Sabbath Series, Part 2 – The Requirements of the Fourth Commandment

12 08 2008

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Question 58 – What is required in the fourth commandment?

Answer – The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

In Part 1 of this series we observed…

1. That the weekly Sabbath is a creation ordinance, built into the very fabric of the world that God has made.

2. That the weekly Sabbath is not part of the ceremonial laws given to Israel, although it has typical elements associated with its observance.

3. That the weekly Sabbath was given to Adam before the fall, indicating that the pattern of six days of labor followed by one day of rest and worship was part of God’s intended plan for mankind prior to the entrance of sin into the world.

4. That the weekly Sabbath is part of the moral law, written by the very finger of God in tablets of stone, signifying its permanence among the moral laws of God for all time.

5. That the weekly Sabbath is designed for the benefit of mankind and the earth, since the earth requires periodic refreshment and mankind requires both physical and spiritual refreshment.

6. That the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, therefore indicating that it is to be received as God’s gift, rather than a heavy burden. Legalism with regard to the Sabbath is therefore sinful.

7. That Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, therefore indicating that we are bound to submit to His will regarding the use of that day according to the Scriptures. Antinomianism with regard to the Sabbath is therefore sinful.

8. That God’s will regarding the Sabbath is succinctly expressed in Isaiah 58:13-14 which says, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

We turn our attention now to the requirements of the fourth commandment. Following the beautiful pattern of the Catechism, we begin to look at the application of the commandments beginning with their positive requirements. What exactly does the 4th commandment require of God’s people? An examination of the wording of the command itself together with some related Scripture passages will help us to see our positive duty with regard to the Sabbath.

1. Remember the Sabbath Day.

The first requirement of the 4th commandment is that we “remember” the Sabbath day. In the two statements of the fourth commandment, found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, two different Hebrew words are used to express the obligation of this commandment.

Exodus 20:8 “Remember [zakar] the sabbath day…”

Deut. 5:12 “Observe [shamar] the sabbath day…”

The word used in Exodus 20:8 carries the meaning of calling to mind or being conscious of a commitment, promise or duty. The use of this word indicates that the Sabbath duty was already in place long before this commandment was given to Moses. God commands us to remember the Sabbath because our hearts and minds are so quickly consumed with our own activities and pursuits that we are inclined to forget that we are creatures, dependent upon and answerable to our Creator.

The requirement to “observe the Sabbath” (Deut. 5:12) also highlights for us the need of conscious preparation for the Sabbath Day. If your best friend’s birthday were approaching, no doubt you would make certain preparations before it arrived (buying a gift or card, planning a party, arranging your schedule to be free that day, etc.)

Exodus 16:23 shows us that God expects His people to prepare for the approach of the Sabbath as well. Many Christians find themselves in awkward positions on the Lord’s Day because they fail to make simple preparations to guard the special nature of the day. Such simple things as advance meal preparation, gassing up the family car, getting homework done, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour on Saturday can help to keep our feet from breaking the Sabbath. They are the simple expressions of remembering, or being mindful of, the Sabbath day.

Even more important is the preparation of the heart to engage in the sincere worship of God throughout the day. Time spent in prayer and reading of the Scriptures (perhaps the passage to be preached on) is an important part of preparing the heart to engage in God-honoring worship on His holy day.

2. Sanctify the Sabbath Day.

The 4th commandment requires first, that we remember the Sabbath Day, and second, that we sanctify it. To sanctify something is to keep it holy, setting it apart from the ordinary.

Isaiah 58:13 If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,

Exodus 31:13-17 Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ “

The Sabbath is to be sanctified, set apart, kept from defilement. It is essential to remember the purposeful nature of sanctification. The Sabbath is not just a day to rest and sleep after working hard all week long. A day to get caught up on sleep is hardly a “holy” day. The Sabbath is a day of rest from our usual labor in order that the people of God may devote themselves to holy exercises. It involves “not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words” (Isaiah 58:13), but instead, finding your delight in the Lord in a more concentrated and particular way than the ordinary days of the week allow.

Many Christians express difficulty in keeping themselves occupied with “holy activities” on the Lord’s Day. I would suggest that part of the problem is that when faced with an entire day to spend in the pursuit of God’s close presence, we often feel awkward and unsure of what to do. I am convinced that this is largely the result of the practical distance that exists between us and God throughout the balance of the week.

It is not unlike the awkwardness that would result if we were thrust into a room with a stranger for 24 hours and told to occupy ourselves by interacting with him. No doubt there would be long, uncomfortable pauses in our conversation. We would hardly know where to begin, and our hearts would soon long for the familiar. A similar principle applies to the matter of our sabbath conversations, even among the fellowship of the saints.

