The Fourth Commandment
The Fourth Commandment
In the four or five centuries before Jesus came, the Jewish religious teachers debated at length about what observances should be made as regards the Sabbath. Thirty nine articles were formulated prohibiting all kinds of agricultural, industrial and domestic work. A Jew must not carry on the Sabbath even so much as a pocket handkerchief, except within the walls of the city. If there are no walls it follows, that he must not carry it at all. Even the preservation of life was a breaking of the Sabbath. A man could not peel a fruit. A woman could not kneed her dough. A boy could not wash his dog. A girl could not plait her hair. An old man could not tie a knot in a string. No one could write or cross out what had been written. All was forbidden, except that a man could go to the help of a bogged cow or a trapped sheep. A Sabbath Day's journey was about seven-eighths of a mile. One could not light a fire, or put it out, forbidding even any fire to be kindled on the Sabbath, even for culinary purposes, but not probably the use for warmth.
The Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11)
20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy. 20:9 For six days you may labor and do all your work, 20:10 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, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates. 20:11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
1. Sabbath Origins
• The word Sabbath has come to us from the Hebrew and is a direct transliteration.
• Throughout history and even today it has come to signify a day or period of rest from everyday labor.
• The Sabbath was more than just a day set aside each week but also was a term used for other periods of rest from work such as festivals like festival of Weeks or the day of atonement.
• It also applied to working the land-you could plant and harvest a field for six years but in the seventh it would be put into fallow.
• The word has generally come to mean ‘rest’ but it is used often to mean ‘cease’
• This works well with the intent of the Sabbath as a day in which labor is ceased.
• The beginning of the Sabbath goes all the way back to Genesis 2:2 where God after taking six days to create the universe takes a break from his exertion to rest.
• This action on the part of God as we all know has nothing to do with God needing to take a day off because he was tired.
• God does not get tired and so what would be the reason for him taking a rest?
• God’s plans and purposes are well thought out and exercised.
• So the best answer that I have discovered is that God was putting into place a special emphasis on the rest taking place on the seventh day.
• He wanted it to be part of the initial account of the creation of the world.
• It would have its purpose with the covenant with Israel but he wanted to establish its prominence back in Creation.
• A day of rest is not something that humanity began but something God established and there was a very clear purpose for it.
• God makes an example in part from Creation that says that labor is to be done in six days.
• He himself could have created the world in an instant but choose this duration to state that work was normal and expected.
• But with work also comes rest and the need to break up the routine, he set the example here as well.
2. Purpose of the Sabbath
• When we think of the Sabbath we may think of several things.
• If we are familiar with Jewish practice we may understand that it is a period of time from Friday around six pm to Saturday at six pm.
• We may see it as a day that most people take off.
• We may see it if we are a little older as a day when all the stores are closed and you spend time with your family.
• Obviously for Christians we may relate it to going to church on Sunday and we even may know that we do not actually keep the Sabbath day.
• But do we know why the Sabbath exists?
• On a very practical point it is for the rejuvenation of a person or working animal.
• Ex. 23:12:
For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest and that your female servant’s son and any hired help may refresh themselves.
• Very simply put we and everyone else gets tired, if you work for six days at the various tasks of taking care of your family, doing business, establishing commerce the body and the mind become taxed and weary.
• God is saying, ‘I did not make you to go non stop everyday, take a day to recover from your work and be refreshed.
• Our passage in Exodus 20 signifies that another reason for the Sabbath rest is simply because God took a break.
• And in taking a break he made the day special, blessed it and declared it holy.
• It was to be set aside as different from the mundane and the ordinary.
• All the things that occupied a persons mind all week long were to end for just a short time and the focus was to shift to their relationship with God.
• Isa. 58:13:
You must observe the Sabbath
rather than doing anything you please on my holy day.
You must look forward to the Sabbath
and treat the Lord’s holy day with respect.
You must treat it with respect by refraining from your normal activities, and by refraining from your selfish pursuits and from making business deals.
• God allow his people much of the time in a given week to their own pursuits and endeavors but he demands one day as his own.
