biblical traditions prohibit even such trivial operations as unfastening a button254 or scraping one’s shoes [unless done with the back of a knife!]255. Rolling heads of wheat was considered to be sifting, rubbing them to be threshing, bruising their ears to be grinding, and throwing them up in the hand to be winnowing256. It was strictly forbidden to wipe a wound on the sabbath, yet quite in order to move a sheaf — provided a common spoon was first laid upon it and then removed — together with the sheaf!257 Not even "things" were allowed to work: milk may not be left to curdle on the sabbath — for that constituted "building", which was a prohibited activity258; but mercifully (if inconsequentially), olives and grapes were allowed to remain in their presses259.
These "vain traditions" became quite intolerable, especially when extended from Jer. 17 and Neh. 13 and unscripturally applied to all burdens, except to those which weighed less than a dried fig260 or a mouthful of milk261, which latter were not regarded as burdensome and which might hence be carried with impunity. Pocket-handkerchiefs were not to be carried, except within the city walls, but if string was suspended between street poles to "represent" the city walls, no sin was involved in transporting such "burdens" therewithin262. The wearing of false teeth was absolutely forbidden on the sabbath: for if they fell out and had to be carried, they would constitute a burden263. Neither might a tailor carry his needle, nor a woman wear ribbons on the sabbath — unless, of course, they were firmly attached to her dress264. Even religious amulets and prayer phylacteries were prohibited, unless they had been made by competent persons265 or been "approved", i.e., had cured at least three men266. On the other hand, a child holding a stone may certainly be picked up on the sabbath, even though a transgression would be committed by picking up the lesser weight of the stone without the child267. Yet children might certainly wear bells on their dresses268.
Equally hypocritical and inconsequential was the Mishnic doctrine on the preserving and taking of life on the sabbath. One may indeed "transgress" the sabbath in order to save the life of an Israelite, but not if that of a heathen or a Samaritan was in danger269; and to kill a flea on the sabbath was as bad as killing a camel270. According to the school of Shammai, it was desecratory to comfort the sick or to give cheer to the sorrowful, and even the preservation of life was forbidden271. To wipe a wound272 or to replace an ear-wadding which accidentally fell out273, constituted sin, and to lay on a plaster was a grievous transgression274.
Better known although equally unscriptural is the institution known as the "sabbath day’s journey", cf. Acts 1:12. The rabbis indeed tried to base this institution on Scripture, regarding the sabbath day’s journey’s distance of two thousand cubits, the distance to be kept between the people and the ark (Josh. 3:4), as a legitimate interpretation of the prohibition in Ex. 16:29 that no man should "go out of his place on the seventh day"275. In fact, the rabbis even had the audacity to add the words "beyond two thousand yards" to Ex. 16:29 and Ruth 1:16 in the Jerusalem Targum276. But whenever their houses were situated more than two thousand cubits from their daily common banqueting places where they gathered for meals even (or rather particularly!) on the sabbath, the Pharisees would build temporary fictitious homes every two thousand yards between their own homes and the banqueting place on the evening before sabbath. This they did by depositing a little food at each of these "homes", thereby enabling them to make the full journey on the sabbath while never being more than two thousand yards from (a!) "home"277.
Sabbath feasting and gorging, after inappropriately "burdening" themselves with their best apparel278, was not, of course, held by the Jews to be a desecration of the sabbath! For had not the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 58:13-4) called the sabbath a "delight"?279 Undeniably, feasting could be made very delightful, and the rabbis hastened to enjoin280 that "whosoever observes the three meals on the sabbath will be saved from the birth-pains of Messiah, the judgment of hell, and the war of Gog and Magog". The fact that such huge feasts must have necessitated considerable labour, often on the part of the rabbi’s manservants and maidservants whom God would have to rest too — even though the cooking had been done previously (Ex. 16:23) — was conveniently overlooked281. Drinking on the sabbath for pleasure was held to be lawful, but if for purposes of healing, sabbath "drinking" was forbidden282.
All these man-made traditions brought the divine ordinance itself into great disrepute amongst the undiscriminating. The "vain traditions" even frequently contradicted one another. For example, an egg laid by a hen on the sabbath was forbidden, but not if the bird had itself been destined for human consumption283. Indeed the feasting and gorging rabbis clearly "delighted" in the sabbath’s having been made for Israel, yet in another passage284 they declared that Israel had been chosen for the sole purpose of keeping the sabbath. Again, on the one hand, carrying a living person on a pallet was held to be permissible, yet carrying a corpse was not285; but on the other hand, one might wash and anoint the body of the dead, yet not close the eyes of the dying286. One might, however, bathe or even swim (!) on the sabbath, yet one might not take a shower-bath287. Again, cold water might be poured on to warm, yet not vice—versa288.
Moreover, a muddy dress might not be rubbed clean on the sabbath, yet the mud might, however, be manually crushed and shaken off289. As for writing, to erase a large letter to make room for two smaller ones was sinful, yet to write such an equally large letter was not290. Cutting one’s hair on the sabbath was a mortal sin, whereas making two horse-hairs into a birdtrap was blameless291. Well did one of the rabbis himself observe: "Some of the laws of the sabbath are like mountains suspended on a hair"292.
So important did the sabbath tradition become to the Jews, that many myths arose in connection therewith. The rabbis even personified the day of rest as a Bride which God had wedded to Israel, as a Queen to be met by her subjects293, and even as a beneficient Money-Lender294.
It was considered to have been held in heaven before the creation of man295, an opinion amply refuted elsewhere in this thesis296. Another tale relates the fable of the river Sabbatyon, which according to one myth ceased to flow on the sabbath297, but which according to another flowed only on (and therefore desecrated?!) that day298. Even the tortures of hell were alleged to cease on the day of rest299.
It cannot be the purpose of this thesis to delve into any further Mishnic details. Suffice it to say that amidst all these vain traditions, there were only "a few bright pearls (to be) found at the bottom of an immense heap of rubbish", as the great converted Jew Isaac da Costa pointedly remarked300. The true Scriptural injunctions regarding the sabbath were obscured by these traditions, and in some cases flatly set aside. For example, before and during the time of Christ the rabbis even dared to do away with the Scripturally enjoined practice (Deut. 15:1-18) of remitting debts in the sabbatical year301.
The post-exilic Jewish rabbis had started by adding to the sabbath of Scripture. They ended up by subtracting therefrom! Again the covenantal people were ripe for reformation. And the "time of reformation"302 suddenly struck when the Messenger of the covenant Himself, the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), suddenly came to His temple (Mal. 3:1) to cleanse it from the Mishnic traditions and to restore and fulfil the sabbath of Scripture on "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5).