I don’t have to tell you we live in a hurried and hurry-up culture. With smartphones in our pockets and purses, we’re forever plugged in and available through email, text messages, and social media. But you and I weren’t meant to go, go, go without end.
This reminds me of a story about a man who traveled to Africa. To ensure he could travel at a speedy pace, he hired a guide and a couple of local tribesmen to carry his luggage and do whatever was needed. This traveler told his guide and porters, “We’re going to get up before the sun rises and not stop until the sun sets.” And boy, did they move that day. Faster and faster, the man prodded the guide and porters along.
The next morning, the traveler rose with the sun and found his helpers seated under a shade tree. He instructed the men to get moving. But the porters wouldn’t move. Despite his repeated demands, the men sat in silence. Finally, the traveler asked the guide, “What’s the matter with these men?”
The guide explained, “You’ve pushed them so hard, and so fast they are now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”
Fortunately, God designated one day out of every week when we can do just that—to allow our souls to catch up with our bodies. It’s called the Sabbath—and it’s the subject of the fourth commandment, which says, “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” (Exodus 20:8-11).
This commandment says there’s one day each week in which we’re to do no work. It’s a day we set aside for worship and rest.
1. Observations About the Fourth Commandment
The fourth commandment is unique among the 10 for at least three reasons.
First, more space is devoted to the fourth commandment than the others. I think it’s interesting that God had more to say about the Sabbath than He did about theft, adultery, or murder. It’s also one of the most mentioned commandments in the Old Testament. Why is it significant that the Lord had so much to say about the Sabbath? It tells us that the fourth commandment isn’t something we can keep only when we feel like it or can find the time.
Second, Jesus never repeated the fourth commandment. This is the only one of the Ten Commandments Jesus didn’t repeat directly, nor did the New Testament writers spend much time on it. Why? It’s because the day changed. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, so Christians set that day aside for worship as a memorial to Him. Whether we worship on Saturday or Sunday, the idea of the Sabbath is to make the day one of spiritual service through religious observance.
Third, the fourth commandment is only one of two commandments stated positively. We often think of the Sabbath in the negative—about what we’re not allowed to do on the Sabbath day. Do you remember blue laws? For many years, states had legal restrictions about what you were allowed to buy and do on Sundays.
2. Questions About the Fourth Commandment
- What Is the Sabbath?
The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew word shabbat, literally meaning “cease,” “stop,” or “rest”—just as the Lord said: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
- What Does It Mean to “Remember”?
To remember means to recall from memory. How could the Israelites recall this command from memory if this was the first time God gave the Ten Commandments? The answer is that Sabbath day was part of an earlier tradition.
During the time when the Hebrews gathered manna in the wilderness, the Lord instructed them to gather only enough to feed their families for that day—their “daily bread,” as Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:11). On the sixth day, however, the people were to gather enough for two days. Here’s how Moses put it:
With the giving of the law in Exodus 20, the Sabbath became part of the Israelites’ covenant relationship with God. The Lord didn’t command Gentile nations to observe the seventh day as special (Psalm 147:19–20), so the Sabbath came to represent a unique sign between God and His people.
- What Is the Penalty for Violating the Sabbath?
Individuals who violated the Sabbath command during the Old Testament profaned God’s day and were stoned to death (Exodus 31:15; Numbers 15:32–36). Nationally, failure to obey a similar command to allow the land to lay fallow every seventh year (Leviticus 26:34, 43) resulted in exile—one year for every seventh year of disobedience (seventy years of exile for 490 years of disobedience).
Fortunately, when we get to the New Testament and into the present day, the penalty for disobeying the fourth commandment isn’t death or exile. But make no mistake—there is a price to be paid physically, emotionally, and spiritually for neglecting this principle of balance between work, worship, and relaxation that we will discuss in a moment.
3. Why Obey the Fourth Commandment?
Christians today aren’t under the same obligation to obey the fourth commandment as the Israelites because the death and resurrection of Christ altered the day set aside for worship and rest. But the principle (the spirit) of the fourth commandment is still in effect. We should designate a day to cease our labors for the purpose of meeting together in corporate worship of our risen Savior.
I believe the fourth commandment affirms four principles that are just as practical for Christians today as they were for the Israelites then.
- The Sabbath Affirms Human Dignity
- The Sabbath Affirms the Family
- The Sabbath Affirms Our Need for God
Thousands of years ago, God designed a simple solution for the weekly problem of physical, emotional, and spiritual dehydration. It is called the Sabbath. It’s a time to resist work, refresh emotions, and renew our spiritual lives.
God has a plan for our life, and He loves us. Never experience life apart from Christ.
Full Passage: Exodus 20:8-11