David Grabbe, reminding us that the trek through the Red Sea occurred on the seventh day of Unleavened Bread, points out that other historical events also occurred on that day, including the toppling of the walls of Jericho and the healing of the lame man near the Pool of Bethsaida, after his having endured his infirmity 38 years. The ancient Israelites moved in the desert but had made no progress in getting Egypt out of their hearts. When God restored Israel through Joshua, He gave them credit for the time that had walked, indicating that in all cases, He was doing virtually all the heavy lifting, but was demanding that the Israelites exercise faith, doing something concrete to indicate their willingness to participate in the covenant. The walls of Jericho were, in effect, already history when Joshua's men began their march around the city. When we make our covenant with God, we must move forward exercising faith, doing our part in the overcoming/ sanctification process, realizing God is in charge of the entire process.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
When Jesus healed a woman bent over by a severe spinal condition, it was in a synagogue and on a Sabbath, arousing the anger of the Pharisees, who taught that healing was forbidden on God's day of rest. Martin Collins writes that Jesus uses the situation to illustrate a proper use of the Sabbath, as a time to loose what is bound and straighten what is crooked.
The episode of the healing of the man born blind takes up an entire chapter of the book of John, signalling its importance in understanding the work of Christ. Martin Collins discusses the blind man's response to Jesus, the part the Sabbath plays in the healing, and the ubiquity of opposition to true Christians.
At creation, God sanctified only one day, the seventh, as a day of rest. At Sinai, He once again sanctified it as a holy day, connecting it with creation and freedom. John Ritenbaugh expands on these concepts, showing that God wants us to keep the Sabbath to support our continuing spiritual creation and freedom.
One Sabbath during His ministry, Jesus took the opportunity to heal a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees, however, castigated Him for doing so. Martin Collins points out the hypocrisy of these self-righteous Jews regarding the Sabbath.
When Jesus healed the crippled man by a Jerusalem pool, His Jewish critics were more interested in attacking Jesus for healing on the Sabbath than in rejoicing that a lame man had been made whole. Martin Collins probes this hypocrisy, Jesus' instruction to the healed man, and the man's response to the Jews.
We live in a society that is increasingly concerned about ownership. We have a proclivity to assume ownership over things we find in our grasp. David Grabbe considers this principle in relation to the Sabbath. Who owns it—and how does the answer to this question affect our keeping of it?
Martin Collins contends that the effectiveness of a law is found in its purpose and intent rather than the letter. The blind spots to God's Law unfortunately are found in the spiritual application or principle rather than a specific motor behavior. Christ taught that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to fulfill the law's requirements. Love and mercy constitute the essence of the spiritual fulfillment of the Law. God's Holy Spirit enables us to carry out the spiritual intent of the Law. By continually using God's Spirit, we gradually or incrementally take on God's nature in our innermost beings. As we judge other people, we must realize that the things that offend us mirror our own (hidden from us but transparent to others) faults.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that God's people must exercise correct judgment as to what is permitted on the Sabbath and what is not. God's law is not so inflexible that He will not allow alteration for special circumstances. Sometimes higher laws of extending mercy overrule a normal situation. The intensity of work or energy expended is not the issue, but rather the motivation behind the work. We need to develop righteous judgment about what constitutes a genuine Sabbath emergency and what may be a deceptive rationalization of our human nature.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the biblical instructions (found in both the Old and new Testaments) pertaining to Sabbath keeping apply far more to the Israel of God, the church, than to the physical descendents of Israel, who did not have the fullness of scriptural counsel. Because the Bible has both a physical/national and a spiritual/church level, certain truths, remaining invariant under transformation, will become increasingly and uniquely relevant to God's spiritual children. The Sabbath, a major tenet of the Royal Law, kept faithfully by the prophets, apostles, and our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, is a commanded period of time to develop an intimate relationship with God, allowing us to incrementally transform into His image.
