Why keep the Sabbath?

Most Christians have heard of the Ten Commandments. Many can even tell you what they are. But how many can answer this question: Why does God ask His people to keep the Sabbath?

The Ten Commandments

Photo adapted from OZinOH on Flickr

Let’s take a look at these two familiar passages and take note of the similarities and differences:

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 to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and 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 ESV)

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, 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 from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV)

If you just skimmed those passages, you’ll probably miss the point of this blog entry 😉 Go back and read them again.

Here are some things that are the same:

  • Six days are allocated for work, but the Sabbath is to be kept holy.
  • The Sabbath is not just for us, but “to the LORD your God”.
  • On the Sabbath, no one works: not you, your family, your servants, your animals or your visitors.

But did you notice the key difference between the two passages?

  • In the Exodus passage, the motivation for keeping the Sabbath comes from the character of God in Genesis. God made everything in six days and then rested. Thus we should do the same.
  • In the Deuteronomy passage, the motivation for keeping the Sabbath comes from the rescue of God in Exodus. God (not Egypt) is now their master and has a different set of [very gracious] rules to live by.

So why am I noting this on a blog about Bible Study? It’s because we’re often tempted to assume we know what a passage means just because we’ve read it somewhere else before.

The Bible was inspired by God for all time for His supreme purpose: to reveal the glory of His Son, Jesus Christ. Simultaneously, the Bible was penned by different men at different times for different purposes. With these two truths in glorious tension, we study the Bible to understand as much as we can about every word, every passage, every book – even if we’ve seen a similar story previously.

In each case, be sure to observe the context of the “duplicated” passages. It may be that the main point and application may change in each case! For example:

  • Why might God speak of the blessing of the Sabbath to a newly-freed nation at the foot of a terrifying mountain while recalling it later with an emphasis on commands and obedience?
  • Why do the details of the same battle vary between Judges 4 and Judges 5?
  • Why is Jesus recorded as saying different things in each of the four gospels just before He dies?

Feel free to leave your thoughts on those questions in the comments!

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We Three Kings... Sorta
Difficult texts: Genesis 6:1-4
  • John Cimbala

    Nice reminder. I was hoping to see some discussion about why (or why not) we should keep the Sabbath NOW as 21st century Christians. Many Christians disagree about this…

    • http://gospelfundraising.blogspot.com Tom Hallman

      Yes, that’s true, John. Many Christians disagree on it. Going into that issue does go a bit beyond my particular point in this post, but I’d be interested in hearing your perspective. What do you think the Bible says about it?

      • John Cimbala

        Well, I guess that’s the point – the New Testament doesn’t really address the Sabbath anywhere, as far as I know. Besides, Christians have for the most part made Sunday our “Sabbath” instead of Saturday, except for our Seventh Day Adventists friends. Many older Christians were brought up believing that working on Sunday was a sin, whereas most younger Christians treat Sunday pretty much like any other day. I don’t know the “right” answer on this one. Anybody else want to comment?