The Sabbath: A Sign For Israel (Exodus 31)

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” (Exodus 31:12-14, emphases added)

I have underlined several words in the preceding verses because I think that a careful reading of Exodus 31:12-17 clearly shows that God intended for the observance of the Sabbath Day to be a sign between Him and Israel. Scripture in no place establishes the Sabbath as a sign between God and the Church or Christians.

It is interesting to note that the Lord would reiterate the significance of the Sabbath for Israel at this point in the Exodus narrative: right after the calling of Bezalel and right before the building of the Golden Calf. It seems almost out of place. The instructions concerning its observance will also be given again in Exodus 34 and 35; after the broken Tablets of the Law are replaced. In short, God really wanted to make sure that Israel understood the importance of observing the Sabbath!

Throughout remainder of the Pentateuch, the Sabbath is repeatedly mentioned and its significance reinforced. In light of this, it is inconceivable that instructions are never given once in the New Testament to observe the Sabbath if this is something God expected Christians to observe. Not even a single time. Some have stated in defense of Sabbath-keeping for Christians that other laws are not repeated in the New Testament, yet God still expects us to follow them (the prohibition against sexual relations with animals, for instance). But the keeping of the Sabbath is, without a doubt, one of the most important statutes in the Law of Moses. It is one of the Ten Commandments and the only one of the Decalogue not repeated in the New Testament.

The setting apart of a Sabbath Day by God is first mentioned in Genesis 2:1-3. Yet it is never given as a sign or ordinance to any people except Israel under the Law of Moses. Even in the Garden of Eden, we are never told that God required anything from Adam and Eve except to refrain from eating the Forbidden Fruit. In Genesis 9, God establishes a covenant with Noah after the Flood. The sign given of that covenant is the sign of the Rainbow (Gen. 9:13-17). There is no mention of Sabbath-keeping there, either. And under the New Covenant that we have in Jesus Christ, the Person and work of the Lord Jesus is the “Sign” of that Covenant. That and our sealing into Christ by the Holy Spirit.

“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—  things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

The New Testament makes it clear that the purposes of the Sabbath for Israel have found their fulfillment in Christ. Hebrews 4:1-8 shows us that to enter into the Sabbath Rest of God is to come to faith in Christ and enter into His rest (cf. Matthew 11:28). For the Christian, the Sabbath is not about resting on a certain day but resting in a certain Person.

[For more information about the Sabbath Day for Christians, please see my article: Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?]

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,


**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible  (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]