“8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 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: 11 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.” – Exodus 20:8-11
At Mount Sinai, God gave Moses 10 commandments which the people of God were to shape their day to day life around seeking to live accordingly. Many scholars and pastors of old have understood the first table (commandments 1-4) to speak to our duties before God, and the second table (commandments 5-10) to speak of our duties before man.¹ This is evident by Jesus’ summation of the decalogue in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”²
Thus I am led to the point of this post. What did God mean when He commanded that we “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”? The goal of this publication is to show that God intended both the Israelites of the Old Testament and the Christians of the New Testament to set aside one day in seven to the sole observance and meditation of God, His laws, His word, and His ways. This will be accomplished by looking at Exodus 20:8-11 which deals with this commandment and by looking at what some of the reformers understood this to teach.
First, notice that the commandment is based upon God’s example when he created all things. Genesis 2:1-3 says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 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. 3 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.” Thus, the commandment to set aside on day in seven is not a new command that is being given, but rather this is the proper and right use of the sabbath day as established at creation and reinforced as the 4th commandment of the decalogue. John Calvin in his Harmony of the Law, Vol. 2 agrees saying, “11. For in six days the Lord made. From this passage it may be probably conjectured that the hallowing of the Sabbath was prior to the Law; and undoubtedly what Moses has before narrated, that they were forbidden to gather the manna on the seventh day, seems to have had its origin from a well-known and received custom; whilst it is not credible that the Observance of the Sabbath was omitted, when God revealed the rite of sacrifice to the holy (Fathers. 334 )”³ Thus, I believe this has shown sufficiently, though by no means exhaustively, that the command for a sabbath to occur each week with a full six days given to labor and all other necessities of this life to be completed during. Now we move on to the extent of the command what exactly is expected by God saying, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
The practice by many professing the name of Christ in this day is to simply go to church Sunday morning and also in the evening if their local assembly has such a practice and providing that the individual decides to attend. Many force others to work either by going to eat or by watching some sports telecast. I will seek to show that what God requires as to the remembrance of His sabbath is that the whole day be spent in meditation on His word and ways. Therefore, all engaging in any activity which causes or supports another’s breaking of the Lord’s day is prohibited. Evidence of this is found in the Israelites forty years in the wilderness when they had to gather manna to eat. God commanded that manna be gathered on the sixth day both for the sixth and seventh which is the Lord’s sabbath. Exodus 16:22-26 says, “22 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. 23 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. 24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. 25 And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to day ye shall not find it in the field. 26 Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.” In the verses that follow it we read that the people of Israel sought to gather food on the sabbath and behold there was none for God had ordered this not to be done and thus didn’t send food on His sabbath. In speaking of sabbath day observance, the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, (Exod. 20:8, Exod. 16;23, 25–26, 29–30, Exod. 31:15–17, Isa. 58:13, Neh. 13:15–19, 21–22) but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Isa. 63:13, Matt. 12:1–13)”4 In Thomas Boston’s An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion Part 2, he tells us that,
“This command respects the time of worship, and is the last of the first table, set to join both together, the Sabbath being the bond of all religion. In the words we have,
1. The command. It is delivered two ways.
1st, Positively, Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy. Sabbath signifies rest or cessation from labour. There is a threefold rest or Sabbath spoken of in scripture. (1.) Temporal. (2.) Spiritual, which is an internal soul-rest, in ceasing from sin, Heb. 4:3. (3.) Eternal, Heb. 4:9, 11 celebrated in heaven, where the saints rest from their labours. It is the first of these, the weekly Sabbath that is here meant. Observe here,
(1.) Our duty with respect to the Sabbath. It is to keep it holy. God has made it holy, set it apart for holy exercises, and we must keep it holy, spending it in holy exercises.
(2.) The quantity of time to be observed as a Sabbath of rest, a day, a whole day of twenty-four hours; and the one day in seven. They must observe a seventh day after six days’ labour, wherein all our work must be done, put by hand, so as nothing of it may remain to be done on the Sabbath.
(3.) A note of remembrance put upon it; which imports, that this precept should be diligently observed, special regard paid to it, and due honour put upon this sacred day.
2dly, Negatively. Where observe, (1.) What is forbidden here; the doing of any work that may hinder the sanctifying of this day. (2.) To whom the command is directed, and who must observe it; magistrates, to whom belong the gates of the city; and masters of families, to whom belong the gates of the house. They must observe it themselves, and cause others to observe it.
2. The reasons annexed to this command. None of the commands are thus delivered, both positively and negatively, as this is. And that imports,
p 187 1st, God is in a special manner concerned for the keeping of the Sabbath, it being that on which all religion depends. Accordingly, as it is observed or disregarded, so it readily goes with the other parts of religion.
2dly, People are most ready to halve the service of this day, either to look on resting from labour as sufficient, or to look on the work of the day as over when the public work is over.
3dly There is less light of nature for this command than the rest: for though it is naturally moral that there should be a Sabbath; yet it is but positively moral that this should be one day in seven, depending entirely on the will of God.”5
Thus demonstrating that sabbath keeping is not merely going to church and is then complete. Rather, it is the setting apart and sanctifying of the whole day to the Lord. It saddens me deeply that this is so frequently broken by the Church. By breaking this commandment, the Church becomes double tongued. For how can you say that it is wrong to work on the Sabbath and then you have others work so that you can eat at such and such an establishment or so that you can watch such and such a sport, movie, or television show? Do you not see that to do such things is to have one expectation for yourself and a different one for others? Is it possible to say that you must have to day off to worship and observe God while you require others to work in order to feed you?
- John Wycliff, Thomas Boston, Philip Schaff, and Henry Bullinger to name a few. Contact me if you want the individual works.
- Luke 10:27 also records this
- The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996). XXI.8
- Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 2: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 2, ed. Samuel M‘Millan (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 186-87