AN EXAMINATION AND REFUTATION OF 16 PROPOSITIONS AGAINST SABBATH KEEPING, PART 6
RESPONSE TO CHAPTER 6 OF “THE SABBATH: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.”
by Edwin M. Cotto
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a response to chapter 6 of the antisabbatarian book, “The Sabbath: What you need to know: 16 Propositions Against Mandatory and Salvational Sabbath-Keeping.” Please keep in mind that as we publish responses to chapters, changes may take place without notice to anyone. Please revisit this page often for updates as the goal is to reply to all 16 propositions. Responses to each chapter will continue to be published as time goes by. Visit chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Response to Chapter 6:
The Sabbath was never meaningless, was never abolished, and God never hated it
One thing is to quote a verse or two to make a point, it is another thing to study each of those verses contextually. Elce does here what critics often accuse Adventists of, proof-texting. We will take a look at each of the verses used in this chapter to make the claim that the Sabbath was at times meaningless, abolished and hated by God, and seek to determine if Elce has interpreted them correctly. The following six points summarize this chapter:
- Point 1: The Sabbath commandment is a moral law, even if our nature doesn’t tell us
- Point 2: Isaiah 1:13-14 – God hates the Sabbath
- Point 3: Jeremiah 17:19-17 – Israel does not regard the Sabbath
- Point 4: Lamentations 2:6 – God abolished the Sabbath
- Point 5: Hosea 2:11 – God promises to put an end to the Sabbath
- Point 6: Amos 5:21-22 – God again promises to put an end to the Sabbath
The point of quoting all these verses are, obviously, to prove the Sabbath’s “ceremonialism.” This is why we will begin with why we believe the Sabbath is not a ceremonial law, but rather a moral law.
RESPONSE TO POINT 1: The Sabbath commandment is a moral law, even if our nature doesn’t tell us.
Elce begins by explaining how moral laws are inherent in our nature, or conscience, and sought to prove this via the verses quoted above, which demonstrate God’s treatment of the Sabbath. He correctly writes on page 19 that moral laws” “are the things we ‘ought to do.'” Indirectly, Elce is saying that since no one knows by nature of the seventh-day Sabbath, because our conscience does not tell us about it, it is therefore not a moral law, but a ceremonial law. How strange that such a conclusion is reached by proponents of sola-scriptura. If our minds determine morality along side the Bible, the critics have two standards, scripture and conscience. And they aren’t, therefore, sola-scriptura. Conscience has its place (as we will see in a moment), but since the heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” (Jer. 17:9), the scriptures determine morality, and therefore, whatever conclusions the human conscience may reach, they are subject to the conscience of the God who inspired the Bible. All must be tested by the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
While it is true that humans inherently know what is right from what is wrong, humans need to be guided and instructed by God on how to do what is right from what is wrong. This is evident in the endless debates of whether it is good to lie at some points, such as to save a life, or to never lie, or to steal at some points, such as to satisfy hunger, or to never steal under any circumstance. Other times a certain moral duty is not inherent at all, and here they definitely need to be told. For example, who would have known to respect God’s sacred name without first being told what that name was, an then to respect it? It is not enough to inherently suspect that there is a divine being. Many people conjure up all sorts of gods and goddesses when they are not directed to the true God and end up violating the first commandment. Yet if we did learn of the true God, how would we know that he is offended when we bow in reverence towards images of him? We wouldn’t, not until we are told. Recall that the Bible says, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” and Paul wrote that our situation is so bad that even if we wanted to do right, of our own selves we can’t.(2) And will I trust my heart to tell me what is moral and what is not?
