Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. This stands as the fourth commandment that we read in Exodus 20. God declared these commandments, 10 of them, to Moses. They were etched with the finger of the Lord on tablets of stone. They were given during a 40-day period when Moses was called up to Mount Sinai. These were basic rules to guide a nation of people who had spent four centuries in slavery. That being the case, the multitude that Moses was leading had very little practice in making decisions.
It’s easy to lose sight of the context in which the Lord gave His Word to the prophets, preachers, and writers who communicated it. For all their years in Egypt, the tribes of Israel were people under orders. This especially became the case once there came to power a Pharaoh who knew nothing about Joseph–a man of Israel who became the savior of the land. This ruler took note of Israel’s growing population and determined that the best way to control these slaves was to work them harder than ever, to work them to death.
Needless to say, the children of Israel came out of their bondage knowing very little about rest and what it should mean to them. So God incorporated this concept and reality into His rules for life.
“Six days shall you work, and do all your labor, but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord your God …” (Exodus 20:9). There’s that phrase again – “the Lord your God.” His relationship to His people determined His instructions to them. He even made an example of Himself in Genesis. It was the Lord who first chose to make the seventh day what He wanted it to be.
Celebration and Appreciation
“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Genesis 2:3).
The word “blessed” is the key one in this verse. The Sabbath that God declared was not an end, not a stop, not a cessation moment when the Lord said, “Halt.” From the beginning, the Lord has intended Sabbath to be about celebration, appreciation, and completion. The work of Creation completed, the Lord rejoiced in what He saw as good and very good.
All was now whole. Our Bibles open with a description of an earth that was without form and void with a surface of darkness. The Lord spoke and began His process of giving definition and order and purpose to these things. He took these days to create and make, as the light of His Voice shined forth.
And then He set aside a day to enjoy it – all of it, the whole of it, for holiness, at its root, it’s about wholeness.
To Israel in Egypt, life was all about the bricks. We come to know this when Moses first asks Pharaoh to let the people go and serve their Lord. God’s first order of business in the deliverance was to inform this king that His people needed space and time for worship. “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God …” (Exodus 5:3).
Pharaoh heard Moses and this request and his immediate thought was this: the Israelites have too much time on their hands. “They are lazy; therefore they ask to go and worship the Lord.” His reaction was to make the people’s labors even more all-consuming than they already were. He withheld the straw, the binding agent needed to reinforce the hardened clay. The people were forced to scrounge the landscape for straw on their own and were still required meet their brick production quotas or face a flogging.Sabbath is not about time at all. It is about eternity and our engagement with the One who inhabits eternity. Click To Tweet
“…You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks” (Exodus 5:17-18).
Let us understand: Sabbath is not about giving us space for idleness, of vacation time and kicking back. Sabbath is not about time at all. It is about eternity and our engagement with the One who inhabits eternity (see Isaiah 57:15).
This is why the third commandment falls where it does in the list. We must first come to see Him as the one true Lord of all creation, that there is no god like Him. We next learn to be grateful for His work in our lives, for His great and gracious deliverance from the bondage that we were under.
These blessings sent from above set us up to enjoy the “blessed” day – one sanctified not because we stop what we are doing, but one that allows us to focus on what God has done. Sabbath comes to us when we are “redeeming the time for the days are evil,” as Paul the apostle wrote in Ephesians 5:16. In the Greek text, “redeeming” appears as exagorazo, a word that means to exit the marketplace.
Behold the Works of the Lord
Our rat race world pushes us to just do it, to get busy, to seize the day. We live in an atmosphere that, as we read throughout the chapters of Ecclesiastes, is full “striving after wind.” This purposeless chase of things that cannot be caught left the writer of this book feeling this way: “So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity…” (Ecclesiastes 2:17).
Without Sabbath, life becomes a grief. We fail to notice that God is God and that His work is done.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, sang the angels in Isaiah 6. Why did they sing this? Because the earth is full of His glory. This is not so apparent to us just now in these “evil days.” The glory of God is here, however hidden it may seem. He is all in all.
Let us learn to sing with the psalmist: “Come, behold the works of the Lord” (Psalm 46:8).
Know Him as God, know Him in His works, know Him at rest in His Sabbath — these are His first commandments. May we get to know Sabbath and enjoy rest by hearing Him as He says this:
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).