A Slower Pace

| Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17

Week of September 29, 2019

The Point:  Rest is a gift from God.

Remember the Sabbath:  Exodus 20:8-11.

[8] “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. [9] Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, [10] 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. [11] 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.   [ESV]

“The Fourth Commandment: Work and Leisure [20:8-11]. God has given us a rhythm of work and rest, with six days for labor and one day for leisure. And He grants us our leisure specifically for the purpose of His praise. The Sabbath is a day for worship, a day for mercy, and a day for rest. The fourth commandment is the longest, and it comes in three parts. Verse 8 tells us what to do, verses 9, 10 specify how we are to do it, and verse 11 explains why. What God wants us to do is to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. The word remember has a double meaning. The fourth commandment calls us to a weekly remembrance of the Sabbath. We are prone to forget the great work of God in creation and redemption. And when we forget, we fail to praise Him for making us and saving us. But the fourth commandment is a reminder. It is God’s memorandum to His people, reminding us to give Him glory for His grace. Remembering involves more than just our memories; it demands the total engagement of our whole person in the service of God. Remembering the Sabbath means using the day to show our love for God in a special way. It means keeping it holy. Literally, we are to “sanctify it,” setting it apart for sacred use. How are we to do this? The fourth commandment gives explicit instructions for keeping the Sabbath holy. God begins by telling us what He wants us to do with the rest of our week [9]. Although this part of the fourth commandment is often overlooked, it is our duty to work. This does not mean that we have to work all day every day. But it does mean that God governs our work as well as our rest. He has given us six whole days to fulfill our earthly calling. We find God’s blessing in doing what He has called us to do. How do we keep the fourth commandment? By worshiping the Lord on His day. To keep something holy in the Biblical sense is to dedicate it exclusively for worship. Whereas the other six days of the week are for us and our work, the Sabbath is for God and His worship. The commandment was worded this way to remind the Israelites that their relationship with God was special. No other nation could claim that the Lord was their God; so no other nation kept the Sabbath. To keep a Sabbath to the Lord is to give the day over to God, setting it apart for Him and His glory. We meet with God by prayer and the ministry of the Word, by singing His praises and presenting our offerings to Him, by celebrating the sacraments and sharing Christian fellowship. The Sabbath is not only a day for worship but also a day of rest. It is a day for ceasing from work, and especially from common labor. Here we need to notice that the fourth commandment is stated both positively and negatively. It is the only commandment to do so explicitly. The positive requirement comes first [8]. Then there is the absolute prohibition: On it you shall not do any work. The Sabbath is a day for relaxation and recuperation, a day to step back from life’s ordinary routines in order to rediscover God’s goodness and grace. The Sabbath really is a day to spend with the family. By including servants [10b], the commandment also teaches that employers have a responsibility to care for their workers. Why should we remember the Sabbath. Because we serve a working, resting God [11]. This verse takes us back to the order of creation. Our fundamental reason for obeying the fourth commandment is not practical but theological: God made the world in six days, and then He rested. His activity in creation thus sets the pattern for our own work and leisure. Once His creative work was done, God took his divine leisure. The first time that God blessed anything, He blessed a day for us to share in His rest [Gen. 2:3]. We keep the Sabbath because God made it holy. There is one further reason for keeping a day of rest which is mentioned in Deuteronomy 5:15. There the Israelites are told to remember the Sabbath in the context of God’s redeeming them out of Egypt. The Sabbath looked back not only to creation but also to redemption. It reminded God’s people that they had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. One of the benefits of their rescue was that now they didn’t have to work all the time. Back in Egypt they had to work seven days a week. But now they were set free. The Sabbath was not a form of bondage to them but a day of freedom it was a day to celebrate their liberation by giving glory to God.” [Ryken, pp. 589-600].

God’s Holy Day:  Exodus 31:12-17.

