Remember the Sabbath Day

Genesis 2:1-3
Have you ever hated being tired? I have. It is one of the things I hate most is being tired. I can’t do what I want to do, go where I want to go, read what I want to read when I am tired. I do many things to fight fatigue. The really great thing, though, is that God knows about our fatigue. He provided a way out. It is called the Sabbath.

Creation is completed. God has effortlessly created the entire world merely by speaking it into existence. In verse one here, “vast array” is literally “hosts.” The hosts of heaven and earth (that is, the occupants) now ruled over the realms that God had created. This first verse of chapter 2 is really a summation of chapter 1.

On interesting side note is in order here. Our chapter divisions are not part of the original Hebrew text as written. They were introduced in the 16th century by a man named Stephanus, and therefore, the chapter divisions are not inspired. This Stephanus must have been somewhat asleep when he did the chapter division here. The seventh day is obviously the completion and climax of the creation week. These three verses therefore belong with chapter one as the goal and climax of the creation week. We can see this even more clearly when we see verse 4, which says, “This is the account.” Those words always introduce a new section of the narrative. They occur twelve times throughout the book of Genesis, always introducing a new patriarch, or a new series of events. The second chapter should therefore start where verse 4 is.

As we have seen so often throughout the first chapter, Moses’ words are a polemic against other Ancient Near Eastern gods and mythologies. The account of the Sabbath Day is no exception. Mesopotamian calendars ran on a lunar cycle. Therefore, on the seventh day of every week, worship would be given to the moon-god. Not so for Israel. The reason for worshipping the true God of Israel would be that God stopped His creative work on the seventh day, and therefore, Israel should stop their work on the seventh day.

Furthermore, Mesopotamian gods created man so that mankind would be a slave to the gods, so that the gods could finally rest. But Moses pictures God as creating merely by the Word. Therefore, God does not need rest. On the seventh day, He merely ceased from working. And mankind was not created to relieve the burdens of God. Rather, God hallowed the seventh day for mankind’s benefit, so that mankind could be refreshed. Mankind needs the rest. It is built into our very system.

The communists once tried an experiment. They tried giving people one day in ten as a day off. The experiment was a profound failure. Far more productivity was possible when the people had one day in seven for rest. People need that one day in seven simply by our very nature. So it is not true that we relieve the burdens of God on the Sabbath. Rather, God relieves our burdens on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is one of the three institutions that God gave to man at the very beginning. The other two institutions are work and marriage. All three of these institutions are given to us in chapter 2 of Genesis. Since all three are given at creation, they are all binding on humanity for all time. They are not limited to the people of Israel. All people work, and all peoples of the world have marriage. So also, all people need one day in seven as time off of work. It is important for us to realize this, since our culture would tell us that the Sabbath was limited to Israel as part of the Ten Commandments. When Christ came, He abrogated that law, and we do not have to observe the Sabbath anymore. This argument fails to see that the Sabbath was there from the time of creation. It was not a law that Moses came up with on the mountain. This was a law from the very beginning of time. Sin does not annul the Sabbath any more than it annuls marriage or work. We still do work and we still marry after the fall. Therefore, we should still observe the Sabbath after the fall. The Sabbath is therefore a creation ordinance, or law. The only thing that could change a creation law is a new creation law. Now, I will argue later that when Christ was resurrected, indeed a new creation came. However, that new creation that Christ brought about did not annul the creation ordinance. Instead, Christ’s resurrection merely changed the day on which we celebrate the Sabbath.

Now we come to the point. The question we must ask ourselves is this: how did Christ’s coming change the Sabbath, or did it change the Sabbath? Christ had many arguments with the Pharisees about the Sabbath. He often healed people on the Sabbath. His disciples picked heads of grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. When challenged on these issues, Christ would respond, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. My Father is working even now, as I also am working.” It is important to realize that Jesus was not objecting to OT law. After all, He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. Instead, Jesus was reacting against the additions to the law that the Pharisees had made. Jesus was restoring the Sabbath to its proper place in the life of the church. Works of necessity (such as eating when one is hungry), and acts of mercy (such as healing the sick) are proper works to do on the Sabbath, contrary to what the Pharisees said. Okay, that is what Christ did. But what about what Christ said, especially about the Ten Commandments?

Let us consider the Sermon on the Mount. With regard to the command not to murder, and the command not to commit adultery, you will remember that Christ raised the bar on those commands. Or one could say that he revealed what was true already about those laws, but which had become dim. Now, in the NT era, we should not only refrain from killing and committing adultery, we should also refrain from hate and lust. Plainly, Jesus was only using these particular commands as examples of the entire law. The bar is raised, not lowered. Now, if someone were to say that the Fourth Commandment (Sabbath observance) is annulled by the coming of Christ, then that person is putting the Fourth Commandment in a totally different category from the other nine commandments. What that person would be saying is that Christ raised the bar on all the other commandments, but He really annulled the Fourth Commandment. Nowhere is Scripture could one find statements to support such an argument.

