The Fourth Commandment—Exodus 20:8-11

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Levi Durfey


1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.


4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.


7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 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: 11 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.


12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.




The Sabbath. It’s a topic that can instantly set Christians on edge. Should Christians observe the Sabbath or not? Aren’t we free from following the law? Can’t we do whatever we want on Sunday? Didn’t Christ give us a permanent rest in him (Hebrews 3:7-4:11)?


Some Christians have treated the Sabbath much like the Pharisees did in Bible times. If you read the “Farmer Boy” book from the Little House series, you will find that Almanzo Wilder’s family sat in their living room all Sunday Afternoon doing nothing.


Half-way between these extremes you will find the truth of the Sabbath, and once you find it, you’ll discover that it is gone forever in America.  


Gone are the times that stores where closed on Sunday and people, even if they didn’t go to church, rested and relaxed on Sunday. They took a day off and enjoyed their family. 


Now our society has moved to a 24/7 mentality, and in large measure, it’s killing us. While not having a day of rest cannot be the only reason, it’s interesting the increase in health problems, marriage and family problems, and other social problems since the 1950’s.


For you who are older—what do you remember Sunday’s being like when you were young? 


Both secular and Christian sources have advocated a return to having a day of rest during the week. God didn’t design us to go 24/7, he designed us to go 24/6—and, as we well know, when God’s design is violated, we suffer consequences.




A. For The Lord


Exodus 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 


The word “sabbath” comes out of the Hebrew for “stop” or “cease” or “rest.” It’s used both ways early in Genesis—


2 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. (Genesis 2:2)


22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Genesis 8:22)


Finally, in Exodus, the word “sabbath” came to represent resting and ceasing from labor on the seventh day.


How does remembering the “sabbath day” help “to keep it holy”?


Verse 10 helps us here: “the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God.” In other words, the Sabbath needs to revolve around the Lord in some way. A holy day must be kept by dedicating it to the Lord.


B. For The Body


Exodus 20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 

Exodus 20:10 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: 


We are to have a 24/6 mentality, not a 24/7 mentality. We weren’t designed to go full speed all the time. It is something that we are to teach our families. Show them the need for rest.


What did Jesus mean when he said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:” (Mark 2:27)?


Jesus was affirmed that the Sabbath was to benefit man and his body, not to be a burden by too many rules and regulations. 


However, Jesus never abolished the fourth commandment, but he did clarify it. The legalism of the Pharisees had made it a burden to people instead of a joy. 


It should be joyful to have time off from labor. It should be joyful to worship the Lord. The Sabbath was made for us.


So the Sabbath was made for us to worship the Lord and it was made because we were designed to only go 24/6. Those are the purposes of the Sabbath, and we’ll dig more into them later.


But what is the foundation of the Sabbath? It is…


C. Based On The Lord’s Pattern


Exodus 20:11 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. 


Did God need to rest from creating? Of course not. Then why did he rest? It was to provide a pattern or model for us to follow.


Despite the danger of keeping the Sabbath legalistically, what stronger model could we have of Sabbath-keeping than that God himself kept the Sabbath?


Anyone who refuses to at least try to fit the Sabbath or a sabbath into their busy week must confront the fact that God himself modeled it for us. That has to say something.


Jesus also kept the Sabbath, albeit not in the way that the Pharisees liked. He taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Mark 6:2), but he also allowed his disciples a meal from a corn field and healed on the Sabbath. He explained his actions to those who complained about a healing:


9 Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? (Luke 6:9)




How does God intend for people to obey the Sabbath? 


The same way that they are to obey any of his laws—by trusting him. We see a perfect example of this trusting and obeying in Exodus 16:


4 Then said the LORD unto 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. 5 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. (Exodus 16:4–5)


Why was there double manna on the sixth day? So that they would not have to work on the Sabbath day!


22 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. 23 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. 


24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. 25 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. 26 Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. 


27 And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. 28 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. 30 So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:22–30)


The ones who went out on the Sabbath to gather were not trusting the Lord for their provision. They felt like they could use a little more—perhaps even save a little (although it would rot overnight) or perhaps they just imagined they could have a bigger Sabbath dinner.


Trusting God is the key to obeying God in any of his laws. My former professor recently published another book. In it, I found the best, balanced chapter on the Sabbath I have ever read. He hits on this issue of trust—


No Christian should be forced to observe the Sabbath, for we are free in Christ to consider “one day more sacred than another” or to consider “every day alike” (Rom. 14:5). 


However, every Christian who neglects the Sabbath should at least stop and ask why that is. Is it because we are free in Christ? Fine. Is it because we don’t think we can afford a break? Not fine.


