The Sabbath prior to Moses
Before I discuss whether or not the Sabbath was known to any part of mankind prior to the time of Moses, we should take a look at certain key passages.
(Exod 31:12) And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying,
(Exod 31:13) 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.
(Exod 31:14) 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.
(Exod 31:15) 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.
(Exod 31:16) Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
(Exod 31:17) It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
(Exod 31:18) And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
(Deut 5:1) And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.
(Deut 5:2) The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.
(Deut 5:3) The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.
(Deut 5:4) The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,
(Deut 5:5) (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to show you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying,
(Deut 5:6) I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
(Deut 5:7) Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
(Deut 5:8) Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:
(Deut 5:9) Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,
(Deut 5:10) And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
(Deut 5:11) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
(Deut 5:12) Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.
(Deut 5:13) Six days thou shalt labor, and do all thy work:
(Deut 5:14) But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.
(Deut 5:15) And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
(Deut 5:16) Honor thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
(Deut 5:17) Thou shalt not kill.
(Deut 5:18) Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
(Deut 5:19) Neither shalt thou steal.
(Deut 5:20) Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbor.
(Deut 5:21) Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
(Deut 5:22) These words the LORD spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.
(Neh 9:6) Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshipeth thee.
(Neh 9:7) Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham;
(Neh 9:8) And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous:
(Neh 9:9) And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;
(Neh 9:10) And showedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as it is this day.
(Neh 9:11) And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.
(Neh 9:12) Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go.
(Neh 9:13) Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:
(Neh 9:14) And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:
(Ezek 20:9) But I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt.
(Ezek 20:10) Wherefore I caused them to go out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness.
(Ezek 20:11) And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.
(Ezek 20:12) Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.
(Ezek 20:13) But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.
A sign between God and whom?
Exod 31:12-17 – this text clearly states between which two parties the Covenant is, and what the sign of the covenant is. The covenant is between God and Israel, according to the text. That means it was not a sign between mankind and God – there were other humans besides Israel, and the covenant was not with them. The Sabbath was to be the sign of this covenant God made with them at Sinai.
Deut 5:2-3, speaking of the same covenant, says that that covenant was not made with their fathers – it was made with them for the first time. Moses states explicitly that it was not with anyone before this time that God made this covenant. This covenant began at this time, at the time of Moses.
Ezek 20:12 shows that God gave the Sabbath to Israel in the time of Moses. It was then that God revealed the Sabbath to them. We see God contrasting Israel with the other nations – and he says it was to Israel that he revealed his principles, including the Sabbath. So he obviously did not reveal the Sabbath to other nations.
Neh 9:9-14 tells us that the Sabbath was made known to Israel through Moses. We know it is Israel of which Ezekiel and Nehemiah speak because of the description given – these were the people God took out of Egypt, through the Red Sea. The text says nothing about any other people, and it says nothing about the Sabbath being known before this time.
So, if the Sabbath is a sign of the Old Covenant (Deut 5:2-3, Exod 31:17), and the Old Covenant was given to Israel (Ex 31:17) and not anyone else (Deut 5:2-3), then why are Adventists claiming that the Sabbath needs to be kept by all mankind?
Where in the Bible does God EVER criticise anyone not of the chosen nation of Israel for not observing the Sabbath? Nowhere.
Where in the Bible does God ever say that people not of the chosen nation of Israel should keep the Sabbath? Nowhere.
These verses point out that the Sabbath was a sign between GOD and ISRAEL, that it was given as a sign of the OLD COVENANT, and that this covenant was NOT made with their fathers. Scripture speaks of God giving ISRAEL the Sabbath, not MAN, and NOT anyone before the time of Moses. It was to the people at the time of Moses that God first made known his Sabbath. With these verses, and a total lack of any text in the Bible that indicates anyone prior to Moses knew about the Sabbath, anyone without an agenda to push the Sabbath would come to the obvious conclusion that the Sabbath was given first to Moses.
If the Old Covenant was given to Israel at the time of Moses, and we can see that above, and if the Sabbath was made known to them at this time, and it was the sign of the Old Covenant, it is impossible for the Sabbath to have been given by God to any human prior to the time of Moses. Deuteronomy is clear – this covenant was not a pre-existing covenant that was handed down from their fathers, and ratified again at Sinai. This was a totally new covenant, never before given to any human.
