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Commandment #4: The Sabbath Day

Exodus 20:8-11

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, 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, 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. 11 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.

If the third commandment, which is the one we talked about yesterday, is the most misunderstood this fourth commandment is not far behind. Most denominations of New Testament Christians read the other nine commandments with nodding heads and amens. This one causes us to pause and wonder why we don’t follow this one… like at all. This leads us into a much bigger conversation regarding the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. I’ve taught on this at length previously so I’ll just link you to those teachings at the bottom of the page for further study. For now, suffice it to say that I believe that Old Testament law is no longer legally binding on Christians because Jesus fulfilled the law. Therefore we look to the new testament to see what aspects of the law are upheld and which aspects are altered. The Sabbath is one of those that is altered. The Sabbath is one of the laws that most distinguished the people of Israel from any other culture or people group. One day of every seven their entire economy would stop and the people would rest. When the NT church began spreading into all people groups and cultures these distinctions were no longer helpful, in fact they were detrimental to the unity of these new communities. Paul makes clear that the Sabbath regulations along with the dietary laws and annual festivals are no longer binding on these new communities of God’s people.

In any case there is much for us to learn about the Sabbath requirements in the law. In the sabbath we have what Abraham Heschel called a “cathedral in time…The sabbath is to time what the temple and tabernacle are to space.” The Sabbath was meant to be a reminder that time does not solely belong to us but to the creator of time. It was a reminder that the people were totally and completely dependent on God himself for provision as well. Nobody in an ancient agrarian society took a whole day off of work. But the Israelites were required to take one every week. This required a great deal of trust in God that he would provide even if they aren’t working. This really smacks in the face of the idea that God only helps those who help themselves.

The sabbath is also a reminder of your limitations. You need rest.

We should notice that this doesn’t just extend to the people of Israel either. This wasn’t a privilege for a select few. It was required to give a rest to their servants, the sojourners among them and even the animals that work for them.

Also we should see that here the Sabbath rest is rooted in the creation account. The people of Israel should rest because God rested on the seventh day of Creation. So in taking a Sabbath rest the people were acting like God, carrying his name well.

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I’d invite you to consider the practice of sabbath. whereas I don’t think it is legally binding as a law on Christians it is still a good idea because many of us in our culture are just way too busy and overworked. If you’re not accustomed to this practice schedule a time in the next week to stop, (which is what sabbath literally means) and rest. Start with a couple of hours and slowly work your way up, week by week until you’re taking a whole day. My guess it that it will be more difficult than you think but also more life giving than you think it will be.