The Fourth Command

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What is the fourth command?

The fourth command is:

זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ׃

שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒׃

וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת׀ לַיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֣֨ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡֜ה אַתָּ֣ה׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּ֠בִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤֨ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֜֙ וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔֗ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖֙ אֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽ֔יךָ׃

כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖נַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑י עַל־כֵּ֗ן בֵּרַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת וַֽיְקַדְּשֵֽׁהוּ׃ס

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; [in it] you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

“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)

This command is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:12.  For a sermon on the third command, see here.


What holy thing is marked out by this command?

The fourth command points to the holiness of God’s day.  It’s the principle of sabbatizing or keeping a sabbath to God which is here commanded us as something sacred.  Here is the complete list:

Command:  Principle:
First command:  You shall have no other gods before Me. The sanctity of God Himself
Second command:  You shall not make for yourself an idol… The sanctity of God’s worship
Third command:  You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain The sanctity of God’s Name
Fourth command:  Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy The sanctity of God’s day
Fifth command:  Honor your father and your mother… The sanctity of authority
Sixth command:  You shall not murder. The sanctity of human life
Seventh command:  You shall not commit adultery. The sanctity of the sexual relationship
Eighth command:  You shall not steal. The sanctity of private property
Ninth command:  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. The sanctity of truth
Tenth command:  You shall not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor. The sanctity of our thoughts or inner contentment


Why does this command begin with “remember?”

This implies that the Israelites were already acquainted with this command and were in danger of forgetting and neglecting it.  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 Ecclesiastes 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.


Explain the infinitive which we find in the Hebrew version of this command.

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


What is meant by “sanctifying” the sabbath?

This means that the day was to be set apart for a special use and purpose.


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 in the city or inside of the city gates; cf Driver (p197).


What is the meaning of the word “Sabbath”?

This word comes from a Hebrew verb meaning “to cease,” or “to rest;” see here.  We see the noun form of this word here in this command where the day is called the day of shabat הַשַּׁבָּת.  A day of sabbath means a day of stopping or resting.  Under the old covenant, this was always the seventh day.  Keil writes (top of 441):

The “Sabbath” does not mean the seventh day of the week, but the day of rest, although the weekly Sabbath was always the seventh or last day of the week; hence not only the seventh day of the week (Ex. 31:15, etc.), but the day of atonement (the tenth of the seventh month), is called “Sabbath,” and “Shabbath shabbathon” (v. 32, Lev. 16:31). As a day of rest, on which no laborious work was to be performed (v. 8), the first day of the feast of Mazzoth is called “Sabbath,” irrespectively of the day of the week upon which it fell; and “the morrow after the Sabbath” is equivalent to “the morrow after the Passover” mentioned in Josh. 5:11, where “Passover” signifies the day at the beginning of which the paschal meal was held, i.e., the first day of unleavened bread, which commenced on the evening of the 14th, in other words, the 15th Abib.


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

Two reasons are given.  In Exodus 20, God exhorts His people to follow His own example when He created the world in six days and rested the seventh.

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 20:11)

In Deuteronomy 5, God gives, as a reason for observing the Sabbath, that man and beast may have a time of rest from their physical labors.

so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:14-15)


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 purpose; see here.


What additions to the sabbath law do we find in Deuteronomy 5 ?

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. (Deuteronomy 5:15)


Did anything like a Sabbath exist in any of the other cultures of the ancient near east?

This commandment has no parallels in ancient Near Eastern religions. Ewald writes (p271): “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.”


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.” (Genesis 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 people are to follow.  It is often referred to as a creation ordinance.


What is a creation ordinance?

These are laws that God gave to humanity at the very opening of history, from the very beginning of creation.  Because of this fact, they transcend all human cultures and times.  They bind all people everywhere and at all times.  Frame writes:

Creation ordinances are important, because they form the basic law of human existence. They do not presuppose any particular historical circumstances, as do, for example, the laws of Moses. Creation ordinances are given to man as man, presupposing only our creation in God’s image and the earth as our created environment. So it is unlikely that God would abrogate or significantly modify any of these ordinances in the course of history.  The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p203.


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

Because God bases the fourth command on the example God set in Genesis 2.  After giving the command in Exodus 20:8-10, God says to Moses:

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 20:11)

This is also the assumption in Hebrews 4.


What assumption is in Hebrews 4?

