It was Christ who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt and who gave the command: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:8–10). In the Sabbath commandment, we discover powerful insights into the character of Christ and His relationship with us as we explore the nuances of the text.
We cannot speak about the any of God’s commandments without first addressing His preamble to His law. First, God says, “I am the Lord your God.” God is real. He is not a wooden figurine or a lifeless image of gold. He is also your God—He is a personal God. Second, it is this personal God who has delivered Israel and is the Source of their rest from slavery.
Focusing on the duty of observing the Sabbath has often prevented us from noticing the generosity that it expresses about God. Notice how, in the initial part of Exodus 20:8, God defers to us making a living for ourselves first, and then, after we have satisfied our own needs, we turn to His requirements. Also notice that dividing the week into seven parts, God claims only one of those parts as His own, while allowing us to use six for ourselves.
Another telling component of God’s generosity is His attention to the needs of those who tend to go unnoticed. The Sabbath commandment includes regard for servants, cattle, and strangers. Although beasts of burden may slip the mind of their owner, God remembers that they also need rest. The Sabbath serves as the great equalizer for the servant, stranger, and owner, showing God’s generous concern for all.
Another attribute of God that emerges in the command to keep the Sabbath is attention to detail. He not only tells us to keep the Sabbath, but also provides the two-fold requirement on how to keep it. Like a meticulous accountant, He budgets every day of the week, setting an example for us to not waste even a small fragment of time. While many consider God’s fourth commandment to deal with rest, it is easy for some to grasp the fuller picture of the command also to work. Working for six days is as much a part of God’s commandment as is resting on the seventh.
One part of keeping the Sabbath entails perpetually remembering and living in view of the forthcoming day of rest. To keep the Sabbath implies that we store it in our memory or remember it. Committing something to memory and perpetually storing it there is an exercise of the mind. Throughout the six days of labor, our minds work in anticipation and preparation for the soon-coming Sabbath. Mental energy is exerted to ensure that proper preparation has taken place in the management of business, family, and society. We plan so that we might rest.
The body also labors. We go to work; we run to and fro; we are busy here and there, accomplishing tasks necessary to successfully fulfill our duty. In six days, we don’t just think, we do all our work. But on the Sabbath, we rest. Our bodies are called to cease from their labors; and so are our minds. The command to allow the servant, cattle, and stranger to rest can have a dual blessing. While their bodies rest, the mind of those directing their labors also rests.
We cannot outwork God. In addition to His personal labor, He also carries the burden of our own labor. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13). God shares in our labors; He says, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). While Jesus is working in us, however, He also asks us to rest in Him. His invitation is, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).