Of course, the issue always surrounds the fourth commandment. All admit that resting is a moral duty.(3) But the reply from critics is that we do not naturally know on which day of the week to rest upon. Well, we also do not naturally know which name not to take in vain. According to Romans 1-3, there are three ways to learn God’s will:
- Through nature (Romans 1:18-20)
- Through the conscience (Romans 2:14-15)
- Through revelation (Romans 2:18, 3:1-2, Heb. 1:1)
When man cannot, through nature or through his conscience, know God’s will, he can know it by revelation, that it, by having it revealed to him. Nature and conscience cannot tell him God’s name nor that it has to be respected; it cannot tell him which God to worship nor that He hates being worshipped through images. Yet the word of God can reveal all of this! Therefore, we learn morality, not merely by nature or the conscience, but also, and more importantly, by being told via revelation of God’s will. Likewise, we may not know by nature of conscience which day is the Sabbath, but the scriptures say, “the SEVENTH day is the Sabbath” and therefore, we can know, we are responsible for the light we receive through scripture, not for the light we have not received.(4) It is correct to say that “our consciences convict us of right and wrong,” but the information has to be placed in there through revelation. Paul wrote, “For I had not known sin, except the law had said, ‘thou shalt not covet.” (Romans 7:7). We must be TOLD.
Now let us give conclusive proofs that the fourth commandment is indeed a moral duty. You will notice in the following list that every element of the Sabbath is moral:
- PROOF ONE: Work is a moral duty, so argues the apostle Paul (see Eph. 4:28, 1 Tim. 5:8, 2 Thess. 3:6-10, Col. 3:23, also Luke 19:13, cf. Gen. 2:15). The mistake of the critics is that they are focused solely on the seventh-day part of the fourth commandment, but the fourth commandment requires work as well (Exo. 20:9). In other words, it is just as important to work during the first six days as it is to rest on the seventh day. And since work is a moral duty, the fourth commandment is commanding God’s people to perform a moral act.
- PROOF TWO: The resting element of the fourth commandment is also a moral issue. Resting is essential to human life, even in ministry. At one point Jesus tells His disciples to “come… let us rest a while” (Mark 6:31). We are told by the apostle John to be in health (3 John 2), of which rest is a part of health. Paul wrote that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. What results when we do not treat it with respect? The same thing that happens when we violate one of the other moral laws, “him shall God destroy” (see 1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19-20). Though Paul is not here talking about resting, the principle still applies. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul lays down this principle ever so clearly when he wrote, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Our bodies need rest, and since lack of adequate rest is detrimental to mind and body, resting is a moral issue. Here again is another moral act which the fourth commandment demands.
- PROOF THREE: Committing our entire lives to God is a moral issue. This is something the fourth commandment expresses which is unique from the other nine commandments. As seen with the first two points above, though the fourth commandment God expresses how He wants to direct the lives of His people every day of the week. He has a right to command this, since we are created by Him (see Romans 9:20-21). This is a moral imperative that is fundamental to the fourth commandment, and who will argue that its not a moral issue to obey it?
- PROOF FOUR: Since what God says to do is always a moral issue (see Eccl. 12:13-14), it is therefore a moral duty to do it on the day God said to do it, the seventh day. Here is where the critics argue the most. They claim that there is nothing moral about the day. That the specific day does not matter. That anyone can rest on any day, or that there is nothing wrong with observing an other day instead of the seventh day. Its like saying that we don’t have to use bread during communion, or water during baptism, and that these can be substituted for other things. The fact of the matter is that no one has the right to change any of the particular details of a commandment of God. The fourth commandment says, “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God, in it thou shalt not work” (Exo. 20:10). Note the definite article “the” and the definite day “seventh.” Its not just any day, or a seventh part of a day. No, it is THE SEVENTH DAY, and although no one knows by nature or conscience that its the seventh day specifically, yet they do know through revelation once they read about it in the word of God. Recall that God commands when we ought to rest, and that in the same way man needs to be told God’s name in order for him to be able to respect it, so man has to be told which day is the Sabbath day in order for him to respect it. In other words, we do not know exactly right from wrong until we are told. Paul wrote that he would not have know lust, “except the law had said, ‘thou shalt not covet'” (Rom. 7:7). In the Garden of Eden, Eve would never have known it was wrong to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil unless she was told not to (Gen. 2:17). And if she had to be told right from wrong in her perfect and sinless state, how much more are we to be told in our fallen state? Imagine for a moment being told to appear for jury duty on a particular Wednesday but you decided to show up on Thursday instead, claiming the “day” does not matter. Incredibly, the critic knows the day matters to an earthly judge, but when it comes to the judge of the universe, the particular day He chose is irrelevant! How ironic, then, to be an “antisabbatarian” Christian. Therefore, the specific day does matter, and it is a moral duty to rest and observe the seventh day, simply because God said that’s the day that needed to be respected.
