What The Ten Commandments Really Mean: 4th Commandment

in The Ten Commandments

Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). It was made as a benefit and a blessing for man’s good. The Sabbath was created at the same time man was created.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made (Gen. 2:1-3).

The climax of God’s physical creation was the Sabbath, the high mark of His creative power.

The command to keep the Sabbath is found in Exodus 20:8-11.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Notice what we read. The Scripture says, “Remember the sabbath day. . . .” When God gave this fourth commandment at Mount Sinai, He was reminding the Israelites of a long-established institution. The Sabbath commandment given on this occasion was not a new commandment. Though forgotten by the children of Israel, the Sabbath law had been in effect before the time of Moses. When God blessed the Sabbath day, the benefit conferred by its observance was both a physical and spiritual blessing, a profit for the well-being and health of the individual. During the French Revolution, the radicals controlling France outlawed the rest kept every seven days and required a rest every tenth day. The results were catastrophic. Production fell drastically. Work animals died by the thousands. Men lost their strength to work. The whole experiment had to be abandoned. There was a reason God set forth a day of rest every seven days. Since the Sabbath was sanctified by God, its observance is a holy obligation.

One of the primary reasons the Israelites were taken into national captivity and lost from sight was because of Sabbath-breaking.

And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them (Ezek. 20:11-13).

An examination of the Ten Commandments illustrates that the fourth commandment is one of the longest of the ten. Only the second commandment has a commensurate amount of instruction.

The instruction regarding the Sabbath day tells us we should abstain from our normal routine of work or business. Notice what the instruction is. “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20:10). “Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest” (Ex. 34:21). Buying and selling were prohibited on the Sabbath.

Notice the following instruction:

And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt (Neh. 10:31).

In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath (Neh. 13:15-21).

Thus saith the Lord; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers (Jer. 17:21-22).

How should the Sabbath be kept? What should and should not be done in order to derive the benefit God intended? For one thing, the Sabbath is a day of worship. It is the day God set aside for man to observe in reverence and respect for Him. While vast numbers of Christians and Moslems have opted for days other than what God commanded, the fact is only one day was ever set aside by God-the seventh day of the week, or Saturday. Exodus 20:10 states, “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” This same day of observance is seen throughout the New Testament, as well. Every instance where the first day of the week is mentioned in the New Testament, it is clearly seen to be a work day.

Psalm ninety-two is a psalm to be sung on the Sabbath day. Notice what the superscription states: “A Psalm for the sabbath day.” This Psalm teaches us how we should be thinking on the Sabbath. First, we should be thankful and appreciative for all of God’s goodness and blessings, for His great works and deep thoughts. We should be acknowledging God’s power and glory in His protection of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked. The Psalm underscores the greatness of the plan of God, the Sabbath being a type of the Millennium. The Sabbath, then, should be a day set aside for rest and meditation on the greatness and might of God. It is not a day to be set aside for recreation and the enjoyment of our favorite pastime. The Sabbath should be directed toward God, not toward the self.

Friday is designated as the preparation day. This gives man the opportunity to prepare in advance. Consider this example.

And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning” (Ex. 16:22-23).

The sixth day of the week-Friday-is the preparation day. This is so there will be no undue labor taking place on the Sabbath (Luke 23:54). All heavy cooking should be done on the preparation day, so that kitchen labor can be kept to a minimum on the Sabbath. Livestock can be tended to, but not worked. The length of the Sabbath day is determined by the sun; it runs from even to even-that is, from sundown on Friday night until sundown on Saturday night (Gen. 1:5, Lev. 23:32). During this period all work should be abandoned so that one can properly rest.

If possible one should attend church services on the Sabbath. “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings” (Lev. 23:2-3). A holy convocation is a commanded assembly. It is the requirement to assemble. Jesus set the example. See Luke 4:16; 6:6; 13:10, Mark 6:2. Brethren who are like-minded can derive a great benefit by meeting together. On the Sabbath one’s mind should be calm and peaceful. If one cannot find an assembly of like-minded people it would be best to observe the Sabbath at home alone. Those who do can generally find cassette tape programs available that will fill the need for spiritual guidance.

How much travel is allowed on the Sabbath? A Sabbath day’s journey is mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 1:12). It was about the distance of a mile, or about a half-hour walk, depending on the rate of speed. Traveling in an auto is much less strenuous. Each person should determine in his own mind how much driving is too much, using the half-hour walk as a guide. Driving long distances certainly would not be appropriate, but an hour or so drive to attend Sabbath services does not appear to violate the guideline.

Emergency situations arise from time to time. The Bible illustrates this. Here is a New Testament example:

And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).

Christ permitted His disciples to do a small amount of labor in order to feed themselves on the Sabbath. In Luke 13:15 we find another example. When Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath, He was criticized by the ruler of the synagogue. Jesus’ answer was, “. . . Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?” Jesus was also criticized for healing a man with the dropsy. His answer at that time was, “. . . Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5). Situations that arise which require a limited amount of labor are exceptions to the general rule of resting on the Sabbath. Any situation that can be anticipated should be handled before the Sabbath begins.

From some of the examples in the previous paragraph it is clear the Sabbath can be a time to do good. Jesus performed many good deeds on the Sabbath. Jesus was asked this question: “. . . Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him” (Matt. 12:10). He went on to explain, “. . . What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (Matt. 12:11-12). The use of time on the Sabbath should be considered. Remember, it is a day set aside for rest and meditation on God. To spend the entire day doing good deeds would hinder the purpose of the Sabbath. But, certainly the sick can be visited and the discouraged lifted up by encouragement. Jesus helped others when the occasion arose. He did this ancillary to His primary mission-to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Healing the sick was an blessing that went along with that mandate.

As noted earlier, the Sabbath is not a day set aside for recreation of one kind or another. Here is the Bible instruction:

If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 58:13-14).

True benefit from the Sabbath comes by seeking the spiritual things of God. Physical gratification is short-lived; it does not really satisfy the soul. Spiritual things do. Aside from meditating on God, valuable time can be spent in prayer and Bible study. “. . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Family Bible study with the children can be very beneficial. Children need to be taught the truths of God and how to live a godly life. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Those who spend the Sabbath mingling with the worldly-minded will derive little benefit from the Sabbath.

The day that God set aside for worship is the seventh day of the week. On this day we should meet with others of like faith if possible. Labor is kept to a minimum because Friday is the preparation day when the physical labor of cooking and cleaning should be done. Pursuing one’s vocation or business on the Sabbath day should be avoided. The Sabbath day is not a day to seek our own physical pleasure. It is a day to meditate and to think about God and spiritual things. Good can be done on the Sabbath but must not take away from the purpose of the day. Those who fear God and keep His commandments will be keeping the Sabbath day and will be blessed for doing so.

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