The Fourth Command

What is the fourth command?

The fourth command is found in Exodus 20:8-11

Remember the day of Sabbath to sanctify it. Six days you will labor and do all your work but the seventh day is is a Sabbath to YHWH your God. You will not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male slave or your female slave or your cattle or the sojourner who is in your gates. For in six days, YHWH made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything which is in them, and He rested on the seventh day wherefore YHWH blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.

This command is repeated in Deut 5:12f.


Why does this command begin with “remember?”

This implies that the Israelites were already acquainted with this command. The word itself can be taken two ways.

  • It can mean to remember as in to recollect something that you were taught previously.
  • Or it can mean “remember to do” as when we say “remember to turn out the lights when you leave the house.”

If it means the first of these, then this is a command to Israel to recall what God had taught them previously about the Sabbath and to continue to do it. If the latter, then it is simply a command to sanctify the sabbath. The word “remember” is then similar to what we find in Eccl. 12:1 “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth…”  Edersheim writes: “The fourth word, which implies a previous knowledge of the Sabbath on the part of Israel…” source   The truth is that both of these ideas are really inseparable.  Even telling someone to remember to turn out the lights implies a recall of some former instruction on the importance of turning out lights.  Both ideas are present here.


Why does this command begin with an infinitive?

The word זָכֹור is an infinitive absolute which is sometimes used to give an “emphatic imperative.” See Gesenius §113bb.


Is there any reference to this command prior to God giving it to Israel on Mount Sinai?

Yes, knowledge of this obligation is assumed in Exodus 16:22f.


What is meant by “sanctifying” the sabbath?

This means that the day was set apart for a special use and purpose. The following verses spell this out in the prohibition of work on this day.


What kind of work was forbidden?

Some examples are given in the OT as:

  1. the kindling of a fire in one’s house (Ex. 35:3),
  2. cooking (Ex. 16:23; Num. 15:32),
  3. marketing and public trade (Neh. 10:31; 13:15, 16), and
  4. traveling on the Sabbath (Ex. 16:29).


What is a “sojourner” here?

This refers to a person who was not an ethnic Jew and yet lived among the Israelites for a period of time.


What is meant by the sojourner who is “in your gates”?

This means the sojourner who is inside of your city gates or in your city; cf Driver.


What is the meaning of the word “Sabbath”?

This word comes from a like sounding Hebrew word meaning “to cease,” or “to rest.” See here.


What reason does God give for setting aside one day for this purpose?

Two reasons are given.

  • In Ex. 20, God exhorts His people to follow His own example when He created the world in six days and rested the seventh.
  • In Deut. 5, God gives, as a reason for observing the Sabbath, that man and beast may have a time of rest from their physical labors.


What does the text mean by saying that God “blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it”?

This is a reference to Genesis 2:3 where God singled out the Sabbath day as a special day and set it apart for a special purpose; see here.


What additions does the version in Deuteronomy 5 provide?

This passage gives a further hint as to how the Israelites should observe the Sabbath; i.e. by remembering and celebrating God’s mighty deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deut 5:15)


Did anything like a Sabbath exist in any of the other cultures of the ANE?

This commandment has no parallels in ancient Near Eastern religions. Ewald writes:

What Moses created out of the last day of the week, was something quite new, which had never before existed among any nation, or in any religion.  source


Genesis 2

What is the earliest mention of the concept of Sabbath in the Scripture?

The idea is first mentioned at the close of the creation week where we read that on the seventh day, God finished the work He had been doing. “On the seventh day He rested from all His work and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” (Gen. 2:2-3)


What is the significance of this?

God’s action here of setting apart the seventh day as sacred and as a day of rest provides a divinely ordained pattern that all men are to follow.


How do you know that all mean are to follow God’s pattern of working and resting when it appears from the above text that only God rested?

Because when God gives the fourth command in Exodus 20, He explicitly says this.  After giving the command in verses 8-10, God gives the basis for the sabbath command:

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)


Would not this command only apply to Israel since it is included in the Mosaic laws?

First, this assumes that the entire Mosaic law was removed at the coming of Christ.  There are good reasons for believing that the ten commands hang together and are not still understood to be binding by the NT authors.  Second, the teaching of Hebrews 4 needs to be taken into account here as well.


What do the NT authors have to say about the ten commands?

They quote from the ten commands and simply assume that they are binding.  They make no effort to show or argue that the ten commands are still binding.


Where do they do this?

First, James writes in chapter 2:

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.  For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:8-11)

It is clear that James understands “the law” to be a unity and that one command is as binding as the other.  Furthermore, the assumption here is that the ten commands are binding law upon new covenant Christians.  There is no thought here that since James is repeating these laws, they are therefore binding.  Witsius writes:

when Paul, Rom 13:9 and James in chp 2:8, 11 inculcate the precepts of the law on Christians, in the same terms in which they were delivered by Moses to Israel, they do not insist upon this consideration, that they were agreeable to the dictates of right reason, or were ratified again by Christ, but that they were thus formerly published and written by God.  See §36 of book 4; chapter 4.

