Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Fourth Commandment

Sabbath Study, Part 10

After escaping the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Israelites are led through the desert until they reach Mount Sinai. Moses climbs the mountain to meet with God and receives the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment, as spoken by the very mouth of God, states the following:

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)

As we have seen, the Sabbath was already known to the Israelites before the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 16:23-30). Here, God makes an explicit connection between the Sabbath rest and the seventh day of the creation week. The children of God were called to keep a weekly rest in order to commemorate God’s work on their behalf.

“It is intimated that the sabbath was instituted and observed before; but in their bondage in Egypt they had lost their computation, or were restrained by their task masters, or, through a great degeneracy and indifference in religion, they had let fall the observance of it, and therefore it was requisite they should be reminded of it. Note, Neglected duties remain duties still, notwithstanding our neglect. It also intimates that we are both apt to forget it and concerned to remember it. Some think it denotes the preparation we are to make for the sabbath; we must think of it before it comes, that, when it does come, we may keep it holy, and do the duty of it” (Matthew Henry).

The Sabbath day.
The Sabbath day, rooted in the creation week and exemplified by the perfect rest of God, foreshadows the perfect rest God’s children will one day enjoy in Heaven. “Because this commandment has not been particularly mentioned in the New Testament as a moral precept binding on all, therefore some have presumptuously inferred that there is no Sabbath under the Christian dispensation. The truth is, the Sabbath is considered as a type: all types are of full force till the thing signified by them takes place; but the thing signified by the Sabbath is that rest in glory which remains for the people of God, therefore the moral obligation of the Sabbath must continue till time be swallowed up in eternity” (Adam Clarke).

Six days you shall labor.
“No work should be done on the Sabbath that can be done on the preceding days, or can be deferred to the succeeding ones” (Adam Clarke).

You, nor your son, nor your daughter…
“The charge of keeping the Sabbath aright lies specially upon the governors of families, and other superiors who are bound to keep it themselves, and to see that those under their charge also keep it” (Francis R. Beattie).

The Lord blessed.
A sanctified day of rest—one in seven—has its roots in the very beginning of history. Before the giving of the law (Ex. 16:23-30), before the Fall of man (Gen. 2:1-3), God blessed and hallowed one day of the week as a day of rest for His people. Having existed outside the law, it cannot be affected by the law. (As we see with the fourth commandment, God is not adding a new law that didn’t exist, he is simply taking something that already existed and making it a part of His law.) So even when the law of God is fulfilled in Christ, the Sabbath remains unaffected. Indeed, as we have already mentioned, and as we will see more clearly later, the Sabbath rest remains as a sign of the future and ultimate rest God’s children will enjoy (Rev. 14:13)—a rest the ungodly will never experience (Rev. 14:11).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew Henry
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke

[Other quotes linked to original sources]

Rest in the Wilderness

Sabbath Study, Part 9

In Exodus 16, the Israelites (having just witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea) are introduced to manna, the food God sovereignly and miraculously provides for them in the wilderness. Each morning, manna covers the ground, and the Israelites are to collect only enough for that day. Then, on the sixth day of the week, a further command is given:

[Moses] said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none.” Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? “See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:23-30)

This is what the LORD has said.
This is the first place in Scripture where God calls His children to observe the Sabbath, which has led some to believe that people didn’t observe a Sabbath rest until this point. Others think the Sabbath rest was observed ever since the creation week. (The language used here seems to indicate a certain level of previous knowledge of the Sabbath.) Whatever the case, we know for sure that the Israelites began observing the Sabbath before they received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest.
“There is nothing either in the text or context that seems to intimate that the Sabbath was now first given to the Israelites, as some have supposed: on the contrary, it is here spoken of as being perfectly well known, from its having been generally observed. The commandment, it is true, may be considered as being now renewed; because they might have supposed that in their unsettled state in the wilderness they might have been exempted from the observance of it. Thus we find, 1. That when God finished his creation, he instituted the Sabbath; 2. When he brought the people out of Egypt, he insisted on the strict observance of it; 3. When he gave the LAW, he made it a tenth part of the whole, such importance has this institution in the eyes of the Supreme Being!” (Adam Clarke).

