The Institution of the Sabbath Law
Text: Matthew 12:1-14
(Key Texts: Exodus 20, 23, 31; Deuteronomy 5)
One of the most controversial issues that Jesus had to deal with was the question of keeping the Sabbath. This day was more than just a day of rest from work to the Jews. In order to understand and appreciate the controversy that raged around it, we would need to trace this practice to its roots. There are several key texts that we need to study carefully.
THE SABBATH AND CREATION
The institution of the Sabbath law may be traced all the way back to Moses. The Sabbath was listed as the fourth commandment in the Decalogue.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it
holy. Six days you shall labour and do
all your work, but the seventh day is the
Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you
shall do no work…
For in six days the Lord made the heavens
and the earth, the sea, and all that is in
them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore
the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and
The commandment to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest from work, in this text, was tied in with Creation. God hallowed or sanctified the Sabbath and ordained it as a day of rest! The Lord was to be worshipped as Creator-God!
THE SABBATH AND DELIVERANCE FROM EGYPT
A second reason for the keeping of the Sabbath was stated in the Book of Deuteronomy. In the second giving of the law just prior to entrance into the land of Canaan, Moses recited the Decalogue to the nation of Israel. This time round, another reason for keeping the law was given.
“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,
as the Lord your God commanded you…
And remember that you were a slave in the
land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought
you out from there by a mighty hand and by an
outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God
commanded you to keep the Sabbath.”
Deuteronomy 5:12, 15
We have a very different reason given in this text as to why Israel was to keep the Sabbath. The Lord was to be worshiped as their Deliverer-God!
THE SABBATH AS A NATIONAL SIGN OF THE COVENANT
The keeping of the Sabbath had yet another significance! This was stated in a third text.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak
also to the children of Israel, saying: “Surely My
Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between
Me and you throughout your generations, that you
may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel
forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens
and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested
and was refreshed. ” ‘ ”
Exodus 31:12-13, 17
This text makes it very clear that the Sabbath was an institution of national significance!
THE SCOPE OF THE SABBATH LAW
The Law of the Sabbath covered more than just resting on the seventh day. Let us consider this text.
“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in
its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it
rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people
may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the
field may eat. In like manner you shall do with
your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you
shall do your work, and on the seventh day you
shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest,
and the son of your female servant and the stranger
may be refreshed.”
The scope of the law of the Sabbath covered the way in which the fields were to be utilized. The seventh year was a Sabbath (Sabbatical) for the land. The cultivated grounds must be allowed to “rest up”. This was the natural way in which the exhausted soil would be able to become fertile again.
A number of things may be highlighted concerning the scope of the Sabbath Law.
1. Kind provision for the poor
2. Kindness towards workers
3. Kindness towards animals
The law of the Sabbaths reflected the graciousness and kindness of God. At no time was the Sabbath intended to enslave the individual with its rigidity.