Is the Sabbath Covenant for Israel only, excluding Gentiles?
God gave the Sabbath covenant to identify first the true God, and second to identify those who are His people. It was not given to distinguish between two kinds of God's people—that is, for example, two kinds of Christians, such as those who were Jewish-born from those who were Gentile-born. God does not have two kinds of Christians! Whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, old or young, Christians are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
In Old Testament days, only the Israelites were God's people. God gave them the Sabbath as the sign to identify them as His people. In Hosea 1:9, God pictures the house of Israel as Lo-Ammi, meaning "not My people." They had rejected God's Sabbaths and followed King Jeroboam's idolatrous feasts (I Kings 12:26-33).
God says, "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and wall her in, so that she cannot find her paths" (Hosea 2:6). He prophesies that Israel would lose her way, to lose her identity or become lost. Today, they are known as the lost Ten Tribes! They lost all knowledge of their true God because they forsook the Sabbath.
In verse 8, God says Israel had taken all His blessings and prepared them "for Baal." They used their God-given wealth in Baal-worship on the day of the sun-god, today called Sunday. Notice what God says He will do about their apostasy: "I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, her Sabbaths—all her appointed feasts. . . . I will punish her for the days of the Baals" (verses 11, 13). He sent Israel into captivity for her idolatry and Sabbath-breaking (see Ezekiel 20).
But the prophecy does not end here!
This prophecy cannot really be understood unless one first understands the Sabbath covenant of Exodus 31:12-17! When Israel rejected the identifying sign of God's Sabbath, it most assuredly did not identify them! It did not distinguish them from Gentiles—in fact, they came to believe that they were Gentiles. The Gentile people of the world called them Gentiles. The Jewish people called them Gentiles! The Jewish people continue to recognize the Sabbath, and the whole world calls them "the chosen people"!
Why, then, did God not make this special everlasting Sabbath Covenant with Gentile nations too? Simply because all Gentile nations had cut themselves off, totally, from God. All had gone into idolatry. None knew the true God. Instead, God took a downtrodden slave people and made them His nation. God then gave this called-out people, descended from those with whom He had worked before, His right ways.
Why? To show other nations what blessings would follow obedience to His laws! To set an example to other nations! God gave His right ways and all His promises—including salvation through Christ—to Israel to make these ways and blessings known and available to the Gentiles!
In a world cut off from God and worshipping pagan deities of every stripe, He called out a despised, humiliated, slave people, descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had listened to and obeyed God, and to a point, the Israelites, in their debased, beaten-down condition, were humble enough to listen to and obey their Creator as well. Through them, God purposed now to give all other nations a chance through this called-out people, Israel!
Of them, God says: "This people have I formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise" (Isaiah 43:21). Israel was to be His instrument, so that Gentile nations would see the desired results, tremendous blessings, and prosperity that would inure to those who obey Him.
Of course, the Israelites had human nature, and though God performed stupendous and most astounding miracles, they never followed God's ways for long. But through them God has taken away every excuse from all who rebel. Humanity has been given every chance to repent of its way!
Later, during Christ's earthly ministry and after, God used His church in the same manner. Christ called out the church as special called-out people, not merely to preach His gospel to the world, but to show the world the desired results reaped from obedience! The church, too, was to be a light! "You are the light of the world," Jesus tells His disciples. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14, 16). The church is to set an example!
The Ephesians were Gentiles, but they heard Christ's gospel, repented, believed, and obeyed. They became converted Christians. To them, Paul writes:
To become a converted Christian, one must become, spiritually, an Israelite! Jesus says, "Salvation is of the Jews," who are Israelites (John 4:22). It is "for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16). Paul later writes, "For they are not all Israel [physically] who are of Israel [spiritually]" (Romans 9:6). The church of God—composed of Israelites and Gentiles—he calls "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
But were not Gentiles excluded under the Old Testament? They were not! What God gave for Israel was for the Gentiles also. The Sabbath was for Gentiles, as well as Israelites! Gentiles could always come into the congregation of Israel, and many did. Even as they left Egypt, "a mixed multitude went up with them" (Exodus 12:38). In the instructions for observing the Passover, God says:
Gentiles could become naturalized citizens of Israel any time, and thousands did.
Hebrews 9:28 explains when His salvation will be revealed: "So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will he appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation." Christ brings salvation when He appears the second time! Jesus says: "And behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work" (Revelation 22:12). Isaiah's prophecy is for the time just before Christ's second coming—today!
God says that no Gentile who has been converted and joined himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, should say that Christ has separated him from God's people Israel! No, the Sabbath is not a sign to separate Israelites from Gentiles! Gentiles are not excluded!
The Sabbath was made for mankind, for Gentile as well as Israelite. God Himself made His Sabbath binding forever (Exodus 31:12-17). It is binding forever, perpetually, throughout the generations of Israelites. Their generations have not ended. "Forever" has not ended.
Israelite Christians, then, are bound to keep God's holy Sabbath. But what about Gentiles? Gentiles become Christians through Christ, the same as Israelites. They, too, must keep it. They become Israelites, spiritually, when they receive God's Holy Spirit and become truly converted Christians.
God does not have one way for Jew and one for Gentile. He does not have one day for Jew and another for Gentile. Christ is not divided! God is no respecter of persons! We are all one in Christ!