8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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. 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. (Exodus 20:8-11)
Which is the most important commandment? It’s a question that can be answered in a lot of ways. If God gave the Ten Commandments in order of priority, then you would say The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20: 3).
If you go by Jesus’s response when He was asked the question, you don’t get any of the Ten. Instead, you get the Shema; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Deut. 6:5), with “Love your neighbor as yourself” from Leviticus 19:17-18 added on as equally important (see Matthew 22:35-40 and Luke 10:25-28).
Even if you base your answer on the words of Jesus, there is still some ambiguity. In Mark’s version of the story, when Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, the first thing out of His mouth isn’t a commandment at all. It is the truth that God is One.
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Mark 12:28-29
So what is the most important of the Ten Commandments?
What if we based our answer on which one got the most emphasis in Exodus 20? If that was our criteria, then check this out (word count is based on ESV):
- No other gods before God (8 words)
- No graven images (89 words)
- Don’t take God’s name in vain (27 words)
- Remember the Sabbath: 96 words!
- Honor your parents (22 words)
- Do not murder (4 words)
- Do not commit adultery (4 words)
- Do not steal (4 words)
- Do not lie (9 words)
- Do not covet (34 words)
God was apparently very concerned that His people understood the Fourth Commandment. He made sure everyone was included in it. He made sure they understood the reason for it.
Why so much ink given to this one commandment? Maybe it’s because God knew that after four hundred years of slavery, it would be the hardest one for His people to grasp. Notice that even before the command was written on a stone tablet, the Sabbath was mandated as a day of rest. Yesterday’s reading is actually the first time the word “Sabbath” is used in the Bible (See Exodus 16:23).
But what’s our excuse for ignoring the Sabbath? We haven’t been in bondage. We’ve actually had a five day work week as standard practice in America since 1908 (Significantly, it was established so Jewish factory workers would be able to observe the Sabbath on Saturday and Christians could worship on Sunday). But today, the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is the only one that people will actually feel virtuous about breaking. Someone can never take a day off, and they are described as dedicated and driven. Not sinful.
It may be a foolish exercise to try to determine which of the Ten Commandments is most important. They are all God’s Word. But it is equally foolish–dangerous, even–to pretend that any of them is the least important. And we live our lives as though the Fourth Commandment doesn’t matter as much. We’ve taken Jesus words about the Sabbath. being for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28), and gone way too far in the other direction, as though we have no need to honor God at all.
Oh, soccer mom, repent! Travel ball dad, repent! Workaholic, repent! Hunter and fisherman, all who see the Sabbath as your day to sleep in, repent! The Sabbath is a Sabbath “to the Lord your God” (verse 10).