A StubbornThings Symposium 3/1/15
Introduction • When the great veil is snatched away, and all depths are sounded by the Great King who judges true, I should like to know which tribe and epoch produced the most virtuous men. It is certainly not a title that our own age could rightly claim. Shorn of our technology and machines, we are mere moral dwarves in the pantheon of man. Spinning like unrestrained atoms of desire, we are Bastards of the Enlightenment: whose native reason has been seduced and corrupted in a thousand hideous ways via the conceits of an age rich in both presumption and self-delusion.
Crowned in self-righteousness, we inhabit a time that has slain both God and reason for the reward of a poisoned autonomy. As orphans taking inordinate pride in severing their patrimony from the celestial order, little remains but the satiating of desire and material acquisition that are the by-products of Post-Modernity’s terminal philosophies. If we are ultimately accountable in life to none but ourselves for both our actions and choices, then the Grand Divorce is complete. We either belong solely to ourselves or we are here to fulfill an enigmatic personal transformation as the Children of the Living God. And indeed, this latter scenario is one that the world judges utterly loathsome. For those saturated in the hubris of centrifugal man, no tyranny is greater and more complete than the obligations owed to a sovereign God. For such as these, it is far better to clench one’s teeth against the outer darkness than to lay down rebel arms, come in from the maelstrom, and be healed.
To the unregenerate, the Sabbath’s celebration, along with any other Christian duty that topples the self from its respective throne, is the apex of foolishness. Never mind that those obedient to the Christian Life are to be rewarded a thousand-fold – both in the temporal battleground and throughout eternity. The devotion of one day in seven to the eternal search for God through study, rest, rejuvenation, and reflection is unacceptable to those whose despair is exceeded only by their myopia.
I am yet again honored to introduce this current installment of StubbornThings’ symposium on the Ten Commandments. This time, we consider what it means to “remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy.” The plethora of interpretations that have spun forth from this commandment reveal much about the spiritual health of a people and I hope that the insights acquired here will elevate what it means to be human in the fullest Christian sense.
— Glenn Fairman
Number 4: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as The Lord your God has commanded you. Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of The Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or your female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slaves may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God freed you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.” — TANAKH 5:12-15.
There was a time in the United States, not that long ago, when so-called “Blue Laws” were in effect in almost every State. Businesses were closed on the sabbath, alcohol could not be served, church-bells rang out and called the faithful to commune in prayer. Why was such an “unconstitutional” thing ever allowed?
The people who settled America, contrary to popular revisionist history, were, by-and-large, a God believing and God fearing people, steeped in Holy Biblical Scripture and Judeo-Christian ethics. Central to worship of God was the belief that it was He who created the heavens and the earth in six periods of time (what those “periods” or “days” meant will be argued until we “know all things”), and that even the Great God Himself had need of rest from His work of creation. He hallowed the seventh day, the first Holy Day.
There is a question about sabbath day worship in the early biblical history in that the practice is seldom referred to. Were all people from the time of Adam under God’s command to keep the sabbath day holy? Were people like Noah and the Patriarchs under the sabbath day law? The commandment was finally codified when the Law was given on Mount Sinai. However, when the Israelites left Egypt they were told not to gather manna on the sabbath before the incised commandments were given. So it would seem that the law really did exist unbroken from the beginning.
Why would God be so concerned for His creatures that He would assign them a day of rest? What blessings would accrue to man from that law? Why did our forebears in America think that the commandment was so important they made it a part of the civil law beyond the scriptures and enjoined it upon their children? In short, why did we have those “Blue Laws” for so many decades?
These are not specious questions, but are as relevant today as they were in the beginning. God required not only sabbath day worship, but also established sabbaths upon the land when it was finally granted to the Children of Israel. Modern man knows that those sabbath years were important in caring for the land, to let it rest and again become fertile and productive. Also in some of those sabbath years the land became community property, debt was forgiven, and the poor shared in what the land produced without aid. So several important civic functions were also put into effect.
