On the seventh day, we rest. This is a clear command from God, given on the mountain at Sinai, carved with His own finger into the tablets of stone provided by Moses. You would think that, given all of the authority and power behind it, this commandment would never change. But something interesting happens to this third law in the wilderness. And if you're not paying attention, you might read right by it.
When the commandments are first given in Exodus 20, a very clear reason is given for the Sabbath - "In six days the Lord made heaven, earth, and the sea, along with everything in them. He didn't work on the seventh day. That's why the Lord blessed the day he stopped his work and set this day apart as holy." (v. 11)
Thus, Israel was given a day of rest.
And in fact, as we continue reading through the Old Testament, particularly the establishment of a faithful society in the early books of the OT, we see this pattern repeated over and over again. For six years, Israel worked; in the seventh, they rested. For six years, they employed slaves; in the seventh, they set them free. For six years, they collected on loans; in the seventh, they wrote off the debts. And for six cycles of seven years, they followed this pattern, but after the seventh, they celebrated a Jubilee. Certainly, the seventh was set apart as holy in many ways, which we only assume we can trace back to this command - the Lord blessed the seventh day.
But follow Israel through the wilderness for awhile and meet up with them again at the edge of the Promised Land. Fast forward from Exodus 20 to Deuteronomy 5, where Moses is preaching his final sermon and reminding Israel of their journey, of the promise of God, and of the commandments that God has given them. The commandments are the same - never lie, murder, covet, steal, etc. Even the third commandment remains the same- "You have six days to do all your work. The seventh day..."
...is no longer holy.
Wait. What? Yes, you read that right. In the passage in Deuteronomy in which the Ten commandments are remembered and preached, the seventh day is no longer holy, and it no longer has anything to do with God's creation of the world. Look at what the Scripture says:
"The seventh day is a day of worship dedicated to the Lord your God. You...must never do any work on that day. ...Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God used his mighty hand and powerful arm to bring you out of there. This is why the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the day of worship." (vv. 12-15)
Be honest: how many times have you read right past this dramatic change in the Sabbath observance? How many times have you read right past these words that change the seventh day from holy to something different entirely, that take out the reason that we do what our God did and replace it with appreciation for what our God has done?
Ask most Christians about the Sabbath, and they will give the Exodus explanation - we rest because God rested, because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. But stand on the edge of the Promised Land with Israel, and that is no longer the case.
There is oh so much fun we can have with a passage like this, and we will have some of that fun in the coming days. So stay tuned.