• The emphasis on that day is to be on God and not all the other things that occupy our minds.
• When the Decalogue was given to Moses it was established as a point of the covenant.
• This establishment was closely linked to the series of events that brought Israel out of Egypt.
• The relationship between God and Israel was one of redemption and that is one of the primary purposes of the Sabbath.
• Deut. 5:15:
Recall that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there by strength and power. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
• In Egypt there was no rest, each and everyday they were under the tyranny of the Egyptians to make bricks for construction.
• They did not get a day off but were constantly under the control of their slave masters.
• The Sabbath was to be a weekly reminder just as the festivals and ceremonies that are called Sabbath Festivals were.
• They were to recall in the minds of every generation of Jew that God had elected and delivered them from bondage and had set them free.
• It also, closely tied to this was a declaration each week of their dependence on God and independence from other people and powers.
• The Sabbath was not particularly holy because Saturday was a special day, it was the significance of what they day was supposed to represent that set it apart.
• Each and every week the people of God were to remember the goodness of God in their redemption
• Keeping the Sabbath was no small matter, God viewed as extremely important.
• Ex. 35:2:
In six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there must be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord. Anyone who does work on it will be put to death.
• The covenant with Israel was to be one where God had no equal, he was to first in the lives and hearts of those he choose.
• Israel struggled throughout its history to keep the Sabbath and it is one of the reasons that they went into exile.
• They tended to want to work more, neglect their focus on God and forget him all together-the Sabbath was there to help prevent this from happening.
• It is not because the day is so significant but that it represents the dedication that God requires for a relationship with him.
3. New Testament on the Sabbath
• When we get to the New Testament we have a picture of the Sabbath that was quite different than the establishment with Moses.
• The desire to keep the day had spiraled from remembrance and worship to rule keeping.
• The intent was to add rules in order that breaking it would be impossible but in the process they neglected to make it a day of worship and remembrance but rather a day of rule keeping.
• With Jesus came the shaking of the established order.
• On several occasions he was confronted by Pharisees as to his conduct on the Sabbath.
• In Jn. 5 he healed a man on the Sabbath, in Lk. 13 he heals a woman on the Sabbath, in Lk. 14 he heals another man on the Sabbath.
• In other places he picks grain on the Sabbath and travels on that day.
• All of these things created a great rift between Jesus and the established religious order.
• In fact in Mt. 12:8 Jesus declared that he was Lord of the Sabbath in response to the religious leaders adding many rules to the observance of the day.
• They had distorted it to the point that a person could not even help another person on that day.
• It is in this Matthew passage after this confrontation he enters the Synagogue and heals a man.
• Jesus may have aggravated the system but he still kept the day.
• What he did not do is bow to the establishment but kept the original intent made by God.
• Mk. 2:27:
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.
• The Sabbath was not to rule them but was to function for the benefit of them.
• It was to give them a day of rest and rejuvenate their bodies and minds.
• It was to give them a renewed sense of closeness and relationship with God because they were to remember his redemption and rest from slavery.
• So Jesus did not abolish the Sabbath as much as he reestablished it.
• Paul continues this by confirming the message of Jesus in regards to the Sabbath.
• In Acts 13 we see that he attended Synagogue and in fact as part of his mission to reach Jews he would have been a regular attendee each Saturday.
• But he also states in Gal. 4 that observance of religious days is not the means of a relationship with God.
• You cannot go to church or observe the Sabbath and use this as the basis for your salvation.
• He also says in Col. 2 that the Sabbath is merely a shadow of Christ.
• By this he means that this day set for worship and celebrating redemption is a vapor compared with Christ.
• To fully understand and hold to a relationship with God is not found in celebrating the Sabbath but in the relationship with God through Jesus.
• As far as I understand the idea of setting aside a special day for worship and remembrance of redemption has not passed away.
• It was continued into the NT period by both Jesus and Paul but was set back into its proper purpose and significance.
4. The Sabbath Today
• We need to remember that for Christians we do not celebrate the Sabbath in its strictest sense.
• The major difference is the day that we celebrate.
