Background Scripture: Exodus 20: 8-11
Focus Passage: "There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord." Leviticus 23:3 NIV (emphasis mine)
Just when you thought it was safe to come to Sunday School; just when we are all feeling pretty good about our compliance with commandments 1, 2, and 3, along comes the fourth commandment and makes hypocrites of us all...or does it? Undoubtedly, there is more dissension, disputation, discombobulation, disagreement, and downright discord about the fourth commandment than any other. In fact, some in Christendom cannot even agree with the order of the commandments making the fourth one "honor thy father and mother" and Sabbath keeping the fifth. What's a New Testament, Church Age Christian to do about this command?
To begin with, nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to keep the Sabbath (MacDonald). So, we're off the hook, right? Not so fast! We must first pause to ask ourselves why God used more words to issue this commandment that any other to include murder and adultery and why He based the giving of this commandment on His very act of creation. We must also ask ourselves that popular yet pertinent "wristband" question, "What would Jesus Do?" Did Jesus keep the fourth commandment? The short answer: YES. But, not to the satisfaction of everyone. So where does that leave us? Are we to assume that the Church is to obey all of the days and festivals given to the Children of Israel? And then there's the timing question; when exactly is the seventh day with all of the calendar changes since the first century and why do we Christians worship on the 1st day.
If you are feeling confused at this point (since I have raised many questions and answered none), I must confess that it is by design. I have attempted to create what I call "cognitive dissonance" in order to really make us all think about this mystifying issue. You see, some of us can remember when this "Sabbath rest" thing was handled quite legalistically in the evangelical community. We remember the "blue laws" and the other machinations of Sabbath (or Sunday) keeping. So, without making any promises, let's see if we can demystify the fourth commandment just a little.
To begin, let's look at the wording of Exodus 20:8. This verse does not begin by saying, "Don't you dare work on the Sabbath." If you will look closely, you will see that the primary purpose of the Sabbath principle is not to stop working but to start worshiping. In verse 11 we see that the purpose of this commandment is to have a "holy" day, a day set aside for the purpose of worship, reflection, and, yes, rest. However, to prioritize it the other way around is to misread the text.
Next, let's look at some biblical Sabbath examples. Let's start with, well, God. He worked six days. He did much. He did it well. He finished it. It was very good. He rested. He was not tired, He was setting an example for we mortals who do get tired. Let's also consider the "author and finisher of our faith," Christ Jesus. As we've already mentioned, He did keep the Sabbath, but at the same time, He shunned any appearance of being "legalistic" about it. He allowed his disciples to "harvest" grain on the Sabbath. He healed the sick on the Sabbath. He forgave sins on the Sabbath. Bottom line: He silenced his Pharisaical critics by succinctly saying that"the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." And then he threw in this little zinger, And by the way, "the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:23-3:6)
Application: There is arguably a greater tendency for "pharisaism" on this issue than any other and "pharisaism" is a very real danger for all of us. But it must be avoided. It is fascinating to me that Jesus useda previous exception (David) to make his point with his detractors. That point: Rules for religious practice are not bad in themselves, but when adherence to those rules triumphs over mercy and human need, the practice leads people away from God, not toward Him.
All of this dovetails nicely into a bedrock principle for our entire study of the Ten Commandments. That principle is simply this - The purpose of the Sabbath and all of God's Law is to minister to mankind.
So, what is the literal meaning of the strange title of this e-votion? According to the Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Source of English, it means: "May you become whole as you cease from laborious work on the seventh day."
1 Believer's Bible Commentary (1995). William MacDonald. Nelson Pub.
2 THE WORD: The Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Source of English Words. Isaac E. Mozeson. P. 151.