AN EXAMINATION AND REFUTATION OF 16 PROPOSITIONS AGAINST SABBATH KEEPING, PART 4
RESPONSE TO CHAPTER 4 OF “THE SABBATH: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.”
by Edwin M. Cotto
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a response to chapter 4 of the antisabbatarian book, “The Sabbath: What you need to know: 16 Propositions Against Mandatory and Salvational Sabbath-Keeping.” Please keep in mind that as we publish responses to chapters, changes may take place without notice to anyone. Please revisit this page often for updates as the goal is to reply to all 16 propositions. Responses to each chapter will continue to be published as time goes by. Visit chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Response to Chapter 4:
The Exodus does not prove that the Sabbath was merely for Israel
In chapter 4, Elce appeals to Deut. 5:15 as proof that the Sabbath belonged strictly to Israel and no one else. Here are the points of this chapter:
- Point 1: The Sabbath is a memorial of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt
- Point 2: The Sabbath must be spiritual if the exodus from egypt is spiritual
RESPONSE TO POINT 1: The Sabbath is a memorial
of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
Deut. 5:17 reads, “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” With this text, Elce calls the Sabbath their “Independence Day” and the logic is that you would not celebrate the Independence Day of another nation because neither you nor your ancestors experienced the reason for their independence. “This is another element of the Sabbath,” wrote Elce, “that reveals how exclusive to Israel it was. No other nation could have kept the Sabbath for this purpose.”(1) And with that, the Sabbath belongs to the Jews alone.
But let us not be so hasty in our conclusions. A couple of points here will suffice to show the untruthfulness of this argument:
- Their Independence Day was Passover/Unleavened Bread, not the Sabbath.
When the United States declared their independence, the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4th, 1776. No longer were the colonies of the United States subjected to the laws of Great Britain. They were free to officially become a brand new nation. Note that date was July 4th. For the country of the Philippines the day of independence is June 12th. October 1st for Nigeria. December 24th for Libya. India broke from being ruled under the United Kingdom on August 15th, 1947. A Ten Year War was initiated by Cuba’s declaration of independence from Spain on October 10th, 1868. Typically there is a specific day on which independence is declared. What was the day of independence for ancient Israel? Was it the seventh day of every week? No. It was the 14th/15th day of the Hebrew month Abib. Note these texts:
“So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.” (Exodus 12:17-18)
“And Moses said to the people: ‘Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten.’ On this day you are going out, in the month Abib… And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:3-4, 8)
“Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night… You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Deut. 16:1, 3)
“On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’s Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.” (Lev. 23:5-6)
On the fourteenth day the Passover lamb was killed, and the very next day, while still dark, they were essentially told by Pharaoh himself that they were now free, “Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said.”(2) THIS was their Independence Day! It is more fitting then the weekly Sabbath, because it was on this day that they were officially free to become their own independent nation. The 14th and 15th day could land on any day of the week as the years roll by, but no matter what day of the week, it is on these days that Israel celebrated their “Independence Day,” not the seventh day of every week.
Since Abib 14th/15th was their independence day, it would make no sense for me to celebrate it literally, because I was not a part of that experience. Passover/Unleavened Bread are limited to Israel as a nation, but not the Sabbath. The Sabbath was original from the beginning. It originally represents “creation.” Therefore, I have a right to celebrate it because it was “made for man” (Mark 2:27). It is no wonder that Elce is trying desperately to limit the Sabbath to Israel alone, because that is the only way he can excuse himself from having to observe it. This point, that the Sabbath’s original significance is the creation, will now be expounded on in the next point.
- The Deuteronomic version is a reminder by Moses of the original precept in Exodus 20.
A close look at the Deuteronomic version actually points back to the original command as given in Exodus. Verse 12 reads, “Keep the Sabbath day to keep it holy, AS the Lord thy God HATH COMMANDED thee. (KJV)” That last clause points to another location where the original command is to be found, that location obviously being Exodus 20:8-11. This also proves that the Deuteronomic version is evidently incomplete as it is missing the reference to creation, which we read in the original. But again, even though Moses omits a part of the precept, he refers to where it was originally given.
The Sabbath has nothing in it that commemorates the escape from Egypt because the escape from Egypt was a flight that took place on the 14th day of the first month, while the Sabbath was a rest that took place on the 7th day of the week. This is why, as we have already mentioned, the job of commemorating the Exodus belonged to the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, not the Sabbath.
