8. Remember & Revere (1)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 8. Command Four: Remember & Revere (1)

Ex 20:8-11   “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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.

Two Extremes: Christians seem to fall into two extremes, so often, in respect of these verses. First, there are those who hold to them 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! Second, the other extreme are those people who say, “Well this is the Old Testament law so it doesn’t apply to us anymore 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 suggest 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.

The Basic Command: First of all note what it says: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (v.8) That is the basic law and everything else is

  1. an explanation of what it covers and then
  2. an explanation of why it is to be like this.

The Sabbath here simply applies the seventh day. This basic law or call was

  • first to remember or acknowledge this day or mark it out and,
  • second, you did that by making it holy (distinct and special, a unique day).

So in a moment we’re first going to ask the question, remember what? Then, second, we’re going to ask how do we go about remembering?

The Command Explained: There is next a clarification: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” (v.8-10) So there it is, a differentiating between the rest of the week of work and this one day whose objective is succinctly put by the ‘Easy to Read’ Bible: “You must remember to keep the Sabbath a special day. You may work six days a week to do your job. 10 But the seventh day is a day of rest in honour of the Lord your God.”

Sabbath? Now something fascinating about this is that the word ‘sabbath’ (from the Hebrew verb shabbat meaning ‘to rest from labour’) first arises in this form a few chapters earlier in the context of gathering the manna, which they were told they could do for six days but then not collect it on the seventh for it “is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord,” (Ex 16:23) “So the people rested on the seventh day.” (v.30)  It is all about resting from work, or at least that is the first expression of it.

Having said that, in Genesis 2 we find the origin of the thinking behind this command: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:1-3)

Think about this! Now I believe we need to think about this carefully. I recently heard someone preach that God had to rest on that day. In human terms and, perhaps why the command is given for our blessing, human beings have limited energy, need to rest, need to sleep, need to take food etc. God does not! God is all-powerful and His energy, if we dare put it like that, never runs out. Remember Isaiah’s word, “The Lord is the everlasting God,  the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary.” (Isa 40:28)

So yes, when in Gen 2:2 it says God rested it does come from the root of the Hebrew shabbat but because it is God and in the light of what we have just said, it is better to suggest it is better read, “he stopped” His work, not because He was tired and needed refreshing but because, as it said earlier in v.2, he “had finished the work he had been doing.” i.e. it was complete, it didn’t need improving on, it was “very good” (Gen 1:31). And in passing, remember that chapter 2 is a different view on what had already happened, He had already, by the end of chapter 1, made male and female (v.27). It’s all done, He doesn’t need to do any more so He simply stops and, wanting to make a point about the completeness of His work, He emphasises it by the ‘seventh day’, a special day in which nothing happens except, perhaps, He looks on His completed work with satisfaction. Note there is no ‘eighth day’ in Genesis 1 & 2 so the seventh day is specifically to make the point of completion. So the reasons given for this day to be remembered:

Reason 1 – To Pause up to Remember and be Refreshed: This is what comes over first of all for us. Yes, we need to stop and get reinvigorated by stopping work, that is God’s blessing, the way He has made us and, yes, we ignore that at our peril.

Reason 2 – To Remember God’s Greatness: Now the bigger reason, for the people of God, is 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 and trust in Him

Reason 3 – To Remember the Exodus: 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 first see the Creation as a key element of belief (see the start of the faith list in Heb 11:3) to be proclaimed, and then second, 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 to do it.

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.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, thank you that you have revealed yourself to us as Almighty Creator of all things, the Lord who is all powerful and holy. Thank you that you are not only my provider but you are first and foremost my Redeemer. Thank you Lord for saving me and giving me this wonderful world to enjoy. Amen.”

23. The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Meditations in Hebrews 4:    23.  The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Heb 4:1   Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

In chapters 3 and 4 the word ‘rest’ comes up ten times, twice in chapter 3 and 8 times in chapter 4. We need to understand what it means. However, the explanation is spread out over the next eleven verses so we are going to have to do a large passage study, which unravels as the writer goes on. But be warned, this is, in our opinion, one of the most complex arguments in this book and it will take some thinking through. We will, however, do all we can to work through it to explain it clearly and then at the end, produce a summary of our findings.  Now as we come to these verses, I know I usually use the NIV but in this instance that version is, I believe, confusing and commentators and interpreters have struggled with it, so I am going to use the ESV which I think is more straight forward.

The ‘Therefore’ links us with the previous chapter that he ended with this reminder of what had gone on after the Exodus from Egypt. The ‘rest’ referred to in 3:11 and 3:18 was clearly the Promised Land which, through lack of faith, that earlier generation failed to take.

So now our writer starts with a warning which he assumes at the outset we will understand: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”  (v.1) Now I warned just now that this is a difficult argument to follow so let’s put out front what the writer is going to prove from the Old Testament Scriptures, that “entering his rest” has its origins at the end of the days of Creation, but was a term used to apply to Israel entering the Promised Land, BUT ALSO at any other subsequent time when God challenges and calls us.

