Thursday, August 2, 2012

Decalogue: Fourth Command

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

The Sabbath is first described in Genesis 2:1-3. On the seventh day of Creation God rested. He also blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, that is, He set it apart. God wasn’t tired. His rest was one of satisfaction in a Creation that was “very good.” The Sabbath, coming AFTER the week of Creation was the rest of a work that was already done. It was a weekly commemoration of the first creation. This is an important fact to remember.

Adam was created on the sixth day of Creation, thus the Sabbath was his first full day of life. And he spent this day in fellowship with God. This is something that even the Rabbis noticed. The Talmud says that the reason God created Adam when He did was so that that he might immediately enter on performing the command of observing the Sabbath.

Louis de Dieu, the Dutch Orientalist mentioning these words, on Gen. 1:27, adds by way of explication; “for, since the Sabbath immediately succeeded the creation of man, he immediately entered on the command of sanctifying the Sabbath.”

We might ask if God intended for the first Sabbath to be a pattern for humanity. There are indeed several things that seem to point to this as true. The Sabbath is embedded in the middle of the Decalogue, and is actually enhanced in its presentation. Several references point to the Sabbath as a sign - a sign of sanctification and of the covenant. (Exodus 31:13, 17; Ezekiel 20:12, 20)

Two big issues come up among Evangelicals when the subject of the Sabbath is broached: (a) Do Christians have to observe it? And (b) Why do Christians observe it on Sunday, the first day of the week?

In answer to the first issue, the things Christians say are almost too humorous to be taken seriously. A common remark, made whenever observance of the Sabbath by Christians is insisted upon, is that Christians are not “under the law.” You will remember that we dealt with this objection in the first post in this series. It is absolute nonsense. Would any Christian, even a nominal one, have the panache to assert that Christians aren’t “under the law” with regard to the prohibition of murder, theft or adultery? Of course not! So what makes this particular command so unique? I know of no Christian who asserts that God doesn’t expect Christians to live in marital fidelity or that one can worship Shiva or Vishnu and maintain a credible profession of Christianity. So what is it about this one, and only this one command, that sets it apart from the Decalogue so that insistence upon its observance is deemed legalism? I have yet to be accused of legalism for not running around on my wife or killing someone in a drug-induced rage. So why would anyone (and many will) accuse me of legalism, if I were to insist that Christians are expected to observe the Christian Sabbath?

That is all I am going to say in respect to this issue. I trust that my readers can draw their own conclusions from what I have written, even if it raises more questions than it answers.

The second issue we handled in an earlier post dealing with certain side issues connected with the Decalogue, therefore we will not go down that road here.

I have heard Christians say that nowhere in the New Testament are believers aver commanded to observe the Sabbath. This, to me, is a terribly weak argument. Why would it need to be reasserted in the New Testament? If the New Testament contained to overt reiteration of the prohibition of adultery, would we trust the judgment of a man who argued that the New Testament never commands believers to abstain from adultery? Perhaps the question we should ask is: When was the command abrogated? If we find no such abrogation in the New Testament, then isn’t it more reasonable to assume its continuance?

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