“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:16-17).
Four times in Scripture the Sabbath is designated as a “sign” (Exodus 31:13, Exodus 31:17; Ezekiel 20:12, Ezekiel 20:20). A “sign” is not a “symbol” in the sense of a thing that naturally typifies, represents, or recalls something else, because both share similar qualities (for example, a symbol of a fist often denotes “might” or “power”). In the Bible, the Sabbath as a “sign” functioned as an outward mark or object or condition intended to convey a distinctive message. Nothing in the sign itself particularly linked it to the covenant. The Sabbath was a covenant sign “between me and you throughout your generations” (Exodus 31:13, RSV) only because God said it was.
Why would the Lord use the Sabbath as a covenant sign? What is it about the Sabbath that would make it so appropriate a symbol of the saving relationship with God? Remembering that a crucial aspect of the covenant is that we are saved by grace, that works cannot save us, what is it about the Sabbath itself that makes it such a good symbol of that relationship? (See Genesis 2:3, Hebrews 4:1-4.)
What is fascinating about the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant of grace is that for centuries the Jews have understood the Sabbath to be the sign of Messianic redemption. They saw in the Sabbath a foretaste of salvation in the Messiah. Because we understand redemption as coming only from grace, and because we understand the covenant to be a covenant of grace, the link between the Sabbath, Redemption, and the covenant is made clear (see Deuteronomy 5:13-15). Thus, contrary to common opinion, the Sabbath is a sign of God’s saving grace; it’s not a sign of salvation by works.
|How do you understand what it means to “rest” on the Sabbath? How do you rest on the Sabbath? What do you do differently on that day that makes it a “sign”? Could someone who knows you look at your life and see that the Sabbath really is a special day for you?|