Fourth commandment

ďRemember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.Ē

The Sabbath day is a day of rest dedicated or separated to God the creator and redeemer. To keep something holy means to separate something, just as Godís holiness means his being separate from his creation. To review the previous commandments, Godís holiness makes it wrong to make an image of him from creation and to use his name as some common word. The Sabbath is holy in that it is dedicated to the Lord.

How was the Sabbath dedicated to the Lord? First it was a time of resting or stopping from work. Why would a person rest? A person rests when his work is complete. Another reason is that someone else has completed the work for him. In that way, he can stop from striving to complete his work.

Today, it is impractical to stop working on Sunday (the day normally treated as Sabbath day by Christians). This is because we live in a society that does not take time for the Sabbath. Many businesses are open on Sunday and human services do not take a day off.

There are some people who made the sacrifice of their income or reputation with co-workers by not working on Sunday. I respect their sacrifice and it may be the case that taking off Sunday is an exercise of obedience to this command. This would be the case if a person is tempted to keep on working because the desire for wealth is a strong temptation for him. Unbridled acquisition of wealth is not Godís plan for people (see note 1).

However, resting is more than about not working. It is possible to not work but not rest in the way God commanded rest. Rest has to do with attitude. A person who is not working but is preoccupied with the cares of his life is not resting.

In Godís story, he is said to have rested after creating man. He rested because creation is complete. The writer does not mean that God got tired and had to rest because God does not get tired like a human being gets tired (Isaiah 40:28). His resting is a sign of satisfaction with his work. God is comparing himself to a human being who completes a project and is satisfied with it. Humans do need rest because they get tired and become unable to perform their work. However, it is not the main reason why God commands rest. Why does God command rest?

God has provided creation for man so he could live. Although creation is a one-time event, God is still involved in moving his creation forward. He did command man to shape creation, however God is still behind the processes of creation (nature and history). It is God who provides children (Genesis 4:1). It is God who provides wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). It is God who provides success (Genesis 24:40). It is God who provides food (Exodus 16). It is God who heals from sickness (Exodus 23:25). The teaching that God is behind the processes of creation (history and nature), is called Godís providence. Godís providence works itself out in ordinary (usual) and extraordinary ways (miracles). Godís providence in nature is a basis for rest.

There is also another basis for rest- Godís freeing Israel from slavery, from the violence they suffered in Egypt. Godís redemption of Israel is a picture of the character of God. It is a picture of a God who, because of his promise to the ancestors of Israel (Exodus 2:24-25), freely redeems Israel from slavery. Redemption is a free gift and not something Israel strived for. Because God is a God who freely redeems, resting is a sign of trust in the God who controls history for the benefit of his people. We see that redemption is a sign of Godís care, his providence in history. Even those who are not Israelites were required to rest so that they could also experience the freedom that God gives.

In the Christian story, there is another act of Godís providence in history. God has made people right with him through the death of Jesus on the cross. It was the work of Jesus that made people right with God, not anything they did. A person does not become right with God by following Godís commands perfectly. This is something nobody is able to do. Jesus did the work of making people right with God. Resting on the Sabbath is an act of faith in Godís redemption. Because of Jesusí act of redemption, the future of those who believe in him is secure. They have entered the eternal rest (Hebrews 4:9). They do not have to strive to make themselves right with God.

What is true rest? True rest, the rest God requires, is to remember Godís providence in creation and redemption. To rest is to lean on God, who gives us good things and redeems us from violence. To rest is to have an attitude of dependence on God who provides us with everything we need and takes care of our futures. You donít have to strive to make your life turn out right, whatever that means. There is hope that, despite everything you suffered, good things will happen.

The dedication of Sabbath day to the Lord took the form of separating one day to be dedicated to God. How did that dedication of the Sabbath look like? Instead of working; people went to the temple, they recite special psalms, and the day was characterized by a joyful atmosphere (See note 2). They dedicated time for God and rejoice in Godís providence shown in creation and redemption.

The equivalent of a time dedicated to God is the Christian worship service. The worship service is to be a time of expressing joy for the eternal rest that God provided us through Christís death on the cross. It is also a time of celebrating his continuing provision of good things in our lives.

This raises a few questions. Does this mean Christians absolutely have to go to worship service? Does that worship service have to be with a community? Can I just worship alone? Here are my responses.

  1. If possible, Christians must go to worship service. Being tired or not being in the mood is not a good excuse to miss worship. We are not our own, therefore we are not free to do anything we desire in the moment. If a person refuses to celebrate Godís providence in his life, it may be an expression of unbelief.
  2. What if a person just could not participate in worship? Maybe he is sick or there are time issues. If time is an issue, the person must make concerted effort to find time for worship. God knows our hearts and he knows if our hearts are joyful because of his providence in creation and redemption. God knows whether a person is truly unable to find time to worship or he is making an excuse not to worship. For the sick person, the practice of the representatives of the church worshipping with the sick wherever they live is a good one.
  3. Does a person have to worship in community? Refusing to worship in community could be a sign of a problem in the attitude of a person. One possibility is that the person is avoiding community for a number of reasons; he could not stand other Christians, he is ashamed of something, he just does not want community. Whatever the reason, that reason must be dealt with and overcome. Why?
    1. When God calls an individual to faith in Jesus, he calls that person to a community that has Jesus as its center. God wants to create a community of faith, a community that would model what it means to love God and to love others. The community of faith is the new Israel. When a person gets baptized, he enters into the community of faith (Acts 2:47). When a person takes communion, he is reminded that he is part of the community that rests in God the redeemer (1 Corinthians 10:16).
    2. The character of Christian community (as individuals and as a group) is shaped by Godís spirit. How does Godís spirit shape Christians and the Christian community? Through the preaching of Godís word; his requirements and his truths. Godís spirit also shapes the community through accountability under the leaders of the church.
    3. I am not saying that a person becomes right with God through being part of a Church. A person is saved by Godís grace in Jesus alone. However, one of the works of Godís Spirit is to bring the Christian into the community of faith. When the Spirit came upon the first disciples, a Christ-centered community was formed (Acts 2). Therefore, a Christianís attachment to the community of faith is a sign of Godís work in his heart.

We all struggle with wanting to control things. This desire for control sometimes leads to violence and goes against the rest that God requires of us. Parents physically abuse their kids because they perceive them to be out of control. Children want to keep control by pushing adults away because they fear the pain of being rejected, whether deliberately or not.

There will come a day when God will wipe away your tears that were caused by your life going out of control. I donít know when that is going to happen. All I know is that because of the death of Jesus, the future will bring good things for you, not because of your efforts but because of Godís providence, which you are to rest in.

The fourth commandment calls everyone to stop striving to control their lives. Instead, it calls us to obey Godís commands and leave the future to him. That is because God has taken care of the future through the death of Jesus.

Disussion Questions

  1. In what ways do you try to be in complete control of your life?
  2. In what way can Godís providence be a source of celebration?
  3. What does the church mean to you?

Notes

  1. See Felder, Kyle E. Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations For Morality (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 110.
  2. See Tigay, Jeffrey H. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 68.