John Currid Writes:
Exodus 20:8–11. ‘Remember the Sabbath day to consecrate it. Six days you shall serve and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh, your God. You shall not do any work: you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and your animals, and your sojourner who is in your gates. For six days Yahweh made the sky and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and he consecrated it.’
This is the first commandment that is not prohibitive, and it does not begin with a negative. It is a positive injunction. The force of the order is underscored by the first word, ‘Remember’, which is an infinitive absolute. An infinitive absolute in Hebrew may, at times, serve as a legislative command.
The Sabbath day is not a new concept. It was already in effect in Exodus 16 (see commentary on that chapter in vol. 1) and as early as Genesis 2:1–3. It is, in fact, a creation ordinance. The purpose of its appearance in the Decalogue is to x it formally into the written code of covenant law. In other words, the Sabbath was established earlier, but now it is definitively inscribed in stone.
The etymology of the term shabbāt is uncertain, although it probably derives from the root shābat, which means ‘to cease/desist/ rest’. Of course, this latter concept is a central aspect of the Sabbath command. Part of the reason for this uncertainty is the uniqueness of the Sabbath to Israel in the ancient Near East. Some argue for a similar day having been observed in Mesopotamia, but attempts to demonstrate this have failed. In addition, the distinctiveness of the Sabbath depends on its not using the lunar and solar cycles to measure time—other ancient Near-Eastern cultures rely upon the movement of celestial bodies, not the counting of days.
The purposes of the Sabbath in ancient Israel were many and diverse.
First, according to the Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath reflects God’s pattern of creation. Thus, when someone observes the Sabbath, he or she is commemorating God’s creative work. The Sabbath is a repetition and a remembrance of God’s past work.
Secondly, in the reiteration of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 5, Israel’s redemption from slavery is celebrated in Sabbath-keeping (vv. 12–15).
Thirdly, the day is created as a time of rest, refreshment and recuperation for all God’s creatures. It is a reprieve from the routine of daily labours (Exod. 23:12).
Fourthly, the Sabbath serves as a sign of the covenant between God and his people—it is a symbol that God has set apart a people unto himself (Exod. 31:12–17). When the Israelites celebrated the set-apart day they showed that they were a set-apart people.
Finally, the Sabbath is a day of holy convocation (Lev. 23:2–3) in which the people gather for public worship and instruction in the Torah (Neh. 8:8).
I would suggest that if we kept the Sabbath as Christians then our lives would improve dramatically. How many of us never do an in-depth study of God’s Word for lack of time? How many of us never visit the lonely or the sick for lack of time? How many of us begin the week exhausted for lack of rest? How much time do we spend in prayer and evangelism? The Lord has made provision for all these things by giving a Sabbath to his people. God makes a wonderful promise to those who keep the Sabbath:
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 honourable,
And shall honour it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure,
And speaking your own word,
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.
(Isa. 58:13–14, NASB).