God said He would bless the land He was giving to Israel with His protection and divine grace, so long as the people loved and honored Him and kept His commandments.
What was so important in keeping the sabbath day holy? Should you and I even be concerned with such a question today? How does breaking this commandment affect our homes, cities and states? Or does it?
The Children of Israel split into two kingdoms after the death of King Solomon, the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. The Kingdom of Israel was the first to fall into idolatry and wickedness, and the people were conquered and taken away captive by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. They have not been heard of since, hence the “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.”
By about 550 B.C., the Kingdom of Judah had also turned away from God. Under King Zedekiah, and others before him, the people had become idolatrous, indulged in fertility rites to heathen gods, sacrificed their own children by burning them alive before Baal and Moloch, and the poor and needy were abused and neglected by all, including the judges and the rich. At that time the City of Jerusalem was referred to as a “great” and indestructible city, though many today think of it as a dusty little backwater. The truth is that over 1,500,000 souls would perish during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.
God sent many prophets to call the people to repentance. Not only did the people refuse their messages, they also stoned and killed any prophets they could. Jeremiah was the chief prophet of the period and he was told by God that He, God, had known Jeremiah before He had formed him in the belly and that he was called as a prophet not just to Judah but to the nations, plural. This call was given even though Jeremiah left the land of Judah only once, when he was forced to go to Egypt with other Jewish escapees and was killed there. Were his words to Judah also meant for us as one of the nations?
It is important to know that everything with God is a two-sided coin, a commandment comes from Him with a promise of blessings IF the people are obedient, or with a cursing if they refuse to be obedient.
In Judah the message of all the prophets was for the people to return to God. Finally Jeremiah was called to deliver a single message to the King and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
THE BLESSING PROMISED BY GOD in Jeremiah, Chapter 17 KJV:
21. Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem;
22. Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, nor do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. . .
24. And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein:
25. THEN SHALL THERE ENTER INTO THE GATES OF THIS CITY KINGS AND PRINCES SITTING UPON THE THRONE OF DAVID, RIDING IN CHARIOTS AND ON HORSES, THEY, AND THEIR PRINCES, THE MEN OF JUDAH, AND THE INHABITANTS OF JERUSALEM: AND THIS CITY WILL REMAIN FOR EVER.
And so the great blessing was promised. Think of it, God said all they had to do was keep the sabbath day holy and their city would remain forever. Does such a promise apply to us today in our land? Is observing the sabbath the best thing we can do to keep our land free and safe?
When God sent angels to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah He revealed His plan to Abraham. With temerity, Abraham argued with God to spare the cities if he could find 50, then 40, or 30, or 20, or even 10 righteous souls therein. There were not enough righteous people to spare the cities from destruction. How may our righteousness work to save us and how many of us need there be? Is the righteousness of the people in our land at least partially determined by our sabbath day observance?
Two questions: What is it about sabbath worship and observance that would have made the people of Jerusalem worthy of God’s blessing? Do you think such observance can change you and me?
THE CURSING AND ITS RESULT
Continuing the message of Jeremiah, the Prophet, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17 KJV):
27. But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; THEN I WILL KINDLE A FIRE IN THE GATES THEREOF, AND IT SHALL DEVOUR THE PALACES OF JERUSALEM AND IT SHALL NOT BE QUENCHED.
* * *
And guess which offer the inhabitants of Jerusalem chose?
So war came. People outside of the city of Jerusalem were carried captive to Babylon and the city itself was besieged. After two years of siege people starved, fought each other for food, and parents killed and ate their own children. When Jerusalem finally fell, most of the remaining inhabitants in the city were killed by the sword. Over 1,500,000 people perished as a result of the siege. Thereafter the temple was desecrated when the priests were forced to sacrifice pigs on the altar, it was then razed and its treasures taken to Babylon. The remaining people were carried captive as slaves into Babylon.
King Zedekiah was forced to watch all of his sons be ceremonially killed, after which his eyes were put out. The blind king was taken to Babylon to live as a prisoner in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace where he was also made to eat at the King’s table with the very man who murdered his family.