- PROOF FIVE: Using the time of the seventh day as you see fit is stealing, since the commandment says that “the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God (Exo. 20:10, cf. Isa. 58:13). And not even Elce will deny that stealing is a moral issue. In the same manner that a person can violate the eighth commandment by using something of another person for their own benefit, so a man can violate the Sabbath by using the time that belongs to God for their own benefit. Thus, embedding within the fourth commandment itself is a command not to steal. David says, “thy commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psa. 119:96), and James 2:10-11 explicitly teaches that all Ten Commandments are to be treated equally, since violating one automatically violates the other. We see therefore how interconnected the commandments are, and it is no surprise to see a moral issue from one of the other commandments within the fourth commandment also.
- PROOF SIX: Finally, by Elce’s own admission in chapter 2, anything that comes down to us from creation is moral and has “universal import.” Both work (Gen. 2:15) and rest (Mark 2:27) come down from creation and therefore the Sabbath, which encompasses both of these, is also moral and universal (see chapter 2 were we proved with the context of Mark 2 that verse 27 places the Sabbath at creation). This is an important point because the Sabbath is often lumped with Israel’s feast days and therefore as they came to an end at the cross, so did the Sabbath. But the Sabbath is a universal ordinance, created along side marriage during creation week. So Elce is actually correct that things pertaining to creation have “universal import.” Nevertheless, man is only responsible for the seventh-day when they receive revelation about it in the fourth commandment. So the individual who doesn’t know by scripture which day is the Sabbath rest is less responsible than folks like Elce who do know it by scripture and yet fight against it.
There are other indications that point to the fourth commandment as a moral commandment. For example, though the fourth commandment does not actually command corporate worship, God attached this to it later on (Lev. 23:3), and the New Testament warns against dire consequences for not having assemblies (Hebrews 10:25). Another indication is its proximity to other moral precepts. The Ten Commandments are considered one document. They were given in a single instance, upon a mountain, and in the hearing of thousands of Israelites. The three before the fourth one are moral, and the six after it are moral. The one in the middle is… not moral? Nonsense. It must be, because as the apostle James wrote, violating one of the Ten Commandments will automatically violate the rest of them (Jam. 2:10-11). The reader may add these to the list of proofs if he wishes.
Having now seen how every aspect of the fourth commandment is moral, we now turn to the references Elce uses to demonstrate that they aren’t moral but ceremonial:
RESPONSE TO POINT 2: Isaiah 1:13-14 – God hates the Sabbath.
After briefly elucidating these texts, Elce explains that God hated the feast and Sabbath assemblies of the people. He was “annoyed by them” because those ceremonies “were being kept and held vainly.” “This shows,” Elce concludes, “that the Sabbath was not a universal, unchangeable, moral law.”
But what was actually the problem? The institution of the Sabbath? Or their hypocrisy in seeking to keep the Sabbath while unconverted? Verse 15 says that God refuses to hear their prayers. What was the problem… prayer? Or their hypocrisy when praying? Evidently, it was neither the Sabbath nor prayer. It was their hypocrisy when engaged in these things.
I recall one time celebrating the birthday of my ex-father in law. He was a very disgruntled man. Everything bothered him and he was easily ticked off. This was a common occurrence, and it didn’t fail for him to go off on someone at his birthday party and ruin everyone’s mood. I remember leaving that day thinking about how much I hated celebrating his birthday. I was annoyed by it, and dreaded having to celebrate it the next time around. I didn’t, however, leave thinking that his birthday would never again be celebrated, or that the institution of his birthday was the problem. Wouldn’t it be nice for him to reform his ways so that his birthday can be more enjoyable and meaningful the next time around? Nothing changed His birthday. The institution of the birthday was not affected and, in fact, it will come back around the next year whether or not anyone wants to observe it.
