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Third Quarter 2016 (July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE COMMUNITY
Week 3: July 9–15
COMMENTARY ON "JUSTICE AND MERCY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT: PART 1"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson is examining the idea of social justice and discussing how Adventist churches should care for the disenfranchised in their communities. Because this big picture focus permeates the entire week, I will not write specific answers to each day’s lessons. Instead, I will write an overview response to the week.
First, Sunday and Monday’s lesson are both on the subject of “Sabbath”. Out of seven days of lesson, two are about Sabbath in a lesson devoted to social justice. Both days texts attempts to show that the weekly Sabbath, the seven-year cycle of canceling debts, and the Jubilee Sabbath year following seven cycles of Sabbath years, all addressed the social needs of the people, guarding against extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
The author misses the most important point, however—every single ritual and law of the Mosaic covenant prefigured the Lord Jesus and His finished work. The lesson creates an argument that the Sabbaths show that the fabric of Jewish society worked to favor the less fortunate in society. This idea was not the fabric of Jewish culture. Indeed, care for all the chosen people was written into the law, but that law prefigured Jesus’ fulfillment of it and the opening of redemption and life to all who believed.
The Sabbath laws cannot be used to be the argument for social justice.
Sabbath does NOT point back to creation
Monday’s lesson further states this about the Sabbath: “The seventh-day Sabbath will forever point back to Creation, as well as forward to the Cross and new earth.” It goes on to explain how the Sabbath will bring Adventists closer to the suffering people God loves so deeply.
This idea is completely wrong. The Sabbath does not point back to creation; according to the text of Scripture, it points back to God’s REST, His CEASING from creating. That is very, very different. The idea that the Sabbath points back to God’s ceasing because His work was completed stands in total contrast to Adventist propaganda.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Gen. 2:1-3).
Notice that the passage in Genesis shows that the seventh day was blessed and holy because God was DONE. His creating was finished, and He ceased. On the seventh day (which lacks an evening and a morning boundary that the six days of creation all have) was the day God CEASED, and that finished, perfect work that did not end was declared blessed and holy. It was not the specific creation that was declared holy; it was God’s finished work that was holy. The seventh day was not about CREATION; it was about God’s finishing creating and ceasing His work.
Exodus 20:8-11 says,
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 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.
Notice that the fourth commandment does not say Sabbath is about Creation. Rather, it recounts the six days of creation and uses the fact that God ceased, or rested, from His work on the seventh day to explain the purpose of the Sabbath. It was pointing back, for sure, but not to the week of Creation. It was pointing back to God’s finished work—His CEASING from work—at the end of creation. Sabbath was not created on the seventh day. Creation was only six days. Sabbath was a reminder of God’s finished perfect work after He completed Creation, and it pointed forward to the finished, completed work of Jesus on the cross. Nowhere does Scripture link the Sabbath to the new earth. Rather, Sabbath rest, according to Hebrews 3 and 4, is about resting from our work of pleasing God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus.
Sabbath is not a creation ordinance, nor was it created. It was a simple ceasing. No “Sabbath” was created at creation. God rested. Genesis, in fact, never calls the seventh day “Sabbath”. Only in Exodus do we find God having Moses deliver Sabbath commands to Israel, and they are always connected to God’s work on their behalf: His ceasing from creating His perfect world, and His deliverance of them from Egypt in Deuteronomy 5.
Adventists have invented the “creation ordinance” argument. It is not supported in Scripture, and it is confusing to read it apart from an understanding of the Bible and what it teaches about God’s covenants and promises.
Sabbath is not created, is not a creation ordinance, and is not a universal sign of concern for the downtrodden.
Prophetic Voices and the needs of the poor
Tuesday and Wednesday’s lesson both address passages from Isaiah where the prophet rebuked Israel for their hypocrisy and apostasy. The lessons, however, turn these out of context verses into fuel for the argument that people need to take care of the poor and needy.
God is rebuking Israel for keeping the forms of Jewish worship but being filled with evil, having blood on their hands. God is saying he wants them to turn to Him in repentance and receive His forgiveness. He hates their fasting and feasting, their Sabbaths, and He calls them to honor Him, to care for the hungry and afflicted, and God will bless them.
To be sure, God asks His people to care for the poor and needy. These passages, however, cannot be lifted out of context and used to support a commitment to a “social justice gospel”. The prophet’s pleas were not primarily for Israel to care for the needy; they were calls to repentance. For self-centered people who had rejected Yahweh worship for paganism, simply starting a feeding ministry would not resolve their spiritual issues. They had to repent before God.
The lesson, however, neglects to camp on this part of the prophet’s messages.
Adventism teaches a false gospel; attending to the needs of the poor will not put them in right relationship to God. Individual Adventists need to know the real gospel and turn away from everything else, following the Lord Jesus wherever He leads. True believers will care for the poor; exhorting people who believe a false gospel to care for the needy, however, will not bring the needy to God. When those in a false religion attempt to reach out to the poor and needy, they only supply temporal relief. They do not bring those people the light of the gospel in the face of Jesus to them—the true light and Life that will give those people eternal hope.
No amount of social justice can actually help anyone in the big picture sense unless those helped receive the gospel of the Lord Jesus and His finished work.
Finally, while the ideas of justice and mercy are taught repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, the context always is that is Israel—God’s chosen people who had covenanted to honor Him in the world. When they did not, God sent prophets to remind them of their need to repent and to look outside themselves.
It is illegitimate for the Sabbath School lessons to manipulate Scripture to attempt to bring Adventists to rally around a social gospel agenda. This agenda does not mean they are pleasing God or demonstrate that they are true Christians.
Rather, Adventists need to read the gospel and ask themselves if they believe that the Lord Jesus died for their sins, that He is the propitiation of the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), and without trust in Him, we cannot know Him. Adventists need to know that unless they are born again, they cannot please God. No amount of good works will “count” if they dismiss Jesus and refuse to deal with Him as a personal Savior, as the One who shed His own blood in order to reconcile them to God.
The work of God is not social justice; the work of God is to believe in the One whom He sent (Jn. 6:29).