Bake today.
“The words to-day are not in the original, and possibly are better left out than taken in; or if they be taken in, they do not seem to me, as they do to many others, to prove that they were commanded to bake or seethe on the sixth day all that they were to eat both that day and upon the following sabbath, or that they were forbidden to bake or seethe it upon the sabbath day; for there is not a word here to that purpose; and it is apparent from the whole context, that the rest of the sabbath is not opposed to their baking or seething of it, but to their going out into the field to gather it. Nay, the contrary is here implied, because after they had baken and sodden what they intended to bake or seethe, part of the manna did, as is here expressly added, remain over, and was reserved for the sabbath day's provision, and that unbaken and unsodden, otherwise it would not have been noted as a miraculous thing, that it did not stink nor breed worms” (Matthew Poole).

If Matthew Poole is right (and I think he is), this insight of his could help correct an overly-strict application of the Sabbath. That is, we see that it can be appropriate to prepare food on the Sabbath, but it might be wise to do as much prep work before the Sabbath so no unnecessary work takes place on the actual day. (After all, the Israelites gathered the manna the day before the Sabbath.) The point is, the Sabbath can and oftentimes will include what church fathers have called works of necessity.

Went out on the seventh day.
These Israelites exhibited a lack of trust in God’s provision. Commanded to rest, they sought to work instead. Like the Israelites, we are prone to strive, and so resting at God’s command does not come easy to us. Indeed, it takes work to practice the rest the Sabbath provides. Trusting in God involves ceasing to strive; it is admitting our insufficiency and accepting Christ’s sufficiency. On Sunday, we rest from our work in order to enjoy and appreciate Christ’s finished work. The Sabbath is a physical practice that illustrates a spiritual reality.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke
Annotations upon the Holy Bible, by Matthew Poole

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Genesis of the Sabbath

Sabbath Study, Part 8

Now we will begin our trek through Scripture, starting at Genesis and ending at Revelation. Our first Sabbath-related passage is found in Genesis chapter 2, which, as we will see, is referenced in the Ten Commandments. So, let’s just start at the very beginning—a very good place to start. Here we see how the pattern for man’s workweek was set at the very beginning of history.

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3)

On the seventh day.
The concept of the week itself is unique. All other measurements of time (days, months, years) are based on the trajectory and rotation of the stars and planets, but there is no celestial basis for the week. The reason man lives in seven-day increments is because God established the pattern Himself.

God blessed the seventh day.
To commemorate His finished work, God pronounced a blessing on the seventh day. This blessing of the Sabbath day was for the benefit of mankind (see Mr. 2:27).

Sanctified it.
This seventh day was made both special and sacred; it was made for the good of man and the glory of God.

He rested.
God does not grow weary, so how could He possibly “rest”? Timothy Keller provides an excellent answer in his sermon, Work and Rest, where he also shows what implications the answer has for our own Sabbath rest. Here is a paraphrase of a portion of the sermon (taken from my notes while listening to the sermon online):

God commented on each day, “It is good.” On the seventh day He said, “It is very good”…and He rested. God “rested” not by recovering, but by being utterly satisfied with what was done. The only way you put your doing down is by being absolutely satisfied by the doing: you’re able to look at your work and life the way God looks at His. Through Christ, you can look at your life and say, “It is absolutely satisfying. It is good. All the work I need to do is finished.”

….Religious people say, if I do good works, God will bless me. Secular people set certain standards, and their happiness depends on achieving those standards. It is this goal-setting that is the problem…because it’s never going to be enough. We can never say what God says: “It is finished.” Through Jesus, and only through Jesus, we who are labored and heavy-laden are called to take up an easy burden and a light yoke….

When God looks at you [who rest on Christ’s finished work, and are accepted because of Christ], He imputes your sin to Christ and His righteousness to you. And He says, “It is good. Everything necessary to do is finished.” The only One whose opinion should matter to us says to you (because of Christ), “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The Sabbath rest, set in motion during creation, is a weekly opportunity to look back on what has been done and enjoy the good, perfect, and finished work of Christ on our behalf. Obviously, this reason is not given for the Sabbath in the Old Testament, but in the fullness of the gospel dispensation we can see more clearly what real rest points to—a separation from the presence and power of sin.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Sabbath: Permanent or Temporary?

