Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Oft Ignored Commandment

If I were to ask you to list the 10 commandments, you’d likely start with the “don’ts”--don’t murder, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, don’t worship other Gods, don’t make idols, & don’t covet. Then, you’d probably remember the commandment about honoring your father and mother. While Christians and even many non-Christians abide by these commands as part of a societal moral code, somehow, God’s fourth commandment has slowly become lost among the other “biggies”:

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 of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the 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” (Ex. 20:8-11).

Oh. “That commandment.” The Sabbath: “from evening to evening” (Lev. 23:32).

These verses tell us God observed this command, Himself, when He first created the world, not because He was tired or needed rest, but because He knew we would need rest from our labors. God “set apart” and blessed this one day a week for our benefit. But, are you receiving this blessing? Do you “set apart” the Sabbath or do you, instead, treat it like your personal “catch up” day?

Some might say that observing the Sabbath was just intended for Jews, but, Isaiah clearly states the blessing for obedience to this command is also for non-Jews: "Also the foreigners [Gentiles] who join themselves to the LORD…every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath, and holds fast My covenant; Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer" (Isaiah 56:6-7).

So, if we truly desire to be obedient to God’s command and to be blessed accordingly, how should we go about keeping the Sabbath holy? To begin with, we should assemble together with God’s people and worship God as Jesus did: “and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16b).

But, what else is acceptable? On the Sabbath, Jesus healed a woman’s back, picked grain because He was hungry, and then gave a couple of lessons implying it was acceptable on the Sabbath to “work” by watering livestock and saving an ox stuck in a ditch (Luke 13-14). So, the Sabbath isn’t about what we “can’t” do as much as it is about what we “can” do. As Jesus tells us, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). We get the privilege of a Sabbath of rest.

First, I don’t believe Jesus was saying we should regularly work our secular jobs on the Sabbath. Instead, I believe he was talking about emergency situations. In fact, “you shall not do any work” seems pretty clear that we should not engage in secular employment (Ex. 20:8). The rest of that verse, “you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you” implies we also shouldn’t ask others to work for us. One way to look at this verse is that we shouldn’t make our children or our employees work for us. Another way to look at it is that when we shop or eat out at restaurants on the Sabbath, we are causing others to have to work for us (read Neh. 13:15-17 for more about “shopping” on the Sabbath).

Next, to obtain God’s blessing, we should spend the Sabbath seeking God and not fulfilling our own desires. As Isaiah promises, “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

How, then, does one keep from “doing your own pleasure” on the Sabbath? These verses imply one should avoid worldly pleasures—this includes watching secular TV shows (including Nascar and other sports) or movies, reading secular material, playing sports, or any other secular hobby or activity that doesn’t draw our minds and hearts to rest and dwell on God’s goodness and gift of creation.

Consider this scene: my family's church is located immediately across the road from a ball field. Each Sunday morning after worship, I see a field bustling with children, parents, family, and friends who have chosen to devote the day to organized children’s sporting events. However, last Sunday, Mother’s Day, there wasn’t a car at the field. In honor of our mothers, not one game was played. I was immediately struck with the irony—we love, respect, and honor our mothers enough to spend the entire day focused on “her.” Yet, we don’t love, respect, and honor God enough to spend the Sabbath with only Him. How sad for us. How many blessings we are missing.

As Christians, we are called to be set apart, and that includes how we spend our Sundays, even if ______ (you fill in the blank) wants to schedule something on that day. I challenge you to consider what steps you need to take to make the Sabbath holy in your household. There are blessings awaiting us and our families if we seek God completely on His holy day.

**For a more in-depth look at working on the Sabbath, read “An Ox in a Ditch.”


  1. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

    16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

    Colossians 2:13-16

  2. I truly appreciate your bringing this Bible quote up for discussion. I try (and fail) to keep my posts short, but you’re correct that the Bible has dozens of verses on this subject that I didn’t explore. In the specific verse you posted from Colossians, I don’t believe Paul is suggesting we ignore the Sabbath altogether. Instead, I believe Paul is saying we no longer need to observe the ceremonial Sabbath (i.e., religious ritual) that the Jews of his time were following, not the Sabbath that God intended when He first created it in Genesis. “The Law of Moses” added requirements to God’s initial Sabbath more than just mere “rest.”

    First, the Mosaic Law added ceremonial sacrifices to the Sabbath (Num. 28:9-10; Lev. 24:5-9), and by Paul’s time, these sacrifices and festivals had become a required part of Sabbath worship. Secondly, the Mosaic Law added criminal penalties for anyone caught violating the Sabbath (Ex. 31:12-17; Ex. 35:2). When Christ came, His life and sacrifice fulfilled the Law, making these religious rituals no longer necessary. The religious festivals, holy days, and sacrifices were mere prefiguirings of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for all mankind.

    Revelation 1:10 even implies John was observing the Sabbath: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day…” Thus, I don’t believe Paul was saying we should not obey the fourth commandment, but that we are no longer bound to the Law, to the religious rituals, which added to God’s Sabbath instituted at creation, before the fall of man.

    My husband disagrees with me, too. We agree Jesus is the fulfillment of ultimate rest as is represented by the Sabbath. I just see a distinction that God instituted the Sabbath at creation, before sin entered the world, before we needed a Savior to come redeem us. If God found the need for a Sabbath of rest before we sinned, then, in my mind, that need still stands after Jesus comes to save us from that sin.

  3. What insight you share through your blog, and I love the new look as well. The other makes me think of the Dogwood too.