And God had promised they could be saved if they would simply keep the sabbath day holy. The people of Judah would not be allowed to return home for forty years, and their Kingdom would never again be whole and strong, until modern times.
Following is a charge on the Ten Commandments given by Moses to the Children of Israel:
“The Lord spoke those words – those and no more – to your whole congregation at the mountain.” (Deut. 5:19, TANAKH, JPS). “Be careful then to do as the Lord has commanded you. Do not turn to the right or the left.” (Deut. 5:29, TANAKH, JPS).
Please note that the 4th Commandment, as set forth in the TANAKH translation, has three parts:
First is the charge to keep the sabbath holy. The day is set aside to worship God.
Secondly, you and your family are to do no work, nor are you to require anyone else, including strangers and slaves, or even animals, to do any work on the sabbath day. I think of this part as being symbolic of keeping the commandment, the demonstration of a person’s willingness to be obedient.
The third charge is to remember that the Israelites had been slaves and that God had made them free. So the sabbath was to be an active reminder of the blessing of freedom.
Those three things and no more.
Jesus and His disciples were always sabbath keepers, but their enemies put forth that they were sabbath breakers, mostly because Jesus often healed on the sabbath. It was in answer to one such charge that Jesus said: “Wherefore, it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” (Matt. 12:12 KJV). On another occasion He declared: “ . . . the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: therefore the Son of man is also Lord of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28, KJV). If Jesus is Lord of the sabbath then Christians must also be under the sabbath law.
After the death of Moses, the Israelites soon encumbered sabbath day observance with rules and ideas far beyond the three simple thoughts of the commandment. Of course there are always questions: Who feeds the chickens and milks the cows? Who does such essential chores and cleans up after the children and the sick? Apparently those matters did have to be clarified, and so “rules” were made. This led to such sensible things as being able to “pull your ox out of the mire”on the sabbath. It also led to many things that seem inconsequential to us in our day but which are still debated in many fundamentalist circles. Which is the real sabbath, Saturday or Sunday? How many steps may one walk on the sabbath? Is flipping a light switch on work? What is carrying a burden? How much does a burden weigh? May one use an elevator or drive a car on the sabbath? Depending on the religion one follows, the questions – and answers – seem endless.
So what are you and I to do? The “essentials” have multiplied so much in our time. We still must “heal” on the sabbath, so hospitals and health care people are on duty. Communications must run. Police must patrol. The list can be extended on and on. Some people just cannot have their sabbaths free from “work.”
How then do we keep the sabbath day holy? For our family the answer is to make things simple. As much as possible we attend church on the sabbath; we don’t go to movies or other entertainments; we don’t participate in or attend sporting events; unless we are traveling and unable to prepare our own food, we don’t eat out so others don’t have to work for us; we do no shopping on the sabbath, unless it’s an unavoidable emergency; we try to study the scriptures and just keep things as simple as possible. In short we attempt to devote our time to God. To care for the sick and needy, enjoy family meals together, to do well on the sabbath.
I have met people who must work on Saturday or Sunday so they set aside another day as their sabbath. I think God would honor such a commitment., but that’s just me. Another good friend studies and prays each morning of the week for at least an hour and feels she keeps the sabbath all week. I can’t say she’s wrong.
Each of us is faced with the sabbath day challenge if we wish to return to the laws of God.
Again, these are the three charges to Israel: Keep the sabbath holy, require no labor from anyone on the sabbath, and remember you were a slave so you know where your liberty comes from. The basic premise of God’s laws is to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land.” (Lev. 25:10). There are Jewish commentaries that indicate only free people are capable of redemption and that is why the Israelites had to be removed from slavery in Egypt. That third requirement of the sabbath law, to remember you were a slave, means that sabbath day worship and liberty are somehow inextricably connected. If we actively remembered freedom one day in seven – just once a week – would it help us value liberty more?
