Day 036: Ninety Six Words About the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11)

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)

Through the Bible: Exodus 19-21

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):

  1. No other gods before God (8 words)
  2. No graven images (89 words)
  3. Don’t take God’s name in vain (27 words)
  4. Remember the Sabbath: 96 words!
  5. Honor your parents (22 words)
  6. Do not murder (4 words)
  7. Do not commit adultery (4 words)
  8. Do not steal (4 words)
  9. Do not lie (9 words)
  10. 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).

Day 074: Shabbat in Tiberias (Dt. 10:12-13)

“Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him; to serve the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and the statues of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good.”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13

Through the Bible: Deuteronomy 11-13

We ended the first day of our pilgrimage to Israel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and were pulling in to our hotel just as the sun was setting on Friday night.

Which means it is the start of Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath.

I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Would the hotel be graveyard still, while religious Jews everywhere stayed inside, not working, not even pushing buttons on an elevator because of the prohibition against work?

Gentile that I am, I expected a somber mood. Lots of frowns. Lots of serious, observant Jews.

Instead, what I found at this hotel was joy. Families gathered together at the table. The wine flowing freely. I watched one young family as the husband poured the wine into one glass; read a passage from the prayer book, passed the glass to his wife to drink, then she passed it back to him. I watched a family at another table join hands and sing a prayer together with complete abandon.

I watched a father pass the prayer book to a young son learning to read. I watched the son sound out the Hebrew, while the father corrected, encouraged, praised. I watched the mother beaming.

And after the supper, I watched families talking, laughing, enjoying one another. Without a single electronic device to be seen anywhere. The only thing I saw on the table other than the food and the wine was the prayer book.

As I type this, the sounds of singing and laughter ring through the hotel. It is as different from what I expected from Shabbat in Israel as a wedding reception is from a wake.

Oh, how wrong we get the Sabbath! We have made it all about what we aren’t allowed to do. And because of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees, I suppose I just assumed Jews would see it the same way.

But the Sabbath is not primarily about what you are kept from doing. It is about what you are enabled to do because you have cleared away everything else. You can invest in your family. You can teach your children what it means to create margin in your life. You can sanctify your bride with a shared glass of wine. You can offer a joyous song of praise to the Master of the Universe, hands joined with those you love.

Beloved, never forget that God’s word tells us the commands He gives us are for our good. I am so humbled watching God’s chosen people truly find the good in keeping the Sabbath.

Shabbat Shalom is the shared greeting here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Sabbath Peace. May we all find the peace and freedom that comes from keeping His commands.

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