The Fourth Commandment
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 20:11
Since the time of the Puritans, colonists in New England halted their work every Saturday night and rested themselves on Sundays. In honor of the Sabbath, blue laws forbade any work on Sunday, and during the 1800s many people were arrested for opening their shops, traveling, or even amusing themselves on the Lord’s Day. To this day, banks and public institutions are closed on the first day of the week, and while most blue laws have been repealed, one still cannot buy clothes in Bergen County, New Jersey on a Sunday.
For the majority of Christian history, church goers have been meeting on Sunday and honoring it as the day of rest. Faithful Christian business owners shut their store doors on Sunday in remembrance of the Fourth Commandment, and many are the hungry customers who drive past Chick-fil-A on Sunday afternoons, longing futilely for a chicken sandwich.
Today in the Church, we tend to recognize the value of nine commandments but ignore the fourth: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” What’s more, if we do honor the Sabbath, we celebrate it on the first day of the week. Genesis 2:2–3 tells us that God rested on the seventh day, and He set that particular day aside as holy. Why do Christians consider Sunday the Sabbath rather than Saturday — if we regard the Sabbath at all?
The Fourth Commandment raises a wide variety of questions for us today:
- Did God institute the Sabbath only for Israel?
- Is a Christian required to keep the Law?
- Did Sunday replace Saturday as the day of rest?
- By what authority? Is the Sabbath important prophetically?
- Does God still have a purpose for the Sabbath today?
- Should Christians keep the Sabbath?
- If so, what are the requirements?
Lawyers have told me that the definition of a satisfactory settlement is when both sides feel they’ve been equally cheated. We try to have something to offend everybody here. We won’t play favorites.
As a culture, we generally recognize the Ten Commandments. It is self-evident to us that murder and stealing, lying and adultery are wrong behaviors. We know it’s wrong to worship gods other than God the Creator, and idols are just lumps of rock and wood. When it comes to the Sabbath, though, many Christians are left puzzled. Many don’t know what they’re supposed to do to “keep it holy.” Some take a legalistic approach, while other Christians ignore the Sabbath as an unnecessary burden.
There is far more to this question than we can answer in a few short sentences. The Bible has a lot to say about the Sabbath, and to do a thorough job, we need to start right away back at the very beginning.
Almost every major doctrine in the Bible seems to have its roots planted in Genesis 3. The first observation I want to share isn’t directly related to the Sabbath, but it has value in our discussion here. We need to remember the first things that Satan ever said to humankind. Here in the Garden, he comes to Eve as the shining serpent, the nachash. He is subtle and clever, and he appears to the naïve Eve with sweet, deadly words:
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
— Genesis 3:1–4
When God gave Adam the order not to eat the fruit in Genesis 2:17, it makes no mention of not touching the tree. Eve added that, which is the first indication of a problem. What does Satan say to Eve? His first step is to cast doubt on God’s word. He says to her, “Did God say that?” Then he refutes what God says, “You won’t die.” Not only won’t she die, Satan tells Eve, but God’s been holding out on her!
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
— Genesis 3:5
Satan’s methods haven’t changed in all these years. His tactics are still the same because they work. Satan still strives to convince the human race that God can’t be trusted. He hisses in our ears that God’s Word is false, that He’s holding out on us. Like Eve, many fall for Satan’s propaganda.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
— Genesis 3:6–7
Adam and Eve recognized that they were naked, and they sought to cover themselves. We find here that our first parents felt exposed after disobeying God. They felt exposed and made an effort to cover themselves by sewing together tree leaves.
This is a key point, because this is the beginning of religion. Religion is always humankind’s effort to cover itself — to escape that feeling of guilt and shame that plagues us all. We do our best to follow the rules we like best, and we forget the ones we don’t. We try to cover ourselves or justify ourselves. None of it works. The only way to deal with sin is for God Himself to cover us and cleanse us.