Paul also quotes from the ten commands in Ephesians 6 with no thought that these commands are binding only because they are now repeated by him.  Paul also sees the ten commands as a unit since he mentions the order in which the commands appear as another reason why children should honor their parents.  Can anyone doubt that Paul understands these commands to be authoritative and binding on those to whom he is writing?

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1-3)

Again Witsius

[In] Eph. 6:2, the apostle not only insists on the promise that was annexed to the fifth commandment, but also on the order of the precepts, recommending honor or regard to parents from this argument, that this is “the first commandment with promise.” But if the decalogue, as it was formerly delivered to the church of Israel, did not concern Christians, that argument of the apostle (which be it far from us to say) would have no force with Christians.    See §36 of book 4; chapter 4.

Hebrews 4

How is  Hebrews 4 relevant to our understanding of the Sabbath?

The author writes:

For we who have believed do enter into that rest; even as He hath said, As I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into My rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He hath said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise, and God rested on the seventh day from all His works. (Heb 4:3-4)


How does this chapter teach that God’s action of sanctifying the seventh day provides a divinely ordained pattern that all men are to follow?

Because the author of Hebrews is here teaching that God is offering this privilege to all who hear. The privilege here offered is entering into the very rest of God. Now this offer which God has made has been a standing offer ever since the creation of the world. The author of Hebrews quotes Gen 2:2 to establish this point.


How does the above text make this point?

Let me explain the text line by line.

For we who have believed do enter into that rest;

The author is asserting a general truth for all times and places. That truth is this: only believers in Christ actually enter into God’s rest.

even as He hath said, As I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into My rest:

The author here quotes Ps 95:11 as a prooftext for his point that only believers enter into God’s rest.

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

The point here is that God finished his work of creation long ago and has already entered His rest. This means that the rest of God has been available ever since the foundation (or creation) of the world, and all who believe in Jesus have an unfailing promise that one day they too will enter into God’s rest.

For He hath said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise, and God rested on the seventh day from all His works. (Heb 4:3-4)

Here is the prooftext of the previous assertion. This text shows that God has entered into His rest at the close of the creation week. Now it remains for us to believe in Jesus and thus to have this unfailing promise of entering into God’s rest (v1) at the end of the age. Clearly, if God has entered into His rest then we should follow His example and also enter into God’s rest by faith in Jesus. This is why I said previously that God’s action of setting apart the seventh day as sacred and as a day of rest provides a divinely ordained pattern that all men are to follow.


What is meant here by God’s rest?

This refers to the rest which God will give to all believers in heaven.


Why is this text referenced in Exodus 20 in the fourth command?

Genesis 2 is quoted in Exodus 20 as a reason why the sabbath command should be carefully observed. The point is the same as in Hebrews; we should follow God’s example of keeping sabbath as given us in Genesis 2.


Exodus 16

What is the next mention of Sabbath in Scripture?

In Exodus 16, God sends manna and quails to satisfy the Israelite’s hunger. God tells Moses that the Israelites are to gather only enough manna as will last them one day. On the sixth day, however, they are to gather twice as much. Then Moses announces,

He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ ” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”  (Exodus 16:23-26)


What is the significance of this text?

It shows that the command to keep sabbath was not first given to Israel on Mount Sinai.


When did God first give Israel the law to keep Sabbath?

We do not know. Certainly God’s resting in creation laid the basis for this law. Sometime after Israel left Egypt, however, it would seem that God gave Israel further instructions on how He wanted them to keep Sabbath.


Might not God have given the Sabbath law to Israel for the first time here in Exodus 16?

This is possible but the language does not lend itself to this understanding. God tells Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16:4-5) This double provision on the sixth day is just mentioned without any explanation as to why a double portion might be needed on the sixth day. It very much appears that everyone already knew why it was needed.


But later, the rulers do come to Moses and ask him to explain why the people had received twice as much on the sixth day.  Does this not imply that they did not yet know about the law to keep Sabbath?

Possibly, but when all the leaders of the congregation came to ask Moses about it, he tells them “This is what the LORD spoke: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD.” Note that it says, “This is what the LORD spoke…”.  What speaking is being referred to here?  When did God speak to Israel about the seventh day being a Sabbath?  Initially, we might think of what God said to Moses in Exodus 16:4-5, but God doesn’t mention the Sabbath there.  We’re led to conclude that Israel was already in the habit of sabbatizing and that God had spoken to them about it on some previous occasion.


Isaiah 58

What mention is made of the Sabbath in Isaiah 58?

The last two verses of this chapter read:

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word. Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

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