We can be slaves to many things in this life. Maybe what we need to remember as part of our sabbath is that truth, which comes from God, is what sets us free. Is that part of the link between the sabbath and liberty? This is a matter I have not fully been able to understand, but I feel that it is true and someday someone will help me understand more completely.
If we develop faith that the sabbath is made for man as a blessing, then the day will come when we will ” . . . call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable.” (Isaiah 58:13 KJV).
Is freedom what the sabbath is about? Was it given as a gift of delight for you and me? Does Jeremiah’s promise of salvation for Jerusalem, offered from the mouth of the Great God, “Keep the sabbath day holy”, also extend to us and our land today?
— Anniel is a frequent contributor to StubbornThings and suggested this symposium.
The Fourth Commandment
It was quite easy to obey this commandment growing up in the “Bible Belt” South because most of the establishments were closed on Sundays. Because the majority of the counties were dry, there was no way anyone could legally buy alcohol. My mother and aunts prepared Sunday’s dinner (except for the bread) on Saturday nights so that all they would have to do was warm it in the oven after church. We were not allowed to do laundry or any other household chores (other than wash the dinner dishes) on Sundays. My parents would not even allow me to clip my fingernails or toenails on the Sabbath. In fact, remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy was my father’s grace that he prayed before every meal until the day he died.
After moving away from the South and living in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, I found myself easily breaking this commandment without much thought or conviction. With stores and restaurants open 24/7 in most large cities; it is easy for Christian patrons to be lured away from obeying this commandment. Christian employees are also compelled to work on Sundays if their employer requires them to do so.
Why is the Sabbath so important to God? The Sabbath is tied to our relationship with God; therefore, it is one of the most important commandments out of the Ten. God Himself, in Genesis 2:2-3 declared a day of rest from His work:
And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
And God blessed (spoke good of) the seventh day, set it apart as His own, and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all His work which He had created and done.
The important words in this commandment are “remember and keep it holy”. Obedience to the commandment is centered on both the word and the phrase. Remember simply means not to forget. We must not forget the Sabbath day. Why should we not forget the Sabbath? We must remember it in order to keep it holy. When something is holy it is set aside for God. Christians are a people set aside for God’s purpose. As Christians we are commanded to live holy which includes our conduct, resources, talents, body and speech. The fourth commandment deals specifically with our time. Keep it holy means to set aside this day and time for God. Observing the Sabbath is a form of worship to God. Yes, many believers attend church services on Sundays; however, our worship should not end once we leave our place of worship. God is commanding that the entire Sabbath be a day of worship.
Why would God command us to not do any work on the Sabbath? Work and outside activities will interfere with and distract from our worship. Attention is to be directed to God in a way that is more concentrated and steady on the Sabbath than on the other six days. Worship is a state (an attitude) of spirit. The Hebrew word and definition of worship is Shachah – to prostrate, bow, do (make) obeisance or do reverence. The Greek words and definitions are Proskuneo -kiss toward, Sebomai (my favorite) – hold in awe, and Latreuo-to render religious service of homage.
Many today say that the scriptures, in particularly this commandment, are antiquated because the times have changed. Some have asked how is it that God could expect us to refrain from working on the Sabbath when He knows that some Christians have jobs and are required by employers to work. My response to them is: God in his infinite wisdom knew that times were going to change and become more commercialized and modern (nothing takes God by surprise). We must always remember that God is not some barbarian God who does not understand the needs of His people. He understands that many have to work on Sundays to provide for themselves and their families. Therefore, the focus on the Sabbath should not only be on what we cannot do. The purpose of the Sabbath is to also focus on what we can do. We should spend the Sabbath thanking God for how He has blessed us with a job to be able to provide for our families and for having the health, strength and mental ability to be able to get out of bed and perform on the job. We as Christians should use the opportunity to spend time with family reflecting on the events of the prior week and remembering how blessed we are to live in a country where we have the freedom to worship God without the fear of having our heads chopped off.
I believe that God wants us to obey the fourth commandment whenever circumstances will allow us. However, other than having to work on Sundays, there is no other reason that we should not be able to obey this commandment.
