Was the Seventh Day Sabbath Observed before Mt. Sinai?

Some Christians question whether God’s seventh day Sabbath was observed before He gave the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai because Sabbath observance was never mentioned in the book of Genesis. I would like to address this question and summarize my conclusions by writing that even though Genesis and several other books in the Bible do not mention Sabbath observance, evidence provided elsewhere in the Bible resolves this question.

Two essential points should be established as we begin this study. First, Jesus Christ created everything that exists. He created everything on Earth in six days, and He created the seventh day and made it holy. (Genesis 2:1-3) John speaks of Jesus as the Creator saying, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1: 10, 11) Paul says more about Jesus as the Creator, “For by him [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him [the Son] and for him [the Father].” (Colossians 1:16, insertion mine)

Second, Jesus does not change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) “I the Lord do not change….” (Malachi 3:6) As we proceed in this study, we will see that the actions of Jesus in the past through the future are consistent. If we accept these two conclusions, the remainder of this study should be easy to follow.

Since we know that Jesus is deity, the Creator of the seventh day carefully considered His response to the Pharisees when they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath.  “Then he [Jesus] said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, [speaking as the Creator of the Sabbath, Jesus continued] The Son of Man is Lord [over all creation] even of the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2:27, insertion mine) The Pharisees understood Jesus to mean: “I made the Sabbath for man. As the Creator [owner and Lord] of the Sabbath, who defines Sabbath observance? You or Me?”

Genesis 2 clearly states that Jesus created the Sabbath at the end of the Creation Week. Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees as the Creator of the Sabbath 4,000 years after Creation Week, said, “The Sabbath was made for man.” Considering this statement, how can anyone argue that Jesus created the Sabbath for man, hid it for centuries during the time of the patriarchs, and waited until 2,500 years after Creation Week to reveal the Sabbath on Mt. Sinai. The New Testament indicates three times that “the Lord’s day” is the seventh day of the week. (Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27; Luke 6:5)

The Seventh Day Was Holy before the Ten Commandments

Jesus affirmed that the seventh day was holy two times before speaking the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai! The first instance occurred a few weeks before He delivered Israel from Egypt and the second instance occurred more than a month before Israel reached Mt. Sinai. When Jesus sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver His people from slavery, there is evidence suggesting that Jesus required Israel to rest from their work on the seventh day.  We know Israel’s “resting” infuriated Pharaoh. Even though Exodus 5 does not explicitly say that Jesus required Israel to rest on His Sabbath, Exodus 5 indicates there was severe punishment and persecution for “resting.” This means that Israel was caught between the demands of two kings and violating Pharaoh’s orders brought punishment while violating Jesus’ demand meant deliverance. “But the king of Egypt said, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!’ Then pharaoh said, ‘Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping them from working.’” (Exodus 5: 4, 5)

When the Israelites suddenly stopped their labor to rest, Pharaoh summoned the Israelite foreman to appear before him. Pharaoh made it clear that since they had chosen on their own to take a day off; he would no longer provide the straw needed to make bricks. He further declared that the Israelites’ brick production quota must be maintained or they would be severely punished.  The foreman left Pharaoh’s palace and soon found Moses and Aaron. Notice what they said, and then what Moses said to Jesus: “And they [the foreman] said [to Moses and Aaron], ‘May the Lord look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’ Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon the people? Is this why you sent me?’” (Exodus 5: 21, 22, italics and insertions mine) This verse indicates that God (not Moses) required Israel to rest from working.  Obviously, the day God chose for resting was His holy day. Moses respectfully placed the blame on the Lord because it was the Lord who demanded the Israelites to rest from their work.

Jesus said the Sabbath was created for man and He declared the seventh day holy at Creation. He wanted to increase Israel’s faith and reveal His sovereign authority over Pharaoh before delivering Israel from Egypt. So, the Lord demanded that Israel rest from their labors on the Sabbath day – His holy day.

A second instance of Sabbath observance can be found prior to Mt. Sinai. The story in Exodus 16 began exactly one month after the exodus. Israel had run out of food and the camp was hungry and grumbling, so Moses appealed to the Lord. “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.’…He [Moses] said to them, ‘This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath t the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”’ So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and [unlike storing up manna on the other days of the week, the manna stored up on Friday] it did not stink or get maggots in it.” (Exodus 16: 4, 5, 23, 24, italics and insertions mine)

The evidence in Exodus 16 reveals three things. First, the order of the seventh day Sabbath in the weekly cycle has not been lost. Jesus withheld manna on the seventh day of each week 2,500 years after Creation. Then 1,500 years after Mt. Sinai, Jesus told the Pharisees that He was Lord of the seventh day of the week. Second, when the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years, Jesus produced a miracle every sixth day when the manna they stored on the sixth day did not decompose. Finally, we learn in Exodus 16 that manna began to fall from Heaven about forth days before the Ten Commandments were given. Obviously, the Israelites knew of the Sabbath before the Ten Commandments were given.