Now, an important point to consider is the actual meaning of the Fourth Commandment. Scripture says, “Remember 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. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maid-servant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” By what Moses says here, the essence of the Sabbath day is not worship. The essence of the Sabbath day is rest from work. Now, the reason that God made the Sabbath to be a rest from work is so that we would have time for worship and works of mercy that we don’t normally have time for on the other days of the week. But it is certainly the case that worship is not the primary meaning of the Sabbath. In Exodus here, the reason given for keeping the Sabbath is the example that God set at creation. Let us call this the “creation” reason for keeping the Sabbath.

In Deuteronomy 5, the other place where we can find the Ten Commandments, another reason is added to the creation reason. Here what Dt. says, “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 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, neither you…so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” You see, when the Israelites were in Egypt, they had no rest at all. The Egyptians forced them to work and work and work without being able to have days off. In order to give them rest, God redeemed them out of that land so that Israel could have rest. Let us call this reason the “redemption reason.” So, we have the creation reason, and the redemption reason for keeping the Fourth Commandment. How do these two reasons change when Christ comes?

First of all, with regard to the creation reason, Christ brings in a new creation. It is called a new era, the era of the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” It is important to realize that the Greek does not actually say, “He is a new creation.” Rather, the Greek says, “there is a new creation.” So we could translate it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, that is proof that there is a new creation. It is here, replacing the old creation.” Now, this replacement of the old creation by the new creation does not mean annulment of the law. It is important to make a distinction among the various aspects of the law. The ceremonial sacrificial system was brought to fulfillment by Christ. So that stopped. The second part of the law was the law that Israel particularly had to follow, such as circumcision, dietary law, capital punishment for the son being disrespectful of his father, those kinds of laws that only Israel had to follow. Those also were fulfilled in Christ, who was the true Israel. However, there remains the moral law, which is universally binding on all mankind. This is codified in the Ten Commandments. Those Ten Commandments are never abrogated. They are always in effect.

So, when Christ brings in a new creation, he does not abrogate the Sabbath. Rather, the date on which the new creation came, which was Easter Sunday with the Resurrection of Christ, that date changed the observance of the Sabbath to Sunday. It is a new creation. That is why we celebrate worship on Sunday. Christ brought in the new creation on a Sunday.

With regard to the redemption reason for the Sabbath, Christ ushered in a new and greater Exodus. He has brought us out of our spiritual Egypt, just as God brought the Israelites out of their physical Egypt. Ours is the greater deliverance. Therefore, we have all the more reason to celebrate the Christian Sabbath, which is Sunday. We have all the more reason to cease from work, since Christ finished His work of creation with the resurrection. His resurrection means that there is a rest remaining for us. Paul says this in Hebrews 4:8ff. Because Jesus is our high priest who has entered into that rest, we should strive to enter that rest. What this means is final eternal rest.

In the background to this, it is necessary to remember the Sabbath structure of the OT. You have the Sabbath, which occurs on the seventh day. Then you have a Sabbatical year, which occurs in the seventh year. During that year, the land was to have rest, and slaves who were fellow Israelites were supposed to be released. Then you have the year of Jubilee, which was a seventh Sabbatical year. It was truly a Sabbath of Sabbaths. All land that had been sold to someone else was to be returned to the original owner. There is a telescoping of these Sabbaths from week to year to Jubilee. This points to the great Sabbath of eternity that still remains for the people of God. It is that Sabbath that Paul is talking about in Hebrews. If we are truly to be Sabbath keepers, then we need to have Jesus as our high priest, who has passed through the heavens and entered that rest. See, the reason we might not enter into that rest is our own sin (Hebrews 4:11). Only pure people may enter into that final rest. Jesus gives us His purity if we believe in him, so that we can enter that rest finally. So ultimately, the Sabbath command is a command to believe in Jesus Christ.

But if you already believe in Jesus Christ, then there are further applications. I have argued here that the force of the Fourth Commandment is still in effect in the NT era. In fact, we have more reason to keep the Christian Sabbath than the Israelites had to keep the OT Sabbath. Do you work on Sunday? This day was given to you for a blessing. It says in Genesis that God blessed the Sabbath day. That means that he blesses the one who holds it sacred. If you are tired and fatigued, one of the reasons may be that you are not observing the Sabbath properly. It is a day of rest. We are to stop from our employment. We are to bask in the glory of God in worship. We are to feed the hungry, visit the sick, the old and infirm, we are to have fellowship with one another. We are to read healthy spiritual books that we do not have time for on the other days of the week.
When we do these things, we are calling the Sabbath a delight. We are honoring it by keeping it holy, we remember the creation of the world, and the new creation brought about by Jesus. And we remember the great salvation that God has brought about, which it written in all the pages of Scripture. That is the relevance of the Sabbath for us. “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

1 Comment

  1. March 5, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Took me two years to find this post but this is Grade A awesome.

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