Torah Portion for week 31: Leviticus 21 – 24
How can I experience God’s Sabbath rest? And what is the significance of the Sabbath commandment for believers today? This week’s Torah portion presents the Feasts of the Lord which Israel was commanded to keep. When we think of the “Feasts of the Lord,” we generally recall the yearly pilgrim festivals like Passover, Weeks (or Pentecost), and Tabernacles; or perhaps we might remember the High Holidays – the Feast of Trumpets (also known as Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year) and the Day of Atonement. But God’s list of holy days, as recorded in Leviticus 23, actually begins with the weekly commemoration of the Sabbath, which in many ways is the model for all the other holidays.
God commands Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places’” (Lev 23:2-3). The same introductory formula, “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations” (Lev 23:4), is repeated before the yearly feasts of the Lord are listed – making a distinction between them and the weekly Sabbath day, but at the same time showing their common features as “Feasts of the Lord.”
Like the yearly feasts, the Sabbath day has both a commemorative and a prophetic significance, along with a present-time, practical application. The Sabbath day commemorates two of God’s greatest creative and redemptive works: God’s creation (or redemption) of the heavens and the earth out of the primordial chaos (the Tohu veVohu of Genesis 1:2) and his redemption (and creation) of Israel as a nation out of slavery in Egypt.
The Ten Commandments, as given in Exodus 20, give the rationale for the Sabbath in these words: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exod 20:11, emphasis added). The parallel account in Deuteronomy 5 links the same commandment to Israel’s redemption: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15, emphasis added).
Prophetically, the Sabbath day looks forward to the universal rest and peace which God will establish, along with his kingdom, at the return of Yeshua the Messiah. Genesis 2 records God’s resting at the completion of creation just prior to the description of the Garden of Eden in all its perfection – the embodiment of God’s kingdom on earth. Isaiah 11 looks forward to the redemption of the fallen world and the reestablishment of that “Garden of Eden” perfection by Messiah, the son of David. At that time, Isaiah writes, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isa 11:6).
The New Testament book of Hebrews cites Psalm 95 to show that neither Moses nor Joshua was able to bring the nation into God’s Sabbath-Kingdom rest: “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” (Heb 4:8-9). That rest will only be fully manifested when Yeshua returns to set up his kingdom on earth. Nevertheless, we who have put our trust in Messiah Yeshua experience his rest in anticipation of that future day: “For we who have believed enter that rest. . . . for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Heb 4:3, 10).
Yeshua invites us to enter his rest by faith today, relying on his perfect work on the cross and resting from our own striving: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).