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Exodus 31:12-18 (ESV): And the LORD said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” 18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

In reference to Exodus 31:12-18, it appears that the Sabbath is a sign and a covenant, separate from the Sinai covenant, depending upon the translation used. The YLT states "is a covenant age-during" and other translations state "as a perpetual covenant." How should one interpret this passage?

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    Why would you suppose that one part of a covenant is 'separate' from the rest of what is covenanted ? I suggest that the question needs some significant clarity and detail in regard to this supposition. (Particularly in regard to the ten sayings, or ten 'commandments'.)
    – Nigel J
    Jun 19, 2023 at 18:08

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The Hebrew word בְּרִית ("berith") can mean "alliance" or "pledge".

Saying "It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel", doesn't mean that this sign is exclusive to the Israelites.

In this case, God has chosen the Israelites to serve as an example to the world, and honoring the Sabbath is the most obvious sign that someone is part of this alliance with God. As long as the Israelites honor the Sabbath they have a covenant with God; but when they stop honoring the Sabbath they are signaling that they no longer want to be part of God's people.

Of the Ten Commandments most people from most cultures don't swear, don't worship idols, don't murder, etc., and it's difficult for anyone else to notice that they are refraining from doing these things. But honoring the Sabbath is quite noticeable to outsiders, and anyone that obeys that commandment will stand out. It gives a very visible sign to the rest of the world that one is in an alliance with God.

In the early Church, many converts to Christianity were Gentiles, but they too followed the Ten Commandments, including honoring the Sabbath. For them, it too stood as an external sign that they were in alliance with God and were following his way.

The other nine commandments are easy enough to follow most of the time, but everyone that has been chosen by God will obey the Ten Commandments, including honoring the Sabbath, and that commandment isn't so easy to obey, as it requires a regular conscious effort and it greatly affects one's behaviour for a full day every week.

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There are several covenants in the OT and all were structured in a similar way. The divine covenants in the Bible contain the following six elements:

  • Statement of pre-amble and/or purpose of the covenant
  • Promise of benefits given by God. This shows that such divine covenants are the initiative of God alone. In no case were such covenants initiated by humans.
  • Promise of curses/consequences if the covenant is not kept
  • Requirements of people on whom the benefits are bestowed. This is sometimes also call the associated “law” of the covenant.
  • A sign (Heb: "oth") of the covenant to remind the people of their responsibilities
  • A ceremony, usually consisting of a “cutting” (hence the Hebrew word "berith" meaning the cutting of a covenant), always a sacrifice or similar.

I do not intend to give an exhaustive treatment of all the OT covenants; here we will only consider the "sign" associated with come of the covenants to illustrate the point:

  1. Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17. In this case, the "sign" was the rainbow, Gen 9:12, 13, 17.
  2. Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 13:14-17, 15:1-17, 17:1-27, 18:9-15, 22:15-18. In this case the "sign" was circumcision, Gen 17:10, 11, 13, Rom 4:11, (= circular cut), Acts 7:8, and a change of name from Abram to Abraham.
  3. Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In this case, the "sign(s)" of the covenant appear to have been the law of the 10 Commandments themselves (Deut 6:8, 11:18), and especially the Sabbath, Ex 31:13, 16, 17, Isa 56:4, 6, Exe 20:12, 20; the blood of the covenant from the Passover Lamb is also used as a sign in Ex 12:13.
  4. Levitical Covenant: – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8. In this case, the "sign" of the covenant appears to have been the unleavened bread at the annual festival (Ex 13:6, 9, 16, Lev 24:8).

Therefore, the Sabbath was used as the "sign" of God's covenant people and Ex 31:16 is a prime example. The Sabbath was NOT a separate covenant but a sign of the Israelite covenant.

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shabbat is solely for jewish or converted (to judaism) people. Started at the evening (watch timing) on Friday and ended at next evening.

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