The fourth commandment seems simple but it turns out it was one of the favorite commandments the Jews tried to trap Jesus with. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exod 20:8) God even gave a bit of clarity to what it means to keep this day 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.” (Exod 20:9-11)
God was very specific that this was about “labor” and the purpose was to keep the day “Holy”. But what does that word actually mean. Dictionary.com says that Holy means “
Let’s start with some basic activities from which we refrain on Shabbat:
- writing, erasing, and tearing;
- business transactions;
- driving or riding in cars or other vehicles;
- using the telephone;
- turning on or off anything which uses electricity, including lights, radios, television, computer, air-conditioners and alarm clocks;
- cooking, baking or kindling a fire;
- gardening and grass-mowing;
- doing laundry;
The Pharisees and scribes had created so many laws around the Sabbath that it was literally impossible to live up to their standard. But what was God’s standard, what was His intent behind this commandment. Jesus frames the question perfectly in one of the moments when the Pharisees were trying to trap Him. “And he said to them,“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Matt 3:4-5a)
You see, God said we should not “labor”. That word had a very clear definition at the time (and still does today) in that it was working to provide either food or income for yourself and your family. Yet somehow by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, healing a man was now considered “labor”. Jesus’ response was a direct stab at the heart of the law. God had written His Law so we would take a time of rest and reflection to remember God and all He had done in creating the world. But the Jewish laws that had since been adapted from this commandment were less about the Holiness of the day and more about controlling the people. Jesus literally grieved at this interpretation.
So what does it really mean to keep the Sabbath Holy? It means that although every day should be lived for Him, the Sabbath day is when we should make extra effort to reflect on our service to Him. It’s not about the actual actions of the day, but about our heart towards Him and His creation.
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