The Sabbath and the Israelites: What We can Learn from the Fourth Commandment

In this post, let us trace back the history of the Sabbath by looking at the life of the Israelites.

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The Sabbath was blessed and sanctified by God in the creation week (Genesis 2:1-3). It has continued to be a blessing and a holy time throughout the ages. It never stopped from becoming a blessing to all those who keep it.

Historical background of the Israelites

Now, we come to another period in the Bible when God started to work with a small group of people.

God called Abraham to leave his country, Haran, and go to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-4).

Abraham had a son whom he named Isaac (Genesis 17:19). Then, Isaac begat Jacob (Genesis 25:26). God renamed Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28) and from Israel came 12 sons to whom the 12 tribes of Israel came from.

A brief history of the formation of Israel includes the time when Joseph was sold to slavery. He was brought to Egypt. Through Yahweh’s divine providence, Joseph rose to become the second most powerful man in Egypt.

Eventually, the brothers of Joseph joined him in Egypt and there the descendants of Israel began to flourish in number.

However, the Israelites became a slave to the Egyptians and through a series of miraculous events, God has delivered the Israelites out of the hand of the Egyptians.

The Sabbath re-introduced to Israel

Yahweh led the people of Israel to the wilderness to eventually bring them to the land of promise, which is Canaan.

On their way, God revealed the Sabbath with great miracles.

After the phenomenal crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites began to complain to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 16:2-3:

Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

To this, Yahweh responded:

“Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily” (Exodus 16:4-5).

So, it was.

God rained manna and fed the Israelites (Exodus 16:4, 15-18).

However, God said that He wanted to test the Israelites and see if they will walk in His law or not.

The Sabbath test

God fed the Israelites with manna. It is a miracle from God that the nation of Israel enjoyed.

However, there’s a condition.

Remember that God said He wanted to test the Israelites (Exodus 16:4).

What is this test?

The Sabbath Day.

We read in Exodus 16:22-26:

And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’ ” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.”

The test was simple. From the first day to the sixth day of the week, the Israelites should gather manna. On the sixth day, they SHOULD gather twice as much because on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be no manna raining from heaven.

What’s so amazing about this is that the manna they gathered on the sixth day didn’t spoil, so that they still have food to eat on the Sabbath.

Notice verse Exodus 16:35:

And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 

God wrought the miracle of manna for forty years!

So, in forty years, God was also teaching them to follow His Sabbath command. 

The Israelites were so hard-headed that God needed to impress in their minds the Sabbath command not just for a year or two, but for forty years!

That’s how important the Sabbath is for God and that should also be how important it is for you.

The Sabbath and the Ten Commandments

Now, it is time for God to introduce to the Israelites His covenant with them.

Part of forming the covenant is the inclusion of the terms and conditions of that agreement and that is where the Ten Commandments come in.

The Sabbath command was included in the Ten Commandments. 

As the Fourth Commandment, we read in Exodus 20:8-11:

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. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Notice that the Fourth Commandment started with the word, “Remember.”

Why remember? 

Because the Sabbath command has always been existing since the creation week!

The Sabbath didn’t originate in Mt. Sinai. It didn’t start with the nation of Israel. And it definitely didn’t start with the Ten Commandments.

Even the rest of the Ten Commandments are already enforced and binding even before the Sinaitic covenant!

We don’t assume that it is okay to kill before the Ten Commandments were codified in the tablets of stone. We don’t assume that it is okay to steal, dishonor our parents, commit adultery, and other acts forbidden in the Ten Commandments.

So, why do so many Christians assume that the Fourth Commandment was only effective when the Ten Commandments were introduced?

Definitely, there’s some bias here against the Fourth Commandment!

One thing you should also realize that God has been testing the Israelites using the Sabbath for many years before they entered the promised land.

In Genesis 16:28-29, Yahweh already said, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days.

This statement was made even before the Sinaitic covenant was formally formed.

Therefore, even before the Ten Commandments were given, Yahweh has already given the Sabbath!

The Sabbath as a blessing for the Israelites

God’s intention was clear when He gave the Sabbath command. He wanted to bless the Israelites through the Sabbath.

In Exodus 20:8-11, we read how all the members of the household were given the chance to rest from all their labor. Even the servants, guests and animals were given the privilege to rest!

Our human body isn’t designed to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even with 8 hours of sleep every day, that’s still not enough to fully refresh your body.

That’s why, in God’s love, grace, and mercy, He commanded the Israelites and us to rest from our labor.

The Sabbath as a reminder for deliverance

Aside from giving the Israelites rest from their labor, the Sabbath also served as a reminder of their deliverance from slavery.

We read in Deuteronomy 5:12-15:

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 the Sabbath of the LORD your God… And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. 

The Sabbath was a weekly reminder for the people of Israel that they were once a slave in Egypt and that it was God who helped them receive freedom and enjoy their rights as a nation.

Because God has already delivered them from slavery, He has also given them rest. Since their master isn’t the Egyptians anymore, they now have the freedom to follow God and keep His Sabbath rest.

Because they know how it feels to be a slave, they should appreciate more the importance of rest. They also become more loving and caring to their servants of whom they also should allow to rest during the Sabbath.

For us, Christians today, this too, holds an important spiritual lesson.

We have been slaves to sin and through the blood and sacrifice of our Savior, Yahshua or Jesus Christ, we have also been delivered from the oppressive consequences of sin.

As a result, we, too, should enter the rest of God, which is the Sabbath. God has freed us from sin not to sin again, but to follow His commandments and enjoy the blessing of the Sabbath!

The Sabbath as a day of learning

After the Ten Commandments were reviewed in Deuteronomy 5, we immediately read Deuteronomy 6:1-2:

“Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the LORD your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 

Yahweh intends that His laws and commandments should be taught and what day is the most ideal to teach God’s law?

Obviously, it is the Sabbath day when people have ceased their work and have more time to focus more on God’s word.

In Deuteronomy 6:7-9, we read:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 

The Bible shows us that yes, we need to teach our children every day of the week, but giving religious instructions and providing learnings are specially done during the Sabbath.

The instruction has not changed until now. The Sabbath is still a wonderful and ideal time for us to learn more about God’s way of life.

While the Israelites failed over and over again in keeping the Sabbath day, we have the chance to make a difference.

The Sabbath, when observed in the way that God intended it to be, is a wonderful blessing not just to the Israelites, but to all mankind.