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
- an explanation of what it covers and then
- 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. 9 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. 9 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. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 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.”