“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 to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and 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, ESV)
“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 a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. ” (Deuteronomy 5:12–15, ESV)
I have never received more questions about the Ten Commandments that in this, the fourth commandment.
- If the Sabbath is the seventh day, why do we worship on Sunday which is the first day?
- If we go out to lunch on Sunday, is that a violation of the fourth commandment?
- What all does “rest” mean?
- My boss requires me to work on Sunday. Does that make me a sinner?
I am sure you can think of some of your own. The reference to the Sabbath day in the Old Testament has been often misunderstood. The seventh day was not Saturday. The calendar of the ancient Hebrews was not like our calendars today. You can get a feeling for the Hebrew calendar here. God gave a reason for making the Sabbath day the seventh day. It all has to do with Creation. If you check out Genesis 1, you will discover that God created everything in the world in six days. Huge scholarly debates surround whether this is true or not. Nevertheless, the seventh day followed the previous six days, each of which God blessed saying his work was good.
Why, then, a seventh day at all? I believe God spoke of a seventh day because he would give the number seven a deeper meaning. For example, a new born child was to be circumcised on the eight day implying that the child was unclean the first seven days. This concept ( clean/unclean, not circumcision) was also applied to animals and various illnesses. In any case, the seventh day marked the completion of God’s week. His work was finished so now he rested.
The word we call sabbath is in Hebrew shabbot. On the Sabbath day today, many Jews greet each other saying, “Shabbot shalom,” peace this sabbath. The concept of rest never meant total inactivity. The cessation of work on the Sabbath was the stopping of a certain kind of work, i.e. work that benefited oneself. The various exceptions in the law of the sabbath related to emergencies and helping others. But the basic law was applied to the Jews gathering manna to each. Each day they could gather only what they could eat in one day. Anything more would rot. However, on the day before the Sabbath, they could gather what would be needed so they could eat on the Sabbath day.
There is a parallel to this in God’s creation. The six days of creation were God’s work for himself. All creation was for the glory of God. God ceased his work on the seventh day because his work was finished. Therefore, since he did not work on the seventh day, he wanted his people to remember the creation, its purpose of glorifying God, and the cessation of work on the seventh day. It must be remembered that all of creation began the fullness of life on the seventh day. We began life within God’s rest. God provides for all our needs and to remember that truth, we were to work six days and rest on the seventh.
There is a different purpose for the sabbath listed in Deuteronomy. The representative of all humanity to come committed a sin resulting in death, humanity’s separation from God’s fellowship. Being apart from God, it was impossible for mankind to glorify God as created. Everything, including life itself became laborious. Yet in the depth of Israel’s labor, slavery in Egypt, God rescued them. God saved them. So, in addition to the memory of God’s rest from creation, now they were to remember his salvation, too.
All of this is important to us because, it was on the seventh day that God saved his people (the day of the observance of the first Passover for all feast days are sabbath days). Another way of looking at it is that God saved Israel from their slavery on the sabbath day. This is the day they stopped working as slaves. The first day of their freedom, then, is the eighth day. Making the connection with all seventh day practices, full life was experienced on the eighth day. The newborn baby was now a member of the people of God. The new born cattle were now ready for service. Those healed from leprosy were rejoined with the community.
The application was not missed by the Apostles, or by the Reformers. Christ died just before the seventh day. His sacrifice was complete but its application was not. During his time in the grave, “he descended to hell,” as the creed says. Paul tells the Ephesians that he led forth a host of captives and gave gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8). The picture is that Jesus Christ paid for sin as the Passover Lamb on the seventh day and we begin to experience our salvation on the eight day. For the Christian, new life becomes for us the eighth day.
This is why we gather for worship on Sunday. This is why we celebrate life in Christ and our resurrection from the dead on Sunday. This is why we glorify God as a community of his people on Sunday. The reality is that we no longer live on the sabbath day. Every day of our lives as born in Christ Jesus is the eighth day. The sabbath day has been moved by the death and resurrection of Christ to the eight day, and the eighth day begins with Sunday and becomes our whole life in Christ.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29, ESV) He did not speak of rest for a day. He spoke of rest for life. He did not refer to labor as working at a job. He spoke of rest for our souls.
Though this has been a long journey, we have come to the end of our labor. Peace and rest be yours in Christ.