The Sabbath Was Known before the Flood

The Bible says, “And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters…. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Genesis 5: 22, 6:9) We have seen thus far that Israel knew of God’s seventh day Sabbath prior to Mt. Sinai, but was the Sabbath known before the flood? The Bible reveals that Enoch walked with God for 300 years! The Bible also states that Noah walked with God, so did these patriarchs know about the Sabbath? I believe the antediluvians were not subhuman, knuckle-dragging apes. Compared to humanity today, the descendants of Adam were physically superior to us. The Bible records how they lived for hundreds of years. Men walked with God and they heard Him speak. This is how the Word of God (and the laws of God) became known. I cannot think of any reason why God would hide the holiness of the seventh day from the antediluvians. Until Jesus expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, they walked with Him.  Even though there is no explicit test indicating the Creator told Adam and Eve about the holiness of the seventh day, we know that from the beginning the Sabbath was made for man. Jesus is purposeful and consistent in all that He does. It seems inconceivable that Jesus would not tell Adam and Eve about the Holy boundary He put around the seventh day.  From the beginning, the seventh day of Creation was separated from the other six days. From the beginning, God has allowed man to work six days of the week, but was forbidden working on the seventh day.

Moses covered 1,600 years of human history in the first nine chapters of Genesis. When God gave Moses the information for Genesis (about 2,500 years after Creation week), He gave Moses enough information so that humanity might understand the following concepts: the origin of life on Earth, the origin of man, the origin of marriage, the origin of the seventh day Sabbath, the origin of sin’s curse, and a record of the horrific display of God’s wrath against lawlessness.  Even though the bible does not record in Genesis that Adam and Eve observed the seventh day, there is unmistakable evidence that Adam and Eve did not violate or trample on the holiness of God’s Sabbath! Their first and only sin while living in the Garden of Eden was that of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve, Enoch, and Noah did walk with God and I believe that Jesus revealed the holiness of the seventh day to them since the Sabbath was made for them.

When Did God’s People Begin Resting?

Some Christians who wish to ignore God’s Sabbath rest choose to skip over, distort, or ignore Paul’s words in Hebrews 4. Notice: “For somewhere he [Moses, in Genesis 2: 1-3] has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.’ There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who [plans to] enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4: 4, 9, 10, insertions and italics mine)

Paul wrote these words about 35 years after Jesus died on the cross, yet he reminds the early church by saying, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” Genesis 2 proves that the seventh day Sabbath is not a “Jewish Sabbath.” Adam and Eve were not Jews. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man, meaning all mankind. (Mark 2:27) At Mt. Sinai, Jesus said the Sabbath was created as a weekly memorial to His creative works. (Exodus 20: 8-11) There is no indication anywhere that the Creator cancelled the holiness He placed on the seventh day at Creation or made another day holy. Thirty-five years after the cross, Paul wrote that a Sabbath-rest remains for the people of God, “for anyone who [plans to] enters God’s rest also rests from his own work [on the seventh day] , just as God did from His [on the seventh day].”

Ten “unseen” Commandments

When Jesus created Adam and Eve, He wrote the Ten Commandments in their hearts and minds. This means that Adam and Eve were in natural alignment with God’s law and this was seen in their thoughts, words, and actions. There was no lawlessness in the Garden of Eden until they committed a lawless act. Prior to sinning, Adam and Eve always looked forward to meeting and worshiping their Creator each Sabbath day. Unfortunately, when Adam and Eve sinned, their nature changed so much that their first inclination was to run and hide from God. Instead of being naturally lawful, they became naturally lawless and the result of this curse has been witnessed in the thoughts, words, and actions of mankind ever since.

When Jesus met with the guilty pair, He made a covenant with them and their offspring, promising redemption and restoration. God’s love for humanity would provide the necessary atonement for sin AND God would restore the Ten Commandments within His people’s hearts and minds. Few people speak of the second half of the promise, but it is just as important as the first part!  The Ten Commandments are called “the covenant” and they were kept in a box called the ark of “the Covenant.” At the appointed time, God will remove the carnal nature of humanity and again write His laws in the minds and hearts of the faithful.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8: 10-12) Even though it has been almost 6,000 years since sin began, God will do all that He promised. During the Great tribulation, God will seal His people. (For more on this topic, please see Chapter 6 in my book, Jesus: The Alpha and The Omega.)

It is an interesting fact that throughout human history, only Moses and those who saw him return to camp from the mountaintop ever saw the Ten Commandments, the two tablets of stone God engraved with His finger. (Exodus 31: 18; 32: 15, 16) Since then, God has not permitted mankind to see the Ten Commandments. God has promised that He will write His laws in their hearts and minds of His people, but only for those who exercise faith and embrace His promise. It is not necessary for God to show the Ten Commandments to His people now, because they do not worship His law as two tablets of stone. Instead, they wish to receive God’s law written within their hearts and minds. Their greatest desire is to demonstrate God’s law of righteousness though their conduct. In other words, God’s people want to be living examples of His law, loving God above everything, and their neighbors as themselves.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article next month.

Larry Wilson


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