[12] And the LORD said to Moses, [13] “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. [14] You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. [15] Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. [16] Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. [17] It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'”   [ESV]

“God’s Holy Day [31:12-17]. What God says in chapter 31 is similar to what He said in chapter 20, but at least three things are new. One is that keeping the Sabbath comes in a new position. Earlier it was part of the Ten Commandments. Here it is reiterated in the context of the tabernacle. After giving His building instructions, the Lord said to Moses, … Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths [12-13]. By Sabbaths the Bible means the weekly Sabbath. The commandment is put here to remind Israel’s artists who were working on the tabernacle that they did not have to work on the Sabbath. This reminds us not to use our service to God as an excuse for breaking His law. More specifically, it warns us not to come up with reasons why it is okay for us to break the Sabbath. Of course, there are some kinds of work that must be done on Sunday. But the rule is to honor God on His holy day, and we should be slow to grant ourselves exceptions, even for what may seem like good reasons. Another thing that is new in Exodus 31 is that the Sabbath has a new purpose. Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you [13]. Here God makes explicit what to this point had only been implied – namely, that the weekly Sabbath was designed to promote the knowledge of God. God had entered into a relationship with His people, a covenant relationship in which they were to know Him as their God. To that end, He decreed that they should set apart one whole day in seven to rest in His grace. God had already told them to set aside some sacred space: the tabernacle where He promised to dwell. But He also knew that building a relationship takes time. His people needed more than a place to worship. They needed holy time to meet with their God. The Sabbath was God’s way of making sure that His people would take the time to get to know Him. Together the tabernacle and the Sabbath put God at the center of Israel’s time and space. The Sabbath looked back to creation, when God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Exodus uses the phrase And the Lord said [12] to echo the story of creation, when God said certain things and they were so. By using this phrase, the Bible is presenting Israel as God’s new creation. The Sabbath also looked forward to full redemption, when God’s people would enter their rest in the Promised Land. But for the present it was a time to grow deeper in the knowledge of God. By spending time in prayer and praise, God’s people would come to know Him as their God. God gave them the Sabbath so that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you [13]. Their covenant relationship with God was a sanctifying relationship, and the Sabbath was part of the process. As the people set apart a day for worship and rest, God set them apart for His service. In other words, He sanctified them. A third thing that is new about the Sabbath command in Exodus 31 is the punishment on those who break it. There is a new penalty [14-15]. The prohibition was absolute. The word Sabbath means to cease, and on the Sabbath the Israelites were not allowed to do regular work of any kind. It was not a day for business as usual, or for people to “do their own thing.” If they did, they would suffer the penalty of death. This penalty no longer applies. Remember that there were three types of Old Testament law: moral, civil, and ceremonial. The moral law is God’s universal and eternal will for all people in all places. The civil law was for Old Testament Israel as a nation under the direct rule of God; its judicial sanctions are no longer binding. The ceremonial law governed the rituals of religious worship, such as the system of sacrifice. This law has been fulfilled in Christ. So where does the command to keep the Sabbath fit in? What kind of law is it? In its essential requirement, it is part of the moral law, which is why it is included in the Ten Commandments. God demands that once a week we cease from our regular work to worship Him. Certain aspects of this law were ceremonial, such as the day it was celebrated (Saturday) and the addition of other Sabbath days to Israel’s festival calendar (such as Passover). There were also penalties for breaking the Sabbath, which were part of Israel’s civil law. But these sanctions were not part of the Ten Commandments, and they are no longer binding.

