At the high point of His short, 3½-year ministry, Jesus Christ drew swarms of people who were amazed at His teaching. However, the religious leaders were not impressed. Envious of the people’s growing loyalty to Christ and jealous of their positions, the Sadducees and Pharisees conspired to trip Him up continually. Yet Jesus Christ spoke simply and directly and often embarrassed the greatest of scholars in front of the multitudes.
Immediately after Christ won a heated exchange with the Sadducees over the scriptural fact of the resurrection, the Pharisees sent one of their own, who was also an expert lawyer, to test Him with a question. He asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). With this question, the Pharisees sought to open an avenue of attack on Christ. Essentially, they were forcing Christ to give a restricted reply from the entire five books of Moses—the Pentateuch. This Pharisee planned to twist Christ’s answer to look inadequate—considering the magnitude of the law—and cast doubt on all of His teachings.
Christ knew exactly how to handle the lawyer’s assault. He answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (verses 37-40). This is an incredible answer. Taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, Christ divides the Decalogue into its two great divisions—love toward God and love toward man. He then shows that the foundation of all Old Testament Scripture is these two great categories of the Ten Commandments.
The Fourth Commandment, along with the first three, governs man’s relationship with God. This commandment, soon to be at the forefront of international controversy, provides man the opportunity to demonstrate that he loves God with his whole heart, soul and mind.
God instructs all men to remember His Sabbath day. It is the day mankind works hard to forget!
The Central Commandment
Let’s go back to the history from Exodus. The Eternal, Almighty God spoke: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11). This commandment carries with it more explanation than any of the other nine. Therefore, obedience to it is of prime importance to God. It must become a priority for men, women and children worldwide. Few actually give it a thought!
What is truly ironic is that religious leaders argue most against this commandment. Many subtle and deceitful arguments have diluted and confused God’s intended requirements for proper performance of the commandment. It is permanently bound to a specific day of the week. No man has the authority to change the day. Yet nearly all Christian organizations reason around the observance of this particular day.
This commandment is set in the very middle of the Ten Commandments. This central commandment protects men from false religion. It proves the depth of God’s committed love for all men. Mankind must not rip it out from the other nine. We need to know this vital commandment. The Fourth Commandment ensures a close relationship with the only true God.
A Matter of History
The unique wording of this commandment sets it apart from all the rest. God opened the commandment with the word remember. This bold statement shows that the Israelites had knowledge of the Sabbath day prior to the dramatic giving of the Ten Commandments. We will show you how they received that knowledge later in this article.
Many ignorant scholars want to tie this commandment to the book of the covenant (which was actually the civil law of Moses) listed in Exodus 20 through 24 and say that this commandment is done away because the Old Covenant is done away. That argument cannot stand up to what the Bible reveals about the Sabbath day. It is a matter of facing history.
The saga of the Sabbath goes back to the time of the creation of man. Moses recorded the events of the very first Sabbath for us in Genesis. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Genesis 2:1-3).
To grasp the meaning here, we must wipe our minds clear of all prejudices. These verses are not myth or legend, but a record of sacred history. To deny the history of these verses would be similar to denying that George Washington was America’s first president. Recognize that Moses wrote down these words after Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. God revealed the history for man’s benefit. The revelation in these verses is truly wonderful.
God kept the first Sabbath day by ending His work of the physical creation. Yet His creative work was not completed. Genesis 1 outlines the supernatural creative acts of the preceding six days. Herbert W. Armstrong explained in Mystery of the Ages that God’s creative work during the six days of creation was actually a renewal of the Earth fashioned perhaps millions of years prior to the creation of man. God restored a destroyed Earth as a home for man. God provided our first parents with light, clean air, fresh water, abundant food and the most desirable of occupations—rulership of God’s magnificent creation. Then He did something even more fantastic. He created the Sabbath day—not by physical work but by resting on the seventh day. The creation of the Sabbath was the means for God to begin His spiritual creation of man. It is through the observance of the Sabbath that man can come to know the magnitude of God’s purpose for human life—to be born again as a spirit being into the very Family of God. It is God’s ultimate goal to build His own holy, righteous character in man (1 John 3:9).
Bible history shows that the Sabbath is as much a part of the creation as the night, day, sky, animals or even man. Man cannot change what God has created! What man can change night into day or day into night? It is impossible!
The Seventh Day
Study the record. At creation, God took the seventh day and blessed and sanctified it. The word blessed means that the seventh day has God’s favor upon it. The word sanctified means that God set apart the seventh day for holy use. No other day of the week has God’s favor or is set apart. Notice the specific day—it is the seventh day. God repeats the word seventh three times in two verses. Why? God wanted no doubt. What is the seventh day of the week? It is Saturday. No clever arguments or human reasoning can make the seventh day to be any other day of the week. Neither can a man call any other day of the week the Sabbath, or a Sabbath, and make that day blessed or sanctified by God.
