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.
How is the 4th commandment to be obeyed?
Having given the specific command, God now provides the outworking of that command with specific instructions. In Exodus 20:9-10, the emphasis is on how the fourth word of God is to be obeyed: “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.”
“Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to cease or to rest.” It’s a day for worship, relaxation, holy naps and recuperation, and is a day to delight in God’s goodness and mercy. It’s a day to enjoy God’s works of redemption and creation.
One of the frequently overlooked aspects of the fourth commandment is what God calls man to do with the six days of his week that aren’t the Sabbath. In verse 9, the command is that in “six days you shall labor, and do all your work.” And the teaching of the Bible would affirm that not only are we to work, but to work hard and onto the Lord (e.g. Colossians 3:23). Man has an obligation and a purpose in his work, and he needs to do it well. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that the modern five-day work week is an invention of unionized labor in the west, not the historical understanding of one’s work week, and certainly not the biblical prescription. God’s fourth word provides that there are six days of the week given for work. There are many ways to define what work is, and it looks different to each person depending on one’s circumstances in life, however the basic principle is that our primary objective during six days of the week is work. God governs our work just as much as He governs our rest, and in doing so provides a means of bringing Him glory and providing for the needs of our family, our church, and our neighbor. We find God’s blessing in doing what He has called and gifted us to do.
The puritan Thomas Watson emphasizes the fact that God, having provided six out of seven days for us to work, is a grace in itself. It very well could be that God require six days of worship and rest and only one day of the week that we do all we need to provide for our families. God has been gracious in giving us six days to labor. It seems as though most critics of sabbatarianism do not think in this manner, however if we acknowledge that six days of labor are a gracious provision from God, should we not all the more have a great desire to set aside the Lord’s Day in a special manner for worship, rest, and duties of mercy and necessity?
The remainder of verses 9-10 highlight the specifics of setting aside the Lord’s Day for worship. In verse 10 God says, “The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” The book of Leviticus calls the Sabbath a “holy convocation” (Lev. 23:3). It is a time to gather for corporate worship. The puritans called the Lord’s Day The market-day of the soul. Six days of the week are used for business transactions — buying and selling — but the Lord’s Day is for transactions involving spiritual business with the currency of Heaven. What a blessed opportunity for the Christian to pray to God with fellow pilgrims, to hear the reading and preaching of the Word, to sing great songs of worship, and to behold and partake of the ordinances! Thomas Watson wrote that the result is that, “the heart which all the week was frozen, on the Sabbath melts with the word.” May it be that all who have experienced the wonderful grace of God will delight in the sweet mercy of God that causes our hearts to melt with overwhelming gladness for who He is and what He has accomplished in creation and redemption.
In verse 10, God provides the negative command of His fourth word: “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.” There is an obligation that neither you nor anyone else within your household do any work whatsoever. In other words, so far as you have control over the situation, do not work and do not be cause for others to work. The Lord takes this so seriously that He even includes one’s animals in the mix; let them rest too! Obviously, the implications go far beyond one’s household, extending into communities and commerce. The principle is clear: Do not be the cause for others to engage in their employment. Walter Chantry writes, “In a heathen culture one is tempted to reason that the [unbeliever] will work anyway. He will not make it a matter of conscience to devote a day to his Maker. His shop will be open. Why not let his hours of employment serve me and make the Lord’s Day more pleasant for me? God’s commandment forbids this process of thought by forbidding us even to employ the [unbeliever] in work for us on God’s holy day. God’s moral laws are of universal application. They are not intended only for believers.”
The fourth commandment is one of the many “levelers” of the Bible when it comes to mankind. In God’s wisdom, a new social order is created wherein work and rest are not divided by class. The universal necessity of obedience to God’s law dictates that everyone should work, and everyone should rest and be free to worship God. Could it be that if God’s people around the world obeyed God’s fourth word, there would be far less stress and anxiety and depression and burn-out and all that comes with these things?
God’s fourth word commands all mankind to keep the Sabbath holy. How is it to be done? Work six days, and worship and rest one. Leviticus 23:3 summarizes it well: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.”
In the next post, we will look at verse 11 and why the Sabbath is commanded by God.
(By: Nick Kennicott)