Sabbath Study, Part 7

When we get to the actual Ten Commandments (in Exodus 20), we will see that God quotes directly from Genesis 2 to provide the basis for the Sabbath rest. Beginning with the next post, we will start to work our way through Scripture from the beginning, focusing first on Genesis 2 and what it means. In the meantime, I want us to examine the nature of all of God’s creation-week ordinances. As far as I can tell, there are three:

1. A RESPONSIBILITY: work (or labor).
2. A RELATIONSHIP: marriage.
3. A RITUAL: weekly rest.

Before sin ever entered the picture, there existed these three divinely ordained aspects of man’s existence. Each gives us a greater understanding of the reason for which man was made. Let’s briefly examine each one and see what we notice about the perpetuity (or brevity) of each.

First, the responsibility. When God placed Adam in the garden, He did so with a specific purpose. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Adam was placed in the garden so that he would take care of it. What this shows us is that part of man’s original design is to work. “When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (Ps. 128:2; see also Ec. 5:18, 19). The Bible even says that if we don’t work we shouldn’t eat (2 Thes. 3:10).

Sin did not and could not destroy this God-given purpose for man—although it certainly made it more difficult (Gen. 3:17-19). But even with the presence of sin, we have hope for rewarding work because of Christ. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Even in heaven, satisfying labor will exist, free from the trappings of sin. “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. . . . And they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3, 5). Notice how the elimination of the curse of sin does not eliminate the presence of labor. After all, service and reigning will undoubtedly involve work. Without the influence or presence of sin, however, this work will be a peaceful and restful work.

The second Creation ordinance is the marriage relationship. After placing Adam in the garden, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). Adam named this helper Woman, “Because she was taken out of Man” (v. 23). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). We know from the Apostle Paul that this “one flesh” union—that marriage in general—was designed to point to the relationship Christ has with the church (Eph. 5:32).

So we see that marriage presupposes sin: if there were no sin, there would be no need for a Savior. If there was no wayward bride, it would be meaningless to have a faithful groom. If the stain of sin had not sullied the human race, there would be no need for One to wash and cleanse it, as Christ does the church (Eph. 5:25-27). Marriage was designed as a portrait of the future wedding and marriage between Christ (the bridegroom) and the church (those redeemed by God). As such, the institution of marriage (the symbol) will last only until the marriage supper of the Lamb (the reality) (see Lk. 20:35). Once the “real thing” comes in all its fullness, the mirror image will pass away.

Nevertheless, even though it is a temporary institution, God calls all men to hold it in high regard: “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (Heb. 13:4, NASB). This high view of marriage is necessary, for in the relationship between a husband and a wife the glory of God is displayed; marriage is the ultimate gospel illustration. Though its days are numbered, its message is of eternal value.

The third and final creation ordinance is the Sabbath ritual. God created the universe in six days, then rested on the seventh day, blessing and sanctifying it—setting it apart as different from any other day of the week (Gen. 2:1-3). In Exodus 16:26 this day is explicitly referred to as “the Sabbath,” and in Exodus 20 this Sabbath is explicitly shown to be for man to follow in God’s footsteps.

Along with the doctrine of marriage, we learn more about the Sabbath as redemptive history unfolds. It isn’t until later in the Bible that we read of the illustrative link between the Sabbath and eternal Heavenly rest, just as it isn’t until later in the Bible that we read of the illustrative link between marriage and the gospel. Because of the nature of these two illustrations, both marriage and the Sabbath foreshadow sin—marriage by picturing God’s redemptive relationship with His people and the Sabbath by picturing the rest enjoyed in God’s finished work of redemption.

If sin really does find symbolic representation in both marriage and the Sabbath, it follows that both institutions will pass away when—and only when—sin is finally and completely eradicated. So, in the end, I believe the Sabbath is indeed temporary—albeit, in the same way marriage is temporary. But until sin passes away, there will be a need for the gospel to shine through the biblical illustrations God has set up, namely, marriage and the weekly Sabbath.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Slight Delay

There's been a slight hiccup in the process of posting the Sabbath series. I'm rearranging some of the up-and-coming entries, as well as adding a couple new ones. My plan is to resume in a few days and continue the rest of the way through the series at a relatively steady pace. Thank you for your patience!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Sabbath: Objection #3

Sabbath Study, Part 6

Colossians 2:16-17 is the last of the three major New Testament passages used to argue against the continuance of the Sabbath rest.

