A small group of believers decided that they wanted to build an edifice dedicated to the worship of God. They worked hard at raising the necessary money. They worked hard at construction to keep the cost down. They worked for three years. When it was all done, they had a beautiful building. But somewhere in the process they forgot the why. They had built a monument; a work of art really. The size and beauty of the building attracted everyone’s attention. The whole town had visited to get a glimpse of what this small group had accomplished They were so proud of the beautiful building that they spent more time marveling at it and their handiwork than being overwhelmed by a holy God. They believed that being inside this work of art – their work of art – made them feel closer to God. They sang songs and gloried in the perfect acoustics of the auditorium. They gathered in classrooms and beamed with pride as they used the latest technology. The edifice glistened as their praise became dull and lifeless.
Exodus 31:12-18 is a reminder. It is a reminder of rest and reflection. It is a reminder of where holiness truly comes from. At this point many will point out that this reminder is found at the end of instructions concerning the building of the Tabernacle and the making of the holy articles to warn them not to work even on this holy project on the sabbath. And this, is no doubt, part of its function. But there is more here. Yahweh told them that the sabbath was to stand as a sign between him and them. And what was it a sign of? This sign pointed them to an understanding that it was Yahweh who made them holy. Not the Tabernacle, no matter how elaborate. The anointing oil, no matter how expensive, could not make them holy. Wait just one minute! We were told that the anointing oil did make them and the Tabernacle articles holy. The articles were made so holy that whoever touched them after this anointing would become holy. But without the presence of Yahweh, this anointing oil is just expensive oil – nothing more. So, the sabbath is a reminder that the Tabernacle is about Yahweh deigning to dwell among them; sanctifying them. Everything, from the holy priest-garments to the incense to the ark of the testimony is about Yahweh’s presence. It is his presence that sets them apart and makes them a holy nation.
Therefore, the Israelites were to set aside the seventh day of the week and guard over it as a holy day. Whoever polluted it was to be put to death. You defile the sabbath by working on it. God doesn’t micromanage this command giving detailed diagrams of what constitutes work. Later the Pharisees would come up with all manner of details about the sabbath. Maybe God wanted them to use common sense. No plowing, planting, selling, buying, making money on the sabbath. It was to be a day of rest and reflection on Yahweh, the Existing One, who made them holy. The person who polluted this was to be executed.
Sandwiched between two death penalty statement there is this command that the offender is to be cut off from the people; cast out of the camp. And there doesn’t seem to be any difference in the offense. Maybe “put to death” is being used poetically like in Job 12:2 where it says, “Surely you are the people and with you wisdom will die.” The meaning here means cease to exists. In all practical purposes, when a person was cast out from among the people, they ceased to exist; they were dead. I don’t know.
In verse 17 we are given a reason why God chose the sabbath as a sign: because Yahweh rested from creation on the seventh day. Interestingly, it says that Yahweh was refreshed. The word means “take a breath, be refreshed.” The question becomes, “Did God need to take a breather; to be refreshed?” Or maybe he rested to give us an example; to demonstrate what is healthy for us. I have no idea what it means to be all-powerful, so I must concede that it is possible that God was truly refreshed by this rest. And if God is refreshed there is a powerful message of the importance of rest here. Verse 18 serves as a conclusion to this section. After Moses received these instructions he was given the Ten Words written by the finger of God.
Is the Shroud of Tehran real? If it is, it cannot make you holy. God is the one who makes you holy. No matter how nice your building is, it is merely a tool; a place where you can gather to focus on Yahweh. No matter how holy your ministry is, that ministry cannot set you apart. People do good things all the time without an ounce of belief in God. Only Yahweh can set you apart; only the presence of God can set you apart. Be sanctified! Allow the presence to make you holy. Peace, Walter.