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Covenant Sign

Photo of a high desert mountain with a rainbow and tree in the foreground.

The Sabbath is a “sign” between God and man (cf. Ezek. 20:12, 20). A sign cannot be abolished, so it lasts forever. Take, for instance, the rainbow. It is a sign between God and man that He will not destroy the earth again with water. The rainbow in heaven tells of the “covenant of peace.” The rainbow is a sign produced by the operation of natural laws following the changes in precipitation organized by God. It becomes a fitting symbol of a “covenant between God and man relative to a great natural convulsion.”[1] How much more is the Sabbath a sign! It is a sign between God and His people (cf. Exod. 31:13, 17). Today, the Sabbath represents the existence of a particular relationship between God and His end-time people.

The Sabbath is a sign that God created man in His own image, and that man did not originate by chance. The place and the origin of the Sabbath make the day binding upon mankind (Gen 2:2–3). Hence the Sabbath is a monumental institution. It is a sign that God created the world in six literal days and rested on the seventh day. Thus, the Sabbath is a sign of a perpetual covenant. The word Sabbath is derived from the Hebrew word for shabat, meaning “to rest,” “to cease,” “to desist,” and “to break off,” which is seen as a pillar that sustains the spiritual aspect of the Sabbath. God did not rest at the end of Creation week because He was weary in human sense (Isa 40: 28). Yet He “rested, and was refreshed” (Exod. 31:17). The inference is that human beings rested, communicated, and rejoiced with Him (cf. Heb. 4:4, 7). Shabat denotes cessation, not relaxation.

Susan Easton Black said, “Resting from temporal cares gave place for the contemplation of concepts associated with the Sabbath: perfection, covenant-making, and completeness.”[2] It was Abraham Joshua Heschel who said, “The Sabbath itself is a sanctuary which we build, a sanctuary in time.”[3] To Heschel, the Sabbath is a “palace in time.” The Sabbath is a weekly gift of experiencing a foretaste of eternity.

Every Sabbath, the believer is reminded to be still, to detach from the worries and the cares of this life, to detach from the busyness and instead meet with God. Hence, the Sabbath is a sign of mortification, signifying that we should rest from our labors. For that reason, while the Sabbath may have been the last act of creation, it was given first priority in the intention of God for humanity.

The Sabbath calls our thoughts to nature, and brings us into communion with the Creator. In the song of the bird, the sighing of the trees, and the music of the sea, we still may hear His voice who talked.[4]

Strict observance of the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday brings with it divinely prescribed rewards. Profaning the Sabbath, on the other hand, brings God’s wrath (cf. Neh. 13:18). God counted as a violation of the covenant when the Sabbath was not observed. “The Sabbath was appointed to be a sign of the special administration of the covenant, which was then enacted;”[5] whence it is said, that He gave it to them “for a perpetual covenant,” “that they might know him to be the Lord that sanctified them” (Ezek. 31:12–16).

The Israelites were reminded of the Sabbath before the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. They were commanded to gather a double portion of manna on the sixth day in order to keep holy the seventh-day Sabbath. The period of slavery in Egypt had interrupted the practice of their religious observances. After the Exodus, the Lord reintroduced the Sabbath. Carefully note the words “prove” and “law” in Exodus 16:4. They clearly indicate the existence of the Law and the Sabbath as a test of loyalty before Sinai—“that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not” (Exod. 16:4). The heavenly manna was provided throughout the year but ceased as soon as they entered the Promised Land (Josh 5:12).[6]

The covenant given to Abraham involved righteousness and salvation by faith. In effect, the Lord told Abraham, “You believe in the Messiah to come, and I will give you forgiveness for the past, power for the present, and the assurance of eternal life.” Paul taught that the giving of the law at Sinai did not disannul the covenant given to Abraham. The purpose of the Ten Commandments was to remind all of the characteristics associated with the God of love. It was not meant to introduce a system of works, but to point out sins and encourage Israel’s faith in the Messiah who would atone for them (Gal. 3:19–24). The Sabbath, which is at the very heart of the Ten Commandments, was not part of a works system; it was a vital part of a righteousness-by-faith religion.

The Sabbath is a sign of a sanctifying covenant between God and man. The Bible states:

Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you (Exod. 31:13 NKJV).

This further sanctifying “covenant” is mandated in the Decalogue: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:8 NKJV). The sanctifying covenant is seen in conjunction with gathering a double portion of the manna on the sixth day to preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath (cf. Exod. 16:5, 22–30). Hence, the Sabbath was a holy day, a sign of the covenant between God and His people long before the institution of the Mosaic law.

