Making Sense of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11)
Topic: Exodus Passage: Exodus 20:8–20:11
Making Sense of the Sabbath
(One Lord: No One Like You)
Pastor Bryce Morgan
I. Thirty-Nine Points
Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding Sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing, Bleaching, Hackling, Dyeing, Spinning, Weaving, Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing, Tearing, Trapping, Slaughtering, Flaying, Salting, Curing hide, Scraping, Cutting, Writing, Erasing, Building, Demolishing, Extinguishing, Kindling, Hammering, Carrying.
That's a pretty interesting list, isn't it? Does it sound familiar? No, it isn't a description of what we did on the last Men's Camping trip. It also isn't a list of possible boy scout merit badges, or chapters from a hundred year-old home economics textbook. That is a list of...well, why don't we push the 'pause button' and hold that thought for just a few minutes, as we instead turn to Exodus chapter 20.
This morning we are continuing our study of another list. We have been talking over the last couple weeks about a list, a collection that the Bible calls The Ten Words. Today, we know that list better as the Ten Commandments. And what we've been doing in this study is attempting to understand how God wants to use the Ten Commandments, the Ten Words, to help us better understand what it means to live the redeemed life.
II. The Passage: “Remember the Sabbath Day”
As we return to Exodus chapter 20, let's pick up where we left off. Look with me at verses 8-11. Listen to what God, through Moses, told the people as He gave them another covenant requirement. Remember, this is only 6-7 weeks after the left Egypt. Verse 8...
“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 20:9-11)
In both lists of the Ten Commandments, here and in Deuteronomy 5, this commandment, Word number four, has the most ink devoted to it (it's 98 words in this translation (the second commandment is a close second with 91 words). In Deuteronomy 5, it's actually 136 words!). Of course, we might say that the word or commandment itself, in verse 8, is only 8 words. But as we see here, God decided to elaborate a little more on this command.
What see here in these four verses is that God has told them about the “what”, the “how”, and the “why” of word number four of the Ten Words. Let's take a few minutes and dig into what He's revealed to us here.
A. The “What” of Word Number Four (v. 8)
First, we see that verse 8 tells us the “what” of the fourth commandment: the “what” is the command itself: “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”, or it could be translated, “to set it apart”.
The word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew verb, shavath, which means to rest or to cease. As we can tell from the next verse, and many other verses, the Sabbath is the seventh day, or as we would call it, Saturday. But the Hebrew day didn't run from midnight to midnight. It went from sunset to sunset. So in terms of our reckoning, the Sabbath began at sunset on Friday night, and went to sunset on Saturday. As we see here, God called the people to set this day apart, to “keep it holy”, to honor it as a special day.
But how exactly were they supposed to do this? Well look again at verse 9 and 10:
B. The “How” of Word Number Four (vs. 9,10)
The way in which the Israelites were to honor the seventh day, to set it apart, was to simply stop and to rest. Their 'work week” (as we would call it) ran from Sunday to Friday, six days. But Saturday was a day off. And taking that day off was not an option. It was a covenant requirement from God himself. It was a command. No work, no exceptions. And as we see here, there were no exceptions in terms of the “who” of the commandment: Israelites, foreigners living among the Israelites, even animals were prohibited from working.
What kinds of things were considered “work” or “labor”. Well, the very first example of a Sabbath restriction actually comes four chapters earlier in Exodus 16. That was the very first time when God introduced this holy rhythm to the Israelites schedule. Six days they could gather the manna He was providing for them. But on the sixth day they were supposed to gather twice as much, some to eat and some to save. Why? Because there would be no manna on the seventh day, because gathering would be a violation of the Sabbath.
The Bible also talks specifically about not lighting fires on the Sabbath (that is, no cooking)(Exodus 35:3), no gathering firewood on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), no carrying burdens on Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:19-27), and no buying or selling merchandise on the seventh day (Nehemiah 13:15-22).
And as the centuries went on, Jewish rabbis tried to get even more specific about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. Do you know how they described what was prohibited on the Sabbath? Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding Sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing, Bleaching...Yep, there's our list. The rabbis came up with 39 categories of Sabbath restrictions. And today, for orthodox Jews, that list also includes things like driving a car (that's 'lighting a fire' and 'carrying a burden'!)
But the Old Testament does tell us at least one group of people were working on the Sabbath in ancient Israel: the priests. That's right, there were sacrifices that needed to be offered on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9, 10), and there was holy bread to be baked and set out (Leviticus 24:8). But there's still a question we need to answer in regard to all of this: why?
C. The “Why” of Word Number Four (v. 11)
God provides the “why” of the Sabbath in verse 11: 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.”
The word “sabbath” might first in Exodus 16, but the verb shavath first appears in Genesis 2:2, where we read that God finished his work that he had done, and he rested (shavath...he “ceased”) on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
So the fourth commandment was a command to honor the seventh day, because in so doing, they would be honoring God as Creator. When they remembered the Sabbath, the were called to remember why the seventh day was so special.
But if we were to continue through the next few books, we find a few more answers to this question of “why”.
Exodus 23:12: “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.” The Sabbath was for physical refreshment.
Exodus 31:13: “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.” The Sabbath was a reminder that they were a set apart people.
Deuteronomy 5:15: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” The Sabbath was also a reminder of how God delivered the people from slavery in Egypt.
