The Fourth Commandment


“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 Yahweh 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 Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11)

In the second giving of the Decalogue, found in Deuteronomy 5, the Fourth Commandment is the same, but the reason or motive given for the Commandment is different: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (v. 15). So God’s completed, successful work in creation (Exodus 20) and redemption (Deuteronomy 5) are cited as reasons for keeping the Sabbath holy. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, redemption means a new creation, and the Day of the Lord, the Day of his Resurrection, the first day of the week in the new creation is the day we keep holy by resting in and celebrating God’s glorious work.

Work is good. It was always a part of God’s plan for humanity, created in his image to join him in his own work in the world, even before the ruination brought about by our sin. And it continues to be a part of God’s good plan for everyone. But it is also hard, and God is no slavedriver. He has arranged for rhythms of dedicated worship, respite, and jubilation to mark the regular passing of time, universally and perpetually. The weekly and annual calendar of his people has always been punctuated by days of rest and festivals. No one should consider himself “grounded” on the Sabbath, but should see it as an invitation to find relief and joy, ultimately in relationship with God by his gracious love. It is a day “to celebrate God as Creator, Redeemer, and Consummator” (Charles Jacob).

What’s more, in the Fourth Commandment we are directed to grant relief and joy to all those under our charge and in reach of our care—even to the animals! This means we are still called to participate in God’s merciful, new-creation restoration of justice and shalom. In Christ we are renewed in God’s image to join him in his work in the world and in communion with him through what he has made.

Do you work six days a week? How do you view your work in light of your relationship with God? Are you a workaholic? How can ceasing your own work and closing down your business be an occasion for resting and trusting in God? Do you view worship on the Lord’s Day to be restrictive, or freeing and playful? Have you ever meditated on the significance of the Fourth Commandment for those under your charge and in reach of your care—your children, employees, and those in acute need of rest and relief (“sojourners” like immigrants or the homeless)? How can granting relief and joy in the name of Christ be a participation in God’s work?

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