The Sabbath is a sign of creation (Gen 2:2–3), redemption (Deut. 5:15), sanctification (Ezek. 20:12, 20; Exod. 31:13), self-denial (Exod. 34:21; Lev. 25:2–55), and of eternal Sabbath (cf. Heb. 4). It is a sign signifying that sanctification was not a work of our own strength, but a gift of God. Ellen G. White aptly penned it well when she said, “The sabbath given to the world as the sign of God as the Creator is also the sign of Him as the Sanctifier.”[7]

Observing the Sabbath imparts knowledge of God as Creator and Re-Creator. Sabbath observance helps the believer to look backwards and forwards. Backward to God as the Creator (Gen. 2:2–3) and forward to Him as the Redeemer (Re-Creator) (John 19:31–37). Backward to the origin of man (Gen. 1:26–28), to worship His Creator God, His Originator, and forward to the spotless Lamb of God—Jesus Christ—who would be the Savior of humanity (Lev. 17:11; cf. John 1:29). Sabbath-keeping is an excellent reminder of the Creation ordinance and Redemption ordinance. Sabbath adherence helps us to remain in the covenant relationship with our Creator and Redeemer. When one keeps the Sabbath holy, one’s covenant relationship with God becomes strong.[8]

The Sabbath looked toward the future; thus, was a sign of Hope. Sabbath observance reminded OT believers that it was also a sign of redemption from the Egyptian bondage. To Ancient Israel, it was a reminder that God would restore the Edenic Life. Also, it was an anticipation of a life of redemption not only from “Egyptian bondage” but from a “future bondage” as well.

Therefore, Sabbath is a “sign of righteousness by faith” and submission to God’s will. Graeme Loftus rightly stated:

Since the Fall, the Sabbath has set forth the essence of righteousness by faith-the emptying of one’s own hands and depending on the work of Another-looking unto the Source of Life as the source of all else, including righteousness. Adam rested before he worked, and those who learn of the cross by faith enter into the rest of soul, which alone can prepare one for service. (cf. Heb. 4:1–9; Deut. 5:15; Matt. 11:28–30).[9]

Seventh-day Adventist Christians are convinced that God’s last-day seal is given to those who have entered into a special relationship with Christ. This relationship is the motivation and the power for obedience to all God’s requirements, including Sabbath observance. In this sense, the Sabbath is the last-day seal of God.

The “Seal of the Living God” is a sign of ownership, of authenticity and authority. The Sabbath has the Seal of the Living God embedded in it, which can be established by identifying its three prominent elements. These are: (i) The Lord’s Name = “The Lord thy God,” (ii) His Title = Maker/Creator “Made the heavens and the earth,” and (iii) Territory or dominion, “heaven and earth” (Exod. 20:8–11). These three elements make up the seal of the law.

The Sabbath is a covenant sign that stretches forward to a time when the plan of salvation will be completed at Christ’s second advent. It also looks backwards to God as the Creator and the Enabler of the covenant of grace. The Sabbath, as first instituted, involved a cessation from daily labors. This taught the human family that the salvation and favor of “God were no longer of works, but of grace.”[10] The Sabbath celebrates the completeness of creation and redemption. The Sabbath is a sign that a covenant people of God will exist at all times, whoever, or wherever they may be found. The Sabbath has been “shown to be a sign, not of an abolished covenant, but of a covenant now in force, and [one destined] to continue in force forever.”[11]


Notes & References:

[1] John McClintock, Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (New York: Harper & Brothers,1894), 6:312.

[2] Susan Easton Black, “The Sabbath as a Covenant in Mormonism and Judaism,” in Covenant and Chosenness in Judaism and Mormonism, eds. Raphael Jospe, Truman G. Madsen, and Seth Ward (British Columbia, Canada: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001), 59–70, at 60.

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Earth is the Lord’s, and The Sabbath (New York: World Publishing Company, 1963), 145.

[4] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1940), 282.

[5] John Owen, A Treatise on the Sabbath (Low Ousegate, NY: Barclay and Coultas, 1831), 48.

[6] The patience and kindness of God toward His chosen people in these instances of murmuring is remarkable. Recognizing that their minds were still as servile and their faith as undeveloped as when they were in Egypt, God did not show Himself offended at their murmuring but sent help each time they were in trouble. In so doing, it was His purpose to train them to trust their divinely appointed leaders and to have faith in Him.

[7] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), 6:350.

[8] Rich Robinson, Christ in the Sabbath (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 2014), 12–130.

[9] Graeme Loftus, The Sabbath and The Trinity (Ondo State, Nigeria: Baal Hamon, 2008), 107.

[10] Henry Thomas Adamson, The Seventh Day (London: Wertheim & Mackintosh, 1856), 12.

[11] William Chichester Baron O’Neill, The Christian Sabbath (Dublin, Ireland: Dublin, 1859), 59.


Youssry Guirguis is an Old Testament scholar with a special interest in the area of Islamic studies at the Asia-Pacific International University in Thailand and the Andrews MAR (extension site) program director for the Asia-Pacific International University. He is an adjunct professor in Middle East University’s Master in Islamic Studies Program and has conducted research in the areas of biblical studies, Islamic studies, and biblical rituals.

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels


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