Is our world so fragile that it might unravel if we aren’t constantly on call? Are we afraid we will lose ground to colleagues who relentlessly work through the weekend? 


If these are our reasons, then working 24/7 indicates we trust something else besides Jesus. Jesus isn’t really enough, but we’ll only be satisfied when we achieve a bit more money, success, or something. We work nonstop, as if our salvation depended on us.


The Sabbath supplies a surprisingly accurate barometer of our spiritual health. Only those who trust entirely in Jesus are free to put the world in its place and take a break every seventh day. 


We won’t observe the Sabbath in a legalistic way, fixated on what tasks we must not do, for this shifts the focus back onto us and implies that our standing with God depends on what we are able to deliver. But embracing the truth that we have been given fullness in Christ (Col. 2:10), we are free to be unproductive on purpose.[1]




If we can only view the Sabbath day as a legalistic restriction, then we’ve missed the point entirely. The Sabbath is meant to be a gift of God’s mercy and grace to us. We need a day of rest—God gives it to us.


If all we are concerned about is what we can or can’t do on the Sabbath, then we’re probably missing the point also. 


The Sabbath is about worshipping the Lord and resting our bodies. Let’s look at each purpose individually.


A. Worship


Bill Gates once commented on religion: “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient…There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”[2]


That may be fine for Bill Gates, who is not a Christian. The Christian, however, has a special purpose in our lives—to worship the Lord. Our text in Exodus says:


Exodus 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 


Exodus 20:10a But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God:


Many people use the Sabbath as a play day, but it is first a day for the Lord. It’s his day. Christians even call the Sabbath the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10). 


I ought to briefly mention that Christians seem to from a very early time understood that the Lord’s resurrection on Sunday indicated a change in the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. 


Of course, there is much debate on this and even some denominations have arisen because of this distinction (e.g., Seventh Day Adventists). 


Sometimes I will use Sabbath day, Sunday, and Lord’s Day as being practically synonymous. 


Other times, I will be referring more to the principle of a sabbath—of taking one day a week to rest. A pastor, for instance, gets little rest on Sunday. In his case, the Sabbath of worship and the Sabbath of rest has to be split over two days.


But when we think of the Sabbath being a day of worship, that will just about have to be on a Sunday—as that is when most churches meet for weekly worship. 


If the Sabbath was made for man, as Jesus said, what are the benefits of coming to worship on Sunday?


1. Worship is a North Star


My former professor, Mike Wittmer, wrote that…


In a sermon on the Sabbath, [John] Calvin said the Lord’s Day is like a high tower that we climb in order to survey the terrain of our lives. We look back on the many ways God has graced us, which then fills us with gratitude that fuels the week ahead. Calvin said that if we’re too busy to make time for this, then we are no better than brute beasts.[3]


I love that image of Sunday being a tower that we can climb. To worship Christ as a body. To look back on God’s blessings in our life. To prepare for the week ahead. 


We need to sabbath (stop and cease) from our busy lives to worship Christ or we’ll soon be off course in our lives. Worship on Sundays can be viewed as a course correction, or a North star, for Christians to follow.


2. Worship is a Gospel Proclamation


Worship on Sunday is also an opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Christ. It’s expected that Christians will be in church on Sunday. Unbelievers should be able to count on that. 


If they came to visit and see what Christianity was all about—but few Christians where there, perhaps just the older saints—what would be their impression?


Christian, you proclaim the gospel merely by your presence in church. In what ways? One might just be that the unbeliever is invited by you! Or perhaps they know you from work, and they see you at church and put together why you are the way you are. 


3. Worship is a Trust Exercise


Years ago, I was forced to participate in a team-building retreat for Resident Assistants at a college that I went to. I say “forced,” because it involved climbing a tall tree for no good reason but to be scared stiff at the top.


The retreat also involved trust falls. You are supposed to fall backwards into the arms of your comrades. The idea was to test and build your trust in your fellow Resident Assistants to catch you.


Worship on Sunday is like that for the Christian. Do you trust the Lord enough to take a break from your work to worship him? 


Or, are you anxious about all that you have to do, so you say, “The Lord won’t mind if I skip so I can get this done?” (This is a particular temptation for farmers during planting and harvest season).


Have you ever thought that perhaps, if you trusted the Lord with that burden, he would help you find a way to get it done on Saturday or Monday?


The Sabbath—or Sunday—or the Lord’s Day—is a time for worshipping together. It keeps us on course; it proclaims the gospel; and it is an exercise in trusting the Lord.


