It is common to hear some reference to the following erroneous statement in many sermons today: “The Old Testament is legalistic, but Jesus brings grace and salvation by faith.” But actually, this is a horrible mockery of the continuity of God’s grace and the clear presentations of salvation by faith throughout the entire Old Testament. The Torah is about as far from legalism as one can get. Yahweh and Moses are clear: the people have no good in them that commends them to God. Yahweh, in His great love and grace, saved them when they were in abject slavery (v. 6). Furthermore, if the Torah was legalistic, then how did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants find salvation, with all their sins? The Old Testament makes it clear that they had a heart relationship with God. Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6, Brenton Septuagint Translation). Not only that, but Genesis tells us that Abraham kept all the laws of God (Gen. 26:5)! God had written them on his heart, and that is what God wanted to do with Israel too. But they were not willing. The Israelites said the right words, but their hearts were far from God. The people lived lives of extremes, some turning to legalism (after the exile), and others living in sin, believing that their other external actions would save them (after Moses’ death). But God always wanted their hearts, so the new covenant was not actually new per se; it was a renewal of what God had always planned but what the people had scorned.
First and foremost in this was the Sabbath, which had been instituted at creation but took on new meaning as a sign of the covenant (Exod. 31). While God is not explicit about why this is the case, it seems that there are several reasons that could be part of it. First of all, the Sabbath is the only “arbitrary” Word, since all the others make logical sense if there is only one God, and in order to love others. However, there is no reason to keep the Sabbath, especially over any other day, except that Yahweh chose it. By keeping the Sabbath, we honor our relationship to God and our desire to fellowship with Him. The Sabbath is also the birthday of the world, so it is a time to celebrate together and with God (Exod. 20). And then Deuteronomy 5 indicates that the Sabbath most completely represents righteousness by faith, in that we quit working and rely on God’s finished work of salvation and deliverance on our behalf. The Sabbath is a delight, not a burden. The Sabbath makes clear to our hearts what we think of God.