"Substitute wholeness every time you see holiness." That's Ray Stedman's rule for reading with the understanding that holiness is wholeness. I love that rule. The only difficulty is that sometimes it doesn't seem initially to make sense. So I want to prove that it can make sense even when at first glance it may not seem possible.
Let's look at the text of Exodus 20:8, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."
The key here is whether it can make sense in the context to say: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping the Sabbath Day wholly." And whether it can make sense to say: "Therefore the Lord blessed [keeping] the Sabbath day and made the Sabbath day [keeping] whole." On the surface it may not look like this is possible, because we are so accustomed to a particular way of interpreting the passage. So let's look more in depth at a way of understanding holy as whole.
Let's begin from the most obvious or most certain, and then end at the least certain. By this process, I think we will be able to clear up whether holiness is wholeness in the case of this important Sabbath text. First, we are looking at one day that is distinct from the other six days. We know that "the" indicates one and that "six" is explicitly mentioned regarding the other days. The idea of a week is implied, but not explicit which would make up a unit of seven. We also see that holy is an amout according to the translators in the context as shown by its ending. I would understand this to mean to keep it wholly versus partially. Others would understand it to mean to count it separately versus together with based on the idea of separation.
Second, we are looking at the fact that no work or not any work is supposed to happen on the Sabbath day. Not any implies that every type of work is forbidden. What is important here is that the idea of all usually includes all that is within a group like in "ya' all." Every or any tends to be even more inclusive in that it may reach beyond the members of a group and include even those outside a group. But we know from any translation that no amount of work is supposed to be allowed into this day of rest. This part of the translation needs work since this allows a fair amount of discussion on the strictness of keeping the Sabbath free from work. This part of the discussion is not as certain as the first part. So much for amounts or numbers.
Let's move on to the next most obvious. The seventh day is in contrast to the other six as shown by "but." It also follows the other six since it is called the "seventh" day. We also see relationships between various groups of people as alternative groups as shown by "nor." We see again a contrast as shown by "but" in the contrast between "made" in six days and "rested" on the seventh day. Finally we see what results from God resting on the seventh day. "Therefore" He blesses it and makes that day wholly. So much for relationships.
Let's now deal with some things not as obvious. There is a lot happening. We are to "remember," then be "keeping," then "shall labor" and "do," then understand what it "is," then "do" again, then God "made," then "rested," then "blessed" and finally "made holy."
Let's discuss the action of "remember." Remember could be said because it refers to something already known before. But I think it is meant to do more than just say I have told you this before. Is it not also possible that we would forget this day in the sense that it is not the usual routine? Why would we forget it? Because it is an exception to the rule of the other six days which are more the norm for each week. Simply put, it would be exceptional. Like birthdays, which occur only once per year, they occur only once per week, and so are harder to remember than the six that are the same.
Let's discuss too the action of "keep." It means first or fundamentally to watch like a person watching for a full moon to occur. The idea of keep is a secondary meaning from the context where it means to keep a watchful eye on something that may otherwise be lost. This is where the idea of guarding sometimes comes in. Overall, it is a call to due diligence when it is combined in the context with remember. We have to remember and watch which is a great definition for diligence.
Another action to discuss is the most basic action of all, "do." Next to it is "made." My sense from the use of these words is that the key point is do not undo what the Lord has made.
Another action to discuss is that of "blessed." God did not originally curse this day making it subject to vanity any more than any other day He made, but he blessed it making it subject to fruitfulness. The reason for this action of "blessed" lies in His action of resting which supports why the action of blessing is needed. It was not that this day itself was cursed and needed His blessing. It was because people sometimes assume resting is unfruitful and so cursed unless God gives His direct blessing on the action of rest as not unfruitful action. Sloth and laziness are under a curse, but resting is fruitful. You can be sure, if some had their way, they would get rid of any rest along with sloth and laziness.
Finally, there is the action of "made holy." There are two traditional understandings of this word. The context determined which one the older commentators saw in a context. In this context it usually was seen as having to do with separation or with consecration. The other option was a meaning of wholeness. I think wholly or wholeness can make sense in the context.
God did not make this day originally profane any more than any other day God made. The reason for this action of "made holy" lies in His action of resting. He made it whole, not in the sense that the day itself was not whole and needed Him to make it whole. It was because people might think that keeping the Sabbath day was only required for part of the day and not the whole day without His direct word on the whole day. The point was to stress the whole day! Some have already gotten their way and have turned holidays, not into something they keep for a whole day, but at best a part of a day.
We see this action problem, don't we, in most holiday observances in the United States? Take the 4th of July. Is it not true that people think they are observant Americans when all they do on that day in observance is watch fireworks for only one part of the day? They give up their evening for the real theme and forget it the other three parts! Maybe I am too kind and some don't even give up their evening to think about independence. To counter this tendency in me, I have actually tried in the past to watch parades and do other things to keep that whole day a Day of Independence. I try to keep the whole day.
In all of this, it is important to note that the blessing and the direction to keep holy are given for the seventh day in this context because of God's change in action from making to resting. The blessing is because the danger is always lurking that someone will turn resting into a curse through calling it laziness. Making it whole is because someone will turn a whole day into a part day through calling keeping the whole day utterly ridiculous, or calling it trying to get the whole shooting match, or calling it the whole shebang, etc. From this they try to get you to back off from the whole day. You get the idea. So much for the action.
Now let's deal with some things that are a little less clear, plain or certain. I would never argue that because holiness is wholeness that there is no sense of separation in Scripture. Rather there is a very clear sense sometimes that we must "come out and be separate." When it comes to things, some very clear separations are happening between things in this context. So in terms of being, some things are separate or distinct from others. In terms of relationships, sometimes we have to come out from others.
Some of the things in this context are: work, rest, Sabbath, day, it, you, etc. , Lord, heavens and earth What Sabbath is literally is to cease from work. So it is separate from work. It does not say that it is or is not separate from play necessarily, but it is distinct from work. Also this day is distinct from other days. We normally separate one thing from many things. In addition, a day, to be a day includes parts: evening, night, morning and afternoon. Each are distinct parts of the day just as days are distinct parts of a week, weeks distinct parts of months, months distinct parts of years, etc. We also told about you, etc., which is distinct from everyone or just oneself alone. We also are told about the Lord who is separate from being a servant or steward. Finally, it is set in reference to the heavens & earth, etc. not just one distinct part of creation.
The confusion as to what holy is comes from the lack of understanding clearly whether parts of days are assumed in this context as what is being combated against or a melting together of this day with the other six is what is being combated. Is it primarily a problem of last day becoming another work day or a problem of this day only being kept one part of the day as a day of rest? That is a very good question. Or could it be that both problems are being combatted with the distinction between work and rest and then the distinction between wholly and partially? That is an even better question. Please ponder this before answering.
What we need is the following: The testimony of places being certain should be followed to take away the doubts of the uncertain places. The certain places should not be allowed to overwhelm the uncertain, but it gives us some great clues. I think the context allows for wholly as combatting a separate problem. I would like to know your thoughts.
Pastor Jon Westlund