And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
— Genesis 3:20–21
Adam and Eve tried to clothe themselves, but their efforts fell short. God takes charge of Adam and Eve’s situation. They are exposed and ashamed, and He covers them. He makes them clothes and hides their nakedness. What’s more, He makes their clothing from animal skins. Why? Leather is more durable, but there’s much more to it than that. Remember, without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sins. God is teaching us from the very beginning that the payment for sin is death, and we are covered by the shedding of innocent blood.
Even here in their moment of great shame, Adam prophesies hope in his naming of Eve. Her name in Hebrew is Chavvah, or “lifegiver.” She is the mother of all the living because all human beings are her descendants. More importantly, she is the mother of all the living because the Messiah comes from her.
Important Biblical themes grow and develop in the next chapter, as we watch two of Adam and Eve’s children interact with God and each other.
We know about Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer who produced fruit from the ground. This was the job God had given humans from the very beginning. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to tend it, and even after they were kicked out of the Garden it was understood that humans would work to bring food from the earth. The curse simply made that job harder.
Abel was a shepherd. He tended a flock of sheep. When Abel went before God to worship Him and offer Him a sacrifice, he gave God one of the sheep from his flock. Cain gave what he had — he offered fruit of the ground. There is speculation about why Cain’s offering was not accepted. The remainder of the chapter gives us a good picture of his heart — certainly not pure in its love and devotion to God. Sin lay waiting at the door of Cain’s heart, and he killed his brother in jealousy. The fact that Abel was a shepherd isn’t the point; unlike Cain, Abel gave his offering in faith.
There are two things going on here. First, Abel worships God in faith. It’s also very important that a lamb was the sacrificial offering instituted by God from Eden onward. Abel’s offering pointed toward the ultimate Lamb that is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament. When God asked Abraham to offer Isaac in Genesis 22, He ultimately stopped Abraham and replaced Isaac with a ram. The blood of the Passover lamb protected those inside the house from the angel of death. John the Baptist called Jesus, “The Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” making reference to the Mosaic sacrificial system in which lambs were killed as sin offerings. Throughout the Scripture, we find this anticipation of the ultimate sacrifice that God’s own Son would make on Calvary. He wrote us a love letter in blood on a Roman cross in Judea 2000 years ago, and God started to teach us about it in advance from the very beginning of the human race.
When we understand this, we see that Genesis 3:21 has great significance. God covered Adam and Eve with animal skins. The ideas formalized in the Law of Moses were originally planted in the Garden of Eden. That’s my premise. The Bible’s most important ideas are given us at the start of everything, clear back at the beginning.
Before the Law
There were ideas in the common understanding of the human race long before the Law.
Cain and Abel understood that it was good to come to God with a sacrifice. God told Cain, “sin lieth at the door” in Genesis 4:7 when there was no specific command for Cain to break.
God called Abraham out of the idol-worshipping culture of the Chaldeans and made him the first Jew. It wasn’t until Genesis 17 that God gave the ordinance of circumcision to Abraham, but he was declared righteous two chapters earlier in Genesis 15:6. Abraham wasn’t justified by circumcision. He was justified because he believed God.
The concepts of righteousness and faith were already living in the understanding of the human race before Moses wrote down the Law.
There were many things the men of God understood early in history. In Genesis 8:20, after Noah and his family were able to exit the ark, we find that Noah built an altar and sacrificed some of every clean animal. God had told him in Genesis 7:2 to bring onto the ark two of every animal and seven of every clean animal. We can argue this meant seven pairs of clean animals. The real question is this: how did Noah know which animals were clean and which animals were unclean? There’s nothing intrinsically unclean about an unclean animal. The terms are Levitical. They are ceremonial. They’re ritualistic.
Pork is unclean. Why? Because the pigs roll in the mud? No. How did Noah understand which were clean and unclean animals? We’ve been exposed to the Old Testament, so we take for granted this understanding of clean versus unclean. We can make medical arguments about these terms now from our understanding of bacteria and parasites and disease, but the two categories are not obvious based on animal appearances. They are Levitical categories.
