The Hebrews left Egypt on a Thursday night and marched and camped for a total of 38 days before they kept their first Sabbath, treating all the previous days of their journey the same in regard to travel and work. One week before observing the first Sabbath ever kept by anyone, they marched 20 kilometers from their camp by the Red Sea to the edge of the Wilderness of Sin, trampling on the 7th day of their week, arriving around 5 pm on the 31st day of their journey late that “Saturday” afternoon. That evening, God introduced the Manna Obedience Test to Israel, instructing them to gather daily an amount sufficient for their needs for one day, and that on the sixth day they were to gather a double portion in order to provide them with manna on the Sabbath, seeing as there would be none provided on that day. Critical thinking elicits the fact that you cannot keep the Sabbath holy without a preparation day before it. All the work has to be completed before sundown on the 6th day.
At this point in the Exodus journey, the Sabbath represented nothing more than the second of two obedience tests. It was not until a few weeks later when, at Mt. Sinai, the Sabbath was incorporated into the treaty between God and Israel known as the 10 Commandments. Like the ordinance of circumcision and the Jewish dietary laws, the institution of the Sabbath was designed to set the Hebrews apart from every other society on Earth, forming a protective social barrier that would severely restrict their interaction with the Heathen. Regarding these cultic Jewish rituals, a scholar once observed that people who do not eat together seldom become friends. If the Sabbath were a Creation ordinance with truly moral qualities, God would not have led His children out of Egypt without provision for keeping it every step of the way. Once, because of their sins, God seems to have threatened to take Israel’s Sabbaths away.
Hosea 2:11 (NIV) - 11 I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days—all her appointed feasts.
There is some evidence that this text may merely represent a prophecy of what would become of Israel’s sabbath system as a result of their disobedience, rather than an actual statement that God would specially intervene to take away their sabbaths. During their various captivities, Israel undoubtedly experienced disruptions of their Sabbath-keeping. In either case, the adoption of the fixed calendar by their conquering nations made it impossible to keep the Sabbath as is was specified in the Law of Moses. In effect, they were forced to keep “Saturday” rather than the “Sabbath.” All of this Sabbath chaos illustrates the fact that the Sabbath is characteristically ceremonial rather than moral. For example, if Israel was committing adultery and fornication “too much,” God would not suspend the parts of the Law of Moses that forbid these sins. Not even God Himself can set aside or suspend moral laws because such laws are based on the natural laws of cause and effect.
Before the Hebrews left Egypt, the instructions God gave them regarding the keeping of the Passover Feast suggest that no Sabbath existed at that time. This feast was to last seven days, so whether a fixed or lunar calendar is used for our calculations, one of those days would have to have been a Sabbath-- if there had been a Sabbath in existence at that time. The preparation of food was allowed on all of the seven days of the Passover feast. By contrast , cooking on the Sabbath was forbidden. For the Sabbath, the cooking must be done on the Preparation Day, or the sixth day of the week. If there was no sixth day of preparation, there could be no seventh-day Sabbath because food would have to be prepared for the people on it. While permission to prepare food on the Sabbath may have been granted in connection with some of the Jewish feast celebrations that God added later, the only national feast week God had given them up to the time of the Exodus was the Passover.
As our study unfolds it will become painfully clear that Exodus 16 provides water-tight proof—not merely evidence--that no Sabbath existed before the giving of the Manna. We do not use the term, proof, loosely. What this fact means is that any argument for the existence of the Sabbath prior to the Exodus must be remarkably clear, or it is hardly worth discussing. Also, any pro-Sabbatarian arguments must be able to stand on their own with evidence gathered only from Genesis 1 through Exodus 16. In view of the absolutes of Exodus 16, Sabbatarians should not expect to be taken seriously if their approach involves taking references to the Sabbath from beyond the account of the Exodus journey and stuffing them back into Genesis 2. In order for them to provide meaningful support for their agenda, they must demonstrate clear Sabbath content in Genesis 2.