Moreover, because the Exodus version of the Sabbath commandment points to the creation, where man was created, while the Deuteronomic version mentions a more personal experience of the Israelite exodus, where Israel as a nation was formulated, the implication is that the Exodus version is more universal than the Deuteronomic version. The call in the Exodus version reminds them that God created all things including man, something we can all relate to, while the call in the Deuteronomic version reminds them that God took them out of Egypt, something mainly Israel can relate to.(5) Take away that secondary meaning and we are left with the original, more universal application of the fourth commandment. As one author put it:
“If the Deuteronomic rationale… connects the Sabbath to Israel’s particular experience, the Exodus rationale connects it to the larger human experience.”(6)
Elce said that “no other nation could have kept the Sabbath for this purpose.” But we Sabbatarians don’t keep it for that purpose. What applies to us is it’s original significance, that God is the creator of all things, including me, and that He rested on the seventh day.
Why then did Moses reference the exodus when He repeated the commandment? Very simple. He mentions it in verse 15 because in verse 14 they were told that the benefits of the Sabbath rest was to be extended to the “stranger who is within your gates” and to their “male servant and female servant.” A comparison with a parallel text will settle this matter:
“You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.” (Deut. 24:17-18)
The language in both cases is manifestly an appeal to their sense of gratitude. Moses was simply appealing to the Israelites to extend these benefits to others as proof of their appreciation for having it extended to them. “Remember that at one point you were slaves, therefore… remember how at one point you were treated, therefore…” The focus here is not so much the place in which they were slaves as it is the fact that they were slaves and that as a result they should show others the same degree of mercy.
Additionally, if in the case of the Sabbath the language in Deut. 5:15 proves it was only for the Jews, then the statute in Deut. 24:17-18 must share the same fate. And if the language in the one case proves that men were not under obligation to observe the Sabbath, the same language in the other case proves that before that deliverance men were under no obligation to treat the stranger, fatherless and widows with respect.
- The annexed Exodus event is no excuse to discard with the Sabbath.
I am no more excused from keeping the Sabbath because of the Exodus of the Israelites than am I excused from keeping the golden rule for the same reason. Leviticus tells us the following:
“But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 19:34)
Imagine that, refusing to love Elce as I love myself just because this command is connected to the experience of the Israelites in Egypt. But this line of reasoning appears all the more fallacious when one realizes that the exodus from Egypt is the preamble to the entire Decalogue! We read, “And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (Exo 20:1-2). In order to be consistent we will have to discard not only with the entire law of God but also with the golden rule! The absurd proposition that we should have nothing to do with the Sabbath because of this applies equally to the laws against murder, stealing, and lying. But according to Elce, an element such as this “reveals how exclusive to Israel it was.”
Moreover, rather than excluding non-Israelites from keeping the Sabbath rest, Deut. 5:12-15 actually includes non-Israelites! Verse 14 is clear, “In it thou shalt not do any work, thou… nor thy stranger that is within thy gates…”
RESPONSE TO POINT 2: The Sabbath must be spiritual
if the exodus from Egypt is spiritual.
Some Adventists say that since they have been delivered from the slavery of sin, as Israel was delivered from the slavery of Egypt, therefore they can keep the Sabbath to represent this freedom as it represented Israel’s freedom. While this argument has some truth in it, it is not one that I appeal to in my own argumentations. Elce took issue with this and so the next section of this chapter deals with refuting the whole idea. While I agree with him in some of his reasons here, I disagree with others, and I found it best to simply quote him as I respond. There are actually just two things he said that I want to address. Here’s the first thing:
“If Egyptian deliverance is spiritualized, Sabbath-keeping must also be spiritualized as well, if it is to be a sign of deliverance. And if the Sabbath is spiritualized, as they should logically do, then it would mean that the Sabbath would not be confined to a particular day as a sign of deliverance from sin… consistency demands that if one event is spiritualized (Egyptian deliverance), then the other event tied to it (the Sabbath) must also be spiritualized. And if the Sabbath is logically spiritualized as a momento of deliverance from sin, we will end up with the fact that it cannot be inflexibly tied to one day out of the week nor simply going to church on that day.”(7)
First, the Sabbath was always a spiritual matter. This is nothing new. God told the Israelites to keep it as a sign of the spiritual work of sanctification that He was doing in their hearts (Exodus 31:13, Ezekiel 20:12). But that did not stop them from the obligation of having to also observe it literally every seventh day. In fact the literal aspect of the seventh day was necessary to internalize and conceptualize the spiritual meaning of the day. Critics have this idea that the Sabbath was merely a weekly thing when in fact the fourth commandment taps into the experience of the entire week. It specifically calls on the people to work on all six days, and then rest on the seventh day. Since the seventh day was a sign of sanctification, and since sanctification was done for them on a daily basis, the fourth commandment represents the work that God does for them every day, looking forward to the culmination of this work on the seventh day of the week. The patriarch David understood this when he wrote his only Psalm dedicated to the Sabbath, saying, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night.”(8) It was evident to David that by the end of each day God continued to be faithful to him. And this, under the context of a Psalm dedicated to the seventh day of the week.