• The change occurred with Jesus and establishment of the Christian Church.
• There are several things that precipitated this change.
• There was the fact that Jesus rose on a Sunday that caused Christians to celebrate on this day.
• There was the need to distinguish themselves from the Jewish faith by celebrating on a day rather than the Sabbath.
• There were the many encounters subsequent to the resurrection that occurred on Sunday.
• All of these contributed to Christianity picking Sunday rather than Saturday as the day set aside for the Lord.
• Observing Sunday has had a lot of discussion around it.
• People have debated what work can be done on that day, can you go out for lunch or fill your car with gas and make someone else work.
• Should you go shopping or play games or engage in a sporting activity on a Sunday.
• There are those who’s liberty makes no distinction between Sunday and any other day accept maybe that they go to Church.
• Others feel that Sunday is a day for church and family and nothing else-you do not get together with friends or play a sport or travel on a Sunday.
• I think we need to keep in mind the origins of the Sabbath and apply them to the Sunday or day of rest that Christians have today.
• There are three components that must be maintained.
• First it needs to be a day of rest-that may not mean that you stop everything and lay in bed all day but rather a cessation from the regular activities that occupy your time all week long.
• If you use your body physically all week, give it a rest and relax.
• If you use your mind all week, enjoy something physical to change the pace.
• It calls for a day of change from the routine in order to restore your ability to work another week.
• Second it is a day that is to be set as a day for worshiping God.
• This does not mean that it needs to be Sunday-I for one in ministry have seldom not worked on a Sunday, but it needs to be a day that worship is the focus.
• This obviously means that church is essential, fellowship and meeting together as the NT describes is intergral to that taking place.
• But it also may mean that you take extra time in prayer, or Bible reading, going for a walk in God’s creation or enjoying time with another believer in Christian fellowship.
• Not everyone gets the liberty of not working on Sunday, but this does not mean that worship needs to cease.
• Some churches offer Saturday services.
• Setting aside the day that you have your small group may be your day of worship.
• Spending a day listening to teaching on a CD or reading a Christian book may be part of worship.
• Third, the Lord’s day needs to include remembrance of God’s redemption.
• The advantage of Sunday and going to church is that it is to be done naturally-the worship service throughout is to be a reminder and celebration of how God saved us from despair and hopelessness.
• He delivered us from bondage and give us life-and that is what the Sabbath is all about-focusing on the goodness of God and worshiping him while resting from our labor.
• The concept of Sabbath or rest also has a transcendent or eternal component that we must be aware of in order to appreciate the concept fully.
• The theme of redemption being linked to the Sabbath is carried into the book of Hebrews and the admonition of the author to establish and maintain their faith.
• Heb. 4:1-11:
Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it. 4:2 For we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did. But the message they heard did them no good, since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith. 4:3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’” And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world. 4:4 For he has spoken somewhere about the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works,” 4:5 but to repeat the text cited earlier: “They will never enter my rest!” 4:6 Therefore it remains for some to enter it, yet those to whom it was previously proclaimed did not enter because of disobedience. 4:7 So God again ordains a certain day, “Today,” speaking through David after so long a time, as in the words quoted before, “O, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts.” 4:8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken afterward about another day. 4:9 Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. 4:10 For the one who enters God’s rest has also rested from his works, just as God did from his own works. 4:11 Thus we must make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by following the same pattern of disobedience.
• The day of rest, the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day all have their culmination in the day to come when all God’s people will enter their eternal rest.
• We labor upon this earth by God’s example and do not cease but one day a week in order to rejuvenate, worship and remember his redemption.
• We reestablish our covenant each week, seek reconciliation for sin and bow at his feet.
• One day we will come to rest at his feet in reality for remaining obedient to his calling and it is there that we will be refreshed, we will worship and we will enjoy our redemption.
• So the Sabbath is a command not arbitrarily put in place.
• Resting from work is an important component but it is probably not the main one.
• God wants us to take a day each week to worship him and give our thanks for our salvation.
• It is not to be a day that we regret, or wait to end, but rather it is a day to delight in his presence, a day to know and be with God.