Sanctification through rest (Gert Kwakkel)
Most evangelical theologians I know are diligent workers. They sense every day that the words of Jesus Christ in Luke 10:2 still hold true: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.’ And since they are responsible and conscientious men and women, they work as hard as they can, six or even seven days a week.
For these and all other hard workers, it may be helpful to take God’s precepts in Exodus 31:12-17 to heart. In this passage, the Lord orders Moses to urge the Israelites to keep the Sabbath. Its position at the end of the instructions on the construction of the tabernacle, which start in Exodus 25, suggests that even that work should be interrupted on the seventh day. Those unwilling to respect this commandment would lose their place among God’s people and die.
God clarifies this commandment by saying that keeping the Sabbath is for ever a sign by which the Israelites will know that he sanctifies them. He took rest himself on the seventh day, after working six days on the creation of heaven and earth. By doing so, he sanctified the seventh day, thus symbolizing the dedication of all days to his service and glorification. If the Israelites obediently follow his example, this will show that they likewise participate in a process of sanctification, of which God is the author.
God had already revealed in Exodus 19:6 that his objective was that the Israelites would be a holy nation. The extensive collection of commandments in the next chapters makes it clear that this calls for considerable efforts on their part. In that connection, it may surprise one that the willingness to leave all work for a full day constitutes the sign that God’s people is on its way to its sanctification. Yet, it is a very telling sign because those leaving their work for a day give evidence of trust in God as the one who ultimately does the most essential thing himself: bringing his people to sanctification. Both the Old and the New Testaments show that this trust is the only way to life.
Professor of Old Testament, Faculté Jean Calvin, Theologische Universiteit Kampen|Utrecht
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians