Yahweh said this to me: “Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, through which the kings of Judah come in and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem. Tell them, ‘Hear Yahweh’s word, you kings of Judah, all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates: Yahweh says, “Be careful, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. Don’t carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day. Don’t do any work, but make the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. But they didn’t listen. They didn’t turn their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, and might not receive instruction. It will happen, if you diligently listen to me,” says Yahweh, “to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but to make the Sabbath day holy, to do no work therein; then there will enter in by the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on David’s throne, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city will remain forever. They will come from the cities of Judah, and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country, and from the South, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, meal offerings, and frankincense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving, to Yahweh’s house. But if you will not listen to me to make the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem. It will not be quenched.” ’ ”
Can you imagine the prophet going to each gate in Jerusalem and telling the people to stop bringing their work through the gates on Saturday? It’s hard to make the issue more clear isn’t it. Either the people were to stop bringing their work through the gates of Jerusalem on Saturday or they were to suffer from God for it. God not only made it clear to the people going through the gates, he also made it clear in this text. Over and over God made it clear that no burden was to be carried on the Sabbath day. I counted that He repeated the same thing five times in this passage. God was hinging his judgment on this single command. What could this mean? Obviously, failing to keep the Sabbath is a very serious example of failing to keep the Law of Moses, and I believe that this has meaning for us today as Christians as well.
First, I think it’s important to see that God always makes things clear. God wasn’t going to harm His people for failing to keep laws that they didn’t realize they were breaking. God repeats and repeats His precise expectations. When Israel failed to obey, it was done willfully and not in ignorance. God doesn’t try to trick us. When we sin, it is because we choose to be rebellious against God.
I believe that it’s also worth it to consider why God would use the breaking of the Sabbath as the straw that would break the camel’s back. It seems like such a religious observance without much of a tie to loving acts like feeding the poor. It doesn’t seem as bad as murder or telling a lie. Why the Sabbath? I don’t really know for sure, but I do know that God views the Sabbath as a symbol for something else.
For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.
One thing God is clearly telling us, is that in order to be saved, we must rest from our own works. God cannot keep us from the punishment we deserve if we think we can work on it ourselves. True believers must come to the point of permanent rest from their own works before they can be saved. Could it be that God was using this as a demonstration of this fact? I think so.