Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments: 5. Remember & Revere
Ex 20:8-11 “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.
Christians seem to fall into two extreme, so often, in respect of this verse. There are those who hold to it so legalistically that Sunday becomes a day of imprisonment. My wife, and others I know who grew up in Christian families over forty years ago, tells of Sundays where you were hardly allowed to do anything at all, days of misery almost! The other extreme are those people who say, “Well this is the Old Testament law so it doesn’t apply to us any more so we can do what we like.” This view gains followers in a day when certain jobs require you to work on a Sunday.
I say these are extremes because I want to suggest there is a middle way. Let’s look at what the Law said first of all and then how it was applied and then at what Jesus said about it for us today.
First of all what it says: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (v.8) That is the basic law and everything else is a) an explanation of what it covers and then b) an explanation of why it is to be like this. The Sabbath simply means the seventh day. The call was to make it special, to remember or mark it and make it holy (distinct and special, a unique day).
There is, before we get on to the explanations, a clarification: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (v.9,10) It is all about resting from work, or at least that is the first expression of it.
So next the explanation of what it covers: “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.” (v.10) i.e. this abstaining from work is to cover every member of the community, man or beast. It is a total rest – for everyone.
Now comes the reasoning behind it: “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.” (v.11) Now intriguingly, when you look at this verses, it doesn’t say that you should remember God’s creating role, but I suggest that is implied in it. The reason for this day to be special each week is that it is to follow God’s example. (A necessary aside: whether that means God took six 24 hour periods or simply six eras or six steps to create the world, or He shared it over six days with Moses, is uncertain and Christians unwisely proclaim one of those options and thus create unnecessary divisions. We don’t know!) The implication, at the very least, has to be to remember God as the Creator (and provider) of all you know. Stopping work on that seventh day of every week is thus a statement of faithful obedience and reverence.
What is interesting is in Moses reiterating the Ten Commandments in Deut 5, one of the few differences comes here and is first an emphasis on the totality of the rest – “so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do,” (Deut 5:14) – and the background of it – “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deut 5:15) If we assume both passages were inspired, we must see the Creation as the example to be followed and the Exodus as the acts of deliverance to be remembered. Remember the prologue of these commands: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deut 5:6) These commands, you may remember, in Deuteronomy are being given to Israel just before they enter the Promised Land. They need to remember the wonder of what the Lord has done for them, and one way will be to take out this day of rest.
A thought about helps to remember. The Lord, it seems, is very much aware that we are people who have a propensity to forget things and therefore Scripture is scattered with examples of things done to help remind people. The Feasts and the fasts of the law did just this; they provided an opportunity to remember (e.g. Ex 12:26,27). The twelve stones at the side of the Jordon were to act as a reminder for future generations of the miraculous crossing of the Jordon (Josh 4:6). For us, Communion or the Lord’s Supper has the same effect – “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).
Now we have got a lot more to cover – how they applied it and how Jesus applied it for us – so rather than rush this or make it too much to take in at one sitting, we will continue it in the next meditation.