The Sabbath Law
What do the following three of the ten commandments have in common that are not shared by the other seven?
· Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 20:8
· You shall not murder. 20:13
· You shall not commit adultery. 20:14
It is a curious contrast: The Christian community is relatively (and I do mean relatively) innocent of the murder and adultery commands. I am aware that Jesus had an expanded view of the murder and adultery commands (Matthew 5:21-30). But that is a different topic for a different day. By contrast to murder and adultery, the Sabbath command is generally ignored by the Church.
Perhaps you keep the Sabbath day holy by faithfully attending worship service. And that is well. But it is very difficult in our culture to observe the Sabbath command as Moses delivered it: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” Exodus 20:8-10
Today, even the Christian community is giving ground on working on the Sabbath. Among merchandisers, only Chick-Fil-A closes down business activity for Sunday. At a minimum, our patronage would count as a “stranger who is in our gates” as doing work. Many of us simply cannot tell our employers that we are permanently unavailable on the Sabbath. And then there is home repairs.
Hotels have Sabbath elevators. On the Sabbath, one elevator is dedicated to going up and down without call. It stops at every floor on the way up; and it stops at every floor on the way down. This spares the orthodox Jew from having to press a button to call the elevator, and another button to direct the elevator to his floor. Yet the Christian community thinks nothing of starting up his car and driving off on the Sabbath.
Though I seek to change no one’s behavior or habits, I can neither explain nor justify why the Church has nine commandments that should be observed, and one commandment that is no longer in force. We can say that times have changed. However, the God we serve never changes1. Shall we approach “You shall not steal” with the same pragmatic approach?
Perhaps God Himself meant to place lower priority on the Sabbath commandment than on the others. And that brings us back to the question of what the three cited commandments have in common.
Answer: They are the only three commandments wherein breaking them carries the death penalty.
· You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death. Exodus 31:14
· Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Exodus 31:15
· Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.
· Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” Numbers 15:32-35
· The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20:10
· Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 24:17
None of the seven other commandments carry the death penalty. I can author no justification that the Sabbath command is of lesser importance than the other nine.
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2. As we entered Exodus 20, I wrote a Comment on the difference between the law and the commandments. In summary, the commands were to be obeyed; the law cites the consequences of disobedience. The law no longer touches us. The death penalty as a consequence for disobedience to the Sabbath, murder and adultery commands is no longer in force, as declared by Romans 8:2. And for that, I am thankful. But modern day Church testimony is fairly well aligned that the ten commandments remain God’s will for Christian conduct – even though we will not face the consequences as prescribed in the law.
Though our paths may meet one Sabbath day at Sears, I will neither accuse nor condemn. But I will ask you to be honest about your regard for obedience to a commandment wherein violation is three-times said by the Almighty Creator of the universe to be worthy of death.
1 While I’m on the topic of God never changes, I can find no justification for changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. (Several good men disagree with me.) Christ rose on a Sunday, and we do well to reserve time each Sunday to celebrate His resurrection. But that is a different matter altogether than identifying which day is the Sabbath.