Sabbath means that all time belongs to God

If Prof. John Hayes shared this idea in my Old Testament class, I was asleep—which, let’s face, is a distinct possibility. The following comes from the long out-of-print Broadman Bible Commentary, published in 1969 by the Southern Baptists—before a theological civil war ripped that denomination apart. (If you can’t tell, I used to be Baptist.)

If you’re Methodist, I know you’re instantly suspicious of anything “Baptist,” but the scholarship is first-rate. It’s an excellent intermediate commentary. In this commentary on the fourth commandment, Roy Honeycutt, Jr. shares a perspective on Sabbath I’ve never heard before.

What was the principle inherent within the sanctity of the seventh day, and its relationship to the covenant? The principle of pars pro toto (the part may stand for the whole) was significant for several Old Testament practices. For example, first fruits were dedicated to the Lord in the belief that the whole of the crop was compressed into the first offering. In the giving of the part, the whole was also being offered up to God. The same was true of the sacrifice of the firstborn animal, or the dedication of the firstborn of men. Future offspring were symbolically compressed into the animal sacrificed or the child dedicated. Even part of the people could stand or act for the whole family or nation, as in the case of Aachan (Joshua 7:1 ff.) or the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:1 ff.).

The same principle was probably inherent in the sabbath. The whole of the week was symbolically compressed into the one day and dedicated to the Lord. By refraining from his own efforts on that day, man effectually recognized divine ownership. Thus, all time belonged to God, as did the whole of the creation…

This “part standing for the whole” also helps me better fit the cross and atonement in its proper Old Testament context. How does Jesus represent all of humanity on the cross, such that his suffering and death could be “in our place”? This principle is common in the Old Testament in ways I hadn’t thought of before.

Roy L. Honeycutt Jr., “Exodus” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 1 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1969), 397.

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