So in light of all of this, I think it's fair to say that the fourth commandment was designed by God to be a weekly reminder that used physical rest to point the people to the “rest” that God himself enjoys as their Creator and the “rest” that God gives them as their Savior.
III. Shadow and Reality
But as we've talked about in this series, the Ten Words were covenant stipulations. God redeemed them from slavery by grace, and was now calling to live a redeemed life in order to fulfill this contract, this agreement. But this covenant made at Sinai did not last. In fact, we know from Jeremiah 31 and from the New Testament, that this covenant was not supposed to last. It has been replaced by a far better covenant; by a new covenant.
And it is through the lens of the new covenant that we need to consider this fourth commandment. So what do we learn from the New Testament about remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy? Well, even though the fourth commandment is never repeated in any form in the New Testament, I believe God has revealed three key points in regard to making sense of the Sabbath for followers of Jesus Christ.
A. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath
First of all, we learn from the Gospels that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus made this exact claim in Matthew 12:8 and Luke 6:5. In both of those passages we read about how the Pharisees accused Jesus' disciples of working because they were plucking grain to eat as they walked through a field. Ultimately, Jesus justified their actions and rejected the Pharisees' interpretation by declaring himself to have authority over the Sabbath.
And in Matthew 12, part of Jesus' explanation referred back to the Jewish Temple and how the priests (quote-unquote) 'worked' on the Sabbath. But, as Jesus told the Pharisees, “something greater than the temple is here” (12:6). Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath because Jesus was, in some way, fulfilling the Sabbath. We also this fact expressed in all the instances in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath (at least 6), even though the leaders prohibited it.
B. Observing the Sabbath is a Faith Preference
But building on this, we also learn, from the Apostle Paul, that, number two, observing the Sabbath is a faith preference. This is what he writes in Colossians 2:16-17:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
I want you to notice right away that Paul connects the Sabbath with both the dietary restrictions and the holy days/festivals of the Old Testament law. Of course, this is exactly what we find in Leviticus 23, where the Sabbath is simply the first on the list, in terms of Israelite holy days like the Passover, the Feast of Booths, and the Day of Atonement. Why is that important? Because, as we see here, those kinds of things were merely “shadows” that pointed forward to the “substance” that came in Jesus Christ, the “Lord of the Sabbath”.
Because this is true, Paul tells the Christians in Colossae, not that honoring the Sabbath is wrong, but that it cannot be a matter of judgment. Listens to how he spells out the same point for the disciples in Rome:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. (Romans 14:5-6a)
C. We Can Enter God’s Sabbath Rest
But there is a final, a third idea I'd like to point out. This one comes from Hebrews 4. In that chapter, the writer is arguing that Psalm 95 actually reveals how the rest that God has for His people is still available to those who do not harden their hearts. Even though Joshua brought the people into a kind of “rest” when he led the Israelites into the Promised Land, we see in Hebrews 4:9 that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God”.
The writer calls it a “Sabbath rest” because this “rest” points to God's “rest” on the seventh day of creation. As the writer puts it in Hebrews 4:10, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
But listen to the astounding statement made right at the beginning of that chapter in verse 3: “For we who have believed enter that rest...”. Do you see what he's saying? Through faith in Jesus Christ, faith in the “good news” (Hebrews 4:2), we can enter the ultimate spiritual rest to which the fourth commandment pointed with its call to physical rest. I like how the ESV study Bible expresses this:
“The promise of entering now into this rest means ceasing from the spiritual strivings that reflect uncertainty about one’s final destiny; it means enjoyment of being established in the presence of God, to share in the everlasting joy that God entered when he rested on the seventh day.”
IV. An Invitation to Rest
The New Testament provides hints about the change that history shows did take place. As many more Gentiles, non-Jews became followers of Christ, the day that was set apart shifted from the seventh day to the first day of the week, from Saturday to Sunday. The first day was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, and it became the day on which most of the churches gathered for worship, fellowship, and instruction.
But does that shift mean that the Fourth Commandment became obsolete? No, but I think it means that just as that word was fulfilled, we need to fulfill it in light of its fulfillment. You see, to remember the Sabbath now is to remember Jesus Christ. To keep it, to set it apart is to set apart Christ as Lord. Ultimately, fulfilling the Fourth Commandment means walking each day in light of the spiritual rest that Jesus Christ makes possible.
Do you remember what Jesus said? Do you remember the invitation he gave?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The “laboring” and “heavy ladens” that Jesus is talking about here, in the context of Matthew's Gospel represent the burden of trying to perfectly obey the Law of Moses; of achieving righteousness in our own strength. But we can't keep the Law. We are condemned by the Law, by the Ten Words.
But Jesus can offer us rest because He has fulfilled the Law; He kept the Ten Words, and on the Cross, He took upon himself the condemnation we deserve as law-breakers. Jesus Christ accomplished the work the Father had given Him, and because He did, we can now rest in the Sabbath rest of God. And now He calls us to learn from Him what it means to live the redeemed life.
Doesn’t rest sound good this morning? Are you weary? Do you feel weighed down spiritually? Are you tired of trying to live the redeemed life in your strength? Receive that rest this morning, by faith. Walk in that rest, the rest that only Jesus can make possible.