That believers are to rest just as God rested.  The author exhorts people to accept God’s offer of entering into His rest.  Clearly, the author understands God’s rest in Genesis 2 as something that people should do as God did.  See further exposition on this below.


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 only to gather enough manna as will last them one day.  Each day, they will gather a fresh supply; they were not allowed to stockpile manna.  On the sixth day, however, they are to gather twice as much.  Moses gives the reason:

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.  It must have been given to them on a previous occasion since here Moses assumes its existence.


When did God give Israel the law to keep a sabbath?

No one knows.  Certainly God’s resting in creation laid the basis for this law. Sometime after Israel left Egypt, however, God must have given 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.  Apparently, everyone already knew why the double portion was necessary.

Furthermore, God rebukes Israel for their refusal to obey his commands.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? (Exodus 16:28)

The “you” here is plural referring to all the Israelites.  The question then is to what commands and instructions is God referring here?  Clearly, God had given some instructions to His people already, and there is no record of this in Scripture.


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.


Exodus 31


What do we learn about the sabbath from this chapter?

Here we see the distinctive character of the Jewish sabbath.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.  ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.  ‘So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’  “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:12-17)


What makes the Jewish sabbath unique?

In this passage, we see the unique punishment which God established for sabbath breaking.  This is something unique to the Jewish version of sabbatizing.  An example of this is found in Numbers 15:32-36 and Nehemiah 13:15-22


What do you mean by sabbatizing?

By sabbatizing, I mean keeping a weekly sabbath.  God is the first One to sabbatize as we saw in Genesis 2:2.


What else is unique to the Jewish version of sabbatizing?

For the Jewish sabbath, God gives much more direction on how exactly it is to be kept.  There are definite actions which may not be performed on the Jewish sabbath.  Consider:

Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.  “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:1-3; cf Leviticus 23:3)

Jeremiah repeatedly warns God’s people to not carry loads on the sabbath. (Jeremiah 17:21, 22, 24, 27)  We find nothing like this in the New Testament.


Leviticus 23


What do we learn about the sabbath from the laws given in Leviticus 23?

Here God speaks to Moses:

The LORD spoke again to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD’S appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations–My appointed times are these: ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings.  ‘These are the appointed times of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at the times appointed for them.  ‘In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD’S Passover.  ‘Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.  ‘On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.  ‘But for seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work.'” (Leviticus 23:1-8)

Note especially here the kind of work that is forbidden is called laborious work or כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה.


What kind of work is this?

Milgrom notes that עֲבֹדָה refers more to any kind of physical labor where מְלָאכָה refers “to work that requires special skill.”  (See commentary on Leviticus 23:7)  Keil writes (p119) that this kind of “laborious work” was forbidden only on these feast days.  All work was forbidden on the sabbath.

On the Sabbath (and also on the day of atonement, Lev. 23:28, 31) every occupation was to rest; on the other feast-days only laborious occupations (מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה, Lev. 23:7ff.), i.e., such occupations as came under the denomination of labor, business, or industrial employment. Consequently, not only were ploughing and reaping (Ex. 34:21), pressing wine and carrying goods (Neh. 13:15), bearing burdens (Jer. 17:21), carrying on trade (Amos 8:5), and holding markets (Neh. 13:15ff.) prohibited, but collecting manna (Ex. 16:26ff.), gathering wood (Num. 15:32ff.), and kindling fire for the purpose of boiling or baking (Ex. 35:3).


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. (Isaiah 58:13, 14)

Here we see the character of the sabbatizing; it was to be something that produced delight in God’s people.  It was to be something for which they looked forward and anticipated eagerly.



What was the attitude of Jesus to the Sabbath?

Jesus respected and obeyed the Sabbath law but rejected the teaching of the Pharisees as it pertained to the Sabbath.


What problem did Jesus have with the teaching of the Pharisees?

Because they had so terribly twisted and perverted the true meaning and purpose of the Sabbath.



They did this by multiplying so many rules and regulations for keeping Sabbath that it was no longer a joyful time of rest (Isaiah 58:13) but a burdensome ordeal as each person tried to avoid violating these endless sabbath regulations.  Edersheim tells (p149) of the school of Shammai who did not allow anyone to begin a project on Friday which continue on into the Sabbath.  For example, laying out flax to dry or soaking wool in a dye was not allowed since these processes (the drying and the dyeing) would continue on into the Sabbath.  Laws like these were endlessly multiplied.


