MAY 31 2015

The Fourth Commandment


[I. Introduction] We are in the midst of a series on the ten commandments. What we have seen thus far is that the commandments given to Moses upon Mt Sinai were not just for Israel. They reflect the character of God and are perpetual. This means that they are still binding on God’s people today and are even for the rebel, the worldling, all mankind.


We also saw that a blessing attends those who possess the law, who love the law, who follow the law. The blessing comes because God wants it to come to the lovers of his law. Those who love the law love God. And those who love God love His law.


Prior to being born from above we did not like His law. Our sinful nature would rise up against it. One day, if the mercy of God has come to us, everything changed. Our hearts turned from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh and we loved God and loved His word. But the promise of blessing still stands. Being born from above will produce a desire for obedience, but disobedience is still a reality that calls to even the elect.


The promise of blessing still stands! Therefore, we should magnify the law by placing it in our homes. We ought to nurture a love for the law within our hearts. And, we must understand the law in order to facilitate our obedience.


To that end we will examine the fourth commandment.


Some commandments are embraced by the world. Commands like “You shall not murder” and “You shall not steal” are codified by all societies and governments. It wasn’t too long ago that the commandment about the Sabbath, having a day of rest, was applied throughout our nation and that for a very long time – from the 1600’s until just a few decades ago. Most stores were closed on Sundays, you could not buy alcohol on Sundays, and if one’s employer required you to work on Sunday you had to be paid extra. All that has changed. Almost no stores are closed on Sundays anymore. In most places you can buy alcohol on Sundays wherever it is sold. And, in most places you will not get paid extra if you work on Sunday.


In the church you see a wide disparity in how the Sabbath is treated. Among our Seventh Day Adventist brethren we see that they take the commandment very strictly. They see it as applied only to the seventh day, commonly called Saturday, and they do no work on that day. Others, and we may be among this number, make no effort to set aside a day as the Decalogue directs. If we do, what does it mean? What are we to do or not do? By God’s grace we will sort that out this morning.


Is the Sabbath a holiday or a holy day?


Let us read the commandment together. READ Exodus 20:8-11.


Does this not answer that question? The commandment plainly states that we are to keep the Sabbath holy. It is to be a holy day. “Ah,” some will say, “but this was for Israel alone and it does not apply to us today.”


[II.] Is the fourth commandment still to be followed? I had taught earlier that there were two kinds of laws: moral and redemptive (or ceremonial) and that the moral laws were continuous while the redemptive were temporary. This is all true. I also asserted that the fourth commandment was a redemptive law. This is also true. Does this then mean that it is not to be followed? The answer is no and let us see why that is.


The commandment antedates Israel and is rooted in creation itself.     Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

(Genesis 2:1-3 ESV)


[A.] This passage shows us that God established a pattern from the very beginning of creation. Obviously, God does not need rest. He is God!  But he rested as an example to us. The passage also says that he made the seventh day holy. The word “holy” means “separate.” God set the day aside as a separate day, a special day, where we too are to rest as He did. He did this at the beginning of creation.


The Philippines and the United States enjoy a close, friendly, and mutually supportive relationship unique among nations. Few nations in the world have such a close relationship. Regarding the allies of the United States only England, Ireland, and Israel have similarly close ties. (Although it seems as if our current President is not too interested in maintaining those ties with Israel.) But things were not always that way with the Philippines. The two countries were at war for three years: 1899-1902. This was known as the Philippine-American War. The United States had defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War the year prior – 1898. As a result of that war the U.S. took control of the Philippines. The Philippines demanded immediate independence, which the U.S. did not grant, and war ensued. In 1902 the war ended with the establishment of a peace act between the two nations. They remained a colony of the U.S. but with the goal gaining eventual independence. In 1916 the U.S. officially promised independence and in 1946 it was granted on July 4, 1946. Hence, the Philippines shares the same Independence Day as the U.S.