Literally resting from all labor once a week deeply implanted the spiritual meaning of the work God was doing in their hearts. While God worked their hearts daily, ultimately their salvation from sin was something they could not accomplish in the least. To feel the importance of salvation by grace without any effort of their own they needed to do absolutely no secular labor once a week. Via the Sabbath, the sign of their sanctification, the Israelites would see in a most personal way their utter dependence upon God and His work. In this sense the Sabbath represents justification by faith. One wonders then what Sunday keeping, or no-day keeping represents. Satan always tries to replace the work of changing the heart. He “savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt. 16:23). But I digress.
Jesus constantly pointed to literal, physical things to help internalize his spiritual lessons into the minds of the people, “A sower went out to sow” “the kingdom of heaven is like unto a mustard seed” etc. Similarly, Jesus pointed to literal bread and wine to help His disciples conceptualize the fact that His body would be broken and His blood spilled, so that His work can accomplish the ushering in of the New Covenant, a spiritually profound concept.(9) But spiritualizing the Sabbath no more spiritualizes away the literal seventh day any more then spiritualizing Communion spiritualizes away the necessity of actually using literal bread and wine during that service. The same can be said of Baptism as well, or Marriage, both of which contain profound spiritual applications but both of which necessitates the literal applications. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus speaks of the spiritual application of tithing but is careful to tell them not to leave literal tithing “undone.” It was the gnostics that separated the literal from the spiritual, not the Christians. I’m afraid Elce’s reasoning here just does not work. Apply that same logic to one of God’s other institutions and you’ll see that what he calls logical is actually illogical. In fact, let’s demonstrate just that as we address Elce’s second point:
“Deliverance from sin is something that we experience, enjoy, and benefit from every day. And if the Sabbath becomes its spiritual memento, then the Sabbath would be a daily experience. And this is something that Adventists vehemently fight against. They cannot have the Sabbath be a daily faith experience. It cannot be a daily rest in Jesus.”(10)
Imagine if I made this same line of argumentation with the institution of Marriage, and said, “Union with Christ is something that we experience, enjoy, and benefit from every day. And if Marriage becomes its spiritual memento, then Marriage would be a daily experience.” How much sense would that make? Elce’s insistence to fight against the literal day puts him in an awkward position. The meaning of Marriage is indeed experienced every day. We daily unite with Christ. We daily walk with Him. We daily commune with Him. The same can be said of the daily experience of Baptism, and Communion. We daily “die to self.” We daily partake of the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual way. But does all of that put aside the literal aspects of these institutions? What Elce is not understanding is the point I made above. Keeping the fourth commandment is indeed a daily experience which leads up to the resting from labor on the seventh day! That is what the commandment actually says to do. And it’s spiritual application applies in the same way. We do rest from sin on a daily basis, but that in and of itself does not do away with the command to rest from secular labor on the seventh day of the week in the same way it did not negate that for David who wrote his Psalm nor for the Israelites who were also to experience this spiritual daily rest (cf. Jeremiah 6:16). The Sabbath actually represents this daily, spiritual work and incidentally Elce wants to remove that sign. What irony! And the audacity of Elce to then say that the Sabbath’s daily implications “is something that Adventists vehemently fight against” and that we Adventists, “cannot have the Sabbath be a daily faith experience. It cannot be a daily rest in Jesus” is nothing more then an obfuscation of the reality of the situation. It is designed to confuse the Adventist reader who probably does not understand the Sabbath’s true meaning.(11) It is not that the Sabbath is a daily thing. That takes place on the seventh day and there is nothing Elce can say to change that. But it is true that the spiritual implications of the Sabbath extend throughout the entire week. The culmination of our daily labor is the rest of the seventh day, and this constant experience helps believers internalize and conceptualize the daily labor that God does in our hearts while we rest in his efforts. It is thus that it is a sign of sanctification. God is doing the work. Not man.