How does Jesus teaching correct this perversion?

First, by breaking these rules.  Bruce notes (p86) that Jesus was more often accused of sabbath breaking than any other sin.

  1. He healed the man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:10-13);
  2. He healed the woman with an evil spirit (Luke 13:10-13);
  3. He healed the man with swollen arms and legs (Luke 14:1-4);
  4. He healed the lame man (John 5:9, 16);
  5. He healed a blind man (John 9:14);
  6. Jesus’ disciples picked and ate some corn on the sabbath. (Matthew 12:1)

Second, Jesus points out that God had made the sabbath as a gift for man.  It was meant to minister to his needs and to provide relief from daily toil.  God didn’t create people so there would be someone to keep sabbath.  On the contrary, the sabbath was made for the rest and well being of people.  The NLT brings this out:

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Mark 2:27-28)


Did not the coming of Jesus bring an end to the fourth command?

No, it did not.  This is clear from Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.  When Jesus was accused of violating the sabbath, He does not respond by asserting that the fourth command was abrogated.  On the contrary, He respects the sabbath law, rejects the teaching of the Pharisees, and proves from Scripture that His disciples’ behavior was no violation of it.  Again Bruce writes (p88):

From the folly and pedantry of scribes and Pharisees we gladly turn to the wisdom of Jesus as revealed in the animated, deep, and yet sublimely simple replies made by Him to the various charges of Sabbath breaking brought against Himself and His disciples.  Before considering these replies in detail, we premise one general remark concerning them all.  In none of these apologies or defenses does Jesus call in question the obligation of the Sabbath law.  On that point, He had no quarrel with His accusers; His argument in this instance is entirely different from the line of defense adopted in reference to fasting and purifications.  In regard to fasting, the position He took up was: Fasting is a voluntary matter and men may fast or not as they are disposed.  In regard to purification, His position was: Ceremonial ablutions at best are of secondary moment being mere types of inward purity and as practiced now lead inevitably to the utter ignoring of spiritual purity; and therefore, must be neglected by all who are concerned for the great interests of morality.  But in reference to the alleged breaches of the Sabbath, the position Jesus took up was this: These acts which you condemn are not transgressions of the law rightly apprehended in its spirit and principle.  The importance of the law was conceded, but the pharisaic interpretation of its meaning was rejected.  An appeal was made from their pedantic code of regulations about Sabbath observance, to the grand design and principle of the law and the right was asserted to examine all rules in the light of the principle and to reject or disregard those in which the principle had either been mistakenly applied or as was for the most part the case with the Pharisees lost sight of altogether.


It seems that many Christians regard the fourth command as in the same class as circumcision.

No, this is not correct.  Paul clearly teaches the end of the circumcision law (Galatians 6:15), but there is no such teaching regarding the fourth command.  Bruce makes (p72) a helpful comparison between these two:

And I begin with the observation that it is antecedently unlikely that Jesus would treat circumcision and the Sabbath as in all respects of the same nature. They were certainly not so treated under the law. For though circumcision was of fundamental importance in the covenant between Jehovah and Israel, yet it was not thought necessary to put it among the Ten Words; whereas the law of the Sabbath does find a place there along with precepts generally admitted to be ethical in their nature, and therefore of perpetual obligation in their substance. Why is this? Apparently because circumcision concerned Israel alone, whereas in the Ten Words it was intended that that only should find a place which was believed to concern all mankind.  The Decalogue wears the aspect of an attempt to sum up the heads of moral duty, put in a form, and enforced with reasons, it may be, adapted to the history and circumstances of the chosen race, but in their substance concerning not Jews only, but men in general. Speaking of the Decalogue as the work of Moses, we may say that from it we learn what in his judgment all men ought to do in order to please God, and live wisely and happily. And we can see for ourselves that circumcision and the Sabbath are in important respects entirely different institutions. Circumcision was purely ritual, a mere arbitrary sign or symbol, a mark set on Israel to distinguish and separate her from the heathen peoples around. But the Sabbath was essentially a good thing. Rest from toil is good for the body, and rest in worshipful acknowledgment of God as the Maker and Preserver of all is equally good for the spirit. Rest in both senses is a permanent need of man in this world, and a law prescribing a resting day as a holiday and holy day is a beneficent law, which no one having a regard to human wellbeing can have any wish to abrogate.