Let’s just assume to start with that this ‘rest’ is in general terms ‘God’s goal for each one of us’. When ‘rest’ is used as ‘the goal of our salvation’, he tells us that the promise is still there, that it IS possible to enter a similar state that God entered when He finished Creation, so, says our writer, don’t miss the goal.

In case we haven’t understood the jump between the OT and NT goals, he links that Goal with the Gospel:  “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” (v.2) The ‘us’ is us who are now Christians and the ‘they’ refers to the Israelites under Moses. The implication is that they were told there was a land that God had for them, but it needed taking by faith. The only trouble was that they didn’t have that faith. There is a subtle indirect warning behind this, for us not to be casual about the Gospel. Be careful that you haven’t fully received it, is what he is saying.

Now in verse 3 he first reassures us because we have believed, and reminds us (by way of warning) what happened to those in the OT who didn’t believe: “For we who have believed enter that rest, (so we’re OK, in contrast with them) as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath,  ‘They shall not enter my rest’”, (even though that ‘rest’ existed from after the Creation) although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” i.e. God’s rest – His own goal achieved, Creation and rest – existed thereafter and He is telling us that we too can enter into that experience of rest if we come to Him by faith.

The words, “my rest” he referred to in the quote back in 3:11 and now here in 4:3 suggest that it is as if the Promised Land isn’t the only thing God means when he speaks about us not entering HIS rest. When he writes, “And yet,” it’s as if the writer means, “But don’t forget the Creation story where God finished His work and then rested,”  and so he goes on to speak of that, “For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”  (citing Gen 2:2)  That was God’s rest, the completion of Creation. God had done His part. When he now refers back to that warning of Psa 95: “And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” (v.5) it was simply to remind us that although God has a rest (a position of having achieved His goal of Creation and thus now being able to relax, so to speak) that particular group of unbelieving people did not enter into it. That’s what the prophetic warning was in that Psalm.

The ESV arrangement  of verses 6 and 7 show us a “this-then argument” i.e. IF one group of people failed to enter THEN God sets up a new way of thinking about it: “Since therefore (IF) it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, (THEN) again he appoints a certain day, “Today”, saying through David so long afterwards, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

The Message Version explains it well: “God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation: Today, please listen,  don’t turn a deaf ear . . .”  or as the Easy to Read Version puts it, “So God planned another special day. It is called “today.” He spoke about that day through David a long time later using the words we quoted before: “If you hear God’s voice today, don’t be stubborn.” i.e. merely because that one group of people failed to enter into the ‘rest’ God had for them, that was not the end of the story. God applies the word again and again in history so it can apply numerous times, just as he did in that Psalm of David’s.

Do you see what the writer is saying? It seems complicated but is, in reality, very simple. The warning came first of all to those Israelites to enter the ‘rest’ God had planned for them, the Promised Land, but when they failed to do that, it didn’t annul the fact that after the Creation God rested and used that ‘rest’ as an illustration of what everyone who came to Him by faith could experience – rest, in a completed world, with all of God’s provision! The goal of God’s plans from before the beginning of time, is a ‘rest’ that means being at peace with God and at rest in His will, with all that He now has available for us.

There is more to come but we’ll leave it until the next one. There has been a lot to take in and you may need to reread the whole of the study to catch it. (We will do a recap in the next study) The outworking of all this?  God has an experience that He wants for all of His children, all those who will come to Him by faith, an experience whereby we can be at complete rest in the knowledge that we have received the end goal of God’s plans – His salvation through Jesus Christ that reconciles us to Him, so no more striving, no more worry, no more wondering, ‘Am I good enough for God?’  As Jesus said on the Cross, “It is finished!”  Hallelujah!

24. Sabbath Laws

Lessons from the Law: No.24 : Sabbath Laws

Ex 23:10-13 “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.

Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

Within the Ten Commandments we have already seen, as the fourth commandment, “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.” (Ex 20:8-10) The use of the “Sabbath” brings together reverence for God, with His very practical caring for man. The fourth commandment was to make the seventh day holy, or different, by not working on it. As a command immediately following three about God, and coming before the practical commands about man, it seems to be a caring for man while at the same time thinking of God.

In these further laws, mostly about life in society, first of all here in our verses today, the law is about having a year off work. This would have been a real act of faith because it would mean waiting two years for harvest supply. Several points are worth noting here. It is suggested that leaving the land for a year increases its fertility, .i.e. wise use of land. Some have suggested it was calculated from when a person received the land, which meant staggered Sabbaths across the land. Care for the poor and for the environment generally (animals in particular) are also seen as purposes in God’s mind.