During the war Philippine-American War General Arthur MacArthur led the U.S. forces in three decisive battles, one of which was the battle of Manila. Right after the war he became military governor of the Philippines. (Trivia question: who was Arthur Macarthur? Ans: the father of General Douglas MacArthur who would free the Philippines from brutal Japanese oppression during WW2.)


During the Philippine-American war there was a young lieutenant assigned there who would become one of the great military leaders of our nation: George Marshall. He was made company commander as a lieutenant.


In WW1 he planned the first American attack and victory of the war in France and he also planned the attack against German forces in 1918 known as the Muese-Argonne Offensive which was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, which brought the war to an end.


He was General of the Army during WW2. It was Marshall who picked Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, and Omar Bradley to lead their forces in WW2 in their respective victories. Do you think he was a good judge of men?


He is best known, though, for his work on rebuilding Europe after the war. His plan became known as the Marshall Plan, which turned out to be quite successful and for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize back when it meant something. (Nowadays they will give it to anybody.)


When Gen. George C. Marshall took command of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA, he found the post in a generally run-down condition. Rather than issue orders for specific improvements, he simply got out his own paintbrushes, lawn equipment, etc., and went to work on his personal quarters. The other officers and men, first on his block, then throughout the post, did the same thing, and Fort Benning was brightened up. It is meaningful and powerful when a leader does something. Leading by example is the best leadership.


At the beginning of creation God sets the example! He rests and sanctifies the seventh day. As good a man as George Marshall was, and he was, God is better. As one child said, “God is gooder.” He sets the example for a reason: He expects us to follow it just as George Marshall anticipated others might follow his in brightening up Ft Benning. Let us follow the example of our great God!


[B.] Since it is established at creation, long before the nation of Israel ever existed, it is for all his creation, not just for Israel. We even see this in the command itself. In verse 10 of Exodus 20 we read:  “but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.” (NASB)


Notice the last part of the verse. It is not only the children of Israel but even the “sojourner who stays with you.” The sojourner there would be a gentile who is staying in the land for a time. But not just the gentiles – even their cattle were to rest on that day! You see, it is for all of creation. Even cattle!


[C.] Even some redemptive (ceremonial) laws are still to be kept if there is either a directive or example to do so. While most of the redemptive laws were done away with, all of them were not. Some are important enough to be continued though they might be changed.


Consider baptism. In Leviticus chapters 11 and 15, those who are unclean because of certain actions are to be purified by being dipped in water. They must undergo a baptism. This is symbolic of the cleansing and redemption that the Lord makes available to the unclean. While those specific regulations are done away with, baptism becomes one of the two great ordinances of the Christian church in the present era. In other words, baptism is a redemptive command that continues on and even carries with it greater scope than in its original intent.


Some redemptive commands continue on although they are transformed. The command concerning the Sabbath is one of these. It is transformed in these ways:

  • Whereas the Sabbath under the Old Covenant was only the seventh day, the Sabbath principle under the New Covenant may be any day out of seven.
  • However, the church in the New Testament under apostolic guidance met on the first day of the week, that is, Sunday. This was certainly because it is the day that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, if the Sabbath was not changed to Sunday, the NT gives Sunday prominence where the practices of the Sabbath were born out.
  • Whereas the center of attention was God under the Old Covenant, the focus of the day in the new Covenant is Jesus Christ. (Time prohibits further proof of these facts, but the interested inquirer may look at these passages: Acts 20:7; I Cor 16:1; Rev 1:10; Col 2:16-17)


Therefore, the fourth commandment continues in its authority because of God’s example, being rooted in creation, and because its redemptive elements are still needed. When I say “redemptive,” I mean that there are things in life that tend to lead us to discouragement, the influence of sin, or sin, or all of those. And whatever helps deliver us from discouragement or sin is redemptive in its nature. 


The Sabbath is like that. Which leads to our next question.