The same can be said of the institution of Marriage as well, or for any kind of institution for that matter. When a couple does not celebrate the day of their anniversary, it continues, nonetheless, to be the day of their anniversary. Many people think Jesus was born on the 25th of December. But if the world refuses to recognize that day, the 25th of December will continue to be the day of Christ’s birth. When July 4th comes around, not everyone celebrates it. But that day is etched in history as the day of independence for the USA. See, people’s conduct, hate or annoyance of such institutions does not do away with the institution, it merely robs them of enjoying it.
Let’s give a more “universal, unchangeable, moral” example that applies to all believers… Communion. Notice what Paul said:
“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise [you], since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of [others]; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise [you].”(5)
Obviously, celebrating Communion was not having the desired effect it was meant to have on the people. Similar to the conduct of the Israelites when they kept the Sabbath, these Christians were acting disorderly, selfish and hypocritical. But notice the implication of verse 26, “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup…” Evidently, their conduct did not do away with the institution itself. They were just under guilt when they kept it in an “unworthy manner” (verse 27). Paul expected them to continue observing it “till He comes” but under the condition that they no longer did it in a selfish manner (ibid, verses 28, 33-34).
We find the same thing being spoken of regarding the Sabbath in Isaiah. It is true that God was so fed up with their hypocrisy he would rather they not get together on a day which was meant to be a symbol of their sanctification (Eze. 20:12), but that did not do away with the institution itself. Rather, God expected them to keep it but under the condition that they reform their ways. Here’s the proof:
- In the immediate context Isaiah tells them to “give ear to the law of our God” (verse 10). In verse 11 God speaks of the vainness of their rituals when the heart is not right, and directly calls them to have a change of heart, saying, “wash yourself, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eye.” He tells them to “cease to do” and “learn to do good” (verses 26-17). As it was written previously, “To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22, cf. Ps. 51:16-17). God was calling them back to true obedience. He was not abolishing the law altogether.
- A few chapters later in Isaiah, God tells them to observe the Sabbath! “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord honorable… then you shall delight yourself in the Lord…” (Isaiah 58:13-14). Obviously, the institution itself was not removed. I will let Elce himself defend my position. On page 19 of his book he says that God hates it when the people violated laws forbidding adultery, lying, stealing, etc, and says that “one will never read where God says that He would remove the law against those things. Au contraire,” he continued, “He hated that they were morally putrid, rebuked them, and then reinforced those moral laws upon them!” (emphasis mine). And that is exactly what takes place with the Sabbath. God hated their “morally putrid” behavior upon that day and rebuked their hypocritical Sabbath keeping. But then what does God do? He reinforces the Sabbath upon them (Isa 56)!
On page 20 Elce used a wedding band example saying that under an unfaithful marriage it becomes “a meaningless sign” where it loses “its symbolic sanctify.” What a curious example for Elce to use. Unfaithfulness does not abolish the wedding band, nor does it mean that it can’t be reused if the spouse repents. In fact, wedding bands have value regardless of the marriage. One can sell it for a profit for example. So whether the spouse is faithful or not, the band itself remains precious. Nevertheless, Elce does have a point. It is loving unity among the spouses that gives the wedding band greater significance. Yet isn’t that what God was trying to do? He was calling the Israelites to reunite with him, and in the process he offered them the wedding band again, the Sabbath, to continue to be a sign that he was their husband (Isaiah 58:13-14)! You will find that this is how God often treats the Sabbath in the context of verses such as this one in Isaiah. He never really abolishes the Sabbath. It’s celebration and its significance in the minds of the unfaithful simply experienced a temporary disruption. But the ring is still there. God just wants them to do it the right way and with the right heart.
