The Fourth Commandment. REMEMBER THE SABBATH.
This commandment is in the moral law, given for all time and not in the ceremonial law, which was to be done away with when Jesus came. The moral law was written on tablets of stone to indicate its permanence. The commandment was not limited to Jews. It included strangers within their gates and embraces those who are of the commonwealth of Israel – the Church.
God created time and is Lord of man’s time. It is God’s will that a man should work six days a week – not just five as in prosperous societies. The Hebrew word for work and worship is the same word. Work was intended by God to be an act of worship and was ordained before the fall. The appointing of the seventh day is not a restriction on man’s freedom but a merciful provision for his good. As with sleep the day of rest breaks up time into manageable and meaningful units. In Mark ch 2 v 7 Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit. In Gen ch 2 v 15 God sets man an example to follow.
Galley slaves and others forced to work seven days a week became no better than beasts of burden. Civilisations prosper when one day a week people can rest and think and draw inspiration from God.
The command to worship only the Lord God is designed to prevent man being ensnared by the worship of false gods, who will force man into slavery and bondage as they bring forth disappointments and guilt.
God wants to be the centre of a man’s thoughts and actions every day. The Sabbath is a special day of rest to spend more time with Him and to enjoy the blessings of a break from work. The Hebrews knew all about the benefits of a six-day week. They had toiled in Egypt during a seven-day week, making bricks without straw and were in utter bondage. What a joy for them to have a day of rest. But how quickly they forgot the blessings.
The commandment is to heads of the household and to employers. God requires them to see to it that all under their charge shall observe the Sabbath. Then there will be time to worship the Lord. Work is to pave the way for worship and worship is to equip man for work. The harder a man works on the six days, the more he will appreciate the day of rest. God Himself set an example. He worked for six days before He rested to admire His handiwork. It was excellent in every detail. God is still working out His plan of salvation.
To worship in a home is the more natural setting. Man has tended to meet in large numbers for convenience and, because of the religious aspect, where only a few people are qualified to lead the worship. Paul says that one should come with a song, one with a prayer, and one with word etc. 1 Cor ch 14 v 26. There should be participation by everyone and not just by the leader, whatever he is called.
Three classes of work may be engaged in on the Sabbath.
(a) Works of necessity such as tending to cattle or putting out a fire or protecting property.
(b) Works of mercy such as ministering to the sick. Mat ch 12 v 1-31. To neglect the sick on the Sabbath would make nonsense of the obligation on a man to love his neighbour. In Luke ch 6 v 6-11 Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, the religious leaders sought to bring Jesus down as offending their rules. He challenged them: “Is it right to do good on the Sabbath or to harm? To save life or to destroy it.”
(c) Works of piety, which are for the worship of God in public and private.
Jesus declared: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He knew very well that the Sabbath was the Saturday. Some say that the Christian Sabbath is the Sunday, commencing at midnight on the Saturday until midnight on the Sunday. The basis for their argument is Heb ch 4 v 8. It is suggested as being the first day of the week for Christians. However, the first believers were Jews. For 15 years the Church was entirely Jewish. The term “Christians” was first used some considerable time later at Antioch. Luke says in Acts ch 13 v 14 that Paul came to Antioch and on the Sabbath they went into the Synagogue and sat down. Paul addressed the assembly. Church history discloses that the Sunday worship started during the days of the Emperor Constantine. By that time there was a holiday on the Sunday when people worshipped the sun god. The believers felt that it would be a good idea to meet for worship on that day, because Gentiles could then be able to come to join them in worship. They had a day off work and so Sunday came to be established as the day of rest. Before that time man worked 7 days a week under the pagan Roman Empire.
Just how serious is the question of not working on the Sabbath can be seen from Numbers ch 15 v 32 – 36. For gathering a few sticks the man was stoned to death.
In the short term it may be that others are out working while a man is at rest and they earn more and prosper economically. However, in the long term they suffer from guilt and lack of rest and usually end up the poorer for it. How often the Psalmist complains that the unrighteous man seems to prosper, while the godly man suffers – but not in the long term – in view of the day of judgement, which lies ahead.
Jer ch 17 v 24 -26. No work is to be done on the Sabbath.
Exodus ch 16 v 25-26. Manna was to be collected on only six days with a double portion on the day before the Sabbath
Exodus ch 23 v 12. The purpose is that man and beast may be refreshed. God always seeks to do man good. Exodus ch 31 v 15 shows how serious this is. Put to death.
If there are problems when the Sabbath is broken, there is a blessing when it is kept. Isaiah ch 56 v 2. “Blessed is the man who keeps the Sabbath.” That is reinforced in Isaiah ch 58 v 13 – 14. This speaks particularly of not seeking man’s own pleasure on that day. It is not a “holiday” but a holy day.
Nehemiah ch 13 v 15-22. Breaking the Sabbath brings the wrath of God on man. It is very serious.
2 Tim ch 3 v 4 says that in the last days people will be lovers of pleasure.