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16, 17)

Let no one judge you.
“The apostle speaks here in reference to some particulars of the hand-writing of ordinances, which had been taken away, viz., the distinction of meats and drinks, what was clean and what unclean, according to the law; and the necessity of observing certain holydays or festivals, such as the new moons and particular sabbaths, or those which should be observed with more than ordinary solemnity; all these had been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, and were no longer of moral obligation. There is no intimation here that the Sabbath was done away, or that its moral use was superseded, by the introduction of Christianity” (Adam Clarke).

“The word Sabbath in the Old Testament is applied not only to the seventh day, but to all the days of holy rest that were observed by the Hebrews, and particularly to the beginning and close of their great festivals. There is, doubtless, reference to those days in this place, as the word is used in the plural number, and the apostle does not refer particularly to the Sabbath properly so called. There is no evidence, from this passage, that he would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind. . . . No part of the moral law—no one of the ten commandments—could be spoken of as ‘a shadow of good things to come.’ These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation” (Albert Barnes).

“The passage does not refer to the Sabbath of the moral law, associated with the commands forbidding theft, murder, and adultery. This weekly Sabbath was never against men or contrary to them, but was always for them, and promotive of their highest good” (Justin Edwards).

“The weekly sabbath rests on a more permanent foundation, having been instituted in Paradise to commemorate the completion of creation in six days” (JFB).

“The observance of the ‘first day of the week’ cannot be justly included under the ‘sabbaths’ here referred to, as the primitive Christians, following the example of the New Testament Writers, scrupulously avoided calling it a ‘sabbath,’ preferring ‘Sunday’ as less objectionable, or better still, ‘the Lord’s Day’” (Robert Young).

A shadow of things to come.
That is, they comprised “an intangible outline caused by, and revealing the approach of, a solid reality” (J. A. Beet). As such, “they had no intrinsic worth in them and . . . they are now done away” (Matthew Henry). “We are to pay no attention to the shadows since Christ has come, but to observe what we find in him and the gospel” (B. W. Johnson). It should be obvious that the Ten Commandments, as moral and natural laws (and not ceremonial), constitute “substance” and not “shadow,” instituted to last and not pass away.

In addition to the above arguments—which by themselves are substantial—there is another reason why I believe these verses do not signal the end of the fourth commandment. That reason is the use of the Greek word translated as “festival.” This word refers to, among other things, the Passover. In fact, the Greek word used here is the same word used for the Passover feast in other Scripture passages.* While it is true that Christians do not observe the Passover as such, we do observe the Lord’s Supper, a sacrament instituted by Christ Himself during a Passover. The Passover as the Jews knew it may be over, but its progeny, the Lord’s Supper, remains. Likewise, while the Sabbath as the Jews knew it may be over, its progeny, the Sunday celebration, remains (a fact we will explore more in-depth once we get through the gospels). So, if this passage is saying that the Passover is null and void while leaving the Lord’s Supper unscathed, it is also saying that the Jewish Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week) is null and void while leaving the Lord’s Day—i.e., Sunday—intact.

Furthermore, J. A. Beet helps shed some light on how a Sabbath rest can still be in effect for the believer while these New Testament passages seem to paint a fairly negative view of Jewish festivals and holidays. “. . . the absence from the New Testament of any express teaching about the relation of the Lord’s Day [Sunday] to the Jewish Sabbath and the Fourth Commandment [is not] difficult to understand. Any such teaching in the Epistle before us would have seriously blunted, by inevitable misinterpretation, Paul’s resistance to the advocates of the Mosaic Law as still binding on Christians. Abundant proofs of this relation were stored in the sacred volume. The inference from these proofs was left to be observed, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the later ages of the Church. And in the meantime, by Christ and by the apostolic Church an unique honour was paid to the first day of the week which marked it out unmistakably as the Day of Days.”

In these last three posts, we have looked at the three major passages used to argue that the fourth commandment is null and void. What we have seen is that none of them provides a conclusive argument. Near the end of our study, we will delve more deeply into the difference between the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) and the Christian Sabbath (Sunday). But first, we will make our way through Scripture and see the various passages that speak on the issue of the Sabbath.