The idea of clean and unclean animals were codified in Leviticus, but they were apparently established back in Eden. “Thou shalt not murder” was codified in the Law, but God still punished Cain for it back at the beginning. God destroyed all breathing things with the Flood because of the great wickedness being perpetrated across the earth, because evil was evil before the Law labelled it so.
Where am I heading with all of this? The idea of the Sabbath also existed before the Law.
The Sabbath began in Eden. God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. Nobody lived closer to the creation week than Adam and Eve. They lived there with God on the very first Sabbath, the day that God rested from creating the world.
The Fourth Commandment tells us to honor the Sabbath, but the Sabbath existed long before the Law.
Erev and Boker
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
How many people were around on that day, the seventh day when God rested? Two. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day of Creation. They later had sons and daughters, according to Genesis 5:4, but just the two of them existed there with God that first Sabbath.
Let’s back up just a bit more and look more closely at that first week of Creation.
Evening and Morning
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
— Genesis 1:1–4
This is interesting. You and I think of darkness as the absence of light. This is a different kind of darkness, because God is able to separate the light from darkness, as though they are two different things. We understand darkness in a different sense today, which is why we can talk about black holes and other phenomena.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
— Genesis 1:5
More precisely, this should be translated, “And the evening and the morning were Day One.” The word in the Hebrew for evening is erev, and the word for morning is boker. “Boker tov” is “Good morning.” There are scholars that believe that the original meaning of erev was “chaos” or “darkness.” When the sun sets, things start to become indistinct and dark, so this naturally became the word for “evening.” In contrast, boker originally signified order. It is the time of day when the sun rises and the light makes us able to discern forms and shapes. Thus, on day one there was evening and morning.
One of the things we know from the study of thermodynamics is that the entropy of a system always increases. That is, there is always a loss of order. It’s impossible to have a perpetual motion machine because some of the energy used to make the machine run is lost as heat dissipating into the atmosphere. There is no such thing as 100% efficiency. The directed energy used in the machine gets lost as random, disordered radiant energy.
Order and design are the opposites of randomness or chaos, and what we observe about the universe today is that all things are heading toward disorder. In the terms of thermodynamics, the entire universe is heading toward a uniform temperature. As we do work, we lose energy in the form of heat, contributing to the overall ambience of the universe. If things continue as they are now, theoretically, the disorder will conquer all. No more work will be able to be done, the atoms of all things will have all spread out from each other, and the universe will experience a “heat death.” It’s like the whole thing has been wound up and is winding down. The natural trend is always downhill.
Every field of science observes and recognizes the entropy laws except biology. Biologists tell us that randomness leads to complex life. In the rest of the world, randomness leads to disorder, destruction, and confusion, but biologists constantly operate under the assumption that randomness can create the ordered mechanisms rampant in living things. There’s a clear disparity in this area between the life sciences and all other scientific disciplines.
We can combat the natural tendency toward chaos, and we can create order. It’s always at a net loss of energy, but we can still order things externally. We can walk into our messy living room and “tidy up.” We can organize our closets and tune up our car engines. As soon as we enter the picture and use our brains to consciously force order on the natural disorder, we are doing something important; we are adding information.
As God creates the world in Genesis, He makes order out of chaos. In one view of Genesis 1, there are six specific stages in which God reduces entropy by introducing design. Every time Moses writes, “And there was evening and there was morning,” the root meaning of those words indicates the reduction of entropy — the introduction of order, of information, into the randomness of chaos.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
— Genesis 1:6–8
First God divides the light from the darkness. Next, God divides the waters above and the waters below. He’s organizing. He’s ordering the world. Did it take Him the whole “day” to do these things? Maybe. We do know that He is setting up a pattern for us.
This except is from Dr. Chuck Missler’s book The 7th Day, available from the K-House Store.