B. Rest


We have said that the word, “Sabbath,” means “stop, cease, rest.” It’s something our 24/7 culture knows little about. 


I saw an example of 24/7 mentality when I watched a couple guys at coffee the other day. They had their cell phones laid on the table, face up. Every couple minutes a text message would call their attention from the conversation.


A couple days before that, I read an article by someone who was annoyed with people who do that. If you are going to sit down with a person for a conversation, put your attention on that person!


For many people, it is a badge of honor to say, “I am just so busy!” They want you to see how important they are.


I just feel sad when I hear someone say that—will it really help them in the end? As I watch their lives, they seem more and more frazzled, distracted, and unhappy.


The old saying is that, at the end of life, no one ever regrets that they didn’t spend more time in the office.


The excuse is that they need to work more to make ends meet. Well, that’s understandable, unless, of course, you are moving the ends further and further apart by buying new cars, houses, and living beyond your means.


There are two ways to make ends meet: make more money and cut the distance between the ends!


The simple fact is, that God designed human beings to need a Sabbath. It’s an issue of trusting that his way is the best way. We need to follow God’s rhythm of work and rest to have our best life here on earth. The Sabbath rest is important for our bodies and for our families. 


Matthew Sleeth wrote an interesting book called 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. While I didn’t agree with everything he wrote (he was a medical doctor, not a theologian), I did find tidbits like this:


Rest, renewal, and reverence all take time. And if time is money, then how much time will a lifetime of Sabbath keeping cost? In what turns out to be another paradox, it may not cost anything. Sabbath keeping may be free, and it’s been scientifically studied.


In The Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner looked for groups around the world who lived longer and healthier lives. The groups he identified lived about a dozen years longer on average than the general population. All the groups did the kinds of things you’d expect. They didn’t smoke or eat a diet high in animal fat. They walked a lot. They valued family and relationships.


In the United States, the community that met Buettner’s criteria was in Loma Linda, California—the Seventh-day Adventists. Adventists are Sabbath keepers. On average, the cohort in Loma Linda lives about a dozen years longer than the rest of America. If you multiply the number of Sabbaths they observe per year by their average lifespan and divide that figure by 365, you will end up with about a dozen years. 


In other words, the number of extra years they live is roughly equivalent to the number of days they spend in Sabbath keeping. It may be coincidence, but the Bible hints at a cause-and-effect relationship between keeping the Sabbath and living a long life. Living 24/7 is life draining; living 24/6 is life giving.[4]


Can you live 24/6? It may not seem possible, but perhaps it’s time for a trust exercise. If you give the Lord one day a week for reverencing him and resting after his pattern—can you trust him with the rest of the week?




It’s easy for the discussion of Sabbath to turn into a debate about legalism, law, and liberty. 


Some Christians are so worried about what a person can or can’t do that they miss the point of a Sabbath. Other Christians are so concerned about exerting their rights and freedom, that they miss out on the blessings of Sabbath keeping.


The real issue comes back to your heart. Do you really trust God with your life? Do you delight in his ways or not? If Sunday is boring to you, it’s probably because God is boring to you. It’s time to reexamine your relationship with him. 


The more you delight in the Lord, the more of a delight it is to obey his commandments. This is what all Christians—the freedomites and the Pharisees—need to learn. 


It’s not that we don’t have to obey God anymore, and it’s not that we need to make more rules to obey—it’s that we trust in him to make obedience a delight.


On a practical note, do you feel that you are burning out? Are you having more and more health issues? Check your schedule. You weren’t designed to keep going day after day—you were designed for rest. It’s time to let go of your tight grip on your life and let God prescribe how to live it.


Fanny Crosby wrote a hymn that we don’t sing any longer, but brings across some good thoughts about the Sabbath—


Don’t forget the Sabbath, The Lord our God hath blest,

Of all the week the brightest, Of all the week the best;

It brings repose from labor, It tells of joy divine,

Its beams of light descending, With heav’nly beauty shine.


Keep the Sabbath holy, And worship Him today,

Who said to His disciples, I am the living way;

And if we meekly follow Our Savior here below,

He’ll give us of the fountain Whose streams eternal flow.


Day of sacred pleasure! Its golden hours we’ll spend

In thankful hymns to Jesus, The children’s dearest friend;

O gentle, loving, Savior, How good and kind Thou art,

How precious is Thy promise To dwell in every heart![5]




[1] Michael E. Wittmer, Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).


[3] Calvin in a sermon on Deuteronomy 5:12–14, qtd in Michael E. Wittmer, Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).

[4] Matthew Sleeth, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2012).


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