* For example: “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover” (Lk. 22:1); “Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near” (Jn. 6:4); “Now before the feast of the Passover . . .” (Jn. 13:1).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam ClarkeNotes on the New Testament, by Albert BarnesThe Family Bible Notes, by Justin EdwardsJamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
1898 Young’s Literal Translation, by Robert YoungCommentaries on Paul’s Epistles, by J. A. BeetAn Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew HenryPeople's New Testament Commentary, by B. W. Johnson

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Sabbath: Objection #2

Sabbath Study, Part 5

The second major New Testament passage used to dispute the continuance of the Sabbath is found in the book of Galatians.

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. (Galatians 4:9-11)

You observe days...and years.

There seem to be two possible interpretations of this passage. The first is that the observance of special holidays is outdated and unnecessary. If that is Paul’s meaning here, let us examine why the weekly Sabbath is not included.

“The days here referred to [in Gal. 4:10] are doubtless the days of the Jewish festivals. They had numerous days of such observances; and in addition to those specified in the Old Testament, the Jews had added many others, as days commemorative of the destruction and rebuilding of the temple, and of other important events in their history. It is not a fair interpretation of this to suppose that the apostle refers to the Sabbath, properly so called, for this was a part of the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments]. . . . It is a fair interpretation to apply it to all those days which are not commanded to be kept holy in the Scriptures; and hence the passage is as applicable to the observance of saints’ days, and days in honour of particular events in sacred history, as to the days observed by the Galatians” (Albert Barnes).

There is another possible interpretation of this passage, one that I think is more plausible. Paul’s main problem wasn’t with the special days the Christians were observing per se, but the underlying heart motivations involved. That is, the Galatians were acting as if their salvation hinged on their adherence to the law. If this is the case—if the problem wasn’t what they were doing but why they were doing it—then it matters little whether or not “days…and years” includes the weekly Sabbath.

“To regard the observance of certain days as in itself meritorious as a work, is alien to the free spirit of Christianity. This is not incompatible with observing the Sabbath or the Christian Lord’s day as obligatory, though not as a work (which was the Jewish and Gentile error in the observance of days), but as a holy means appointed by the Lord for attaining the great end, holiness. The whole life alike belongs to the Lord in the Gospel view, just as the whole world, and not the Jews only, belong to Him. But as in Paradise, so now one portion of time is needed wherein to draw off the soul more entirely from secular business to God” (JFB).

“Paul does not object to these observances for he kept them himself as a Jew. He objected to Gentiles taking to them as a means of salvation” (A.T. Robertson).

I am afraid for you.
What could make Paul afraid? Very little ever seemed to rattle his cage. This was a man who wasn’t afraid of shipwrecks, persecution, prison—even death.

The problem couldn’t merely be that the Galatians were practicing outdated Jewish customs. Paul himself had done that very thing: “to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, though not being myself under the law that I might win those who are under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20). Paul did this to advance the gospel: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake” (v. 22, 23; see also 10:33).

If all the Galatians were doing was the same thing Paul had done in the past, he would have no need to be worried. Instead, he expressed himself using incredibly strong terms: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). To attempt justification before God through one’s own efforts—whether those efforts are unnecessary, optional, or required—is to become estranged from Christ, to act as if grace is not needed. But to act as if grace is not needed is to act as if Jesus died for nothing (see 2:21). That’s how the Galatians were acting (whether they fully realized it or not)—and that is what troubled Paul.

So, we see that the problem was not observing “days and months and seasons and years” (even though some or all were no longer necessary); it was observing them legalistically, as if their salvation depended upon it. I would agree with Paul: as I have stated previously, I do not think observing the Sabbath is meritorious in any way, shape, or form. To do so would be to act contrary to the very gospel that saves us.

That being said, the question becomes, “Well, are we really sure that the fourth commandment is a moral law and not a ceremonial law?” We will begin to answer that question in more depth in the next post.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay. Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
The Family Bible Notes, by Justin EdwardsNotes on the New Testament, by Albert BarnesJamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson

The Sabbath: Objection #1

Sabbath Study, Part 4

The first of the three most popular Scriptural passages used to support the idea that the fourth commandment has ceased is found in Romans 14.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)
This passage deals with a common problem in New Testament times. As Gentile Christians joined the church, disputes arose as to the necessity—or lack thereof—of observing longstanding Jewish customs (festival days, dietary regulations, circumcision, etc.) What we find out from Paul (and other Scriptural passages) is that ceremonial Jewish laws do not apply to Christians—Jewish or Gentile. We are free from those requirements. However, our freedom in Christ also allows us to adhere to them (or some of them), should we so choose. Our conscience is to be our guide in such cases. A person convicted of, say, eating pork can very well abstain from eating pork.

