The Sabbath Day

Exodus 20:8-11

Daniel Webster wrote—

The longer I live the more highly do I estimate the Christian Sabbath, and the more grateful do I feel towards those who impress its importance on the community.

My task this morning is to impress the Sabbath’s importance upon you as we examine the Fourth Commandment. Exodus 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.

Something of the importance of the institution of the Fourth Commandment can be gauged by observing that of the Ten Commandments, the Fourth is treated more extensively than any of the others.

The Fourth Commandment is closely linked to Third, where the misuse of God’s Name is forbidden. The LORD tells Israel in Ezekiel 22:26 —

Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.

The Fourth Commandment is the climax to the First and Greatest Commandment—

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Specifically, the First Four of the Ten Commandments legislate how we are to love God with our entire being. Such love is a total commitment to place God and only God first in our life. Second, we are not to substitute in worship any image that would distract from His transcendence or relational nature. Third, in whatever we do or say, the first priority is to hallow His Name. We are never to misuse God’s Name in thought, word or deed.

With the Fourth Commandment, we are summoned to demonstrate our love of God with a definite action that is to be repeated each week of our life.

The Fourth Commandment concerns the time of worship; God is to be served and honored daily; but one day in seven is to be particularly dedicated to his honor, and spent in His service. God regulated the Sabbath as a day for calling together of the congregation of Israel to worship. Leviticus 23:1-3 records—

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. “`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.

In the early history of Israel, the Sabbath was a day of welcome rest from labor and of solemn worship at the sanctuary of God.

The word SABBATH (in Hebrew SHABBAT) means TO SEVER, TO PUT AN END TO, TO CEASE FROM WORK, TO REST. This meaning arises from God’s blessing and sanctifying the seventh day in Genesis 2:3—

And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

So the Fourth Commandment was not the enacting of a new law, but the reviving of what had been discarded and lost. REMEMBER THE SABBATH includes the revival of rest on the seventh day.

We know that the ancient Babylonian calendar, as seen from recently recovered inscriptions on the bricks among the ruins of the royal palace, was based on the division of time into weeks of seven days. The Sabbath is in these inscriptions is designated SABATTU and defined as “a day of appeasement of the heart” or “a day of pacification of the god.” The Babylonians observed SABATTU as unlucky or evil days. On these days, the king was forbidden to eat meat roasted on coals or any food touched by fire, ride in his chariot, consult with advisors, and change his clothes. This is another instance of Satan perverting something good that God has given to us.

At the time God gave the Ten Commandments, Israel had kept the seventh day as a day of rest for a month. In Exodus 16, we read—

On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: `Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'” . . . Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

The Israelites are told the day they must observe—a seventh after six days of labor. Whether this day was the seventh by computation from the first seventh at creation, or from the day of their coming out of Egypt, or both, is not certain. After forty years, Moses recounts the Law and links the Sabbath to Israel’s deliverance in Deuteronomy 5:15—

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.

It has been suggest that the Sabbath was changed, when Israel came out of Egypt and this change continued until our Lord rose from the grave. Then the Original Sabbath was restored. And the first day of the week, which we observe, is the seventh day from the creation.

Certainly, the early Christians were on target, it seems, when they connected the day of rest with the remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. He is the One who gives freedom—delivering us from the bondage of sin, Satan and death. The sanctity of the first day in honor of God’s new deliverance (which the Lord Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection) was already signaled in the symbolism of the feasts in Leviticus 23, were it says—

“The first day after the Sabbath” . . . “the first day is a scared assembly.”

Indeed, these were the very feasts that pointed forward to the very same events that Christians now celebrate on Sunday! Israel observed the Sabbath to remember God’s work of Creation and deliverance in the Exodus.

The first day of the week is now observed as the Sabbath. Has God authorized this change?

After His resurrection, which took place on the first day of the week, we never find Christ meeting with His disciples on the seventh day. But He specially honored the first day by manifesting Himself to them on a number of separate occasions. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came on Sunday.

Thus, Christ appears as instituting a new day to be observed by His people as the Sabbath, a day to be henceforth known among them as the LORD’S DAY. The observance of this “Lord’s Day” as the Sabbath was the general custom of the primitive churches, and must have had the sanction and authority of the Apostles.

In Second Century, the chief day of worship was Sunday, and the reason given was that it was on the first day of the the week, THE LORD’S DAY, that Christ had been raised from the dead. Although for centuries, many Gentile Christians observed the seventh day, or Sabbath, or Friday, the day of their Lord’s crucifixion as well as the assembly for worship on the first day of the week.

The Early Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries either insisted that the Hebrew Sabbath was completely abolished or emphasized its typical character; but all agreed it was not binding on the Christian.

In A.D. 789, Emperor Charlemagne’s issued a decree which forbade all ordinary labor on Sundays as a breach of the Fourth Commandment.