Some men argue that time has been lost and therefore we cannot know which day is the seventh. Bible history proves that reasoning false. God showed the Israelites which day was the Sabbath prior to their arrival at Mt. Sinai. Study Exodus 16. Immediately after their escape from Egypt, the Israelites, like all refugees, struggled with their displacement. They suffered from the effects of nearly two centuries of hard labor. Being tired, hungry and fearful of the unknown, they desired to go back to slavery. Not truly grateful for their newly gained freedom, they whined and complained to Moses and Aaron (verse 2). They focused on their bellies rather than the fabulous future ahead. This was a huge problem. Of course, Moses and Aaron were overwhelmed. But God intervened for them. He used the situation to His advantage—and the people’s as well.
God told Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily” (verses 4-5). Through the miracle of manna, God wanted to show that He would never neglect the needs of His people. Most of all, He wanted to reveal which day was the Sabbath day and then test the people to see if they would obey. God’s people today are under the same test.
Remember that the Israelites were a slave people. The Egyptians kept no Sabbath. Certainly they would have never let Israel keep one. They had limited religious knowledge. The Israelites had no formal religious training—there was no priesthood. So God taught them personally! He used their hunger to teach with impact. God provided manna for the people every day except the seventh day, the day of rest. For five days, each family was to gather just enough manna necessary for each day. Any manna left over would stink and breed worms. But God instructed Moses to tell the people to gather a double portion of manna on the sixth day to supply their needs for both the sixth and seventh day. This was an obvious miracle—food stored on the sixth day would not rot!
The Sabbath—God’s Gift
Moses records, “And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none” (verses 21-26).
Moses was emphatic. The Sabbath was not his idea. He was passing on God’s instructions: “This is that which the Lord hath said.” God’s words focused not on the gathering of manna—but how to keep the Sabbath—by resting and not gathering manna! The people were to gather double on the sixth day so they could properly rest on the seventh. They were to prepare each week—a day in advance—to keep the Sabbath properly. In addition, through the lesson God established the correct day, saying, “[O]n the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.” It is all so plain. The correct day for the Sabbath is clearly established. The question is: Are we willing to admit it?
Ignoring God’s clear instructions, some of the people attempted to gather manna on the Sabbath. God was angry with them and the entire nation—including Moses. God spoke out, “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” (verses 27-30). We must take special note here. This incident happened prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments. It proves that the Fourth Commandment (along with the rest of the commandments) was in full force before Mount Sinai and thus did not cease to be binding when the Old Covenant ended. This means the Sabbath law is still in force today!
The people of that time experienced an incredible miracle with the manna. Yet the greater miracle was the revealing of God’s true Sabbath day. God considered it a gift: “See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath …” (verse 29). Yet some put no value on what God had given. Do we value God’s gift of the Sabbath?
God left His chosen nation with no doubts about which day was the Sabbath. That is specifically why God said to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, “Remember the sabbath day.” He had revealed it to them. God commanded them to never let it slip from their memory. The miracle of manna continued each week until Joshua took them into the Promised Land (Joshua 5:12). For over 40 years, God drove the lesson home.
God also gave His people, specifically the tribe of Judah, the responsibility of preserving the knowledge of the correct day (Romans 3:2). The Jews of our time have done this job well. There is no question as to which day is the Sabbath day to a Jew. Yet it is not a Jewish day!
Made for Man
Realize that the Sabbath began at a time when the tribe of Judah did not even exist. No one particular race owns it. God both owns and governs the Sabbath. He expects all men to preserve the gift He has given.
Did God create or give the Sabbath to the Jews only? Here is what our Savior Jesus Christ says: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). Notice Jesus Christ did not say the Sabbath was made for the Jew—it was made for all mankind! In addition, Jesus Christ established here that He was the Lord, or Master, of the Sabbath. Therefore He had the authority to establish proper Sabbath observance.
The Pharisees and Sadducees continually accused Christ of Sabbath-breaking. Yet as a human being, Jesus Christ kept the Sabbath. It was His custom to do so (Luke 4:16). Many verses in the four Gospels explain how to keep it properly. Christ never broke the Sabbath. He simply refused to follow needless traditions.
Christ’s words in Mark 2:27-28 are His response to one of those accusations. The Jews of Christ’s day had added many burdensome restrictions regarding the Sabbath day. Their customs took much of the joy out of Sabbath-keeping. Jesus Christ intended to strip away and correct all such unnecessary customs. Today, we must do the same. When observed properly, the Sabbath is truly a delight.
God explained clearly who should keep the Sabbath. He said, “[I]n it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Exodus 20:10). Every human being is required to rest on the Sabbath day—men, women, children, servants and even visitors (strangers) in the land. Sabbath-keeping is not tied to status—both king and servant are required to observe it. Notice the extent to which God takes the command—even the cattle are to rest. Can we see how loving God is toward man and even animals? Keeping the Sabbath is good for us. There is an incredible health benefit in resting from our labors. But there are spiritual benefits that far outweigh anything physical.
