Every covenant has a sign to confirm it. The covenant with Noah had the rainbow as a sign of God's promise. The Abrahamic covenant had circumcision. The New covenant has baptism. And the Mosaic covenant had the Sabbath day. "Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you through out your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you." Exodus 31:13 And in verse 17, "It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed." This point is also made in Ezekiel 20:10-12, "So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statues and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them." The Sabbath day was to function for Israel as a reminder that they were set apart by God to be His people. The Mosaic covenant was where the Lord formally entered into covenant with His people. There He set the terms of the covenant, one of which was keeping the Sabbath day, which was something new, even to the people of Israel.
There are two reasons given why Israel was to rest on the Sabbath day. One is given in the 10 commandments given in Exodus 20:1-17 and the other is given in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. In the Exodus version of the 10 commandments the reason given for the Sabbath day is the Lord's rest on the seventh day. The 10 commandments in Deuteronomy the reason given is the Lord's deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. These two reasons explain the meaning of the Sabbath day for Israel.
The people of Israel were to rest on the Sabbath day because God rested on the seventh day. God did not rest on the seventh day because He was tired. His rest was a cessation of His labors and an invitation for man to enjoy this rest with God. Man was to enjoy fellowship and harmony with his Creator in this true rest. But sin came into the world and this rest was lost. Sin makes us restless. Sin destroys our peace with God. Fallen human nature cannot rest, but tries to work to find salvation. As Israel rested physically on the Sabbath they were to remember this spiritual rest that was lost because of sin. The Sabbath day was to direct their hearts to come back to God in true faith and repentance to find that true rest. We know from Hebrews 4 that this rest of God's was to be restored in Christ. He is our rest. Christ has fulfilled the Sabbath. "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His." Heb 4:9-10.
The Sabbath day was also to remind Israel of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Israel was for many years a nation of slaves. They worked and worked to build cities in Egypt. Slavery is tiring business. You don't get to pick your hours or vacations. They were owned by a very strong nation. They were oppressed and worked almost to death. I am sure they would have loved just one day to rest from their hard labor. The Lord stepped in to save His people. He destroyed their oppressors by 10 plagues. He delivered them from Egypt and led them to freedom. Yet in a sense they were still slaves, just of a different owner. The Lord now owned this people. But He is a good owner. He gave His people many good things. One of the many festivals and holidays was the Sabbath day. As they rested on that day, they were to remember their hard labor in Egypt and how God delivered them. Thus Israel would be thankful to their God for His liberation. They would remember that they were His people and they were called to live to His standards. Even this reason for the Sabbath day was to point to something greater. The freedom given in the exodus is a picture of a greater freedom found in Christ. He delivers us from the power of sin and Satan. We were slaves to sin, but now we are free to be slaves of Christ and righteousness. Thus resting on the Sabbath should have directed the minds of the Israelites to seek a greater freedom; a freedom from slavery to sin.
The Sabbath day was full of types and shadows that are all fulfilled in Christ.See Col 2:16,17. It was a sign of God's covenant with Israel. Now that Christ has come it is no longer binding on Christians. For us to observe the Sabbath would be like sewing a new patch on an old garment. It just doesn't work in this New Covenant age of grace.
So what about Sunday? Is that our new day of rest? Do we have a day of rest? Well in the next and last post in this series I will examine what the Bible says concerning the Sunday and our need for physical rest.