John Ritenbaugh warns that keeping the right days on the calendar is no guarantee of attaining a right relationship with God. How and why a person keeps the Sabbath determines whether this test commandment is really a sign between God and His people or an idolatrous act of futility. The Sabbath could metaphorically represent a date between God and His affianced bride, a special 24-hour time to become more intimately acquainted, the actual courtship stage before marriage. Letting worldly concerns enter the Sabbath is like committing adultery or flirting with other lovers. When we take time to know God, we become refreshed, strengthened, and actually liberated from worldly entanglements.
Most are not aware that in the Gospels, questions about the Sabbath center on how to keep it, not whether it should be kept. John Ritenbaugh explains how Jesus approached the Sabbath as an example to us.
John Ritenbaugh describes the process through which God perfects His image in us, linking three sub-themes: 1) God's disciplining, 2) our listening, and 3) God's watchful care. Obedience to God's Word strengthens us, enabling us to receive our spiritual heritage. Remembering the lamentable condition of our slavery to sin and God's deliverance and involvement in our lives helps us to exercise obedience, keeping us growing toward perfection. Paradoxically, humble dependency upon God strengthens us, while prideful self-sufficiency weakens us. No matter what situation, God carefully watches over us like an eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), ready to come to our aid and supply us with what we need.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the dual purpose for the Sabbath consists of (1) a memorial of God's physical creation and (2) a memorial of our redemption from bondage. Bondage is the consequence of rejecting or neglecting the Sabbath. Far from doing away with the Sabbath, Jesus magnified the Sabbath, giving us principles enabling us to judge our activities. On the seven occasions where the Sabbath is the issue, Jesus emphasized some form of redemption, indicating that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free. While God rested from physical creation, spiritual creation continued, creating sons in His image. The Messiah's lawful work consisted of healing, redeeming, forgiving, and doing good. Our lawful Sabbath work consists of emulating Christ and committing ourselves to God's purpose.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the two major purposes for the Sabbath are to (1) remind us that God is Creator and (2) to remind us that we were once in abject bondage and slavery to sin. Christ, in His role of Law magnifier (Isaiah 42:21) magnified the spiritual intent of the Sabbath as a time of blessing, deliverance, liberty, and redemption. From the beginning of His ministry Luke 4:16 to His death, Jesus used the Sabbath to set people free from physical and spiritual bondage. If we reject the Sabbath or keep it carelessly, we are begging to be put back in bondage to Satan and sin.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that the Sabbath is the major means by which He protects His investment, the spiritual creation of His family. The Sabbath, far from being the least of the commandments, is a special creation, a very specific period of holy time (only God can set apart something as holy) given to all of mankind, reminding us that God does not stop creating, but elevates His attention to spiritual creation, providing us with unified instruction designed to free us from sin, celebrate life, develop a special relationship with Him, providing a major tool for our conversion, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. No other commandment so specifically defines God's purpose. Breaking the Sabbath is tantamount to idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh again emphasizes the burden-relieving, liberating and redemptive aspect of the Sabbath, suggesting that the seemingly provocative healings that Jesus performed on the Sabbath stood in stark contrast to the oppressive bondage of the Pharisees' elaborate regulations.The ministry of Christ was a manifestation of the redemptive work of the Father. Some work ordinarily profane is permissible for priests in the temple in order to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. The many physical healings Christ performed served as a type of a future spiritual healing. The work required on the Sabbath is to prepare for the Kingdom of God, fellowshipping with our brethren, doing charitable works of service to those in need, and relieving their burdens.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God gave the Sabbath (a sanctified, set-apart period of recurring time) to His people in order that they come to know Him intimately, learning to live as He lives. Idolatry, scattering, and captivity have always been the natural consequences of Sabbath breaking. Freedom from bondage and liberty are the natural consequences of Sabbath keeping. God gives relatively few broad principles concerning how the Sabbath is to be kept. Our Elder Brother has given us specific examples of how to use Sabbath time properly, having begun His redemptive liberating ministry on the Sabbath and ending it on a preparation day. Christ emphasized the liberating or redemptive intent (or burden-relieving aspect) of the Sabbath. Acts of liberation or release from bondage occur frequently on the Sabbath Day. We need to follow our Elder Brother's example of relieving burdens.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]