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Book Review “Creation, Tabernacle, and Sabbath”

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“Creation, Tabernacle and Sabbath” by Daniel C. Timmer


This is an expensive book (and impressive). The cost alone might well discourage those interested in this topic from making the purchase, but this book is sans pareil and a rare gem. Timmer, a Professor of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Montreal, produced a research volume of exquisite detail and refinement. Every word is measured, accurate, and thoughtfully chosen; every section is cogent, deliberate, and thoroughly researched. Better still, Timmer believes this is God’s inspired word. A rough outline follows:

Ch “Title” Content
1 Introduction Explains results of previous studies of this passage and its themes. Presents his methods of research, goals, and significance of his study.
2 Exegesis of Frames Provides the surrounding context for frames and then dissects each frame via literary exegesis. Describes the Sabbath in relation to creation and national identity, and proposes the rationality of the author’s placement of the frames.
3 Reflections Discusses the themes of holiness, sanctification, and rest. Relates the frames to creation, tabernacle, and typology. Present a rationale for why the Sabbath was made a sign for Israel.
4 Exegesis of Core Examines the historical sequence of events, emphasizing the presence of God and Israel’s relationship to Him, with respect to the covenant and sanctification.
5 Reflections Discusses the dynamics of forgiveness and the interrelation of the Sabbath and tabernacle. Relates these themes to other covenants and the eschatological resolution of the problem of sin.
6 Related Works Explores parallels with Isa 65-66 and the NT interpretation of these themes in Hebrews. Examines applicable Jewish literature and demonstrates that sabbatic themes are present elsewhere in OT.
7 Conclusion Reviews conclusion of previous chapters

The subtitle identifies the pericopae that Timmer places under his microscope: “The Sabbath Frame of Exodus 31:12-17; 35:1-3 in Exegetical and Theological Perspective.” Here are the sabbatic frames:

Ex 31:12-17, NKJV
12 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
13 “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
14 You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.
15 Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
16 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.
17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'”

Ex 35:1-3, NKJV
1 Then Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said to them, “These are the words which the Lord has commanded you to do:
2 Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.
3 You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”

Sandwiched between these two passages is the historical account of Israel’s lapse into idolatry immediately following their exodus. Biblical criticism would envision an apparent patchwork of disjointed texts and claim that various sources were redacted to give us the final form of Exodus. However, Timmer’s meticulous dissection of the passage and its context demonstrates its cohesiveness through several thematic stands and literary devices.

While Moses was receiving instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, a noise from the camp arose. The fabrication of the golden calf with the oversight of Aaron demonstrated Israel’s dismissal of Moses, the mediator between them and God, which essentially stripped God “of the glory he deserves as their deliverer and possessor” (p 104). Recognizing that Israel’s sin interrupted God’s presence with them, as well as stirring His anger, Timmer wonderfully reviews the Lord’s progressive handling of that sin through Moses’ mediatorial work, with the ultimate goal of providing forgiveness while maintaining His righteousness. As an aside, Timmer posits that there is no discrepancy with the concurrent existence of the “tent of meeting” and the tabernacle tent, the former coinciding with the earlier tension between God’s presence and Israel’s unworthiness.

The fall of Israel after her birth from Egypt echoes the fall of Adam after his creation. Indeed, the historical link with creation provides a rationale for the placement of the two Sabbath frames as a literary device. The first Sabbath frame is written as a chiasmus which highlights its signal function for Israel and includes the capital threat for disobedience. This is the third occurrence of the word “sign” in the OT, preceded by its use with Noah and Abraham. The second Sabbath frame briefly reiterates Sabbath law and includes the prohibition from kindling a fire. Various theories explaining the prohibition are discussed. The Sabbath, with its emphasis on rest, is a covenantal sign of Israel entering not only into the Canaan rest, but God’s rest as modeled in Genesis. Once the covenant was restored, the Sabbath was repeated as the “apogee of the covenantal sanctification trajectory” (p 131).

Overlapping themes between Genesis 2 and Exodus 25-40 involve rest, redemption, presence or sacred space, holiness, sanctification and priestly functions (p 86). The problem of sin and God’s desire to reconcile a sinful people with Himself are the transcendent issues, but the historical elements of the OT are eschatological types of God’s ultimate solution to this dilemma. Regarding the seventh day of creation, Timmer avers that “the blessing and consecration may have reference to something other than a human sabbath” (p 45). Furthermore, the mention of creation in Exodus 20 emphasizes “the cessation of God’s work vis-à-vis the creation of the cosmos rather than on his behavior as an example for humanity” (p 71). Its mention also expresses “the eschatological or anticipatory nature of Yahweh’s commitment to sanctify Israel” (p 176).

With the proper understanding of the symbolic character of the seventh day and its relationship to the Sabbath, it is reasonable to conclude the typological nature of the Sabbath. “The rest to which the Sabbath pointed, since it is dependent upon a complete resolution of the sin problem, is contingent upon a future, final act of Yahweh” (p 141). “The concept of rest, even in the OT, also has a future component that stands, as synecdoche, for all the convenant’s promised benefits” (p 98). This is how the author of Hebrews understood the Sabbath rest, as foreshadowing “the final destination of believers” (p 164), not commanding a physical rest.

Timmer’s reasoned and balanced approach to the texts and contexts is extremely gratifying. He limited his observations and conclusions to what is actually present in the text and where alternative views and opinions existed, he respectfully dealt with them. Furthermore, he gives clarity to the thematic connections between Genesis and Exodus, and demonstrates that these themes continue through the remainder of the OT as a matter of divine interest and intent. Anyone who studies the Sabbath will, at length, realize that it is rich in theological material. This opens the door to a range of interpretive strategies, but Timmer possesses a comprehensive, yet finely tuned, sabbatology.

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