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The Moral Law, “My Sabbaths” and Ezekiel

October 15, 2015

For today, I first note the theme of a recent book and a few blog posts — in response to the ‘New Calvinism’ emphasis today — concerning so many other Reformed teachings beyond the basic 5 points of Calvinism. David Murray at the HeadHeartHand blog has begun a series, with There’s More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of Calvinism and There’s more to the doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, in which he notes the doctrine of creation, doctrine of providence, doctrine of revelation; I could go on and on: the grace of justification, the grace of adoption, the grace of sanctification, the grace of assurance, the grace of the sacraments, the grace of repentance, and so on. See how many doctrines of grace there are? And we haven’t yet touched the THE doctrines of grace. There are way more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace.

Reformed Baptists (Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron and a few others) have recently published “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation” (kindle version available for $9.99), a collection of several essays about the 1689 Confession / Reformed Baptist theology (more than just the 5 points of Calvinism); I have started reading it and may post more specifically on it later.

Now to the topic of moral law and the Sabbath: in my ongoing genre-reading through the Bible, lately I have been reading through the first half of Ezekiel (end of the ‘OT history’ list) and the last chapters of Isaiah (beginning of the Prophets list), and certain impressions come through very strongly. The theme of judgment on apostate Israel is especially prominent in this section of Ezekiel (chapters 20 through 23), as generally elsewhere throughout the prophets, with contrasts between the wicked and their wicked acts, and the righteous and their righteous acts. At this point Israel had become worse than the Canaanite nations that the Lord had driven out before them; thus Israel was also removed from the land. As I’ve read previously from Phil Johnson, even the Canaanite nations were held accountable by God for a basic moral law (reference Romans 2:14-15), a law they were judged by even though they did not have the special revelation given to Moses, the written form of the Mosaic law.

Throughout the judgment passages in the Old Testament is the point that God detests and actually hates the ceremonial observance of apostate Israel – because they were not doing so from the heart, but merely with their lips, going through the motions only. Again and again this point is made, of the wicked ceremonial observance along with moral injustice, and the call to repentance, to return to the Lord and to do righteousness. Reference here Isaiah chapter 1, which describes apostate Israel’s Sabbath observance–within the context of their ceremonial law (verses 13-14): “Bring no more vain offerings; ​​​​​​​incense is an abomination to me. ​​​​​​​New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- ​​​​​​​I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.”

But then turn especially to Ezekiel 20 through 22, passages of strong judgment against Israel; interestingly enough, in these pronouncements of judgment, the Sabbath (a moral Sabbath, always referred to as “My Sabbaths”) is stated eight times (six in Ezekiel 20, and two more in Ezekiel 22), as something that apostate Israel was NOT doing and that they SHOULD do. Consider several of these references:

20:13 They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

20:16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

20: 19-20: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

20:21 They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.​​​​​​​​

20: 23-24: I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols.

22:8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.

Clearly (and logically), if on the one hand God hated their wrong-hearted observance of ceremonial law and rebuked them for their “new moon and Sabbath” – and yet so many times in Ezekiel alone He charged them with wrongdoing, forsaking God’s law and profaning His Sabbath – our God is referring to two different concepts of “Sabbath,” and He is especially concerned with a higher, moral concept of a Sabbath (the 4th commandment), not merely the ceremonial observance of their Sabbaths done in connection with the Mosaic law.  Further — and contrary to the teaching of NCT (New Covenant Theology) — this understanding of God’s moral law, of greater importance than Israel’s ceremonial law, was revealed and understood in the Old Testament, and known by Old Testament saints; God’s moral law was not something missing or incomplete or some “lower standard of morality” that had to be “raised” to a higher level of “the law of Christ” that was unknown before His First Coming.


  1. October 15, 2015 at 6:45 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. October 15, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    You always get to the heart of the natter – and matter.

    • October 16, 2015 at 5:26 am

      Thanks bography.

  3. October 21, 2015 at 7:23 am

    I don’t follow the logic here that the plural “Sabbaths” necessarily means a moral and ceremonial Sabbath. There is nothing in the text to lead you to that conclusion, so it is not logical to me at all.

    Sabbaths here could easily just mean multiple Sabbath days, or simply multiple Holy days. Both meanings fit well within the text.

    In fact there is no scriptural support for dividing the Mosaic Law into moral, ceremonial, civil divisions. We make those divisions ourselves but they are not contained within the text nor was the Law meant to be applied in divisions, it was applied as a whole unit.

