The Fourth Commandment
by Martin G. Collins
Forerunner, "Bible Study," May 1997
A pivotal point of the Ten Commandments is the fourth: "Remember [observe] the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15). From this simple statement flows a stream of spiritual lessons and principles about God, humans and our potential. Disregarding the Sabbath is like throwing away the key to a treasure chest, ignoring a vital area of understanding that will open our minds to God and His purpose. The Sabbath is much more than a weekly day of rest. It is the one day each week that we devote totally to God, and thus it is a good regulator and barometer of our relationship with Him. The following study will rehearse the Bible's basic information on the Sabbath, and will hopefully spur us to deeper study.
1. Who made the Sabbath and when? Genesis 2:2-3; John 1:1-3. Is the Sabbath a "sign"? Exodus 31:12-17. For whom was the Sabbath made? Mark 2:27; Isaiah 56:2, 6-7.
Comment: It was Christ, as the God of the Old Testament, who actually created the Sabbath. It is a sign that identifies God's people just as a sign identifies a business or a street. Notice also that this covenant, made after the ratification of the Old Covenant, bound the Sabbath as a "perpetual covenant" upon God's people. Since the Sabbath has been in force from Creation, it is not just for the Jews, but for the foreigner and all mankind as well. All who keep the Sabbath properly are blessed.2. What did God do on the seventh day of Creation that serves as an example of how we should keep the Sabbath? Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:11; Deuteronomy 5:12. How can we keep the Sabbath holy? Exodus 16:23-30; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:13-14; Matthew 12:12.
Comment: Because God rested after six days of labor, the Sabbath is also our day of rest and a memorial of Creation. He wants us to remember, not only what He did in the physical creation, but also that His spiritual creation continues in us now. When God blessed and sanctified the seventh day, He made it holy, set apart for God's use! Only God can make a day holy, and He does this by putting Himself, through His Spirit, into it.
We are then instructed to "keep" it holy. These scriptures give a few examples of things God prohibits on His Sabbath: working, cooking, carrying burdens. God does not make a comprehensive list of "dos and don'ts" for us to follow. Instead, He gives us principles of what is proper and improper Sabbath behavior, and we then must use God's Spirit to decide our actions.3. Are whole cities or countries blessed or cursed according to what the inhabitants do on the Sabbath? Jeremiah 17:21-27; Nehemiah 13:15-22.
Comment: Jeremiah warned the people of Judah that if the inhabitants of a city do business on the Sabbath, the whole city is cursed. When Nehemiah returned from Persia to Jerusalem after an absence of 7 years (c. 425 BC), he found the Judeans again breaking the Sabbath by carrying their burdens and selling their wares. Israelites repeatedly have a very short memory when it comes to keeping the Sabbath.4. Did Jesus keep the Sabbath? Mark 1:21; Luke 4:16, 31; 6:6; 13:10; Matthew 12:5, 12. Who is Lord of the Sabbath? Matthew 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5. Immediately following Christ's death, did God conclusively show that Sunday is not the Sabbath? Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 23:54-56; 24:1.
Comment: As the Creator of the Sabbath (John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:16-18), Jesus is "Lord of the Sabbath." As a man, He showed us the intent of this commandment in numerous accounts recorded in the four gospels. Jesus gave His church an example of how the whole Christian way of life is to be lived (I John 2:6). We are to do as Christ did (I Peter 2:21-22).5. Did the apostle Paul keep the Sabbath? Acts 13:14-16; 17:1-3. Did the early church keep the Sabbath? Acts 13:42-44; 16:13-15.
Comment: Christ set the Sabbath-keeping example for his apostles, and Paul, following His example, tells us we are to imitate him as he imitates Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). Paul preached to the Jews and Gentiles on the Sabbath because the Sabbath is for everyone, not just the Jews. These Gentiles were keeping the Sabbath in the synagogue with the Jews on the seventh day, not Sunday.6. Is it a day to be loosed from bondage? Luke 13:11-17. Is the Sabbath a burden or a "delight"? Isaiah 58:13-14. Is it possible to receive the Holy Spirit without keeping the Sabbath? Acts 5:32.
Comment: God requires obedience to His commandments as a condition for receiving His Holy Spirit. When we keep the Sabbath, we show God by our action that we are worthy to receive it. If we keep the Sabbath properly, and work to improve our relationship with God, this holy time will be most valuable and a tremendous blessing each week!
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