Shabbat Shalom – The 4th Commandment
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
This may well be the kindest commandment God gave the Jews – it gave them, even the women, permission, gave them a reason, to rest.
Imagine a world where one just worked from sun-up until sundown and only rested on those rare occasions when all available work was already finished, where they may not have even bothered to count the days into 7-day units. No looking forward to a vacation, no national holidays, no TGIF. From the seventh day of creation when God rested until He handed Moses the Tablets at the top of Mt. Sinai, there is no written record of mankind celebrating a Sabbath, taking a regular day off.
We assume, because of the 7-day creation week, that Adam and Eve set off into the hard world of work with that day off as a given, but there is no evidence that they did. Even Abraham doesn’t appear to have done so. Antediluvian man lived for hundreds of years – the gene pool still being in prime condition and direct contact with solar radiation not being an issue – and in all that time no regular, recognized, hallowed day off. Imagine Noah building that ark nonstop for 120 years. Think of the days of slavery in Egypt – never a day off. How horrible. How tough they must have been.
I know that seems almost impossible to picture, but it was Moses who wrote those earliest records, quite likely using pre-existing texts as his research documents, and also Moses who watched God inscribe the Ten Commandments on stone slabs – twice. You’d think Moses would have mentioned Sabbath activities prior to the Law, had there been any. But the idea appears to pop into existence for the first time on Mt. Sinai.
Even then the Israelites didn’t name the days of the week. The day we call Saturday, from sunset Friday (or the appearance of the first star) until sunset Saturday was called the Sabbath, but the other days were merely numbered. The first day our Monday, the second what we call Tuesday, etc. Our Fridays were sometimes referred to as “preparation day,” but more as a statement about the tasks to be accomplished prior to the Sabbath, than as a formal name.
And note how complex this commandment is compared to the others. God was leaving nothing to chance; He knew His people well and headed them off at the pass. Not only was the man of the house to take a day for worship and rest, but so was his wife, his children, his servants –the family couldn’t pawn the work off on the hired help, and even the animals were spared work for that one day a week. They couldn’t even import workers to take their place for even foreigners in their gates were to observe the Sabbath.
Keep it holy, the Jews were told – keep it set apart. And though the idea of rest is a lovely one, it must have been a matter of extreme faith to honor that. Another thing that’s hard for 21st century Americans to understand is that if one wasn’t pretty constantly working, one might not survive. Today we worry about making the car payment, or saving enough for a week in Hawaii, but 1400 years before Christ, one’s actual survival was constantly in question. To take the Sabbath off, was to depend entirely on God, something they finally learned to do during their 40-year manna-only trek through the desert.
The Sabbath concept, as a rest and as a test of faith, is also present in the later command to take 360 days off, to let the land have a sabbatical year. To take a whole year vacation rarely seemed feasible to the Jews, either out of fear, or because they were under control of another nation and in 586-87 B.C. they were forced to give those Sabbath years back to God by being exiled to Babylon until 516-17 when the majority of them returned to Jerusalem. Do the math – seventy years, the number of sabbatical years they owed to God.
Not only were the Jews to take every seventh year off, they were to take an additional year off every 50th year, the year of Jubilee. They would have just come off a seventh year, then after seven cycles of seven years they were to not only take another year off, but to also return all land purchased during that time to its original tribal owners and to forgive all debts. That’s a tall order and one the Jews never fulfilled.
One wonders what an economy actually run that way would be like. Clearing the decks every half-century would certainly keep wealth from accumulating in too few families and would avoid insurmountable debt. It would be interesting.
It would be interesting to see what would happen to human society if we all followed all the Commandments. Isn’t that a delightful thought? Then why don’t we? …. Back to Genesis 3.
— Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com.
The Tenth Commandment Symposium
The Ninth Commandment Symposium
The Eighth Commandment Symposium
The Seventh Commandment Symposium
The Sixth Commandment Symposium
The Fifth Commandment Symposium
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