RESPONSE TO POINT 3: Jeremiah 17:19-27 – Israel does not regard the Sabbath
The context of this chapter actually does the same thing we saw Isaiah do. It actually calls upon the Israelites to observe the Sabbath, despite the fact that they were being disobedient (verses 21-26). Note verse 27:
“But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”
This conditional prophecy actually took place because they continued to be disobedient to God’s holy day. Their observances of the Sabbath became meaningless because they did as in the times of Isaiah, keep it without a heart transformation. So, they were taken captive and their city was destroyed. But what happened to the Sabbath as an institution? Take a look:
“And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and [that] they should come [and] keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, [concerning] this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.” (Neh. 13:22).
Soon after they were released from seventy years of Babylonian captivity, there was the Sabbath again! This reinforced what was explained earlier. Seventy years of captivity did not in any way affect the Sabbath day. The fact that the people were no longer privileged with observing the Sabbath no more does away with the Sabbath, anymore then refusing to celebrate their anniversary does away with the fact that that day holds special significance. Once again, the problem was not the institution of the Sabbath. The problem was with the people.
RESPONSE TO POINT 4: Lamentations 2:6 – God abolished the Sabbath
Elce uses this text to say that at one point the Sabbath was “abolished.” Since moral laws don’t get abolished, this is an important text for him to appeal to in order to prove that the Sabbath was ceremonial. Sadly, Elce quotes this verse from a translation that fits his narrative, the HCSB, which translates the word שָׁכַח to “abolished” when it really just means to “forget.” The KJV is correct in its translation, “the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten (שָׁכַח) in Zion…” It’s really too bad that Elce quoted from this translation in order to give his readers the exact impression he intended to convey. But the Sabbath was not temporarily abolished… it was temporarily “forgotten.” A few more points will suffice to complete this response:
- An institution exists whether one remembers it or not. If during that time they were caused to forget birthdays or marriages, that in and of itself would not abolish birthdays and marriages.(8)
- In the literary context of Lamentations, Jeremiah not only documents why they were destroyed and what took place, but also pleads for a return to the Lord. “Let us search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the LORD” (3:40). In fact in the last chapter he asks God to turn the people back to him and to renew their days “as of old.” This comes after describing the unfortunate circumstances they are now in and, incidentally, the fact that they no longer have “rest” (verse 5).
- This request was fulfilled upon their return from exile. As we saw before, no sooner than they were released seventy years later we see the Sabbath still around in full force (Neh. 13:15-22). Even feast keeping resumed (Neh. 8:13-18). God did not cause the Sabbath to be abolished; He caused it to be “forgotten” for a time.
In Context, we read that the situation also caused “the Law” to be “no more” and also “her prophets” to “find no vision from the LORD” (verse 9).(9) Unless Elce is ready to claim that the Ten Commandments and the gift of prophecy were abolished at this time as well, the Law was actually still in force and the gift of prophecy was still also, as can be seen by the very fact that it was Jeremiah, a prophet, writing this book.(10) Evidently, these things were forgotten for them, under those perilous circumstances. This doesn’t affect the institutions themselves, however.(10)
RESPONSE TO POINT 5: Hosea 2:11 – God promises to put an end to the Sabbath
In my research I have discovered at least three interpretations of this text. First, that the sabbath here refers to the seventh day Sabbath, and that Hosea is here predicting the abolishment of the Sabbath at the cross. The second interpretation I’ve encountered is that while this is the seventh-day Sabbath, it’s not so much a prediction of the future abolishment of the Sabbath but more of a demonstration of how the Sabbath is not moral in nature. This appears to be Elce’s interpretation. If the Sabbath could be temporarily abolished during the days of Hosea, this would prove that it was dispensable and ceremonial, because nothing eternal and moral could ever be abolished. These first two interpretations assume that the noun “sabbath” refers to the seventh-day Sabbath and not to ceremonial sabbaths mentioned as in Leviticus 23, which is the third view. If the sabbath in Hosea 2:11 is the ceremonial sabbaths, which is evident from the fact that it reads “her sabbaths” while in contrast the seventh-day Sabbath is qualified as God’s Sabbath (cf. Eze. 20:12), then the first two arguments become meaningless. My view falls under the third category, but in this response I will assume that this was the seventh-day Sabbath and demonstrate why it still does not prove Elce’s point that the weekly Sabbath was temporarily abolished.