All it takes is a brief survey of Genesis through Exodus 16 to see that there is nothing of this sort available to Sabbatarians. At the same time, there is only a limited amount of evidence available to anti-Sabbatarians, such as the four of us, to actually prove that there is no Sabbath content in Genesis. This evidence in found in part in that Moses used special literary devices to limit the blessing, hallowing, and sanctifying (the setting aside) of that day to that ONE day ALONE. We will explain these indicators and how they work subsequently. Meanwhile, let us turn our attention back to the Exodus journey. God introduced the Sabbath to Israel as something new. The people acted as if it were something new— a stiff-necked and stubborn people testing the boundaries. Some individuals gathered firewood on that first Sabbath. They did so publicly. If the Sabbath had existed prior to Exodus 16, these offenders would have been stoned. The stubborn nature of the Hebrew people strongly suggests that if there were Sabbaths before Exodus 16, some of them would have tested God by breaking the Sabbath every chance they got; yet there is no record that God ever rebuked them for Sabbath-breaking prior to Exodus 16. Here is what the Law of Moses has to say about Sabbath-breaking:
Think how bad the Exodus journey would make God look if the Sabbath had originated at Creation! Was He not powerful enough to control the events of the Exodus to provide for Sabbath-keeping, including, in each case, a Preparation Day? What kind of example would He have set for His people? Do God’s children only have to keep the Sabbath when it is convenient? Clearly, there was no Sabbath to break until day 38 of the Exodus. Sabbatarian apologist, Brendan Knudson, suggests the possibility that if there was Sabbath-breaking involved under God’s direction-- “The ox is in the ditch” principle excusing God for leading His people to trample on it. Our position is that God had enough power to halt all the forces of Evil and Nature to enable them to keep the Sabbath if there had been a Sabbath to keep, and that as a cognate requirement, He would have also given them preparation days to assure that they could keep their Exodus Sabbaths without preparing food or gathering firewood upon it. People get hungry on Sabbath whether food was prepared the day before or not.
Everything we know about God’s character screams out that He would not lead His people to break an eternally binding moral law. This fact explains several mysterious things that honest-at-heart, thinking Sabbatarians have secretly pondered. Why is there no mention of the Sabbath in Genesis? Why did God give Abraham a surgical procedure (circumcision) as a “seal” for his descendants instead of the Sabbath, which was never even mentioned? Why was Sabbath-keeping not included in a list of basic laws that God gave to Noah around the time of the Great Flood? Why did St. Paul instruct the early church not to require Sabbath-keeping of the new Gentile converts (Colossians 2:14-17)? And why did St. Paul not list Sabbath-breaking in any of the several lists of sins he discussed in his writings? In Galatians St. Paul discusses the Christian's freedom from the “LAW,” and it is clear he is discussing moral, rather than ceremonial, laws because the example he cited was adultery. Yet in the same breath he explained that the Christian is not subject to the LAW, he gave a list of 15 sins that he said would keep a person from entering Heaven. Robert K. Sanders observes that in Romans 1:28-32 he listed 16 sins that were not mentioned in Galatians 5 and that he listed still more sins in Ephesians 4:25-32-- and that in all of these lists there is not a single mention of Sabbath-breaking. With all the sins that Paul’s writings mention-- which included sins of motive and omission in addition to the sins of commission that are the focus of the Decalogue-- it is difficult to imagine how an objective Bible student could think that the 10 Commandments were intended to represent a complete guide to morality or that the Sabbath-keeping should be transferred from Judaism to Christianity. Apparently God didn’t think so either because he gave additional moral laws to Moses after He wrote the 10 Commandments in stone, including prohibitions against fornication (a very different sin from adultery in Hebrew thought) and homosexual relationships.
Thanks to advanced studies in Hebrew linguistics we now know that there is no possibility that the Sabbath ordinance was imposed on God’s people until the time of the Exodus. We also know that Heathen societies that predated Exodus Era Israel had a “sabbath” concept based on the four phases of the moon and fertility themes. The next logical step requires the obvious conclusion, and that is that the sabbath of propitiation and fertility associations that was so prevalent in the societies that predated ancient Israel could not have developed as the result of some kind of “dim memory” of the “original Sabbath” in the Garden of Eden. No such thing ever existed! Additionally, some historians see evidence that this lunar-fertility sabbath was part of the Egyptian culture when the Hebrews were their captives.
The next logical step is to conclude that the evidence available to us suggests that when God gave Israel its sabbath system, His thinking was that He would take a useful but purely heathen concept, redeem it, wash it clean of its fertility and superstitious connotations, and present it to Israel in the glorious and holy form in which came down to them from Mt. Sinai-- The Mountain of the Moon. It would appear that while it was washed of its Heathen connotations, its association with the four phases of the Moon was retained. After all, in Genesis, Chapter One, God stated that the sun and moon were given to the human race to determine “sacred times.” The lunar connection with the Sabbath, then, did not need to be cleansed as it reflected His provision for time-keeping for all peoples for all time from the beginning of time. The earliest societies on Earth had retained the memory of the lunar method of time reckoning that God had given to the world in the very beginning. And this memory was not a “dim” one either. With each appearance of the Moon, all the people on the Earth recognized the existence of God's long-lasting timepiece.