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Competing Priorities

Some things are just, plain complicated.

Exodus 27:20-21 (ESV)

“You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.”

Every indication (here and in Leviticus 24:1-4) is that the lamp is to burn all night every night – including on the Sabbath. This is clearer in The Amplified Bible and in The Complete Jewish Bible. Both may be researched here:

Obviously, Aaron and his sons will have to work hard to tend it from evening to morning before the LORD. Keeping seven oil lamps burning may not seem like hard work but pulling an all-nighter to do it definitely qualifies.

So, this new statute provides a special case exception to the law against working on the Sabbath. That’s not a problem, since God is the lord of the Sabbath.

This is important background for when Jesus claims to be the lord of the Sabbath.

For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:8 (ESV)

And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Luke 6:5 (ESV)

The Pharisees who were questioning Jesus in these passages were well aware of Exodus 27:20-21 and its implications. Jesus’s reply shocks them. Not only did He make an airtight logical argument against their objection, but that argument is based on a claim that He’s God Himself.

Before, they had a relatively minor complaint about His doing work on the Sabbath. Now they’re confronted with a claim that is either blasphemy or the most wonderful news they’ve ever heard.

If keeping the seven lamps burning is an exception to keeping the Sabbath, are there others? Yes.

And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:10–12 (ESV)

Jesus’s point is, “Don’t be silly.” While keeping the Sabbath is very important – and many of us need to give this more attention – it can still be taken to extremes. An argument can even be made that you shouldn’t dial 911 on the Sabbath. Clearly, that’s nuts – and anything but honoring to God.

How should you keep the Sabbath? What’s not allowed? This is a good topic to discuss with your pastor.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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