As we read the through the Old Testament numerous things are bound to challenge us, because they are unfamiliar, complex and sometimes because we have avoided reading them and now are confronted by them. I would suggest the latter is true of a reading from Tuesday’s passage on the Sabbath (today known as the Lord’s Day). This is especially the case today as many Christians and churches dismiss the Sabbath as no longer being authoritative for the Church (while inconsistently upholding the other 9 of the 10 commandments).
The challenging passage read:
A Sabbathbreaker Executed
While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:32-36 ESV)
Inter-tangled in this passage is both a moral law (keep the Sabbath) and a judicial law (stoning). While Israel’s judicial law is no longer authoritative Christians have always taken seriously the principles behind them and often structured western laws upon them. The law does underscore the importance of the Sabbath as part of God’s law and puts it forward as a foundational element of fostering a healthy relationship with Him. It has been instituted—for our benefit—as a chief means of grace to bless humanity and the Church.
Given that we are reading the Old Testament we have come across the Sabbath a lot and will continue to do so. Indeed the Sabbath (not “sabbath”) is a central theme in the Bible. We recently came across the Sabbath in Ex 20:8-11 (did anyone notice the greatest stress in length is applied to this command?). In this week’s morning sermon Stewart Heap also drew our attention in Lev 26 to three things that we essential for either bringing blessings or curses to the Israelites: 1) not making idols, 2) keeping the LORD’s Sabbaths and 3) upholding His statutes and commandments.
Have you ever wondered about the relationship between the 1st and 4th commands in the 10 Commandments? Why is the Sabbath on the “God side” of the two tablets? Why did the prophets dwell so often and so particularly on these two commands? “The answer is uncomfortable but important. Here was the reason: the Sabbath reveals our idols. The prophets knew that where there is idolatry, there you will find a people struggling – if even trying – to keep the Sabbath; and where the Sabbath is a burden, there you will find a people caught up in all kinds of idolatry. What is it that keeps them from obeying the Sabbath? What is it they find hard to give up? What is it they would rather be doing? There it is. Now you know their idol.” But do we take this all as seriously as the passage suggests?
When we are not delighting in the Lord and His Sabbath (Isa 58:13-14), we are delighting in something else, which in turn weakens our relationship with Him and the overall health of the Church. Delighting in God and delighting in the Lord’s Day go hand in hand. Are you delighting in the Lord’s Day, if not what idol does this reveal that needs to be addressed so you can honour His day and Him?
This was something understood by the Enlightenment thinker Voltaire. He said, if you wish to destroy the Christian religion you must first destroy the Christian Sunday. While subversive it was a wise and truthful observation.
God, in His grace, gave us His day for countless reasons that cannot fit within this blog, however, chief among them was to combat idolatry and to draw us towards a greater delight in our relationship with Him. Isn’t that what every Christian should want?
Let me impress this point by closing with an example from history. In recent decades many western Christians, following societal trends instead of God’s word, have followed suit by casting off the “burden” of the Sabbath. The largest point in case to the aforementioned conversation and to the divine authority of the Lord’s Day comes by asking the question, has it helped the cause of Christ? In history, however, our gospel forebearers knew how vitally important keeping and spending a profitable Lord’s Day was to their own spiritual health, that of their local church and the cause of authentic Christianity across the land.
William Wilberforce, abolitionist, evangelical and Sabbatarian commended the day in the following way and is but one of many famed evangelical examples that would include the Puritans, John Wesley, George Whitefield, John Newton, Rowland Hill, Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle… Their views on the Lord’s Day cannot be divorced from other things for which they are remembered for. Wilberforce said in two separate letters:
There is nothing in which I would recommend you to be more strictly resolute than in keeping the Sabbath holy…. I can truly declare to you, that to me the institution of the Sabbath has been invaluable…. I have said a great deal on this subject: it is because I am deeply impressed with its importance.
…I don’t say it lightly, I believe the contempt into which the Sabbath has fallen, bids fair to accelerate the ruin both of church and state more than any other single circumstance whatever; and it is the bounded duty of every friend to our civil happiness no less than to our religious interests, to hold up its authority… it is one of those things wherein the duty is so obvious and binding, that in doing it there can be little exertion; in leaving it undone, great blame.
May we delight in Him,
 This is a massive subject. I would love to chat about it more for anyone who is interested and provide further resources if you are care to studying the subject further.
 An example of this would be Eph 6:1. Here Paul continues to urge children to honour their parents but he drops the threat of stoning.
 Credited to a good friend of mine.