Then we come to the more usual aspect of the Sabbath, a rest on the seventh day. Again the emphasis here is on the workers (including animals) having a much needed rest and being refreshed.  Resting up from work would have meant it was a great communal day, as people had opportunity to get together in relaxation, as well as to specifically remember the Lord together. Societies that do not do this have lost much. This is God’s wisdom and we reject it at our peril.

The strength of these injunctions is in the fact that they occur again and again in Scripture, for example, Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, `You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” (Ex 31:12-17) There again we have all the ingredients of the Sabbath: the activity – no work; the reason – it is a holy day; the background – on the Seventh day of Creation God stopped work;  the penalty for disobedience – death.  But there is something additional here: it is to act as a sign to show the special relationship that Israel had with God. Adhering to it would be a sign to the Lord of their obedient hearts; following it would be a sign to Israel of their relationship with the Lord; following it would be a sign to the rest of the world of their relationship with Him. The Sabbath would thus become almost a signpost pointing to the Lord.

Following this injunction in this part of the Law, we find:Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. It is first a call to obedience and then a call to uniqueness of relationship and the two things are inextricably linked together. If they turned to other gods then that would mean that they relationship with the Lord was disappearing and when that happened they would no longer bother with the Law. The reality was that keeping the Law was completely tied in with their having a relationship with the Lord. One went with the other. No relationship = no law keeping. No law keeping = sign of absence of real relationship. It is also true of Christians. A sign of a real relationship with God through Christ is a godly spirit-led life. Absence of godliness and spirit life suggests an absence of a real and genuine relationship.

6. Rest & Respect

Lessons from the Law: No.6 : Rest & Respect

Ex 20:9-11 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.

The first two commandments were about having just the one Supreme Being, one true God. The second two commandments are about honouring Him. The third was about honouring or remaining true to His name.  This fourth one is about remaining true to His memory. If every seventh day you stop work, it is a reminder of the Lord. (Is this why many nations don’t have a day of rest like this, because they don’t want to honour the One True God?). Indeed it is all about reminding. Remember the Sabbath day” is how these verses start. The noun ‘Sabbath’ comes from the Hebrew verb usually translated ‘rested’. Its origin is in the Creation account when God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh.

Now if you look at that account in Gen 2:2,3 you will see a footnote to the effect that ‘rested’ can also simply mean ‘ceased’. Now the Lord doesn’t need to ‘rest’ but when He came to the end of His Creation work He ceased, which indicates a satisfactory completion.  We have also previously noted that when He had finished, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) We may suggest, therefore, that when we rest on the seventh day, it is a reminder not only that God is the One who created this world, but also that when He first made it, it was very good. That should act as a stimulus to seek Him to continue His work of restoration through salvation in Christ, to bring us back into that original place of sin-free relationship with Him.

The point is that the Lord made the seventh day special: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.” When the Lord blesses something or someone, He declares a decree of goodness over it or them. It was like the Lord took great pleasure in the sense of a job well done and so when He ceased, when He finished the work of Creation, He simply stopped and celebrated the next day when nothing needed to be done. He made it ‘holy’ or ‘different’, a day of thinking back to the work of the previous six days, of rejoicing in a job well accomplished, of a day with no necessity to add anything more to the work.

Sadly, when we think about the day of rest we see it through the tinted glass of the old sinful nature and think about being stopped earning more or making more, and having to have this day of inactivity, instead of rejoicing over the wonder of God’s gift of Creation to us and the wonder of His provision that is so lavish that it means we can pause up and have a day when we simply look, remember and rejoice and don’t feel we have to get on with things.

How do you feel about “commands”? Do you view “commands” as harsh instructions or do you see these are God’s words of protection and provision. The first and second ‘commands’ protect us from falling into superstitious worshipping of the elements or nature and from losing contact with God our provider. The third one protects us from drifting away from the reality of who the Lord is, so that we eventually become deceived and turn right from Him. This fourth one protects us from falling into materialistic naturalism that sees the world and life as utterly meaningless, the result of pure chance. From that all sorts of horrors follow.

Tragically we, as we’ve said, we so often see through tinted glasses of the old sinful nature and as such we focus on the “what we have to do” rather than the wonder behind it. Probably because of that, few of us wake up on a Sunday and immediately give thanks to the Lord for the wonder of the provision of His Creation – life in abundance. The Christian church made the day of rest a Sunday instead of the Saturday that the Jews had ‘honoured’, to add the focus of God’s provision of salvation through Jesus, the Sunday being the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mt 28:1, Acts 20:7).

If you read the Gospels carefully, you will see that the legalistic Jews had completely misunderstood the focus of the Sabbath and so we find a number of conflicts over the use of it (e.g. Mt 12:2, 12:10). God’s purpose was not to make the day of rest a day of misery and limitation; indeed quite the opposite.  It was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration. How we have lost this, how we have made it just another day, a day of work for many, a day of materialism for many, and a day of ignoring and forgetting the Lord, or at least limiting Him to a couple of hours of remembrance. The loss has been ours. We are the poorer for it.