The Fourth Command: Do You Have Plans for Sunday?

We continue in examining the Ten Commandments by looking at the fourth commandment where God simply commands you to take a break. God commands that we need a break from work in order to rest and to worship. The word “Sabbath” means to “stop.” So the Sabbath is literally a stopping day, or a day to stop working. But the command was given for more than simply doing nothing; it was also given in order that you to do something – to worship God.

The fourth commandment is the longest of the Ten and it begins with these words:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Elevators that Takes Too Long

450px-Sabbath_on-offFrom Toronto to Jerusalem to New York City, you will find elevators that will take “forever” to get to your floor. In each of these cities, there is a large Orthodox Jewish population. From sundown on Friday until the sun sets on Saturday, many observant Jews refrain from certain activities, including pushing elevator buttons, in order to avoid manual labor. These elevators stop on every floor during the Sabbath and allow observant Jews the opportunity to hop on and ride to their floor. The rationale behind their behavior is they believe the Sabbath prevents them from all work and this includes pushing a button that closes the electrical circuit. Electrical items are forbidden for orthodox Jews on the Sabbath. In order to fulfill the Talmud’s requirements, this special elevator stops at every floor on the way up and on the way down allowing Orthodox Jews to ride while living in high-rise buildings.

The religious debates over this command have continued through the ages. What seems silly to many has been a solemn religious observance for many more serious-minded people. Yet, Jesus frees us from confusion on how to rest (Matthew 12:1-14). Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Sabbath but to dig it out from under the mountain of legalistic sediment. This one day a week was meant to be a blessing rather than a burden. It is a day for showing mercy and a day for doing good. It should not be governed rigidly by narrow definitions of what is work. Neither is it a day to focus on sports and gardening. Instead, it is a day to focus on the Lord.

God Rested

This commandment is built upon the fact that God rested on the seventh day. At the beginning of time, God created everything in six days and on the seventh day, He rested (Genesis 2:1-3). God did not rest because He was exhausted. God rested to establish a practice for His people throughout time. He rested to establish a pattern for us

For the surrounding, pagan cultures around Israel the idea of the Sabbath was unusual. All of the religious calendars of the pagan cultures were based upon the sun and the moon, the solar calendar and the lunar calendar. The sun and the moon were worshipped as gods. These cycles eventually determined the religious practice of the various cultures, except Israel. Only Israel was given a seven-day cycle of religious worship to emphasize that the God who gave them this day was in control over the sun and the moon. The Hebrew people were to observe this day because of God’s pattern established when creating everything. So we discover that the Jewish calendar is unique for it is not fixed on a solar or lunar cycle.

God set aside a day, one day a week, for His people to focus on Him. Today, most of us give little thought to this day. “Nothing special about this day…” is not a thoughtful response but neglected reality. For many Americans, there is no debate concerning the Fourth Commandment – it’s something we simply ignore. Yet, we ignore what we need.

Three Things to DO on Sunday

1. Remember

This command does not begin with words such as “Thou shall not.” Instead, this is the first command of the Ten that is worded positively. This day was set aside especially for your benefit. Again, the word Sabbath means, “stop.” Instead of calling it a “Sabbath” day, you could also call it a “stop-working” day. This was done for the sake of placing your focus on God. You are to remember this. You are to mark your weeks and your calendars. This is a day when you must remember God.

2. Keep the Day Holy

We are to remember to take one day off in seven in order to to keep the day holy. The word holy means, “belonging to God.” You can make your cell phone holy if you use your phone for the special purpose of God. You can make this day holy by setting it aside for God alone. To sit all day and do nothing is not the meaning of this commandment. I want you to think more about you are commanded to do rather than what you are not commanded to do.

3. Rest One Day Out of Seven

These words represent a command in itself. You are to work. This is God’s command just as much as the Eight Command – “You Shall Not Steal.” So God is serious about you taking some time to rest and worship. This is so unusual for many. We talk and brag of all our plans. We tell of how much we have to do and how little time we have to do it. Still, God commands you to rest. His command to rest is alongside His command not to steal. There are equally forceful.