Turning now to the Gospel records: do we find Jesus speaking of the Sabbath as, say, of ritual washings—i.e. as a thing morally indifferent, whose abolition would be no real loss to men? We do not. On the contrary, we find Him invariably treating the institution with respect, as intrinsically a good thing; and His quarrel with the Pharisees on this head was not as to observance, but as to the right manner of observing the law. The Pharisees made the day not a boon, but a burden; not a day given by God to man in mercy, but a day taken from man by God in an exacting spirit. Having this idea of the weekly rest in their minds, they naturally made it as burdensome and irksome as possible, not a delight, but a horror, giving ridiculously minute definitions of work, and placing the merit of Sabbath-keeping in mere abstinence from work so defined, apart altogether from the nature of the work. With this Pharisaic idea of the Sabbath, and the manner in which it was worked out in practice, Jesus had no sympathy. He conceived of the institution, not as a burden, but as a boon; not as a day taken from man, but as a day given to him by a beneficent Providence. This idea He expressed in a remarkable saying, found, curiously enough, only in Mark, but doubtless a most authentic apostolic tradition: “The Sabbath was made on account of man, not man on account of the Sabbath.” He meant to say that God appointed the Sabbath for man’s good, and that it must be so observed as to realize the end originally contemplated; men must not be made the slaves of the Sabbath, as they were by the Pharisaic method of interpreting and enforcing the statute. This being His meaning, He consistently said, the Sabbath was made for man, not the Sabbath was made for Jews, so giving the saying a universal character. One who so thought of the institution could have no interest in its abolition. He would rather desire to extend the benefit, and He would favor only such changes as might be needful to make the benefit as great and as wide-reaching as possible. Accordingly, Jesus did not propose to abolish the beneficent institute. He did, indeed, claim lordship over the Sabbath-day. But He claimed it not with a view to abolition, but in order to give full effect to the principle that the Sabbath was made for man, that is, for his good, and to emphasize the true motive of observance, love, the supreme law of His kingdom. In other words, Christ’s claim of lordship was a claim of right to humanize the Sabbath, in opposition to the Pharisees who had Rabbinized it, and made it a snare to the conscience and a burden to the spirit.


What does Jesus mean when He says He is Lord of the sabbath?

By this comment, Jesus claims for Himself the right to preserve, modify, or abolish the sabbath if He chose.  The obvious implication is that, as Lord of the sabbath, Jesus was in the best position for knowing whether His disciples had violated it.


Hebrews 4

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

This is the clearest place in the New Testament where we find the teaching that the practice of sabbatizing is still binding on Christians under the new covenant.  The author writes:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.  For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.  For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.  For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (Hebrews 4:1-5)


What is the author teaching here?

The author speaks here about entering God’s rest. (Hebrews 4:1)  First, he shows that God has already entered His rest after the days of creation. (Hebrews 4:4)  Second, he teaches us that from that time to the present, God has a standing offer that He makes to all people.  All those who will place their full confidence in Him will enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4:3) with Him.  The author compares this to Israel having a promise of entering into the land of Canaan, and many of them failing to do so because they did not have faith in God. (Hebrews 4:2)  In the same way, any person, who does not have faith in God, will not enter God’s rest.


What is God’s rest and what does it mean to enter into it?

God’s rest is the rest that He entered after He finished the six days of creation. (Genesis 2:2)  To “enter into God’s rest” means to enter heaven, that eternal rest which God promises to give to all believers after their work on earth is finished.


What does this have to do with the fourth command?

Because of a simple change of vocabulary which the author makes in v9.  The author uses the word rest in nearly every verse of this section.  The word he uses is the word katapausis or κατάπαυσις; see here. (Hebrews 4:1, 3, 5, 10, 11)  In v9, however, the author uses a different word:

For if Joshua had given them rest (katapausis), He would not have spoken of another day after that.  So there remains a Sabbath-rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest (katapausis) has himself also rested (katapausis) from his works, as God did from His.  Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest (katapausis), so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11)


What is the author’s thought in these verses?