The Reformers of the 16th Century definitely stated that the Fourth Commandment was deprived of legal validity since it is not directly commanded in the New Testament. Yet they said that nature requires a day of rest from labor. So, the Reformers felt, we cannot do better than follow the tradition which sets apart the first day of the week for worship and rest.

The result of this stand was that there was a decided slackening in Sunday observance, so that in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the Protestants turned back to the OT for authority in enforcing Sabbath observance. Scotland and England gave birth to the term “CHRISTIAN SABBATH” for Sunday. In this period, THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH was drafted and its sections on the Sabbath teach that:

1. God has (by natural and special revelation) bound all men to observe the Sabbath.
2. The weekly Sabbath was the seventh day in order of succession from creation to the resurrection.
3. It was the first day in order from the resurrection of Christ onward.
4. God requires that the Christian-Sabbath be kept holy by due preparation, resting from worldly employments and recreations.
5. The whole of the Sabbath is to be taken up with private and public exercises of divine worship, works of piety, necessity, and mercy.

The Puritans and settlers from Great Britain believed the Fourth Commandment is a moral obligation, and therefore, its observance became wide spread in the United States.

Some have vainly tried to eliminate the Fourth Commandment from the sphere of Christian obligation while retaining the other Nine. The basis of this attempt is usually the contention that the Sabbath was “JEWISH” and that it “WENT OUT” with the ceremonial laws of the OT. That logic and reasoning is faulty.

First, the Fourth Commandment on Sabbath-keeping belongs to the Moral Law, not the Ceremonial Law! God is a God of order, not of confusion. And Yahweh Himself inscribed the Moral Law on tablets of stone, before He revealed the Ceremonial Law by His servant Moses. Since God (who cannot err) set this commandment down with the other nine commandments that are without question moral, it is necessary to regard it as moral. God did not mistake the character of this commandment, and He set it among other moral laws so that we could not mistake its character either.

Second, the Sabbath was instituted on the seventh day after creation; long before there was any ceremonial legislation.

Third, since man is made in God’s image and likeness, our duty is to follow the divine example. It is inconceivable that anything could make God’s example of resting on the seventh day irrevelant to the duty of man.

Fourth, Israelites were required to observe the Sabbath before the Ten Commandments were given.

Fifth Jesus our example observed the Sabbath as a day of worship.

Some mistakenly think that Christ disregarded the Fourth Commandment. Not So! Luke 4:16 reports—

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

It is true that Christ disregarded certain false restrictions that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law regarded as binding. But when they charged Jesus and His disciples with infraction of the Fourth Commandment, His answer was not that the Fourth Commandment was invalid, but that they were mistaken in their interpretation of it. And He proceeded to prove from the OT Scriptures that they were wrong. The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law put duty to the Sabbath in place of duty to the LORD, and in so doing perverted the Sabbath.

Christ did not eliminate the Sabbath, but placed it where it belonged when He said in Matthew 12:7-8—

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.”

In Matthew 12, Christ secures the Sabbath and shows that the Law allows and requires works of piety, necessity and mercy on the day of rest. There are four ways in which positive laws might cease to command:

First, by the natural law of necessity.
Second, by a particular law, which is superior.
Third, by the law of charity and mercy.
Fourth, by the dispensation and authority of the Lawgiver.

Jesus’ statement THE SON OF MAN IS LORD OF THE SABBATH is taken as the grounds for changing the Jewish Sabbath into the Christian Sabbath, called the Lord’s Day. The change shows that Christ is not only the Lord, but also the truth and completion of it. On the other hand, Seventh-Day Baptists, Seventh-Day Sabbatarians and Seventh-Day Adventists insist that Christians are obligated to keep the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath.

To keep the Sabbath Day holy is to keep it separate from the other six days as “A SANCTUARY OF TIME.” HOLY means to SET APART a segment of time especially belonging to God for rest and worship. When we use one day in seven as a day of worship, we make it our gift to God.

We are not to live as if all time were our own, to do with as we please. The God of all time retains the right to determine how one day shall or shall not be used. This weekly separation is to be publicly demonstrated by a time of rest for all engaged in work, including the servants and the animals. Verses 9-10—

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.

Here the Commandment takes a step in the direction of making all people equal before God. As the Sabbath recalls the liberation from Egypt, so it in turn becomes an agent of freedom by setting the dependents in society free.

THE SABBATH REST is for all, rich and poor, master and servant, human beings and animals. Thus, the Sabbath serves as a bridge to the rest of the Commandments, which are concerned with inter-human relationships.

The Fifth Commandment deals with children honoring their parents. But notice that the Fourth deals with parents not mistreating their children by working them on the Sabbath. Certainly, the Sabbath fits the admonition of Ephesians 6:4—

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

As it does with one’s employees in Ephesians 6:9—

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

In Bible times, people were subjected to detailed legislation to keep the entire society from working on the Sabbath. In the 8th century, Charlemagne legislated the Sabbath Day for the entire Roman Empire. And in modern era, we had the BLUE LAWS in the United States.

