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The Ten Commandments Series: The Fourth Commandment: Part 1

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The Ten Commandments Series

The Fourth Commandment: Part 1

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“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 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 cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11). 

Among the Ten Commandments, the Fourth is one of the most controversial. A person’s attitude about this commandment reveals a lot about that person.

This article focuses on how to observe and celebrate the Sabbath, but even that part of the subject is large enough that it needs to be presented in two parts. Part 2 is planned for the next issue of United News.

The fundamental facts of the Fourth Commandment are explained and proven in our very informative booklets—The Ten Commandments and Sunset to Sunset—God’s Sabbath Rest. Among many other topics, they accurately explain the scriptures that have been twisted to disparage the Ten Commandments in general and the Fourth Commandment in particular.

Keep in mind that one purpose of this series is to assist parents in teaching the importance, meaning and beauty of each commandment to their children (Deuteronomy 4:9-10; Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Deuteronomy 20-25; Deuteronomy 11:18-21; Deuteronomy 31:12-13; Ephesians 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:15). 

God Made the Sabbath to Serve Us!

The Bible’s first chapter defines a “day” as an “evening” and “morning,” our first indication that a day begins at sunset (Genesis 1:5). After creating everything in six days, God added one more day to establish the seven-day week, and, significantly, the seven-day cycle has continued throughout human history. 

If the Sabbath was only a break from work, we could choose any day of the week for that. But God “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:1-3). “Sanctified” means He made it sacred and holy. Therefore, the only day we can “keep holy” is the seventh day (Exodus 20:8). We honor God by honoring His holy day.

Most religions regard certain places as holy sanctuaries. God has given us a sanctuary of time. One of the benefits is that everyone on Earth has an equal opportunity to keep this special time.

God’s Sabbath was “made to benefit man” (Mark 2:27-28, The Living Bible). It is a precious day for R&R—reverence and rejuvenation—a day to strengthen faith and family, a day for extra fellowship with God and God’s people.

Remember, Prepare for, Observe and Keep the Sabbath

Exodus 20:8-11 is directly quoting God. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 is quoting Moses who was reminding the Israelites of the Ten Commandments. By comparing the slightly different wording, a fuller understanding of the commandment emerges.

God’s Sabbath commandment was revolutionary in several ways. Other religions do not offer people a day’s “vacation” every week. God’s religion is also unique in offering a rest day to servants and animals! That feature also benefits the Sabbath-keepers. It eliminates a need for masters to check on the work of their servants or animals during the Sabbath. 

Good Sabbath observance includes being prepared for it. It is popular to call Friday the “preparation day,” but in the Bible, that term is used only for the day of Passover (John 19:14, 31, 42). However, it is okay to call Friday the “preparation day” partly because of what we read in Exodus 16.

As a result of reading Exodus 16, some people adopt an overly-strict “no-cooking” rule. But remember that the Israelites had to cook from scratch on wood fires in ways that required a lot of work and almost continual attention. A fundamental key for our Sabbath-keeping decisions should be this: How time-consuming is this activity? With modern refrigerators, stoves, ovens and timers, preparing warm food can be accomplished in very little time. 

When a person is new to Sabbath-keeping, a common question is, “What is permissible to do on the Sabbath?” For example, a person might ask: “Would it be a sin for me to wash and set my hair, press a garment, watch some TV news, make my bed, rinse the dishes, etc.?” A lot depends on one’s attitude, but it’s unlikely that God considers any such actions on the Sabbath as sinful. The primary issue is this: If on the Sabbath, you do all the many physical things you think are permissible, you could have no time left for any spiritual activity including prayer and Bible study!

Regarding the Sabbath, precious time is the essence! Rather than asking what is permissible, we should ask ourselves these almost opposite questions: “How much can I accomplish before the Sabbath? And what can be postponed until after the Sabbath? How can I better organize my week so I will have maximum time on the Sabbath to spend with God, family and God’s people?”

Good preparation includes trying to get sufficient sleep all week long so when the Sabbath arrives, the person is not exhausted and needing to sleep through a great part of the Sabbath.

It is a common temptation of human nature to “add to” or “take away from” God’s laws even though God forbids this (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19). The Pharisees added a myriad of restrictive rules for Sabbath-keeping, perverting the day that symbolizes freedom into a new form of slavery. This has given the Sabbath a negative reputation ever since. It is usually fine for a person to make up rules and traditions for himself, but he should not impose them on others. God is not micromanaging our Sabbath-keeping and neither should anyone else. And for the sake of harmony, we must avoid being critical or argumentative toward someone who has convictions about Sabbath-keeping that are different from our own. 

God is the perfect Judge of what we do. He knows our hearts and takes into account all relevant factors, circumstances and attitudes. God holds each person accountable according to his level of spiritual understanding (Luke 12:47-48; Romans 2:11-13; 3:20; 7:7; James 4:17). So what you decide to do and not do each Sabbath is between you and God. Notice the words “each Sabbath.” Your decisions about how to divide your time will be somewhat different each Sabbath. Certainly, God expects you to never act against your conscience (Acts 24:16; Romans 2:15; 9:1; 13:5; 14:22-23). Of course, we need to continually educate our consciences by studying the Bible and learning from the material provided by God’s Church. 

Consider this question: “Should we be strict Sabbath-keepers?” If we mean “zealous” and “faithful” Sabbath-keepers, the answer is yes! But if we mean strict in the Pharisaical sense—restrictive and constrictive with a Talmud of dos and don’ts—the answer is no. When parents are overly restrictive and confining with their children, those children often leave the Church once they leave home. Church had been more depressing than joyful. That’s tragic.

Sabbath—A Spiritual, Sanguine and Salubrious Oasis

The Fourth Commandment and the rest of the Bible teach a strong work ethic, but God knows we are happier, healthier and even more productive in the long run if we have a 24-hour rest from our work every week. (“Sanguine” means happy and “salubrious” means healthful.) And God wants you to feel absolutely no guilt about “forgetting” your work while you “remember” God’s Sabbath. Above all, sincere Sabbath-keeping is a major component of strong spiritual growth.

God intends for the Sabbath to be a refreshing spiritual oasis from the workweek, when you are spiritually, mentally and physically rejuvenated by drawing closer to God, to your family and to your Church family. May your Sabbath be a time of Shabbat shalom, which is Hebrew for “Sabbath peace.”

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy! Cherish it! Celebrate it! 

How to observe the Fourth Commandment will be continued in the next issue of United News.