The Ten Commandments are brief – brief enough to fit on two tablets. The Ten Commandments are thorough – covering our relationships with God and each other. The Commands, individually, are terse: “You shall have no other god before Me,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” etc…There is one exception, however. One command of the ten which gets detailed explanation. It is the command to keep the Sabbath.
When one grows up in the Church of Christ, one rarely learns more about Sabbath-keeping than that the New Testament doesn’t command it. Any discussion of the Sabbath almost always begins and ends with the arguments against Seventh Day Adventism. It is also common to be reminded that it is inaccurate to call Sunday the Sabbath, because the Sabbath was the seventh day, and Sunday is the first day of the week.
God takes the time to explain in detail why he commands respect for the Sabbath.
In both Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy 5 the reasons why Sabbath keeping is important are clearly and thoroughly communicated.
Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath of Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work – you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. He rested on the seventh day, therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20.8-11
The reason God commands the Jews to keep the Sabbath, is because He kept it. It is a matter of respect for God as creator. Notice how the command makes a circle – it begins with the command “keep it holy” and ends with “made it holy.” God made the seventh day holy (set apart, special) because he rested on this day. To “rest” just means to stop, to not be in motion. That is the meaning of the Hebrew word Shabbat. There is no suggestion here that God is all tuckered-out. He stopped on the seventh day. So they stop on the seventh day. It is a matter of respect for God’s prerogative, his control over time generally, and our time specifically because He is the Creator of all.
There is a second reason the Jews are commanded to keep the Sabbath - because humans do get all tuckered-out. We need rest.
Observe the Sabbath Day to keep it holy as Yahweh, your God, commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Yahweh, your God. You shall not do any work – you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your ox, or your donkey, or any of your cattle, or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and female servant may rest with you. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. And Yahweh, your God, brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, Yahweh, your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath. Deuteronomy 5.12-15
Here, the reason for Sabbath keeping is rooted in the Exodus, not the Creation. Moses is speaking to a younger generation. Only Joshua and Caleb have any real remembrance of what it was to be a slave laborer in Egypt. Only Joshua and Caleb remember what it meant to be treated like beasts and not humans. Only Joshua and Caleb remember what it was like to be suddenly free. God made it so with a spectacular show of power. God doesn’t treat humans like beasts. These younger Jews must remember this past. Sabbath-keeping will remind them. Sabbath-keeping will prevent them from treating their children, their servants, even their animals this way.
It is true that observance of the Sabbath, as commanded by God in Mosaic Law is specific to the Mosaic period. It is not commanded in the New Testament, and there is no evidence in scripture that before the Sinai experience, God expected his people to observe this particular day. The reasons behind the command remain applicable to us. We must respect God’s absolute authority. We must respect our own need for rest and respect that need in others. This, for us, is Sabbath-keeping.