Sabbath-Keeping Today. The question many Christians ask today is whether or not we still have to keep the Sabbath. Sabbath-keeping is a matter on which Christians often disagree. Some believe that the Sabbath has been so fulfilled in Christ that we are no longer obligated to rest one whole day in seven. As we rest in Christ, trusting in His work for our salvation, we find the true rest that God has promised. The Sabbath was a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ [Col. 2:17]. Now every day is equally holy to God. One problem with this view is that keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, which were written in stone as a testimony of their abiding authority. Therefore, setting aside a day for rest and worship was not just God’s law for Israel – it was His will for all people. Furthermore, the basis for Sabbath-keeping went all the way back to creation. God’s holy day is to be kept in perpetuity. When we turn to the New Testament, we find that the early church cherished Sunday as a day of rest and worship. It was on the first day of the week that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church [Acts 2:14]. Sunday was their Sabbath. But rather than calling it “the Sabbath,” the apostles referred to is as “the Lord’s Day” to show that it had come under the lordship of Jesus Christ. God transformed His holy day from Sabbath to Lord’s Day by raising Jesus from the dead on Sunday. From then on the people of God – both Jews and Gentiles – observed Sunday as a day of rest and worship. We do not keep the Jewish Sabbath in all its particulars, with all its penalties, but we do honor the Lord’s Day by ceasing from our regular work and devoting the day to the pleasures of knowing God. The Lord’s day is not an obligation but a privilege; not a chore but a gift; not a burden but a delight. Christians welcome God’s holy day as a weekly opportunity to experience life’s highest pleasures. What are the blessings of this day? First, there is the blessing of spiritual refreshment. On the Lord’s Day, we take a spiritual breather. And as we do, the Lord refreshes our souls and renews our spirits. It is a day to revel in the wonders of God and the mysteries of His Word. It is a day to regain perspective. We take a day to remember who God is and who we are in relationship to Him. One of the day’s primary purposes is to help us know God. To that end, the Lord’s Day is for worship, especially public worship. Nothing we do makes a bigger difference in who we become than worshiping with the people of God every week. Of course, we need to spend time with God every day. Daily Bible reading and prayer sustain our spiritual vitality. But meeting weekly with God in corporate worship provides an anchor for our whole spiritual existence. Praise God that we can set aside a day to do this! Another blessing of God’s holy day is physical rest. God’s holy day offers us a weekly opportunity to savor the moment. It is a day to show by our actions that there is more to life than just work. We stop working and instead rest in God’s peace. We stop producing and rest in God’s provision. We stop accomplishing and rest in our identity in Christ. We stop acquiring and rest in God’s care. We stop worrying and rest in God’s sovereignty. A third blessing of the Lord’s Day is evangelistic witness. Honoring God’s holy day is one of the things that ought to distinguish us from the world. Outwardly we are like our neighbors in many ways. But the Sabbath is a clear sign that we belong to the covenant community of God’s people. Simply by attending worship on the Lord’s Day we are making a public confession of our faith in Christ. When our neighbors see us going to church each Sunday morning, this provides the spiritual context for our relationship with them. Sunday also gives us opportunities for service. During the week we don’t always have time to get involved in mercy ministry. But Sunday is a day to care for the sick, feed the hungry, and visit prisoners and shut-ins. Since we do all these things in the name of Christ, Sunday is a day of witness to our faith in Him. People ought to know that we are Christians by the way we use God’s holy day.” [Ryken, pp. 957-969].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Describe the what, how, and why found in Exodus 20:8-11. What does it mean to Remember the Sabbath day? What were the people to remember? How were the people to keep it holy? What does holy mean? Why should the people Remember the Sabbath?
  2. What three things are new in Exodus 31:12-17 when compared to Exodus 20:8-11? How is the Sabbath a sign? What is it a sign of? Why was the Sabbath holy for the people?
  3. According to Ryken, what are three spiritual blessings that we experience by remembering Sunday as the Lord’s Day? How do you personally treat the Lord’s Day as a holy day? What do you seek to accomplish each Lord’s Day? Remember that God designed the Sabbath as a day to the Lord your God [Ex. 20:10]. How do you seek to honor and glorify God on your Sundays?

References:

Exodus, John Mackay, Mentor.

Exodus, Philip Ryken, Crossway.

Exodus, Douglas Stuart, NAC, B & H Publishing.