He is teaching us that the rest God promises cannot be possession of the land of Canaan which Joshua gave to Israel.  The reason is because David, when he wrote Psalm 95, is still warning people against hardening their heart (Psalm 95:8) against God’s offer of entering His rest.  Obviously, David wrote this Psalm thousands of years after Joshua gave Israel the land of Canaan.  Therefore, the rest God promises to those who trust Him must be something higher and greater than any earthly possession.  The conclusion is given in v9:  So there remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:9)  In other words, the rest which God promises is something future and heavenly.


Why is the author’s word choice here significant?

First, the word sabbatismos, which the author uses in v9, means to keep a sabbath, or to sabbatize.  Now the author of Hebrews uses this term to show that the eternal rest of God’s people in heaven is a rest that is typified by the sabbatizing that believers do while yet on earth.  The weekly sabbath keeping that believers practice is a picture prophecy of the great, eternal Sabbath which awaits them.  Clearly, the author understands that the Christians of his time are keeping a sabbath.


So sabbatismos is referring to the activity of sabbath-keeping and not the sabbath itself.

Yes, this word is a noun derived from the verb σαββατίζειν.  Words that end like this one (-μος) are words referring to an activity; see p151 2(a).  That is why the word sabbatizing is a good one for capturing the meaning of this word.


What does this promise of an eternal rest teach us about our sabbatizing here on earth?

It teaches us that we should understand God’s rest as a joyful sabbath celebration.  Furthermore, the principle assumed here is that the type continues until the antitype has arrived.  Thus, the type, which is our sabbatizing now, continues until the antitype or the eternal sabbath arrives.  We conclude from the author’s word choice here, that he understands our obligation to sabbatize to be ongoing and continuing until we enter into the eternal antitype.


Colossians 2:11


What do we learn about the sabbath from these verses?

We learn of the end of the Jewish sabbath.


What does Paul say?

Paul writes the following; see v16 for specific mention of the Sabbath.

8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

16Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Colossians 2:8-23)


What is Paul teaching here?

Here is Paul is addressing those Gentile Christians who thought of themselves as second class Christians because they did not understand or observe the Jewish rituals and traditions.

  1. The Gentile Christians were not circumcised; Paul tells them that they have a spiritual circumcision which is far better. (Colossians 2:11)
  2. The Gentile Christians did not understand or observe the Sabbath or any of the other Jewish feast days. (Colossians 2:16)  Paul tells them not to worry about that either, since these days were all types of Jesus and His saving work. (Colossians 2:17)  He calls them shadows and says that Jesus is the substance or the reality.  The shadow of your friend is a wonderful thing to see but what use is his shadow when he is actually standing right there in your presence?  So the Jewish feast days are just rituals which point us to Christ.  Now that Jesus has come, we have no need for these feast days, and we lay them aside.
  3. In fact, these Jewish rituals and traditions started as commands from God in the Mosaic law; but over time, were buried under a mountain of man-made rules and regulations “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” all of which are just the products of human reasoning and are of no use in honoring God. (Colossians 2:23)  These rules are just self-made religion; they don’t come from God and thus they have no authority over any believer Gentile or Jew.


How was the Jewish sabbath a type of Christ?



Does not Paul teach here that the obligation to sabbatize has ended with the coming of Christ?

He certainly teaches that the obligation to observe the Jewish sabbath has ended with the coming of Jesus.  He makes no comment here about the obligation of Christians to keep any kind of sabbath at all.


Where does Paul’s teaching here leave the fourth command?

The fourth command articulates the eternal obligation of sabbatizing which was first stated at the close of the creation week.  The unique Jewish form of this command given to the nation of Israel in the Pentateuch is now finished.


Explain this more.

Consider the truth that almost all the commands of the decalog had a unique Jewish form.  Even the all important first command was obeyed differently by Israel than by the church of the New Testament.  God’s worship is no longer limited to the city of Jerusalem.  The sacrifices, rituals, and priests of the Mosaic law are no longer used or required.  The regulation and punishments pertaining to marriage are now markedly different than under the Mosaic law.  The same is true with regards to sins against the sixth and eighth commands.  Now this same principle applies to the fourth command.  Hodge writes (p329):

We are as much bound to keep one day in seven holy unto the Lord, as were the patriarchs or Israelites. This law binds all men as men, because given to all mankind, and because it is founded upon the nature common to all men, and the relation which all men bear to God. The two essential elements of the command are that the Sabbath should be a day of rest, that is, of cessation from worldly avocations and amusements; and that it should be devoted to the worship of God and the services of religion. All else is circumstantial and variable. It is not necessary that it should be observed with special reference to the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt; nor are the details as to the things to be done or avoided, or as to the penalty for transgression obligatory on us. We are not bound to offer the sacrifices required of the Jews, nor are we bound to abstain from lighting a fire on that day.

