“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12)
When God first revealed that the Sabbath day was to be a holy day of rest, he explained that this was so “for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day” (Exo 20:11). Yet in this passage of the law (Exo 23:10-12), God gives a different reason why the Sabbath is to be a holy day of rest, viz. “that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.” Those who labor for the faithful Israelite are to be given the Sabbath that they may rest and be refreshed. God’s Sabbath, then, was for the Israelite’s reflection on the power and goodness and provision of God, as exhibited in his act of creating the universe; and God’s Sabbath was for those labored and were heavy laden. The first articulation of the command (i.e. Exo 20:8-11) shows us that the faithful Israelite’s duty was first and foremost to love and worship the Creator of all things, Yahweh, by setting apart the one day in seven for rest and reflection. The second articulation given in Exodus 23:12 shows us that the faithful Israelite’s duty was secondly to love and serve his neighbor by allowing his servant-neighbors to enter into his rest.
The faithful Israelite, therefore, was to love God and love his neighbor this way, by ceasing from his own labors and by letting his servants enter into his rest before God. What is evident from the commandment is that if one did not observe the Sabbath, then one’s servant neighbors would not be able to enter into one’s rest. Thus, it is the law-keeping of the faithful Israelite which provides the rest and refreshment of the servant-neighbor. It is, in other words, the faithful obedience of the true Israelite which brings the laboring and striving of his servant neighbor to an end.
God paints for us a beautiful, overwhelmingly powerful picture, pointing us not to ourselves but to Christ. For Christ is the true Israelite/Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1) who labored in his redemptive work for six days (i.e. during the passion week, see here), rested on the seventh day (Luke 23:54), and who, therefore, having fulfilled the law declares:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
This rest is given further explication in the book of Hebrews, where we are told that “we who have believed [the Gospel] enter that rest” (Heb 4:3a), and that “whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Heb 4:10).
Thus, when Moses tells the Israelites that the purpose of the Sabbath is intended, in a secondary sense of course, for the servant-neighbors of the faithful Israelite to rest and be refreshed, he is typologically representing the work of Christ Jesus, who is the True and Faithful Israelite. Christ’s work of redemption is finished. And now, therefore, we who believe enter that rest. What rest? The rest that he himself has purchased for us with his precious blood. Rest from striving to be justified by works of the Law. Rest from trying to be at peace with God through our own righteousnesses/filthy rags. Because Christ labored and completed the work set before him, we can rest from our labors as well. We “were buried…with him by baptism into death” (Rom 6:4) and, therefore, “have died to the law through the body of Christ” (Rom 7:4). We “been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20a), and “released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7:6).
We reflect on God’s salvific work, therefore, and love and serve our neighbors out of a heart filled with gratitude and love for God. Our Faithful Son of Abraham, Jesus the Perfect Israelite, has fulfilled the Law for us, his servant-neighbors, and now gives us rest. Let the Romanist take note of this: Christians rest in the Sabbath rest which Christ has rightly earned for us. There is nothing for us to do in order to be made right with God, to be at peace with God, to reflect not only on his creative work, but also on his redemptive work for sinners.