Firstly, let’s examine the first interpretation. Hosea 2:11 is historically a prophecy of Israel’s impending doom by Assyria.(11) If we draw the conclusion that it is also a typology pointing to the cross, we must admit that the parallels between the two are very minimal. If it is a typology, it would prefigure more the destruction of the southern Kingdom of Judah probably beginning with Babylon’s invasion, and perhaps later by Rome’s invasion. To illustrate, notice how strong the parallels are between these three events in Table 6.1:
|ASSYRIAN SIEGE||BABYLONIAN SIEGE||ROMAN SIEGE|
|Attacked by a foreign nation||Attacked by a foreign nation||Attacked by a foreign nation|
|3-year siege||Various sieges||4-year siege|
|Attacked the capital||Attacked the capital||Attacked the capital|
|Numerous deaths resulted||Numerous deaths resulted||Numerous deaths resulted|
|The people scattered||The people scattered||The people scattered|
|Disruption of celebrations||Disruption of celebrations||Disruption of celebrations|
In fact, we see from the last one on the list that the very verse itself finds parallels between those other two events. As the joyous celebrations of the institutions outlined in Hosea 2:11 came to a halt when Assyria destroyed Israel, so they came to a halt when Babylon and Rome destroyed Judah. The critic’s insistence that this one parallel, the cessation of the various holy days, is seen at the cross, seems a bit biased when the overwhelming amount of parallel’s is seen elsewhere. Actually, we see a continuation of Sabbath keeping in the New Testament, as in Luke 23:56, proving that the followers of the Lord did not view the seventh-day Sabbath as ending at the cross. It seems therefore that there actually is no parallel with respect to the Sabbath between Hosea 2:11 and the Cross, and the first interpretation, that this was a prophecy foreshadowing the end of the Sabbath at the cross, is erroneous. Note table 6.2:
|ASSYRIAN SIEGE||THE CROSS AT CALVARY|
|3-year siege||No parallel|
|Attacked the capital||No parallel|
|Numerous deaths resulted||No parallel|
|The people scattered||No parallel|
|Disruption of celebrations||No parallel|
Some other particularly important differences exist as well. Evil triumphed in Hosea when Assyria destroyed Israel, while good triumphed at the cross when Jesus saved the world. Similarly, the death of the king of Israel amounted to nothing while the death of the king of the universe amounted to redemption. Additionally, God’s people in Hosea were physically slaughtered. By contrast, God’s people, though distressed, remain unharmed as they view the Lord dying on the cross. A little extra thought will reveal various other differences, but I believe these few examples will suffice:
|WHEN THE ASSYRIAN SIEGE TOOK PLACE:||BUT WHEN THE CROSS TOOK PLACE:|
|Evil Triumphed||Good Triumphed|
|The death of Israel’s earthly King amounted to nothing||The death of Israel’s heavenly King amounted to redemption|
|God’s people were slaughtered||God’s people were not slaughtered|
Additionally, the New Testament does not abolish the Sabbath but rather exalts it to its true meaning and purpose. As we have seen and will continue to see in this response, Jesus teaches how, not if, the Sabbath is to be kept (Matt. 12:12), the example of His followers after the Cross demonstrates that Jesus never taught the abolishment of the Law or it’s Sabbath but rather that He did not come to destroy it (cf. Luke 23:56, Matt. 5:17-20), our faith in the Lord actually establishes the Law (Rom. 3:31) and the Sabbath serves to illustrate what that faith looks like on a daily and weekly basis (Heb. 4). Truly the Lord magnified the Law “and made it honourable” (Isa. 42:21). Conclusively, the prophecy of Hosea 2:11 prophesies the forthcoming destruction by the Assyrian nation and not the redemptive act of the Lord at the cross on Calvary. This of course does not mean that Hosea does not contain allusions and even prophecies regarding the Messiah; it simply means that the text which we are discussing cannot be used to prophecy the abolition of the Sabbath when there is so much evidence against such an idea.
