The Sabbath is indisputably a covenant sign between God and Israel (see Ex 31:12-13, Ezk 20:12). But if that is the case, then, how can the Sabbath be universal and perpetual? I mean: If the Sabbath is universally binding on all men, then how could it still serve as a unique covenant sign between God and Israel? Indeed, if it is a sign between God and Israel, then would it not prove to be a type, and thus has passed away like all other types?
Let me begin by stating that it is an inviolable biblical truth that the keeping of the Sabbath is a universal moral obligation. This truth is supported by a threefold argument. Firstly, the Sabbath is a creation ordinance which was instituted before the existence of the nation of Israel (Gen 2:2-3); Secondly, the command to keep the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments (the summary of the Moral Law); and Thirdly, the words of the 4th Commandment tells us specifically that strangers or Gentiles are also duty bound to observe the Sabbath rest (Ex 20:10).
But for argument sake, let us consider if the fact that the Sabbath is a covenant sign does contradict its universality and perpetuity. Let us begin by considering the challenge to its universality.
Exodus 31:13 reads:
"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" (Ex 31:13).
The Sabbath is a covenant sign between God and Israel in that when the Sabbath is kept by Israel as a covenant people, her keeping of it distinguishes her from all other nations. Israel will then be assured that it is the LORD who sanctifies them or sets them apart from all other nations in the world. Matthew Henry elucidates:
The institution of the Sabbath was a great instance of God�s favour to them, and a sign that he had distinguished them from all other people; and their religious observance of the Sabbath was a great instance of their duty and obedience to him. God, by sanctifying this day among them, let them know that he sanctified them, and set them apart for himself and his service; otherwise he would not have revealed to them his holy sabbaths, to be the support of religion among them.� The Jews, by observing one day in seven, after six days� labour, testified and declared that they worshipped the God who made the world in six days, and rested the seventh; and so distinguished themselves from other nations, who, having first lost the Sabbath, which was instituted to be a memorial of the creation, by degrees lost the knowledge of the Creator, and gave that honour to the creature which was due to him alone (comm. in loc).
Does not this expressed purpose of the Sabbath contradict its universality? If God expects all man everywhere to keep the Sabbath, then how can the Sabbath distinguish Israel from the Gentiles? Surely, the fact that the Sabbath is to serve as a covenant sign between God and Israel would prove that the Sabbath is obligatory upon Israel only? No! It does not, because although the Sabbath commandment, is universally obligatory upon all mankind, it does not follow that all men everywhere will keep the Sabbath! The Sabbath served as a covenant sign between God and Israel because God has specially chosen to give Israel the written Law and to enjoin them to keep it. No other nation enjoyed that privilege. So when Israel kept the Sabbath, their keeping of it distinguished them from the world.
Today the nation of Israel is no more the covenant people of God. The covenant people of God are the church. The Sabbath, as such, is now a covenant sign between God and His Church. Brian Schwertley explains:
�is it not true that the Lord�s day (The Christian Sabbath) still functions as a sign distinguishing between obedient Christians and the heathen? For the biblical Christian is found worshipping with God�s people on the Lord�s day, while the heathen watch football, play golf, go to the beach, etc., and thus serve their own interests (The Christian Sabbath: Examined, Proved, Applied [Reformation Forum, 1997], 13)
But let us consider now the challenge to the perpetuity of the Sabbath. That perpetuity is not contradicted cannot be better answered than in the words of Robert Lewis Dabney:.�
If its being �a sign� between God and Israel proves it a type, then the same argument proves that the great first law of love itself was a type, and has been abrogated; for in Deut 6: Israel is commanded to make this �a sign.� Such is the absurdity of this argument (Discussion: Evangelical and Theological, 1.509)
It should be noted that this same argument is also applicable to the question on the universality of the Sabbath: If its being a sign between God and Israel makes it non-obligatory to unbelievers, then the first law of love to God is non-obligatory on unbelievers too, which of course means that unbelievers would not be guilty of breaking even the first three commandments of the Decalogue.
I believe we have proven our case. The word of God cannot be broken. The Sabbath is universally and perpetually binding on all people, but it is a covenant sign for God�s people. Only God�s people will enjoy the Sabbath and call it a delight. All who refuse to keep the Sabbath lovingly and cheerfully for Christ�s sake signal to all the world that they are of the world.
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