    So I no logical conclusion here that I must follow, it seems to me a simple theological imposition on the text to say that there are two kinds of Sabbaths spoken of here.

    • October 21, 2015 at 8:22 am

      Hi Darin, thanks for your comment.

      Well, the context of these chapters in Ezekiel is morality — just read through the chapters, the references to adultery, idolatry, and generally how people treat each other.

      >“In fact there is no scriptural support for dividing the Mosaic Law into moral, ceremonial, civil divisions. We make those divisions ourselves but they are not contained within the text nor was the
      >Law meant to be applied in divisions, it was applied as a whole unit.”

      Yes, the idea of the law being one part that cannot be divided into three parts, is a common objection of NCT. However – just as the word Trinity is not “contained within the text” yet the concept is clearly taught – the distinctions and differences of the law are clear enough. The Jews themselves ranked the laws, some as “greater” and some “lesser,” and they asked Christ which was the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36-40). Christ Himself did the same – Matthew 23:23, “ you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Throughout the OT Prophets, God frequently said that He hated their ceremonial sacrifices, even that such were an abomination to Him — yet these very sacrifices were commanded in the Mosaic law – and He always called the people to repent in reference to moral issues such as how they treated their neighbors – specific things like not cheating or defrauding, adultery and other sexual immorality, and idolatry.

      Even some non-Sabbatarians fully acknowledge the differences in the Law, as with Phil Johnson, who observed “I sometimes think people who try to reject the category “moral law” do so because they think this is a neat way to avoid Sabbatarianism. … I’m not a Sabbatarian, but I don’t have to deny that there are eternal precepts in the law in order to make sure no one classifies the Sabbath restrictions as ‘moral law.”
      A few excerpts from Phil Johnson’s comments (the link is in the above article), since he so well expresses it (emphasis is in the original):
      “One thing is clear, however: the backbone of the law consists of moral precepts. These are timeless principles that reflect God’s own character. They are immutable rules by which God has always governed humanity. They are laws that were written on the human conscience ages before they were inscribed on tablets of stone, and they apply to all men of all ages.
      It is clear that the law’s moral standard was in force even before Moses brought the tablets of stone down from Sinai–because the whole reason God drove the Canaanites from the land was that they violated His moral statutes: “Whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 18:12). The fact that God judged the Canaanites for moral abominations is sufficient to prove that God’s moral law was binding before Sinai, and there’s no reason to deem it abrogated now.
      Moreover, bestiality was one of the specific reasons the Canaanites were driven from the land (Leviticus 18:23-24), so it’s clear that bestiality was a moral abomination before Moses’ law ever said so, and therefore there is no need to construct some precarious ladder of logic in order to declare bestiality immoral on NT principles alone.
      The NT does clearly recognize different categories of law, even though it doesn’t expressly outline the common threefold division. The book of Hebrews teaches (and Colossians 2:17 expressly says) that the temporary features of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system that prefigured Christ and pointed to Him no longer apply to us, because we live under a New and better Covenant.
      Yet the framework–the core and the backbone–of Moses’ law consisted of those eternal moral principles. And the New Testament just as clearly teaches that the moral precepts of the law are still in force (cf. Ephesians 6:1-2)–at least in this sense: they define for us what righteousness looks like. In the words of Romans 8:4, this is “the righteous requirement of the law”–the moral law. It’s the same law Paul says is engraved on the conscience of every human being.
      There’s no question that when Adam fell, it marred our innate understanding of God and His law. The fall left us with a sinful desire to suppress what we do know of God and His righteousness. Paul describes this in Romans 2:15: “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires . . .. They show [that] the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
      it seems clear enough that a certain subset of Moses’ law is eternal. It was in force and used as a standard by which to judge the Canaanites before the Ten Commandments were given, and it is now written on our hearts afresh under the New Covenant. Whether you call it “moral law” or something different matters not to me; just don’t try to argue that Scripture doesn’t recognize that there is such a law, and that it’s binding on us.”

  4. June 22, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    I’m NCT and I love the Old Testament! In fact my wife and I are going through Numbers as we speak. The Old Testament is God’s Word, it teaches us about God and man, and it is filled with types, shadows, and prophecies of Christ. Like the Apostle Paul told Timothy regarding the Old Testament: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” That being said I do also believe the New Testament where it tells us that Christ fulfilled the Law and then set it aside at the institution of the New and better Covenant. God bless you.

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