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"Thou art near, 0 Lord, and all thy
In their bondage [to Egypt] the Israelites had to some extent lost their knowiedge of God's law, and they departed from its precepts. The Sabbath had been generally disregarded, and the exactions of their taskmasters, made its observance apparently impossible. But Moses had shown his people that obedience to God was the first condition of deliverance; and the efforts made to restore the observance of the Sabbath had come to the notice of their oppressors.
God had promised to be their God, to take them to Himself as a people. [Following their miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage], their store of provisions had now begun to fail. How was food to be supplied for these vast multitudes? Doubts filled their hearts, and even the rulers and elders of the people joined in complaining against the leaders of God's appointment. They had not as yet suffered from hunger, their present wants were supplied, but they feared for the future. God was not unmindful of the wants of Israel. He said to their leader, "I will rain bread from heaven for you." And directions were given that the people gather a daily supply, with a double amount on the sixth day, that the sacred observance of the Sabbath might be maintained.
In the morning there lay upon the surface of the ground a small round thing. It was like coriander seed, white. The people called it "manna." Moses said, "This is the bread which the Lord bath given you to eat." They were directed to gather daily an omer, [about two quarts], for every person; and they were not to leave it until the morning. Some attempted to keep a supply until the next day, but it was then found to be unfit for food.
On the sixth day the people gathered [four quarts] for every person. 'This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake today,... and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning." They did so and found that it remained unchanged. "And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a Sabbath unto the Lord; today ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none."
Every week during their long sojourn in the wilderness the Israelites witnessed a threefold miracle, designed to impress their minds with the sacredness of the Sabbath: a double quantity of manna fell on the sixth day, none on the seventh, and the portion needed for the Sabbath was preserved sweet and pure, when if any were kept over at any other time it became unfit for use.
God purposed to make the occasion of speaking His law a scene of awful grandeur, in keeping with its exalted character. The people were to be impressed that everything connected with the service of God must be regarded with the greatest reverence.
The Lord said to Moses, "Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day; for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai." During these intervening days all were to occupy the time in solemn preparation to appear before God.
The preparations were made, according to the command; and in obedience to a further injunction, Moses directed that a barrier be placed about the mount. If any ventured so much as to touch it, the penalty was instant death.
On the morning of the third day, as the eyes of all the people were turned toward the mount, its summit was covered with a thick cloud, which grew more black and dense, sweeping downward until the entire mountain was wrapped in darkness and awful mystery. Then a sound as of a trumpet was heard, summoning the people to meet with God; and Moses led them forth to the base of the mountain. From the thick darkness flashed vivid lightnings, while peals of thunder echoed and re-echoed among the surrounding heights. "And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. ...and the whole mount quaked greatly." So terrible were the tokens of God's presence that the hosts of Israel shook with fear, and fell upon their faces before the Lord.
And now the thunders ceased; the trumpet was no longer heard; the earth was still. There was a period of solemn silence, and then the voice of God was heard. Speaking out of the thick darkness that enshrouded Him, as He stood upon the mount, surrounded by a retinue of angels, the Lord made known His law.
God revealed Himself, not alone in the awful majesty of the judge and lawgiver, but as the compassionate guardian of His people; "l am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." He it was who now spoke His law.
As the symbol of God's authority and the embodiment of His will, there was delivered to Moses a copy of the Decalogue engraved by the finger of God Himself upon two tables of stone, (Deuteronomy 9:10; Exodus 32:15, 16), to be sacredly enshrined in the sanctuary, which, when made, was to be the visible center of the nation's worship.
The law was not spoken exclusively for the benefit of the Hebrews. God honored them by making them the guardians and keepers of His law, but it was to be held as a sacred trust for the whole world for the instruction and government of all. Ten precepts, brief, comprehensive, and authoritative, cover the duty of man to God and to his fellow man; and all based upon the great principle of love.
The Sabbath was not introduced as a new institution, but as having been founded at creation. It is to be remembered and observed as the memorial of the Creator's work. Pointing to God as the Maker of the heavens and the earth, it distinguishes the true God from all false gods. All who keep the seventh day signify by this act that they are worshipers of Jehovah. Thus the Sabbath is a sign of man's allegiance to God as long as there are any upon the earth to serve Him. The fourth commandment is the only one of all the ten in which are found both the name and the title of the Lawgiver. It is the only one that shows by whose authority the law is given. Thus it contains the seal of God, affixed to His law as evidence of its authenticity and binding force.
The Lord designed that by a faithful observance of the Sabbath command, Israel should continually be reminded of their accountability to Him as their Creator and Redeemer. while they should keep the Sabbath in the proper spirit, idolatry could not exist; but should the claims of this precept of the Decalogue be set aside as no longer binding, the Creator would be forgotten and men would worship other gods.
No other institution which was committed to the Jews tended so fully to distinguish them from the surrounding nations as did the Sabbath. God designed that its observance should designate them as His worshipers. It was to be a token of their separation from idolatry, and their connection with the true God. But in order to keep the Sabbath holy, men must themselves be holy. Through faith they must become partakers of the righteousness of Christ. When the command was given to Israel, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," the Lord also said to them, "Ye shall be holy men unto Me." Ex. 20:8; 22:31. Only thus could the Sabbath distinguish Israel as worshipers of God.
As the Jews departed from God, and failed to make the righteousness of Christ their own by faith, the Sabbath lost its significance to them. Satan was seeking to exalt himself and draw men away from Christ, and he worked to pervert the Sabbath, because it is a sign of the power of Christ. On one occasion, by command of the Lord, the prophet [Jeremiah] took his position at one of the principal entrances to the city and there urged the importance of keeping holy the Sabbath day. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were in danger of losing sight of the sanctity of the Sabbath, and they were solemnly warned against following their secular pursuits on that day. "If ye diligenfly hearken unto Me," the Lord declared, and "hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, ... and this city shall remain forever." Jer. 17:24, 25
This promise of prosperity as the reward of allegiance was accompanied by a prophecy of the terrible judgments that would befall the city should its inhabitants prove disloyal to God and His law. If the admonitions to obey the Lord God of their fathers and to hallow His Sabbath day were not heeded, the city and its palaces would be utterly destroyed by fire. But by the great mass of the people the call to repentance and reformation went unheeded.
"Therefore He brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, . . . and them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon, where they were servants ... until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah... " 2 Chron. 36:17, 20, 21. (See Jer. 25:9-12.)