Isaiah 58:13 says that we are to cease from “speaking our own words” on God’s holy day. We are to engage in self-consciously godly discourse. Yet our conversations seem to quickly decline into mundane communications about worldly matters: what we did during the previous week or what we plan to do in the week to come.

Is this not a reflection of our hearts? If Lord’s Day conversations about the activities of the previous week seem to be devoid of godly content, does it not indicate that our weekly activities have been devoid of godliness?

As Reformed Christians, we understand that there is no validity to the common division between sacred and secular activities. All of our activities are to be consciously pursued to the glory of God. If it is only with great difficulty that we can discuss our daily activities in light of God’s working in us, then we have reason to inquire whether we have been too worldly minded, having pursued our work and recreation as if God had nothing to do with our lives.

The delight of the Lord is found in the wholehearted pursuit of those godly activities that our usual vocational schedule prevents us from doing throughout the week. On the Lord’s Day we are free to engage in such activities as

a. public worship

b. fellowship and godly discourse with the people of God

c. extended family worship and instruction

d. private study, prayer and meditation

e. works of mercy in the name of Christ

In the pursuit of the sanctified activities, we find our souls refreshed and strengthened. What a blessing that God has set apart an entire day each week for us to draw near to Him and receive His renewing grace!

3. Six Days You Shall Labor.

Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.

Most people tend to think of the 4th commandment as exclusively addressing the Sabbath, yet it also speaks authoritatively to the other six days of the week. John Murray wrote, “The day of rest has no meaning apart from the background of labor. God’s day of rest is the sequel to six days of creative activity and has no relevance in any other context.”

In New Covenant terms, perhaps it would be more fitting to say that God’s day of rest is the preface to six days of creative activity in the name of Christ’s kingdom. The 4th commandment teaches us that God has ordained work for His own glory and appointed man to exercise dominion over the creation in His name.

Work, properly understood, is a high calling. Unfortunately, sin has distorted man’s view of work, leading typically to two extremes. One extreme sees work as part of the curse, which leads to many dangerous errors including laziness, hedonism, and even slavery (forcing others to work for you). The second extreme sees work as a means of salvation, which leads men to become “workaholics,” who burn themselves out in the pursuit of personal fulfillment, wealth and status, but completely ignore God, His plan, and His laws.

The proper biblical view sees work as God’s design for the advancement of His glory in the earth through the creatures He has made. In this light, work is a divine privilege and every human endeavor is done “as to the Lord.” The curse has added to the difficulty of work, but Christ has promised grace to triumph over the results of sin. Thus the disciple of Christ values work as a holy duty which extends the kingdom of God from the household to the ends of the earth.

4. Guard the Sabbath Day

John 2:13-17 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”

An attentive reading of the 4th commandment reveals that it is directed specifically toward the heads of households. This is clear from the words, “you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Exodus 20:10).

The clear implication is that the heads of households, (and thus all who entrusted with authority), were responsible to guard those under their care from breaking the Sabbath.

A vivid application of this principle is seen in Nehemiah 13:15-22. The example of Nehemiah shows us that the principle of Sabbath-keeping is broader than the individual. Not only should people refrain from ordinary work on the Lord’s Day, but they should not engage in activities that encourage and cause others to break the Sabbath. Christians should not ordinarily engage in public commerce on the Lord’s Day, and they should testify against such open profaning of the Sabbath.

5. Rejoice in the Significance of the Sabbath.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

As previously noted, the second recounting of the ten commandments in Deuteronomy 5 includes a different reason for Sabbath keeping than that found in Exodus 20. The emphasis in Deuteronomy is on the deliverance from bondage into rest in Israel’s history. In this light, the Sabbath kept them looking back to God’s redemption from sin and forward to their inheritance.

This same focus applies to the Christian Sabbath, which points us back to Christ’s deliverance of His people and forward to the eternal rest that will be realized by all who believe in His name.

Hebrews 4:9-10 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

There are three common interpretations of this passage…

a. Heb. 4:9-10 is a proof text against the continuing validity of the Sabbath. This view argues that when a person believes in Christ, he then ceases from his evil works, and his whole life as a Christian is one long sabbath rest. An examination of the context, however, shows that the sabbath rest spoken of throughout Hebrews 3-4 is the unending rest in the consummated new heavens and new earth. It is therefore eschatalogical in nature, looking forward to the fulfillment of what the perpetual weekly sabbath anticipates.

R.J. Rushdoony writes, “… in the Old Testament, the Sabbath celebrated and commemorated the passover, Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Since Christ, the Sabbath is dated from the day of resurrection. In both cases, it is future-oriented, looking forward to the great restoration of all things.”

b. Heb. 4:9-10 refers to the believer’s future everlasting sabbath in heaven. This view maintains that the verse does not teach an explicit sabbatarianism, but an implicit.

