A Certain Trumpet — Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holycomment (0)
April 10, 2014
By Jerry M. Henry, Ph.D.
We live in a stressful world. The pace of life seems to accelerate with each passing year. Future predictions call for an even faster pace without any promise of slowdowns. With less rest comes more stress, and with more stress comes more mess. The breakdown of so many situations can be traced to a life on the run. Never before has there been so much information thrown at a culture and never before has there been so little wisdom. Is there a solution to this complex situation?
A remedy to out-of-control lifestyles is to apply on a regular basis the principle of the fourth commandment. It is remarkable how a law given on Mount Sinai to a generation of freed slaves finds application to modern times. Such is the awesome power of God’s Word.
Just like cars need refueling to continue functioning, God’s people are to set aside a Sabbath day to rest and reflect. The Bible warns against running out of gas physically, emotionally and especially, spiritually.
The fourth commandment is a positive voice in the middle of what not to do (Ex. 20:8–11). It contains more words than any other commandment. The grind of the workweek is to be punctuated with intentional rest and worship. To ignore God’s guidance in this area is to invite a double dose of soul fatigue and the wrong decisions that flow from this serious condition.
The commandment begins with a demand to remember and not forget or neglect (Ex. 20:8). Here is not a suggestion with a take it or leave it attitude but an intentional event written into the schedule every week. The word Sabbath means stoppage and it carries the idea of stopping one thing in order to focus on something else — holiness. The pattern was set by God in creation. In six days He formed the earth and all the support systems for life and on the seventh day He rested. In this way, God created a sanctuary in time to consider how emptiness had become fullness and beauty. His example of rest did not come from exhaustion but to provide a pattern of work and rest into the fiber of human existence. God still can take nothing and make something beautiful. That reminder is essential to keep us from drifting into self-centeredness. We are not the Creator — He is. We are not our sustainer — He is.
The scope of this command includes not only the householder but also those within his household (Ex. 20:10). Responsibility lies with one’s self and with those dependent on his care. The broad reach of this responsibility includes strangers within a person’s gates.
An updated version of the fourth commandment is given in Deuteronomy 5:12–14. A new generation is ready to enter the promised land. Moses reemphasizes godly conduct to them. The identity as God’s people calls for behavior structured by the same Ten Commandments. The Sabbath requirement was still listed as the fourth commandment and still had the most words of any of the commandments.
What had changed is the motive. What had been a Sabbath rest and holiness based on the God of creation now had the motive of the God of redemption — the rescue from Egypt. The God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt also was the God who would bring them into the promised land. On a weekly basis, this new generation needed the renewed emphasis to focus on the power of God to accomplish His promises. The previous generation had backed down when they should have stepped up. Now this generation on the plains of Moab should focus on God’s power to deliver and not fall victim to the same trap of the previous generation. The changed motive demonstrates the flexibility of God’s Word to resource each and every generation to face the demands of their faithful calling.
Jesus took the fourth commandment seriously. He had a regular attendance to the synagogue and temple services. It also was in those services that He accomplished some of His most amazing miracles. Worship, compassion and the teaching of God’s Word were all ingredients of a Jesus Sabbath.
The Sabbath was so important to Jesus that He directly challenged the religious leaders in their rules and regulations concerning its observance. In fact, the animosity of those leaders was ignited because Jesus and His disciples did activities that were strictly forbidden by their Sabbath laws. He even stated that He was Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5) and that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). Jesus does this not by accident but to deliberately go head-to-head with the Sabbath rules.
The officials had gotten so far off course from the original design of the Sabbath day that Jesus felt compelled to restore its purpose. Their stinging accusation was that a healed lame man was a Sabbath breaker because he carried his mat (John 5:9–10). Jesus was willing to put His life in jeopardy to restore compassion to the keeping of the fourth commandment.
The New Testament Church transferred its worship day from the Sabbath to the first day of the week — Sunday. Since the church celebrated the resurrected Savior, the day that He rose from the grave was set apart. This pattern was started by the disciples and continued by the early Church. The first day of the week represents God’s new creation as He brings about a new heaven and new earth through the work of Jesus Christ.
What should a believer do on the day set apart to rest and worship if it is a workday, such as for first responders, shift workers, ministers and others? Their option is to find another day that can meet the needs that Sunday supplies. Sooner or later, the drain of not having a day of rest and worship will take its toll.
The fourth commandment gives the principle of rest and worship instead of a set of rules and regulations to be followed. Jesus pointed out the error of wrong rules being applied. Certainly the keeping of this commandment involves a time of personal worship, corporate worship, Christian fellowship, family time and rest. Things should be done to realign our focus on the God who loves us, the Christ who saves us and the Spirit who guides us.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy and it will keep you.