Now, let’s continue the assumption that Hosea 2:11 is referencing the seventh-day Sabbath and examine Elce’s interpretation that in this text the Sabbath is prophesied to become temporarily abolished. A simple look at the immediate and historical context will show why this argument is also not sound. First, that God was not abolishing the institution of the Sabbath is evident by the fact that God was not abolishing everything else mentioned in that same context. Notice what else was going to cease:
- Their “mirth” (rejoicings) would cease (Hosea 2:11).
- Their corn, wine, wool and linen will be “taken away” (Hosea 2:9).
- Their vines and fig trees will be “destroyed” (Hosea 2:12).
- The “people of the land” will “waste away” along with beasts, birds and fishes (Hosea 3:3).
These are things that don’t cease to exist, but did cease among them. The destruction by Assyria would disrupt all Sabbath keeping, along with their use of their land’s corn, wine, linen, vines, fig trees, beasts, birds and fishes, but that does not mean that the the institution of the Sabbath ceased to exist. If I don’t observe my birthday or anniversary, that would not affect the institutions themselves. Critics seem to think that the Sabbath’s existence depends on its being observed,, but what ceased was their observance of these institutions, not the institutions themselves.
That what God did was cause a disruption of their observance of the feasts, new moons and sabbaths, and not actually abolish these institutions, can also be seen by way of comparison with a parallel prophecy against the southern kingdom some years later. When Babylon then became the threat of Judah, God made the same prediction, using some of the same terms, but this time about the institution of marriage. Note the words “the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride” in the following text:
“Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate.” (Jeremiah 7:34, see also 16:9)
Let’s place the two texts side by side so the parallel becomes clearer:
|Northern kingdom (Israel) to be |
destroyed by Assyria
|Southern kingdom (Judah) to be |
destroyed by Babylon
|“I will also cause||“Then I will cause|
|all her mirth to cease||to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth|
|Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths, All her appointed feasts.”(Hos. 2:11, NKJV)||and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride. For the land shall be desolate.” (Jer. 7:34, NKJV)|
By reasoning the same way Elce has, we may conclude from Jeremiah 7:34 that the institution of marriage was also, “abolished.” But when Judah was destroyed by Babylon, “marriage” continued to exist (cf. John 2:1). Evidently, causing these things to cease among Israel because of their unfaithfulness no more abolished them as institutions when the northern kingdom was destroyed, any more than causing marriage to cease among Judea abolished marriage as an institution when the southern kingdom was destroyed!
I will now illustrate this with an illustration Elce himself used on page 20 of his book:
“Essentially, what good does a wedding band, being proudly worn, serve if that same spouse is relentlessly unfaithful to the marriage covenant? The wedding band becomes a meaningless sign and would have lost its symbolic sanctity. The same principle applies to the Sabbath.” (see para. 1).
Yet unfaithfulness is not the fault of the marriage institution, but of the spouse. Even in divorce, the institution of marriage does not now cease to exist. The ring itself may be meaningless to that particular union because it no longer represents that particular union, yet it neither ceases to exist nor, in the case of the children of Israel, is it now meaningless. Israel indeed experienced a divorce (see Jer. 3:8), yet the institution of the Sabbath continued to exist (cf. Jer. 17:21-27).