Fausset, Jamison, and Brown’s commentary on the passage states, “This verse indirectly establishes the obligation of the Sabbath still; for the type continues until the antitype supercedes it: so legal sacrifices continued till the great antitypical Sacrifice superceded it. As then the antitypical heavenly Sabbath rest will not be till Christ comes, our Gospel Joshua, to usher us into it, the typical earthly Sabbath must continue till then.”

c. Heb. 4:9-10 is a statement regarding the weekly sabbath and not the future eternal sabbath. This view holds that the author of Hebrews discusses the eternal future rest in chapters 3-4, but in 4:9 he argues for a remaining weekly sabbath.

In support of this view is the fact that the word used to describe God’s rest throughout chapters 3-4 is a different word than the one used in verse 9. In 3:11, 18, and 4:1,3,5,10 and 11, the Greek word katapausis is used. But in 4:9 sabbatismos is used. Although it is true that both words can be translated as rest, why use a different word only once, a word usually translated as sabbath?

Francis Nigel Lee writes, “Katapausis in the LXX is used in respect of the (uninterrupted and therefore unrepeatable) rest of God in Gen. 2:2-3 and Ps. 95:11, but sabbatismos is used in Ex. 16:30 and 2 Chr. 36:21 to indicate the (intermittent and therefore repeatable) keeping of a sabbath at regular intervals. Conclusion: the sabbatismos of Heb. 4:9, which the (saved) people of God must keep, is the intermittent and repeatable Sabbath at regular (weekly) intervals.”

A. W. Pink writes, “‘There remaineth therefore a sabbath-keeping for the people of God.’ The reference is not to something future, but to what is present. The Greek verb (in its passive form) is never rendered by any other English equivalent than “remaineth.” It occurs again in Heb. 10:26. The word “remain” signifies ‘to be left after others have withdrawn, to continue unchanged.’ Here then is a plain, positive, unequivocal declaration by the Spirit of God: ‘There remaineth therefore a sabbath-keeping.’ Nothing could be simpler, nothing less ambiguous. The striking thing is that this statement occurs in the very epistle whose theme is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism; written to those addressed as ‘holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.’ Therefore, it cannot be gainsaid that Heb. 4:9 refers directly to the Christian Sabbath. Hence we solemnly and emphatically declare that any man who says there is no Christian Sabbath takes direct issue with the N.T. scriptures.”

Both the second and third views acknowledge the purpose of the weekly Sabbath, which is to focus the believer’s attention on the past, present, and future. The worshipper must look at God’s rest from His creative labors, celebrate their accomplished redemption and the express the joy of their salvation, and look to the future eternal sabbath rest that awaits those who are in Christ at the consummation of history.

The Lord’s Day, in other words, is specially designed to keep our hearts fixed upon Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.




One response

1 06 2009
David Moorman

The reformation failed because the “Protester’s” sided with Rome on the sacredness of “Sunday” and still do to this day.

At the Council of Trent Archbishop of Reggio turned the council against the Reformation by using the following basic and simplistic argument: ”The Protestants claim to stand upon the written word only; they profess to hold the Scriptures alone as the standard of faith. They justify their revolt by the plea that the Church has apostatized from the written word and follows tradition. Now the Protestant’s claim that they stand upon the written word alone is not true.“

So, if one is to claim that the written word is the only guide then “news flash” – Sunday ain’t the Sabbath; the Sabbath is the Sabbath and that day is always on the seventh day. The term “Christian Sabbath” is completely without any scriptural support, i.e. “a fairy tale.”

From J. Cardinal Gibbons, Rome’s Challenge, September 1893:

“There is just one refuge left for the Protestants. that is to take their stand squarely and fully upon the “written word only,” “the Bible and the Bible alone,” and thus upon the Sabbath of the Lord. Thus acknowledging no authority but God’s, wearing no sign but His (Eze. 20:12, 20), obeying His command, and shielded by His power, they shall have the victory over Rome and all her alliances, and stand upon the sea of glass, bearing the harps of God, with which their triumph shall be forever celebrated. (Revelation 18, and 15:2-4.)

It is not yet too late for Protestants to redeem themselves. Will they do it? Will they stand consistently upon the Protestant profession? or will they still continue to occupy the “indefensible, self-contradictory, and suicidal” position of professing to be Protestants, yet standing on Catholic ground, receiving Catholic insult, and bearing Catholic condemnation? Will they indeed take the written word only, the Scripture alone, as their sole authority and their sole standard? or will they still hold the “indefensible, self-contradictory, and suicidal” doctrine and practice of following the authority of the Catholic Church and of wearing the sign of her authority? Will they keep the Sabbath of the Lord, the seventh day, according to Scripture? or will they keep the Sunday according to the tradition of the Catholic Church?

Dear reader, which will YOU do?”

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