Friday, March 7, 2014

What is the Covenant of the Sabbath?

13 Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.
14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:13-17)

We are very used to thinking of the Sabbath as a commandment, but these verses add something special to our understanding.  The Lord says it is “a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (v13).  It is also given “for a perpetual covenant” (v16), and in v17, it is again called “a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever.”

I think this calling it a sign and a perpetual covenant should tell us something about the importance of keeping the Sabbath.  Using the word “sign” hints at the possibility of miracles, and “covenant” implies that there are blessings promised if we do our part (and penalties if we disobey.)

We’re pretty familiar with our part of the sign—to do things during the Sabbath that serve the Lord and worship and to refrain from the usual work and entertainments of other days.  It shows our faith that the Lord has power over everything and we owe Him that time as a thanks for our creation.  After all, if it weren’t for His creation of us, we wouldn’t have had any time at all on earth.  I think doing different things on the Sabbath is an excellent sign of our faith.

What is His sign to us?  “that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.”  You might notice the two parts—we will be sanctified, feeling the before-versus-after difference AND we will realize it was the Lord doing it.   We’re promised we will be changed and we will know the source of that change.

Also, v17 mentions the Lord rested on the seventh day of creation and was refreshed.  This is meant to imply that all those who similarly rest on the Sabbath will also be refreshed.  It is teaching using the method of “If you want the same blessings I have, do as I do.”

Now, what about this penalty in v14-15 that those who defile the Sabbath shall be put to death and those who do any work therein will be cut off from among the people?  Today we don’t execute people for breaking the Sabbath, and I haven’t seen or heard of any excommuncations for the same (it could be lack of data), but supposing there weren’t, that doesn’t mean there aren’t spiritual consequences.  If we aren’t willing to show by keeping the Sabbath that we know the Lord sanctifies us, then we essentially declare our doubt of His power, which is a step toward rebellion.  If this course is persisted in, we declare in our actions our disbelief in God’s sanctifying power.  Disbelief gradually seals us off from access to His power and cuts us off from Him, so it is a self-excommunicating process, leading to spiritual death.

How much better to keep the Sabbath and feel that sanctification and know it is the Lord doing that!

I love the Sabbath.  I love how different it feels from the other part of the week.  I can feel the Lord keeping His part of the Sabbath covenant in my life.  I feel like a better person at the end of the Sabbath than I do at the beginning.   The biggest part of that is because I have taken the sacrament and received God’s sanctifying power through that act, but also because of opportunities to hear edifying instruction and participate in a variety of ways in the work of salvation.

What are some special things you do to keep the Sabbath?