Friday, February 11, 2011

Observe and Remember: Commands from the Ten Commandments

When one hears the word "sabbath" the mind is almost always turned to the 10 Commandments passage as it appears in Deuteronomy 5. This is where many draw their conclusion on Sabbath practices. So, it's only fitting to examine the Fourth Commandment more closely and see what God has instructed his people to do regarding the Sabbath.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (NIV) reads:

12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 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.

The first think we see is a command from God. That command is to observe. Observation is the basis of all scientific inquiry, observation is what many of us do all day every day. We observe and interpret the things around us and live life accordingly. So, what makes this a special command.
First, observation is often a passive activity. While observation is still a verb, there is often little activity to observe from the observer. Also, God commands us to observe the day, but offers little more in this passage as to what we should do in order to fulfill the command to observe it. In fact he goes on to tell us what we should NOT do in order to observe the day.

Later we see another command from God. This time we are called to remember. Oh, how so many of us would like to forget so much... However God calls us to remember his activity on our behalf. For Israel the call is to remember the Exodus, specifically God's redeeming activity on their behalf in the Exodus events. For us the call is the same, in order to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy there must be a space for memories. We must remember God's redeeming activity on our behalf. This immediately points us to Christ on the Cross.

Finally, I want to reiterate a point that Jesus makes in the gospel message. Namely, that the Sabbath isn't made for man, but man for the sabbath (cf. Mark 2:27). In the middle of this passage there is a phrase that is striking in it's context. In a passage that is often interpreted in strictly anthropocentric terms, with the focus on the benefit for humankind, we learn that "the seventh day is to be a Sabbath TO the Lord your God" (Deut. 5:14a, emphasis mine). How often do we remember that verse to say "the seventh day is to be a Sabbath for man." It's not. It's a Sabbath to God, for his glory, not for our sake. No doubt the Sabbath is beneficial to man, but is it possibly that it's main benefit is realigning our stature towards God through observance and remembering?

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