Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments: 6. Remember & Revere (2)
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.
In the previous meditation I said we would 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. We noted, in considering what the Law actually said, that it was a call to remember or mark the seventh day of every week and make it holy (distinct and special, a unique day), and that was for every man, woman, child and beast in the community. The remembrance appeared to be two fold – to remember God as Creator and to remember God as deliverer.
Now we have to consider how they applied it and how Jesus applied it for us. An incident before entering the Promised land shows how it was applied in their early days: “While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Num 15:32-36)
Today we might think the death penalty for collecting sticks was harsh in the extreme. But the sticks were not the issue; the issue was a man who basically said, “I may be part of the covenant community but I am not going to do what God says.” It was that simple. He separated himself from that community by his attitude and actions. They could have banished him from the nation but in the middle of the wilderness on his own he would probably have died anyway. Stoning would certainly have contained a strong message but the end result was the same.
In the centuries that followed, as we see Israel again and again drifting away from the Lord, it is probable that this command, with many others was disregarded, but whenever there was a return to God it is obvious that this law came back into its own. Even after the exile we find it was an issue: “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day,” (Neh 10:31) and then later, “In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing–desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day.” (Neh 13:15-19) Nehemiah saw disregarding the Sabbath keeping as one of the causes of the Exile itself.
Now into the New Testament and we find the religious Jews having a problem with Jesus over Sabbath keeping: “At that time Jesus went through the grain-fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus appeals to the historical testimony: He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. He also appeals to the Law: Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. There are bigger issues to be followed: If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His conclusion is that as God HE decides what is best use of the Sabbath. Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. The opposition looks for trouble over healing: Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He appeals to their practice: He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! His conclusion: Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:1-12) Mark added to the grain field incident – “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mt 2:27,28) From these verses we can suggest the following:
- Jesus, the Son of God, is the ultimate arbiter of how to use the Sabbath. It can be used for good!
- In ‘using it’ he doesn’t detract from its original purposes of remembering God the Creator and God the Provider, but in fact demonstrates Him doing that still.
- The Sabbath law is not to become a legalistic straight-jacket but as an instrument to bless and protect us – it was made for our benefit.
- The Jews added many minute detailed applications of the original law but that made it man-focused and not God-focused.
- We now have freedom to use the Sabbath (Sunday as followed by the early church e.g. Acts 20:7) for anything that might be considered ‘good’ while not detracting from using it as a day to specifically remember the Lord’s goodness.
- As those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the truth is that anything covered by 5 above can also be done on any other day of the week as well. Nevertheless when we work it is not always easy to ‘remember the Lord’ and so opportunities to meet together as church and perform such things as the Last Supper, are wisely, from a general administrative point of view, done on a ‘standard’ agreed day.
- History suggests that when people (maybe those disillusioned by church) cease meeting on a Sunday, they separate themselves off from the rest of the Church and soon become those for whom the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) Recognising the value of meeting together for witness, worship, ministry and teaching, why not make it on the same day as the rest of the church. If we feel disillusioned by ‘church’ rather than abandon it, work to change it. Enough said.
We live in a day and a society which largely disregards God and one outworking of that (to our detriment) is that business is carried on seven days a week often. Arguments can be made for caring in hospitals etc. but the issue is not so much what constitutes ‘work’ as what are our feelings towards God. That we have gone beyond what is wise in terms of procedures as a society will no doubt become clear in the future. The big issue, though, is what is our attitude towards God?