That being said, it should be obvious that moral laws are not a matter of conscience. One cannot, for example, dishonor his father or mother if he feels no obligation to do so. God’s moral law is binding on all mankind. To break such a law is to offend God. And as we will see, the Ten Commandments are a part of God’s moral, natural law. As such, the fourth commandment is raised above the ceremonial law (and the other festivals and holidays—many of which were referred to as sabbaths).


NOTE: Because of Thanksgiving, the next blog entry will not be posted until Saturday.

Some Qualifying Statements

Sabbath Study, Part 3

There is a lot to be said about the Sabbath, but before we go any further I want to make clear a few things I will NOT say in this blog series.

First, I am NOT going to say that the true Sabbath is on Saturday. Later on in the study (when we get to the end of the gospels), we’ll look more in-depth at the “Saturday vs. Sunday” debate. Until then, I’ll just say that I think the Saturday Sabbath as the Jews knew it has ceased and that the Christian Sabbath rests (no pun intended) on Sunday.

Second, I am NOT going to say that God’s acceptance of us is influenced by how we observe (or neglect) the Sabbath. God accepts us solely because of Christ (Eph. 1:6), whose imputed righteousness is the only basis on which we have a right standing with God (Phil. 3:9). We can obtain God’s acceptance through observing the Sabbath no better than we can obtain God’s acceptance by obeying any of the other commandments in Scripture.

Finally, I am NOT going to say that we need to add an extra and unnecessary burden to our schedules. Granted, that may sound like a blatant contradiction to my main purpose—namely, to show that the fourth commandment is still in effect today, making the Sabbath observance a necessary aspect of the believer’s life. However, the reason I am not contradicting myself is that the Sabbath observance was created for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In other words, the fourth commandment was designed in part to relieve the very burden that we accuse it of creating.

It is one thing to take the premise of Sabbath rest as an occasion for forcing men into bondage (as the Pharisees did). It is quite another to adhere to certain divine ordinances so that we might partake of the wonderful provision of rest found in the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath, Biblically defined, is a liberating provision. Without it, we are tempted to live life in Fast Forward with no Pause button in sight. Indeed, true bondage belongs to the life dominated by a rigorous schedule with no room or hope for repose.

Let me conclude the introduction to this blog series with one more quote. In his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, Donald Whitney describes a life of observing the Sabbath. His conclusion on the matter is encouraging and inspiring.

Imagine living to age seventy and spending every Lord’s Day in the ways I’ve suggested. You’d experience ten years of worshiping the Lord with His people, reading great literature, playing with your children or grandchildren, taking walks, enjoying fellowship, and taking naps. Does this sound like a burden to you? Most people dream of a life like this. It’s the kind of life you can enjoy when you delight in the Lord’s Day.

As we progress through this series, I hope we can all grow to delight more in the Lord by delighting more in the Sabbath (Is. 58:13, 14).

Dead Men Tell Great Truths

Sabbath Study, Part 2

While studying the topic of the Sabbath, I found that I was not the only fish in this particular ocean. Indeed, a lot of great men from the past—dead fish, if you will—swam this current before me. Their insight and wisdom spurred me on. Below are just a few examples.

Jonathan Edwards believes it is the will of God that Christians set aside the Sabbath for the purpose of religious exercises and duties:

If the Christian Sabbath be of divine institution, it is doubtless of great importance to religion that it be well kept, and therefore, that every Christian be well acquainted with the institution.
A.W. Pink makes a pointed case for Sabbath observance:

It should thus be quite evident that this law for the regulation of man’s time was not a temporary one, designed for any particular dispensation, but is continuous and perpetual in the purpose of God. . . . The more faithfully we keep this Commandment, the better prepared shall we be to obey the other nine.
My favorite Puritan author, Thomas Watson, seeks to instill within his hearers a proper view of the Sabbath:

God not only appointed the seventh day, but he blessed it. It is not only a day of honour to God, but a day of blessing to us; it is not only a day wherein we give God worship, but a day wherein he gives us grace. On this day a blessing drops down from heaven. God himself is not benefited by it, we cannot add one cubit to his essential glory; but we ourselves are benefited. This day, religiously observed, entails a blessing upon our souls, our estate, and our posterity.
Charles Spurgeon uses part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to prove the permanence of the Sabbath day. When I looked up the catechism myself, I discovered that it spends a good bit of time delving into the meaning and purpose of each of the Ten Commandments. It poses three or four questions in relation to each commandment—the exception being the Sabbath, which gets six questions. Here are the final five (after the question, “Which is the fourth commandment?”):

Question 58
Q: What is required in the fourth commandment?
A: The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

Question 59
Q: Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A: From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Question 60
Q: How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A: The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

Question 61
Q: What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A: The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Question 62
Q: What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
A: The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the Sabbath-day.
What I learned from these examples—and many more like them—is that our Western non-observance of the Sabbath is far from the historical Protestant tradition. Instead, it seems that only in more recent years has the Christian community (with some rare exceptions) devalued the fourth commandment.

I won’t pretend to know why this is the case, but I’m fairly certain it’s not because ours is a more godly generation. In a time when Western Christianity is suffering more from seduction by the world rather than persecution from it, our neglect of the Sabbath may more likely be a sign of spiritual sickness rather then spiritual health.

The Sabbath: An Introduction

Sabbath Study, Part 1

Several months ago I began a study of the Ten Commandments with the idea that I would grow in my understanding of both God’s holiness and my sinfulness, thus bringing about a deeper appreciation for the gospel. It wasn’t long, however, before my study was hijacked. I arrived at the fourth commandment and quickly realized that I didn’t know what to do with it:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

How exactly had I violated the Sabbath? Was this commandment even active, or had it passed away? After all, the Western Christianity I’d grown up in seemed not to take much notice of the fourth commandment. Sure, church was always on Sunday, but that seemed to be about it. Was there more to a Sabbath rest? What did this commandment have to say to me today?

In an effort to find Biblical answers to my questions, I started researching online to see what other Christians—past and present—have said about the Sabbath rest. During my search, I came across an online sermon by Tim Keller. Entitled “Work and Rest,” it sought to answer three questions about the Sabbath:

1. Why do we need it?
2. Where do we get it?
3. How do we do it?

Dr. Keller’s message radically affected my view of the Sabbath. I started experiencing a conviction that I had been missing out on something special. This conviction wasn’t leading to a feeling of condemnation (which I had felt before when faced with my neglect of the fourth commandment), but to a sense of excitement; it was as if a special treasure was starting to be unearthed, and I was going to partake of the spoils.

I soon discovered that both the Old and New Testaments had a lot more to say about the Sabbath than I had realized. On numerous occasions, I would come to what I believed was the end of my search, only to find yet another Sabbath reference. During my study, I utilized my wonderful Online Bible* software, which gave me access to over 16 different Bible commentaries, helping my effort to better understand each text. Now, more than five months after starting this study, I have become convinced that the Sabbath is an astounding blessing given for both God’s glory and our good.

This is the beginning of a blog series that will detail what I have learned since beginning this study. Over the next forty days or so (I’m not quite sure how long it will take), we will look at specific Bible passages that deal with the Sabbath. While I will provide my own commentary on numerous verses, I will also rely heavily on the Bible commentaries I used during my initial study.

Here is a brief outline of what this series will look like. Things may change as we move along, but I won’t deviate much from the following path. After a couple more introductory posts, we will look at three New Testament passages commonly used to argue that the weekly Sabbath has ceased. Once we have addressed those, we will examine the fourth commandment in its entirety (as given in Exodus 20). Then we will go back to the book of Genesis and systematically work our way through the Old and New Testaments in order to come to a proper understanding of the doctrine of the Sabbath. After that, we will begin to wrap up our study by looking at a few New Testament passages that explain the ultimate rest a believer looks to (and the ultimate rest foreshadowed by the Sabbath): Heaven itself. Finally, we will spend a short time summarizing what we have read.

My wife and I are only beginning to explore how these truths should play out in our own lives, and while we have much to learn about the function and practical application of the Sabbath, I believe we have experienced God’s grace in the process. I hope this blog series is a means of grace for you as well.

UPDATE: Just so everyone knows, I will not be posting blog entries on Sunday. (I know, go figure.)

* Hall, Kay. Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.