When we read the 4th Commandment in Exodus 20, it reads this way:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
But later on, after the Israelites have been in the desert for some 40 years and Moses is about to die, he reviews all that has happened, and when he repeats the 10 Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 , the 4th one changes:
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
Do you see the change? The reason for celebrating the Shabbat has been changed! Initially, when the people were freed they were told that God rested on the Shabbat and so they should, also. These were a people that had been in slavery for 400 years and never had a single day’s rest. Slavery isn’t a 9 to 5 job, it is 24/7/365! If God was able to rest, so can they, and it was a totally new life style for them. But later, after 40 years of having a Shabbat, as they were about to enter the land, God changed the reason for celebrating.
They were about to take possession of a land in which, instead of being a slave, they will have slaves of their own. A land where there will be other people living with them who will be working for them instead of the other way around. So they will need to remember how they were slaves, that once they were mistreated and never had a single day’s rest until God provided it for them. Therefore, they were no longer to emulate God just by resting on Shabbat, but also by providing a Shabbat rest for others.
It may seem the reason for celebrating the Shabbat had changed drastically, but there is a common element between the two: whether they were resting as God rested, or providing others rest as God provided for them, they were still emulating God. At first they were told to rest because God rested, and that was something they needed to learn how to do. By the time they were ready to enter the Land the Shabbat had become a regular part of their lifestyle, and the next step was to learn how to allow others to rest from their work with them, just as God had them rest when He did.
From this point in the bible forward, the Shabbat is (almost always) commanded to be observed because we were once slaves in Egypt and now we are free. In fact, if you really look at it, from the time we entered the Promised Land onward, the impetus for the people to emulate God was in that they were once slaves and now they are free. This is the founding principle of God’s plan of salvation: those who were slaves are now free. First we were slaves to Pharaoh, and God freed us through wondrous miracles. He gave us the Torah, which defined, absolutely, sin from righteousness, and so we were able (as Shaul tells us) to identify sinfulness from sinlessness. With Torah we understood that instead of being slaves to a political system, we were still slaves to a spiritual system; more than that, we understood that the freedom to this spiritual system was also provided by God, through Messiah Yeshua.
What changed between Egypt and the Promised Land was not just the reason for celebrating the Shabbat, but our understanding of God’s plan of salvation. It is all about freedom: freedom from a political system, then freedom from a spiritual system, and ultimately freedom from this plane of existence, itself. Whether we are saved by Messiah or still slave to the world system, we are always going to be enslaved by our physicality, our mortality and our flesh. This will not change until we are resurrected into spiritual beings, and then God’s plan of salvation will be completed.
The good news is that for those that have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah, we are already 2/3’s of the way home! Freed from slavery to a world system, freed from slavery to sin, and now just waiting for our resurrected bodies.
I can hardly wait!