A comparison between the Exodus version and the Deuteronomic version of the Sabbath commandment reveals that the Exodus version applies in a more universal way while in Deuteronomy Moses sought to make it more personal. There is as little wrong with that as there was in making September 14th a more personal experience between my wife and I, though originally that was the day of her birth.(12) Remove this, and it’s original significance remains. Nevertheless the annexed, secondary application of the exodus from Egypt to the Sabbath no more means that believing non-Israelites of the flesh cannot partake of the Sabbath anymore then annexing that same event to the golden rule means we should not obey that. Like the Sabbath, when the exodus from Egypt turned into a mere historical, object lesson for all believers, the rule to “love your neighbor as yourself” remains. Love, obviously, was God’s original intent from the beginning. Personalizing that law with the Israelites will never change that.
A closer look at Elce’s second point revealed the inconsistency of the logic being employed when compared to other of God’s institutions, such as Marriage, Communion and Baptism. No more will the spiritual aspects of these three institutions do away with the literal aspects then would the spiritual aspect of the Sabbath do away with the need to observe the literal day. We see no need to discriminate against the Sabbath. Rather we find that the literal practice of all of these institutions help conceptualize those spiritual lessons, revealing the need to have the practical aspect. If those spiritual lessons have eternal consequences, and the literal practice of them will help implant those lessons in our hearts, we dare not remove that literal aspect. The fourth commandment contains such depth of spiritual richness often lost sight of by both Sabbatarians and non-Sabbatarians alike. If all could see that the Sabbath is more then just a once-a-week type of thing; if all could see that the Sabbath call’s for a daily commitment that culminates in a rest which signifies God’s changing of our hearts; if all could see the true meaning of the Sabbath and its holistic method of internalizing the spiritual reality of redemption and sanctification, hardly anyone, or perhaps no one, would take issue with obeying the commandment. I grant my critic a pass on this one. We Sabbatarians have neither practiced nor explained the Sabbath in it’s true light. I hope I am able to do that in this book while at the same time answering the objections of my critic.
CHAPTER 4 CITATIONS:
1) Lauriston, page 15. Emphasis mine.
2) Exodus 12:31.
3) It has been suggested by some critics that the Israelites were not present at creation in order to be told to “remember” it. But I did not have to be present when my wife was born in order to remember her birthday. I remember it because I was informed that she was born on that day and it is special. God specifically told them the reason for remembering the Sabbath, “for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
4) In Luke 9:31 we read about Jesus’ death as the “exodus” out of this world (see Strongs #1841). Incidentally, Moses was present there (verse 30), who led the first exodus out of Egypt. At His death, the Passover feast, along with every other Israelite ceremonial holiday, met its fulfillment (Col. 2:14-17), just as conversely the exodus led by Moses initiated those feasts. The reason why the Sabbath stands apart however is because it is original to the creation of the world. Hebrews 4:9-10 says its spiritual and literal aspects “remain.” We will discuss Col. 2:16 soon. For a detailed analysis of Hebrews 4, see Appendix C.
5) While the fact that God redeemed them from Egypt related more to the Israelites, the fundamental principle that God is the “redeemer” however relates to all of us. Recall that the entire Decalogue is prefaced by the fact that God redeemed them from Egypt (Ex. 20:1-2). Does that personalize the Decalogue as well? Absolutely. But that fact that the fourth commandment points to the beginning, where there were no Israelites, continues to give it universal application. We expect God to take original, universal institutions and make them personal with the people He just redeemed. He did the same with marriage, but we would never argue that marriage now belongs strictly to Israel.
6) Novak, Miller, “The Ten Commandments,” page 124, quoted in “The Sabbath Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12–15” By Ekkehardt Mueller, Associate Director of the Biblical Research Institute. See: https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/sites/default/files/(%2356)2.pdf
7) Laureston, Elce, page 15.
8) Psalm 92:1-2. Even Elce understood that, though the Jews kept the Sabbath on a weekly basis, they worshipped God on a daily basis. See page 71 of his book. Obviously worshipping God every day, and being sanctified by Him every day, did not negate for them the keeping of the Sabbath every week.
9) Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, Heb. 9:15, 12:24.
10) Laureston, Elce, page 15.
11) See Appendix C where I use Hebrews 3 and 4 to further explain the Sabbath’s true meaning of rest in Christ.
12) My illustration may not be perfect, but it serves to make the simple point that just because the personalizing the Sabbath between God and Israel does not take away from its original application.