[III.] How should we follow this commandment? How do we “keep it holy” in the words of Exodus 20:8? We keep it holy by practicing four things.

[A.] The first is found in verse 10. According to verse 10, on the seventh day we shall not do any work. It is a day of rest. We need rest. While some people rest too much, others neglect the rest they need. The Sabbath was made for man so that we could rest.


[B.] Secondly, it is a day for meeting with the people of God. There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord. (Lev 23:3 NIV)


From this passage we see that it is a day of rest but not just a day of rest. As if the Israelite could just sleep in his tent all day. It was also a day of assembling together. The Sabbath was intended as a day of worship and it continues to be so in our present age.


[C.] The last two practices are found in Isaiah.


“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,

                        from doing your pleasure on my holy day,

            and call the Sabbath a delight

                        and the holy day of the LORD honorable;

            if you honor it, not going your own ways,

                        or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;

            then you shall take delight in the LORD,

                        and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;

            I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,

                        for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

(Isaiah 58:13-14 ESV)


Thirdly, it is a day where we are to turn from doing our own pleasures. “What? Wait a minute, Preacher! Are you saying that I can’t pursue pleasure on the Sabbath?” No, I am not saying that. God said that. Not only did he say it through the prophet Isaiah, but he says it twice in one verse! Why does He say it twice? Maybe it is because people want to pursue their pleasures rather than pursuing what the Lord wishes for them to pursue.


It is a day for turning away from doing our own pleasures. To borrow the words of Exodus, there are six days to pursue pleasure, but the seventh day is a day to pursue something else. And that is:


[D.] Delighting in the LORD. It is a day when we should focus our mind and heart on the goodness of God. A child of God may do this by reading and meditating on His word, through prayer, through study, through conversation. Our focus should be the Lord Himself, not our pleasures.


How should we follow this commandment?


  • By resting.
  • By meeting with the saints (attending and participating in church).
  • By turning away from our own pursuits and pleasures.
  • By delighting in the Lord Jesus Christ. By seeking Him, understanding Him, appreciating what He has done for us, and expressing our love of Him and to Him.


[IV.] What happens when we obey this commandment?


[A.] When we obey the Lord blessings begin to come. This is true of all the commands. But there are some commands where specific blessings are promised with obedience. Honoring the Sabbath is one of those.


Look again at Isaiah 58:14.


Those that delight in the Sabbath will be made to “ride on the heights of the earth.” The “high places” are places of favor. They are the good places, the places above the common places. God will lift them up!


Those that honor the Sabbath will also feed from “the heritage of Jacob.” The heritage of Jacob with respect to food is found in Genesis.        May God give you of the dew of heaven

                        and of the fatness of the earth

                        and plenty of grain and wine.

(Genesis 27:28 ESV)

Those who honor the Sabbath will not go hungry. They will have the dew of heaven, plenty of grain and wine.


What happens when we obey the fourth commandment? We are blessed with the favor of God in our dwelling places and in our food. These are supernatural blessings.


[B.] We also experience redemption of our bodies and our minds. We are not robots. We are made of flesh and blood. Creatures of flesh and blood need rest. Unlike the animals, who know when to rest, people often ignore their need for rest for various reasons. Some pursue their pleasures, as we have seen. Others have goals that drive them hard. The achievement of goals takes time and money. Therefore, many will ignore rest in pursuit of their goals.


When we honor the principle of the Sabbath and rest one day per week, we experience a replenishing of our minds, a renewal in our bodies, and ministration in our emotions. We are redeemed from our own lack of judgment on how to allocate our time!


[Conclusion] The promise of blessing still stands! The promise regarding the fourth commandment depends on our conformity to it. Do you want the blessing? Then


  • know that the fourth commandment is still for us.
  • Practice making one day holy. I recommend Sunday since two practices are already met if you attend church: meeting in sacred assembly and delighting in the Lord.
  • Expect the blessings to come. Because God has promised them and he does not lie.