Friday, September 10, 2010

The Sabbath (part 4)

[continued from here, here, here and here]

The Second Law — Deut 5

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said:


“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deut. 5: 1-5, 12-15)

Moses was dying soon. In preparation for his death, he penned the book of Deuteronomy, which literally means "second law". In this book, Moses recounts the various episodes in Israel's journey over the 40 years in the wilderness, and asked the Israelites to remember God and His covenant which He has graciously made with them.

It is in this context that Moses' recounting of the giving of the Decalogue at Mount Sinai or Horeb is situated. While in Ex. 20 Moses was narrating the giving of the Decalogue, Deut. 5 was a recollection and a remainder to the Israelites of the Decalogue which they are to follow. As such, it is different from the narrative event in Ex. 20, being recalled for the purpose at hand. In verses 1-5, Moses emphasized to Israel the covenant nature of the Decalogue, and how gracious God is in giving them this covenant so that they can be His people.

What follows from verse 6 onwards is the restatement of the 10 commandments in covenantal terms for Israel. This is especially made clear in the apparent discrepancy which we will look at now.

Comparison between the two versions of the 10 commandments would show that there seems to be a discrepancy in the 4th commandment. Whereas Ex. 20 states that the basis for observing the Sabbath was the creation pattern of 6 days of work followed by 1 day of rest, the Deuteronomic account seems to locate the basis of the Sabbath command in the redemption of Israel from slavery. This difference has been capitalized on by NCT theologians who are anti-sabbatarians, believing that the Sabbath has been abrogated because it has not been repeated in the New Testament (while the other 9 commandments apparently are repeated). However, is that really the case?

We have previously seen the creational and ceremonial motifs in the issue of the Sabbath. While this passage may cast a doubt on the exact basis for the Sabbath command, it is my contention that this introduces a third motif of redemption into the Sabbath theme. Unless we deny the inerrancy and coherency of Scripture, both of these basis must be true.

Support for such a view comes from other parts of Scripture with regards to the relation between creation and redemption. Perhaps no other verse expresses this linkage better than 2 Cor. 5:17. Those who are saved—who are in Christ—are a new creation. In this verse, the idea of redemption and creation is closely linked. Redemption is analogous to creation in the sense that it is a miraculous work of God creating something (spiritual life) out of nothing (ex nihilo). Gal. 6:15 likewise calls redemption as being a "new creation". Rom. 6:4 shows us also that redemption includes a new beginning, as in regeneration we are raised in union with Christ in newness of life.

Instead of pitting the Deuteronomic recounting of the Decalogue against the Exodus account of the Decalogue, we must see both as a continuous whole. In Deuteronomy, Moses desired to focus Israel's thoughts on the goodness of God in redemption, of which the Sabbath points towards. The introduction of the redemptive motif in Deuteronomy thus points us towards the true meaning of the Sabbath as it was given. While Israel may not have noticed it, the shift should show them that the true meaning of the Sabbath is not only to commemorate the creation of the world, not only to act as a covenant ceremony, but also to celebrate their salvation.

[to be continued]

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