Programming Note: I will post on the Ten Commandments each Tuesday and Friday morning for the next five weeks. See here for the introduction to the series.

 

The Second Command: God Doesn’t Want His Picture Taken

The second commandment begins with these words (Exodus 20:4-6):

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

In the first commandment, we see the “what” of worship – worship only God. But the second commandment focuses our attention on the “how” of worship – worship God the right way. The second commandment is explicit; God forbids idols. God is to be invisible to the physical eyes. He is the God who is heard but not seen (Deuteronomy 4:15-18). Even when God gives the Ten Commandments, God did not allow the Hebrew people to see Him. It was Moses who brought the commandments to the people. Again, He is heard but He is not seen.

Worship Not an Image but Around a Book.

God has intentionally designed worship not around a picture of Him but around a book. The Bible repeatedly says that God is not seen by anyone (John 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:17). This is significant for worship today. Only God is allowed to make an image of Himself (Genesis 1:26; Colossians 1:15). Please note: God didn’t say, “There shall be no art in my house.” But He did say, “There shall be no image in my likeness.”

Throughout the Old Testament, the center of Hebrew worship was the Temple. At the center of the Temple was the Holy of Holies; at the center of the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, or “chest” (in Hebrew), was roughly 4 feet long, 2.5 feet high and 2.5 feet wide. The Ark was the only piece of furniture and only the Levites could enter this central room of Israel’s Temple. The Ark was covered in gold and had two golden angels facing one another on the top of the Ark. If you were to open this box in King Solomon’s day, you would see only the two tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai (1 Kings 8:9). Again, it’s important to note: you wouldn’t find a picture at the center of Israel’s worship. Instead, the only thing at the center of Israel’s worship was the Ten Commandments, the law of God. So, God hasn’t given us images to worship, but rather a Book to read. In the New Testament, worship is still centered around a book, the Bible (John 4:23 ). God has divinely chosen to communicate through the written word and not an image (Romans 10:17).

Idols

The second commandment expressly forbids making idols, or pictures of God. Idolatry is not the stuff found only in the pages of a National Geographic magazine or Indiana Jones movies. Instead, idolatry occurs whenever we believe that true satisfaction can be found in anything other than Jesus Christ. Idols are all around us, even in the West. While many Americans are not into Buddha statues surrounded by flowers and incense, everyone of us still has a battle raging within us over what we love most – God or something else.

Why is God interested in forbidding idols?

  • Idols are built for control. We enjoy making things. There is pleasure in building something. But when we make something, we control it. When we build a boat, you have the ability to control where and when the boat sails. When you build a house, you have the ability to say who lives in the house. And when we build an image of God, whether it is wood or on the computer screen, you attempt to control God. You control what you build.
  • Idols are needy. Whenever you see temples filled with idols, you normally see people offering food for the idol. When a person gives a god something it needs, then the god would be obligated to give the worshippers back something return. This is quid pro quo. Few things are as fulfilling as having your god obligated to do something for you. But the God of the Bible doesn’t want food placed at His altar and He doesn’t want to be appeased. God doesn’t need anything from anyone (Acts 17:24-25). Instead, God requires you to live in a pure and holy manner. It’s easier to feed an idol than to live in moral purity. God isn’t needy.
  •  Idols are built for convenience. During the days of the Old Testament, idols were all over the place (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23). Unlike idols, God required His people to come together at the Temple at one time and in one place for worship. God required His followers to come to one central location. This was inconvenient. Worship of God required your time and your money. But idols remove all of this. An idol can be worshiped whenever you want and wherever you want. You control what is most convenient.

Seven Questions to Stimulate Worship

Think about your worship in light of God’s instructions in Exodus 20:4-6. As you do, here are some questions to consider:

  1. What do you enjoy the most?
  2. What do you spend the most time doing?
  3. Where does your mind drift when you don’t have to do anything else?
  4. What do you spend your money on?
  5. What makes you angry when you don’t get it?
  6. What causes you depression when you must do without it?
  7. What do you fear losing the most?