Many do not realize that God doubly commanded Sabbath observance. God made a separate and special covenant with His people to keep it. God told Moses, “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you” (Exodus 31:13). Here God describes the Sabbath as a sign of identification so the people could know Him—the only true God. How is the Sabbath a sign?
God explains, “It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed” (verse 17). The wording here is very similar to Exodus 20:11. Here God reminds the people of the re-creation of the Earth and the creation of the Sabbath. But the focus is on God as Creator. Of course, the God Being discussed here is Jesus Christ. Prior to His human birth He was the second Personage of the Godhead known as the Logos. Study John 1:1-3 and Ephesians 3:9. God the Father created the Sabbath through Jesus Christ!
The Sabbath is a sign because it identifies God as the Creator of all things. It reveals God! It is a memorial of the fact that the universe and all things in it, the Earth and all things in it, including man, are created things. We did not evolve. There is a great Creator God who has designed and fashioned all things for a magnificent purpose. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder of this fact.
God commands, “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant” (Exodus 31:16). God made an everlasting covenant with His people to keep them in the true knowledge of the true God. Keeping the Sabbath protects people from religious deceit about God and His master plan for the salvation of mankind. It is the everlasting sign that He is the Eternal Creator. In addition, it is also the sign that identifies the true people of God.
Keeping the Sabbath reminds us that Jesus Christ, as God, rested on that first seventh day. He put His own holiness into it to help mankind come to fully understand God the Father’s work of creation. At that beginning, Jesus Christ was refreshed when He looked into God’s plans for His creation. The same will happen for all of us. We will be spiritually refreshed. Keeping the Sabbath opens up incredible opportunities if we will just step out and obey God’s command.
Keep It Holy
At the beginning of the commandment, God exhorts us to remember to keep the Sabbath holy. How do we keep the seventh day holy? Through the Prophet Isaiah, God says, “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words” (Isaiah 58:13).
God never intended the Sabbath to be a day of gloomy, depressing restriction. He intended it to be a delightful day. However, we cannot do our own thing on the Sabbath—finding our own pleasure. It is a day for spiritual refreshment and rest; not a day of physical entertainment. It is a day set aside for worshiping God the Father and Jesus Christ. The Sabbath is 24 hours of holy time—from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. We should do holy things like prayer, Bible study and meditation. We should saturate our minds with the concepts and ideas that are on God’s mind. This brings us into a closer relationship with Him. It is a day for worshiping God with people of like mind in formal services. It is also a day for fellowship—speaking about the things of God with others. We should avoid speaking our own words—discussing our jobs or the latest sports game or other entertainment interests. There are times on the Sabbath when we should do good acts for those who are sick or in need. For more explanation of how to keep the Sabbath properly, be sure to request a copy of Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath? This booklet by Mr. Armstrong thoroughly explains the entire subject of God’s true Sabbath.
God promises rich blessings to all those willing to make His Sabbath day a delight. Continuing in Isaiah, God says, “Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (verse 14). When we make God and His Sabbath a delight, God blesses us in many ways both physically and spiritually. There is an immediate sense of physical rejuvenation from simple rest. Bible study, prayer and meditation recharge the spiritual batteries to aid us in facing another week. Keeping the Sabbath brings peace of mind and the knowledge of God’s care and protection.
Some fail to keep the Sabbath, fearful of losing a job or income. It is true that in this world, some have lost their jobs because of Sabbath obedience. But God will always provide for His faithful when they are truly diligent.
The real danger is in not keeping God’s Sabbath if you have knowledge of it. When you study the Old Testament thoroughly, the history of Israel and Judah shows that when they worshiped the true God properly and kept His Sabbath day holy, they were blessed immeasurably. But when they got into idolatry and disregarded the Sabbath, they suffered horribly. God brought foreign nations against them. Both nations went back into captivity.
Through the Prophet Ezekiel, God said, “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them” (Ezekiel 20:12-13). This is a serious indictment against the people of God—both anciently and today! Remember, this prophecy is dual. It was actually written down for the people of our day (Ezekiel 29:21; 33:33). God wants to teach us a history lesson so we don’t repeat it!
The great God of the Bible takes Sabbath-breaking very seriously. God always removed His blessings and protection because of this sin. Yet it does not have to happen to us. Notice what God promises when an individual keeps His Sabbath day holy: He shall live in them. In other words, when we strive to obey God and all of His commandments, statutes and judgments—especially the Fourth Commandment—God will protect us and preserve us alive, not just physically—eternally! Let’s be sure to learn more about and keep God’s Fourth Commandment. Remember the Sabbath day.