On his return to Palestine, Nehemiah was shocked to see the widespread desecration of the Sabbath and he established his own BLUE LAWS. Nehemiah 13:15-18—

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. Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath.

SIX DAYS is the maximum work week, not the minimum. The commandment itself has nothing to do with the question of a short work week, but when restated in Exodus 23:12, it says—

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.

The Sabbath is so we might be REFRESHED. That is TO TAKE A BREATH so that we might be REGENERATED, RENEWED and REVIVED! It is a gift from God to the world, not a burden. That’s why Jesus declared in Mark 2:27—

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Certainly, Jesus regarded the Sabbath as an institution, which is grounded in the very constitution of man. He regarded the Sabbath as a provision for man’s need and welfare and not as a burdensome legal requirement.

According to Isaiah 53:13-14, a primary purpose for the Sabbath is to bring delight and joy—

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The physical necessities of man require a Sabbath of rest. We are so constituted that our bodily welfare needs at least one day in seven for rest from ordinary labor. Experience also proves that the moral and spiritual necessities of men also demand a Sabbath of rest. As long as man is man the blessedness of keeping it, not as a day of rest only, but as a day of spiritual rest, will never be annulled.

I certainly do feel by experience the eternal obligation, because of the eternal necessity, of the Sabbath. The soul withers without it. It thrives in proportion to its observance. THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR MAN. God made it for us in a certain spiritual state because we needed it. The need, therefore, is deeply hidden in human nature. Those who can dispense with it must be holy and spiritual indeed. In fact, they must be stronger and wiser than their Maker because Exodus 20:11 states—

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.

Keeping the Sabbath is first a matter within the sphere of creation rather than redemption or specifically Israelite law. It is not simply something for Israel to keep, even animals and strangers are to honor it. God resting on the seventh day after the six days of creation is more than a humanitarian gesture or a paradigm for His creatures to rest. Because God did so, His creatures should. It is a religious act with cosmic implications.

God resting is not a picturesque way of speaking of the end of God’s creating; rather, His rest “finished” the creation. God’s resting is a divine act that builds into the very created order of things a working/resting rhythm. When that rhythm is honored by all, the creation is what God intended it to be.

Thus, the Sabbath is a divinely given means for all creatures to keep in tune with the created order of things. To keep the Sabbath is to participate in God’s intention for the rhythm of creation. Not keeping the Sabbath is a violation of the created order; it returns one aspect of that order to chaos. What the creatures do with the Sabbath has cosmic effects.

Such lines of the thought help explain the death penalty God attaches to violation of the Sabbath in the OT. Exodus 31:12-17—

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 that 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 for ever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'”

There are several things we should notice from this passage.

First, the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic Covenant as the rainbow was a sign of the Noahic Covenant and circumcision the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Second, observing the Sabbath not only testifies that God makes His people holy, but it also testifies that the day itself is holy. God, by sanctifying this day among them, let them know that He sanctified them, and set them apart for His service, otherwise He would not have revealed to them His holy sabbaths. The Israelites by observing one day in seven, after six days labor, testified that they worshiped the God that made the world in six days, and rested the seventh; and so distinguished themselves from other nations.

Third, the order of creation is at stake! It may seem incoherent to suggest that not doing work helps keep chaotic forces at bay. Yet, one needs only to participate for a moment in the rat race of the modern world to realize how the neglect of the Sabbath contributes to the spread of chaos.

This points to something fundamental about the relationship between human endeavor and cosmic order. There is a place for human dominion within the created order. But SABBATH-KEEPING puts all human striving aside, recognizes the decisive role of God in creation, and provides for a weekly oasis to rest back in the arms of this reality.

It had been said, “the law of the Sabbath is the keystone of the arch of public morals; take it away, and the whole fabric falls.” The current state of affairs in our nation can be traced to the removal of Bible Reading and Prayer from the schools, and the repeal of the Blue Laws.

Change of the day or no change, the Sabbath remains as a sacred institution the same. It cannot be abolished. If we delight in the Sabbath, we will find joy in the LORD. God has spoken!

When God saved me at age seven, Romans 5:5 occurred: God poured out his love into my heart by the Holy Spirit, whom He gave me.

My immediate response to God’s love within me was to begin attending Sunday School and Worship. I went to church alone because my family was unsaved. Years of perfect attendance followed. Why? Because I love the LORD and His Spirit wrote on my heart the Fourth Commandment. I didn’t understand my response at that young age, but I do now.

Folks, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day; He didn’t curse it or make it to be a burden. He made it holy; I made it holy! What blessing! What delight! What joy!

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