Programming Note: This is a blog series on the Ten Commandments. I will post each Tuesday and Friday for the next few weeks. Look here for the series introduction.

The First Command: There’s Only One God

The Ten Commandments begin with these words (Exodus 20:1-3):

And God spoke all these words, saying,  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)

God is Exclusive.

Few of us like only one option. We like medical doctors to give us options when considering medical procedures. We prefer colleges to allow us to choose our major. Likewise, many would like it if God gave us a few options of who to worship. God offers no such option to the Hebrew people in this first command.

When you read story of the Bible, you meet numerous gods. For example, when the people of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they encountered people who worshipped Baal. They believed Baal to be the god of rain and in turn worshipped him in order that their fields might be fertile. When the sun’s heat scorched everything on earth, people said Baal was dying. When the spring rains made everything green, it was thought that he was coming to life again. Later in the story of the Hebrew people, the King of Israel (Ahab and his wife, Jezebel) encouraged the worship of this foreign god (1 Kings 18:20-40).

Molech is one of the more frightening gods encountered in the Bible’s storyline. This angry god demanded innocent humans to be sacrificed to absolve human guilt. A few years ago, during the extension of the runway at the Damascus Airport, workers found a pit of burned infant bones, dating back to the time of the Old Testament. These little skeletons of babies up to age two, were broken and burned to the god, Molech.

The gods of years past did not possess infinite wisdom or power. Instead, they were considered to be more like the super heroes of our comic books. These gods had impulses and desires and committed evil acts much like we do.

Over time these gods have disappeared. Baal worship is now dormant. Zeus no longer sits on Mount Olympus. The German gods Thor, with his hammer that made Thunder, and his son Woden have since passed away. Idolatry is not dependent on names. The names disappear through the years; yet, idolatry lives on. The Bible says men can worship their own physical strength (Habakkuk 1:11). Others worship money as they make “gold their trust” or “fine gold my confidence…” (Job 31:24). Some even make a god of their stomach as Paul writes, “their god is their belly…” (Philippians 3:19)

The Life of Pi

Yann Martel wrote the award-winning novel, The Life of Pi, an adventure story of a 16 year old boy from India named Piscine “Pi” Molitor. He is shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger on his life boat. The novel was made into a movie that grossed more than $600 million. Pi, who was raised Hindu and vegetarian, explores his spiritual side when he attempts to convert to both Christianity and then Islam. Ang Lee, the director of the film, shows Pi even asking for baptism as a young teenager. He benefits from all three religions as each of them have certain benefits in showing him what he believed was god’s love. The film’s adaptation advertises the perceived benefit of flexibility as part of three different religions.

The first command doesn’t sit well with those wishing to be self-styled spiritualists who chart their own path. The Bible is an “either/or” world while much of the world is “both/and.” Where Pi wants to worship Jesus Christ and the Hindu gods and the god of Islam, the Bible considers “and” a dangerous word. Worship is not a matter of “and” but it is a matter of “or.” Again, the Bible uses categories of right and wrong, truth and error. Later in the Bible’s story, Jesus Himself affirmed the “either/or” thinking so characteristic of the Bible when He said these words when thinking of those who worship materialism:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”  (Matthew 6:24)

You Shall Have No…

The words of God’s first command instruct His followers to have no other allegiance with any other so called “god.” The relationship between God and His people has no third parties. God is sufficient and His people do not need to go outside of Him for anything – emotional or otherwise. God tells His followers that He is all we need.

It is important to note that God places this commandment first before all the others. Once God is in first place, everything else will be in order. Placing God first before everything else is continually emphasized throughout the Bible. Jesus calls this the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-40). This command is placed first in order to elicit our loyal love for Him. Much like the love between a husband and a wife where both promise publicly that there will be no competitors for each other’s love, so is the worship of God by His people (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

Programming Note: This is a blog series on the Ten Commandments. I will post each Tuesday and Friday for the next few weeks. Look here for the series introduction.