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
From 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.
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
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.