Ten Commandments #4 Exodus 20:8-11

Sunday Sabbath
Exodus 20:8-11


With a unique sprinting style, Eric Liddell won the Scottish Championship 100 and 220-yard sprints from 1921 to 1924, and also dominated those events in the Triangular International Contests (including England and Ireland) three years in a row. Liddell joined the British Olympic Team going to Paris in 1924.
At the Paris Olympics, Liddell dropped out of his best event, the 100-yard dash, because qualifying heats were being run on a Sunday saying, “I object to Sunday sports in toto.” Predictably, the press castigated him.
Liddell entered himself in the 400-yard dash. Instead of participating in the heats, he preached a sermon at a Paris church. The 400-yard run was not what he had trained for, but Liddell finished 5 yards ahead of his nearest competitors, setting a world record at a time of 47.6 seconds. (Liddell website)

What if Liddell had not won; or had not even run? Certainly there would have been no Chariots of Fire film! Just what is the Christian’s responsibility regarding Sunday? Did Liddell get it right? That ultimately is the question to be answered as we consider the 4th commandment found in Exodus 20:8-11.

The Sabbath day was a day of rest v 8

The root simply means to cease, desist or put an end to. For instance, the manna “ceased” when the Israelites arrived in Canaan (Josh 5:12). And God “rested’ on the seventh day (Gen 2:2,3). No manna was to be gathered on the seventh day because it was a day of “rest” and a “Sabbath” day (Ex 16:23-30). This may possibly indicate that the Sabbath is the day which "puts a stop to" the week's work.

The Sabbath day was a unique day that was to be memorialized v 8

“Remembering” the Sabbath simply means to commemorate it or observe it in some way.
This concept of a special observance on a given day was not new as shown by the manna account in NAS Exodus 16:26 ("Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none."). However, the codification of this practice with an attached threat of death if violated was new! 

The method for memorializing or observing the Sabbath was to sanctify it. The root has the original idea of separation or withdrawal. This is why my collection of state quarters is really not worth anything because they are all common coins. They have been circulated. To make something holy is to reserve it or “set it apart” for a unique and singular purpose. It is therefore not common or ordinary.

The reason this term is so vivid for Christians is that God himself is “set apart” (entirely separate from all other beings) and therefore his people must act accordingly. They must also be set apart.

So, Israel was to "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. But how can a day be set apart? Well, the obvious answer seems to be that the Sabbath day would be made unique by resting. This is shown by the phenomena of enough manna being provided on the 6th day so that there would be no gathering on the 7th day (Ex 16:23-30). Or, God himself resting on the 7th day following his work of creation (Gen 2:3). The Sabbath day also became a day of worship (Lev 23:3).

The Sabbath day observance was a practice that needed explanation v 9-11

1. On the one hand, Sunday-Friday was reserved for work 9

This included two kinds of work - “labor” that was definite tasks such as field labor (Psa 104:23), mechanical work (Ex 34:32), and priestly service (Ex 12:25,26). It also included “work”, that is, general work. God expected Israel to work and work hard! A little known notion is also that all work was to be done on the six days. Nothing excluded (“all” your work v 9; “not do any work’ v 10). Today we might capture this thought by saying, all “work at work” and all “work at home.”

2. On the other hand, Saturday was designated for rest 10

First, Saturday uniquely belonged to the Lord. Therefore it was to be a day of rest rather than work so that his people might reflect on Him rather than be consumed with living.

Second, God knew that men need a day to recharge their bodies and spirits. So he established a work-rest cycle. In reality, the Sabbath was a gift.

So, he allows for no loopholes – no work of any kind. Exceptions for priestly functions and deeds of mercy were made however. God felt so strongly about this that he made the following promise, NAS Isaiah 58:13 "If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word, 14 Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. "

3. Sabbath observance was to be done in reflection on past events11

A reason is now given for Sabbath observance; namely, God’s actions at creation. The people are to recall how God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation.

Moses also cites another reason for the Sabbath. NAS Deuteronomy 5:14 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 or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 'And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. So, on the Sabbath, the people were to reflect on their remarkable redemption from Egypt.
Consequently God declared the Sabbath to be worthy of honor (“blessed” it) and set it apart (“made it holy”).

Well, what does all this mean for us today? Specifically, was the Sabbath moved from Saturday, the 7th day, to Sunday, the 1st day, at the completion of Christ’s work? Or, are we to keep the Sabbath as Israel did only do so on Sunday?

Sabbath Day observance is not required today

1. The question does not revolve about the principle of a Sabbath. Everyone agrees that such a principle is a good practice. The question is whether Sabbath keeping as practiced under the Mosaic era is valid.

2. The 4th commandment was also a specific sign of the 10 commandments or old covenant (Exodus 31:12-18; Ezek 20:12-20). In similar fashion, the Abrahamic Covenant had a sign – circumcision and the Noahic covenant had a sign – the rainbow. If the covenant is done away with, it stands to reason that the sign is done away with also. Thus no Sabbath keeping.

3. There is no repeat of this command in the NT as there is with the others. Further, there is no directive to change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.

4. In fact, Jesus himself broke the Sabbath and declared that he would do whatever he wanted to on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).

5. The NT church recognized the freedom from the Sabbath and in view of the Lord’s resurrection worshipped on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2).

Thoughts for Sunday observance

1. Sunday is called the “Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10). This does have the same flavor, but not the same force, as “setting apart” the Sabbath of the 4th command. Somehow the day must be treated differently than every other day. Undoubted the best way to do this is through worship. That is what the first century believers did. Other things such as relaxation and the cessation of common activities would also be appropriate.

2. The issue is not what we must do on this day. The Lord gives us liberty. NAS Romans 14:5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, Thus the issue is what can we do to honor the Lord on Sunday. Our activities should reflect that the Lord is first in our lives; that He occupies a unique position.

3. I know of no Biblical command that says things that are legitimate on other days are prohibited on Sunday.

4.Foremost, I believe our activities on Sunday should be judged by whether or not they distract from your corporate worship of the Lord. Everything else should be second place.

5. And we ought to ask how our Sunday activities affect our witness in the non-Christian community. It is hard to convince your neighbors that your faith is real if your Sunday is just like theirs! Maybe Chic-fil-la is on to something by closing their restaurants on Sunday!

Final Thought

"Do you rush, push, shout and become generally unpleasant on Sunday mornings? Do you complain about church? Are you irregular in your attendance? Are you over-conscientious about matters that are not really important? Do you always criticize the pastor, the choir, the length of services and the usher crew? Then don't be surprised if your children grow up to look at Sundays as the worst day of the week." Karen Burton Mains

© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2015. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.