Vos writes (p139):  “It must be remembered that the Sabbath, though a world-aged observance, has passed through the various phases of the development of redemption, remaining the same in essence but modified as to its form, as the new state of affairs at each point might require.”


Is Paul’s teaching here consistent with the teaching we just had from Hebrews 4?

It is provided we distinguish between:

  • the Jewish version of the sabbath law which began at mount Sinai, was a type of Christ, and was fulfilled at His coming, and
  • the Christian version of the sabbath law which was inaugurated at creation, is a type of God’s eternal rest, and is still future for us.  It continues to bind Christians until the arrival of the antitype.


Romans 14:5


What does Paul teach us about the sabbath in these verses?

Here Paul writes:

(1) Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. (2) One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. (3) The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (4) Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (5) One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. (6) He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (7) For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; (8) for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (9) For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:1-9)


Who are these people who are weak in the faith?

These would be the Jewish Christians who had believed in Jesus but continued to practice many of the Jewish rituals and traditions.


Why would a Jewish person eat only vegetables?

This is a difficult question.  Perhaps the Jewish believers thought the meat might have been used in pagan worship practices; and therefore, they refused to eat it. (cf 1 Corinthians 8)


What are the days mentioned here?

This refers to all the Jewish feast days which were to be regarded as holy. (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:31; )  The Jewish observance of Saturday as the Sabbath would surely be included in this.


In verse 5, Paul says the person who regards every day alike should be granted full respect by the Christian community.  How is this consistent with the fourth command?

This depends on whether Paul meant to exclude entirely the practice of sabbatizing and thus to terminate the fourth command entirely.  That this was not his intent is clear from the command that Paul himself gave the Corinthian believers to set aside the first day of the week for the gathering of the alms. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)  Clearly, Paul believed that this day should be set aside for an important purpose.  This doesn’t mean that Paul regarded one day as more holy than another.  The truth is that the Corinthian church was probably already meeting on that day anyway for worship and instruction,  and Paul simply tells them to also use this day for the gathering of the church’s charity for the poor.


How are we to understand Paul’s instruction here then in terms of regarding one day as more holy than another?

Paul’s instruction here, as in Colossians, is to teach that the Jewish, Mosaic version of sabbatizing is now ended.  The keeping of these days as holy is now a matter of Christian liberty.  Stuart writes (p478):

Whether the apostle means to include the Sabbath, or rather the Lord’s day, under what he says here of the special observance of particular days, has often been called in question. It is well known, that in the early ages of the church a distinction was made between Sabbath and Lord’s day. The former was the Jewish weekly Sabbath, i.e., the seventh day of the week. It embraced also the occasional fasts and feasts prescribed by the Mosaic law; cf Col. 2:16. Gal. 4:10. Such was the Jewish use of the word שַׁבִּת, σάββατον. But the early Christians, in order to distinguish this from the first day of the week, on which they held their religious assemblies of worship (1 Cor. 16:2. Acts 20:7), called the first day ἡμέρα Κυρίου (Lord’s day), Rev. 1:10. Of this distinction there is clear evidence in the writings of the ecclesiastical fathers; and the passages above quoted seem to make it sufficiently evident.  There is nothing in the context which furnishes any certain clue to the meaning of ἡμέρα here. But if we may venture to compare it with Col 2:16 and Gal. 4:10 (and the two passages seem manifestly to have relation to the same usages and prejudices in the church), then we may draw the conclusion pretty clearly, that ἡμέρα here relates to days which the scruples of Jewish Christians deemed sacred, and has no relation to the ἡμέρα Κυρίου which all agreed to keep holy.

In light of how Paul respects the decalog in other places (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-15; Ephesians 6:1-3), it is almost impossible to believe that he intended to strike the fourth command from the decalog.


What else can we learn about sabbatizing from Romans 14?

We learn that there is no longer any one specific day that is holy as was true for the nation of Israel.  All days are now equally holy, and the people of God are free to sabbatize on any day they choose.  From the New Testament, we learn that Christians settled on the first day of the week, and this practice has prevailed to the present day.  It is nearly certain that this day was chosen because Jesus rose from the dead on that day.