The 10 commandments are called the tablets of that covenant. The Sabbath is the sign of that covenant. If you read about the nature of this covenant – what it was, what the sign of it was, to whom it was given, and to whom it was NOT given – it is clear that the Sabbath was part of this covenant, and was therefore not revealed before the time this covenant came – the life of Moses, the coming out of Egypt.
Prior covenants had their signs – Noah’s covenant had the rainbow, Abraham’s had circumcision. With the Mosaic Covenant, God revealed the Sabbath to them. The two go hand in hand.
That doesn’t mean that the Sabbath could not point back to creation – it did (Exod 31:17.) It also pointed back to the exodus from Egypt (Deut 2:15.) It also pointed forward in time to the rest we as Christians have found in Christ.
Yes, it was mentioned at creation by God the Father, addressing the Son, the Spirit, and the angelic host. But it was first revealed to human beings in the days of Moses, according to the passages of Scripture above. There is no evidence anywhere in the Bible to state otherwise, no evidence that Adam, Noah, Abraham or anyone else before the time of Moses ever knew abut, or kept, the 7th day Sabbath – and so this, as a clear statement in the Bible, goes uncontradicted by other biblical texts.
All I am asking you to do is this: do not add your own wishes to the Bible and expect others to accept them, when the Bible actually says that this is not the case. These verses point out that the Sabbath was a sign between GOD and ISRAEL, that it was given as a sign of the OLD COVENANT, and that this covenant was NOT made with their fathers. It speaks of God giving ISRAEL the Sabbath, not MAN, and NOT anyone before the time of Moses. It was to the people at the time of Moses that God first made known his Sabbath. With these verses, and a total lack of any text in the Bible that indicates anyone prior to Moses knew about the Sabbath, anyone without a Sabbath-promoting agenda would come to the obvious conclusion that the Sabbath was given first to Moses.
For New Testament confirmation, see Gal 3:17, which says that the law only came to men 430 years AFTER Abraham – that is the law that contained the Sabbath.
Some Adventists will deny that the Sabbath pictures Christ’s rest, because Col 2:16 talks about a shadow of the reality we find in Christ. For the purposes of getting around Col 2:16, they make the Sabbath look back to the original creation, and the other annual holy days look forward to Christ. They then state that we must look back in time to the original Sabbath Adam and Eve kept in the Garden of Eden, forgetting that the Bible doesn’t state anywhere that Adam and Eve kept the Sabbath – and denying what the passages listed above clearly state.
To get this right, they play a word game – they confuse the meaning of the term “remember.” “Remember” is also a synonym for “observe.” Consider the following: when you ask your friends, your husband or wife, your children definitely, to remember your birthday, are you asking them to cast their minds back to the day you were born? Your children cannot do that for sure. But you use the word “remember” anyway. It means that they must remember it – remember to observe it – when the time comes. And that is what the Sabbath commandment says.
A perpetual covenant?
Adventists also argue that the Sabbath is called a perpetual sign for all generations, and therefore it can never pass away. But God also refers to circumcision as a perpetual covenant in Genesis 17:11-13, to incense as one in Exod 30:8, to the Levitical priesthood as one in Exod 29:9. All these so-called perpetual covenants have been done away with at the cross. Just because they are called perpetual covenants does not mean that their purpose will never come to an end. They have been fulfilled. The covenant they symbolised was fulfilled, and came to a close. Circumcision was for ALL Abraham’s generations, yet although we are part of that people, circumcision if not necessary for Christians. The same goes for the Sabbath.
The Sabbath shall cease
Speaking of the New Covenant, the Old Testament prophesies of a time when the Sabbath shall cease – Isa 1:13-16, Hosea 2:11, Jer 31:31-4.
(Hos 2:11) I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.
(Isa 1:13) Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
(Isa 1:14) Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
(Isa 1:15) And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
(Isa 1:16) Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
(Jer 31:31) Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
(Jer 31:32) Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, saith the LORD:
(Jer 31:33) But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(Jer 31:34) And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
St Paul tells us that the law has indeed been written on our hearts (2 Cor 3:6-14) – we are a New Covenent people. Our nature has been changed through baptism, we are a new creation in Christ.
Someone who understands what the Bible is telling us will realise that the Sabbath and circumcision are merely signs of the Old Covenant, and since the New Covenant is now in place, we must follow the signs of the New Covenant and NOT the Old Covenant. Therefore modern Christians baptise instead of circumcise, and they gather together on Sunday (1 Cor 16:2) instead of Saturday.