To conclude, we noted initially that there are three interpretations of the noun “her sabbaths” in Hosea 2:11. The first two interpretations make the verse refer to the weekly Sabbath, while the remaining interpretation argues it is referring to yearly ceremonial sabbaths. But in either case the institution of the weekly Sabbath remains unharmed. In the latter interpretation the seventh-day Sabbath is untouched if Hosea 2:11 is not speaking about it, and in the two former interpretations the weekly Sabbath remains because removing the ability to observe it does not affect the institution itself.(7)
RESPONSE TO POINT 6: Amos 5:21-22 – God again promises to put an end to the Sabbath
Amos, like Hosea and Isaiah, was an eighth century prophet and was among the first to be sent to the northern kingdom to warn them of their impending doom.(14)The verses to which Elce points to highlight Israel’s empty religious formality and God’s response to it. Because of their hypocrisy, God expresses his hate towards their religious assemblies and rejects their sacrifices and offerings of grains and song. He highlights their idolatry and their adoption of the star of a pagan deity (verse 26) and because of this, he threatens to send them off into captivity “beyond Damascus” (5:27). The Sabbath is regarded as an obstacle to their selfish endeavors (8:5), so, it is no wonder that God hated their assemblies. Obviously, the fault was in the actions of the people, not in the institution itself. It should be noted that Isaiah came after Amos bearing similar messages, and Isaiah calls for a return to true Sabbath keeping (See Isaiah 58). So we see once again that the problem was not with the institution, but with the people.
Again, critics seem to think that the existence and morality of the Sabbath depends upon their keeping it sacred. But the Sabbath is sacred whether they kept it or not. It was the day that was set apart and pronounced blessed in the Genesis story, and in the fourth commandment they were simply told not to forget to respect it when it arrives.
None of the verses that Elce brings up prove that the Sabbath was a meaningless institution. True, Sabbath keeping was meaningless when done with a corrupt heart, but let’s face it, it would be meaningless to keep any of God’s laws while the heart is corrupt and apostate. Legalism in any form is “meaningless.” There is no point in keeping the 6th commandment, while one has hatred towards his brother in his heart (Matt. 5:21-22), nor in keeping the seventh commandment while the heart is constantly lusting after other people (ibid, 27-28). The entire tree must be pure before the fruits can be pure. Why just pick on the fourth commandment?
Also, these verses do not prove that the Sabbath was temporarily abolished. The observance of the Sabbath was temporarily disrupted however, but in every case, such as we read in Nehemiah 13, Isaiah 58, and Ezekiel 20, the Lord desired that they return to its observance through true heart repentance. The very fact that they were told to keep it again when they were restored is evidence that the commandment was still in force. It seems that somewhere along the lines Elce mistook the inability to do something with the commandment as somehow affecting the commandment itself, and this is what unfortunately led him to conclude that the Sabbath must therefore be a ceremonial law.
CHAPTER 6 FOOTNOTES
1) Jeremiah 17:9.
2) Romans 8:7. Incidentally this text infers that the spiritually minded person is subject to God’s law. I mentioned this in chapter 3. Evidently the spiritually minded is subject to it because it serves as the standard for right living and good moral choices.
3) 1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 3 John 2.
4) John 9:41.
5) 1 Cor. 11:17-22 NKJV. Communion is universal in the same way that Marriage is universal. We explained this in previous chapters. God’s institutions are universal for God’s people, not for those who reject him. So neither Communion, Marriage, Baptism nor the Sabbath belong to anyone else except those who give their lives to the Lord and obey him. In this sense, they are all “universal.” I find it interesting that keeping Communion is a moral duty that is not naturally inherent in man. Nothing in our being tells us to observe the Communion institution. In fact, it is less inherent in man than the Sabbath, where at least we naturally know we ought to rest. In other words, it’s what we spoke about before, we do not go by what we think is right. We go by a plain revelation of God’s law in his Word.
6) See Hosea 9:3, 10:5-6, 11:5-6, cf. 1 Chron. 5:26, 2 Kings 18:9-12.
7) It is true that the feast days in Hosea 2:11 also ceased due to their inability to observe them, and that the feast days were ceremonial in nature. But again, it is not the inability to do something that eliminates something anymore than my inability to honor my mother, who passed away, eliminates the fifth commandment. These sacred ceremonial institutions remained set apart year after year no matter their respect towards them. Only if we are specifically told that a command has been changed or abolished can we come to that conclusion. This has not been the case with respect to the Sabbath as we have so far seen and as we will continue to see.