What reasons do some give for believing that the practice of sabbatizing is no longer binding on Christians in the new covenant?

Macarthur provides the following reasons:

Christians are not required to worship on the Sabbath day. It, like the other Old Covenant holy days Paul mentions, is not binding under the New Covenant. There is convincing evidence for that in Scripture.

  1. the Sabbath was the sign to Israel of the Old Covenant (Ex. 31:16–17; Neh. 9:14; Ezek. 20:12). Because we are now under the New Covenant (Heb. 8), we are no longer required to keep the sign of the Old Covenant.
  2. the New Testament nowhere commands Christians to observe the Sabbath.
  3. in our only glimpse of an early church worship service in the New Testament, we find the church meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).
  4. we find no hint in the Old Testament that God expected the Gentile nations to observe the Sabbath, nor are they ever condemned for failing to do so. That is certainly strange if He expected all peoples to observe the Sabbath.
  5. there is no evidence of anyone’s keeping the Sabbath before the time of Moses, nor are there any commands to keep the Sabbath before the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.
  6. the Jerusalem Council did not impose Sabbath keeping on the Gentile believers (Acts 15).
  7. Paul warned the Gentiles about many different sins in his epistles, but never about breaking the Sabbath.
  8. Paul rebuked the Galatians for thinking God expected them to observe special days (Including the Sabbath) (Gal. 4:10–11).
  9. Paul taught that keeping the Sabbath was a matter of Christian liberty (Romans 14:5).
  10. the early church Fathers, from Ignitions to Augustine, taught that the Old Testament Sabbath had been abolished and that the first day of the week (Sunday) was the day when Christians should meet for worship. That disproves the claim of some that Sunday worship was not instituted until the fourth century.


What can be said to these objections?

Only the fifth and ninth of Macarthur’s reasons need commentary.  The others are not controversial.


What is incorrect about the fifth of these reasons?

This reason is contradicted by the incident in Exodus 16 which we explained above.  While it is true that no command is given in Exodus 16 to observe the sabbath, obedience to it is certainly assumed.  More importantly, however, is Macarthur’s understanding of Genesis 2.  Clearly, he does not believe that God gave the Sabbath as a creation ordinance for all persons to obey.


What is incorrect about the ninth reason?

Macarthur understands Romans 14 to teach that the fourth command itself is now a matter of Christian liberty.  This passage, however, is not teaching that the fourth command is a matter of Christian liberty but that the Jewish method of sabbatizing, given by God to Israel, is a matter of Christian liberty.  Paul allows Jewish-Christians to continue to practice these Jewish rituals and ceremonies if they so desire, and the Jewish method of sabbatizing was one of those Jewish rituals.


Do you not disagree with the first reason?

It is true that the Sabbath was a sign to Israel of the Old Covenant.  It is also true that the new covenant people of God are not required to observe the Sabbath if by this is meant the Jewish Sabbath.  Macarthur could have quoted Colossians 2:16 which is more to his purpose than the Hebrews 8 passage.  This does not touch on the question of whether there is a sabbatizing that existed before the old covenant given on mount Sinai and whether a sabbatizing continues on after the end of the old covenant.


Macarthur’s list here is an argument why Christians do not keep the Sabbath.  What is missing here is Macarthur’s opinion on the fourth command.  

Macarthur believes that only nine of the ten commands are binding on New Testament Christians.  Grudem is also of this opinion.


How do they defend this idea?

Their basic principle of interpretation is that any command of the decalog must be reaffirmed in the New Testament, or we must conclude that it has ended along with the entire Mosaic system.  Grudem writes:

Unlike the Other Nine Commandments, This One [the fourth] Is Never Reaffirmed for Christians in the New Covenant. The absence of any affirmation of the Sabbath commandment for new covenant Christians apparently indicates that the early apostles, guided by the teaching of Jesus while he was on earth and by the work of the Holy Spirit after that (John 14:26; 16:13), realized that the Sabbath commandment did not express God’s moral standards for all humanity for all time, but established specific requirements for the people of Israel as a nation while they lived under the Mosaic covenant. While the rainbow was the sign of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:12–15) and circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham (17:11), Bruce Waltke notes that “the Sabbath is the sign of the Mosaic covenant” (see Exodus 31:13).

See here for further discussion of this point.



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