The Significance of the Sabbath -- By: Merrill F. Unger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 123:489 (Jan 1966)
Article: The Significance of the Sabbath
Author: Merrill F. Unger


The Significance of the Sabbath

Merrill F. Unger

[Merrill F. Unger, Professor, Semitic Languages and Old Testament Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

The Sabbath is not Sunday, nor does the latter represent a mere change from the seventh day to the first day of the week. Sunday, the first day of the week, is a wholly new day instituted to commemorate the beginning of the new creation with the resurrected Christ as its Head.

The only similarity of Sunday to the Sabbath is that it perpetuates under grace the principle that, although all redeemed man’s time is God’s, one seventh is to be especially sacred and ought to be set aside in voluntary gratitude for the purpose of worship and for ministry for God in behalf of men’s spiritual needs, and for rest and recuperation for the body, soul, and spirit.

In all other respects Sunday is in contrast to the Sabbath. Even in the matter of preserving the principle that one seventh of redeemed man’s time is especially sacred to God, there is a radical difference between the two days. One is observed on the basis of gratitude and spontaneous love. The other on the basis of strict legal obligation, infringement punishable by death. One calls to devotion in worship and consecrated work, rest being a secondary benefit. The other enjoins total rest from all work.

The Sabbath and Creation

The Biblical Sabbath commemorates God’s rest or cessation from His creative work of refashioning the earth (Gen 1:1–31) for the habitation of His masterpiece—unfallen men (Gen 2:2–3). The reason God could “rest” was because He saw that everything He had made, including man, “was very good” (Gen 1:31). Sin had not yet entered the abode God refashioned for man nor into man’s heart. Therefore, God

could and did “rest.”

It was to memorialize His finished work of refashioning a chaotic and judgment-ridden earth (Gen 1:2) that God established and sanctified the seventh day. “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which God created and made. And God blessed the seventh day.” He made and declared it especially sacred, attaching to it the memorial that He was satisfied with all that He had done in making it a suitable abode for man and that He was pleased with man whom He had created to occupy it.

God is also said to have “sanctified” the seventh day by setting it apart as a...

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