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Exodus 31:1217 comment (0)

April 3, 2014

By Catherine Lawrence

Related Scripture: Exodus 31:1217

Bible Studies for Life 
Department of Religion, Samford University

Give Work a Rest

Exodus 31:12–17

In recent weeks our lessons have focused on work. Work is a good gift from God, and Christians have a responsibility to please God in the way we perform our work. Also Christians have the opportunity to support the work of God’s kingdom by giving generously from the income we earn. This week’s lesson invites us to consider the value of resting from our work. It is all too easy to allow work or other responsibilities and interests to impinge on our rest. Rest often seems to be something we do if we have time left over rather than something we do with intention. Perhaps we believe our relentless work has no detrimental effect. In truth, rest is vitally important for our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. The Sabbath command in Exodus 31:12–17 can help Christians think carefully about God’s gracious provision of rest.

God’s command concerning observance of the Sabbath in Exodus 31 is one of several instances in the Book of Exodus where the Sabbath command is expressed. Perhaps the most well-known instance occurs within the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:8–11). The command in Exodus 31 comes at the end of a series of instructions given by God to Moses concerning the building of the tabernacle, the ordination of the first priests and the making of the priests’ special garments. Placing the Sabbath command at the end of this material suggests the Israelites were being reminded that on the seventh day of the week, their observance of the Sabbath still must take priority over their work on the tabernacle.


Through Moses, God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath (vv. 13, 14, 16). Keeping the Sabbath would be a sign between God and Israel. That is, the Israelites’ observance of the Sabbath would be a means by which they and subsequent generations of Israelites would acknowledge and declare that it was Yahweh who had made Israel holy. In Exodus 19:6 God declared that Israel would be for Him a “holy nation” — a nation set apart to Yahweh. Israel’s faithful observance of the Sabbath would testify to this special relationship with Yahweh and would remind the Israelites that their unique identity was owed entirely to Him.

The command regarding the Sabbath also included the imposition of severe penalties upon those Israelites who profaned the Sabbath. To profane something means to treat it as though it is not holy. So to profane the Sabbath would involve an Israelite treating it as though it was no different than any other day. That the punishments were so harsh suggests that for Israel to disregard the Sabbath was no small thing. In fact, to disregard the Sabbath was to disregard what it signified — the special relationship between Yahweh and Israel.


For Israel, the seventh day of the week was to be a day of complete rest — a day marked by the cessation of the work that had characterized the first six days of the week. This day of complete rest was holy to the Lord. That is, the seventh day was a day set apart from other days of the week, blessed and sanctified by God (Gen. 2:3) and belonging to Him.


These verses reiterate the earlier command that the Israelites must keep the Sabbath, and they were to do so continually, throughout the generations. The Sabbath would be a lasting sign of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel. Israel’s resting on the seventh day of the week mirrored God’s own resting on the seventh day after having taken six days to create the heavens and the earth.

For Christians today, this passage suggests the rhythm of rest is built into God’s created order and was modeled by God Himself. We are encouraged to regularly cease our work for the express purpose of resting. This rest refreshes us physically, emotionally and spiritually. Rest is an acknowledgement that we have limitations and testifies to our dependence upon God, who sustains the world and our lives even while we rest.

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