It wasn’t commanded because God knew that their dust based frame needed regular downtime if it was going to function at maximum efficiency. Though it was founded as an indicator of a work finished and complete, its intent was more than just as a regular religious observance. While there may be practical benefit and theological significance in observing a Sabbath rest, as I encountered in my reading in Exodus this morning, above all it was to be a reminder. A tangible act recalling a divine truth–a truth so easy to forget. The Sabbath was to be the sign of sanctification.
And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.'”
(Exodus 31:12-13 ESV)
For the last 10 chapters it’s been about what to do. Moses has been in a one-on-one with the God of deliverance and redemption and has been given ten commandments, a myriad of laws, and explicit, detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the priestly garments. Talk about an out-of-control to do list!
Where do I start? What comes first? Are some the commandments more important than others? Should some of the laws be instituted now rather than later? Maybe getting folks to donate now to the Tabernacle Building Project should be the priority. And then God says, “Above all . . . ”
And it’s not really above all in the sense of do it first, but above all in the sense of, if you do anything, make sure this gets done. Above all in the sense of this is foundational. Do this, and do it in a thoughtful, meaningful, intentional way, and the rest will fall into line. “Above all you shall keep My Sabbaths.”
Why the primacy of a day set apart? Because it was a sign. A reminder. A physical reminder that disrupted daily routine. A physical reminder of a spiritual truth that must never be forgotten if the people of God were to walk in the ways of God as God had commanded. A reminder He is Jehovah, the existing One, and that He had set them apart for Himself.
They weren’t just a congregation, they were the promised congregation. They were more than a nation, they had been carved out to be a holy nation. They weren’t just a people, they were the people of God. Set apart. Sanctified. And thus, setting apart a day from their busy schedules was to be above all for it would remind them of who they were and, Whose they were.
Keep the Sabbath and keeping the commands would come. Regularly remind themselves that they were set apart for God’s glory and His purposes, and obedience to the law would come from love-fueled response and not religion-demanded regulation. Frequently know afresh that they had been brought out of bondage through the mighty works of God, and rallying around building a place for His glory to dwell would be their joy.
The people of God need to be reminded–FREQUENTLY–that they are the people of God. That they are not their own, but have been set apart by the LORD’s goodness for the LORD’s glory.
The thought was reinforced for me in my Acts reading this morning where Paul is having his final meeting with the Ephesian elders and exhorting them to care for the Ephesian flock.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.
(Acts 20:28 ESV)
He obtained the church. Literally, He set it around Himself that it might be for Himself. And this He did by purchasing it with His own blood.
We are not our own. We have been purchased with a price. And a regular, frequent act of breaking from our busy schedules is a sign, a tangible reminder, that we have been sanctified. That we have been set apart for Him. Get this locked in and, I’m thinking, the rest has a way of falling into place. Lose this . . . ignore this . . . don’t believe this . . . and maybe, just maybe, what you get is wandering in the desert.
Thinking this morning that keeping a sign of sanctification “above all” really should be above all.
By His grace. For His glory.