Loving God & Neighbor Through the Fourth Commandment

Theologians have often divided the Ten Commandments into two tables, one pertaining to the love of God and the other describing how to love neighbor. The most traditional division is between the Fourth and Fifth Commandments, for fairly obvious reasons. The Fourth Commandment requires the remembering and keeping of the Sabbath day holy, while the Fifth Commandment demands honor to be given to our parents. The Fourth describes an aspect of our obedience to God, while the Fifth commands us to respect our very first neighbors, our parents.

While I certainly do not want to read too much into this two table format (especially since the two tablets given to Moses were almost certainly simply two copies of the Ten Commandments), I would like to make an argument for why I believe that the Fourth Commandment uniquely falls under both loving God and loving neighbor.

The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Bible, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. There are very few differences between these two passages, except with regards to the Fourth Commandment. Consider the two versions back-to-back.

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 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.

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 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.

Both versions are clearly commanding the same thing: keep the Sabbath day holy. Yet the reason behind the commandment is entirely different. In Exodus 20, the principle for remembering the Sabbath day is rooted in God’s order of creation. For six days, God created, but on the seventh day, He rested from His labor. The Sabbath rest for Israel, therefore, was both an imitation of God and a reminder of God’s mighty work in creation.

Deuteronomy 5, however, grounds the Sabbath command in their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Rather than being called to remember God’s rest from creation, they are told to “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.” This call to remembrance is immediately preceded by another differing phrase: “that your male servant and female servant may rest as well as you.”

Both passages command all people and livestock to cease from labor on the Sabbath day, yet Deuteronomy particular notes that the Sabbath was for the Israelites’ servants’ rest as well. The Israelites were mercifully delivered from slavery; therefore, they were now expected to be merciful to their own servants. They had received grace. Now God demanded them to give grace. God gave them rest, and they also would be givers of rest.

The Sabbath day, thus, was intended to be an act of both loving God and loving others.
Under the New Covenant, we gather together on the Lord’s Day for remembrance as well. As Exodus grounded the Sabbath Day in God’s order of creation, our worship is now rooted in the new creation that God is bringing through His Son. As Deuteronomy established the Sabbath Day in Israel’s exodus from Egypt, our observance of the Lord’s Day is founded upon the greater exodus, our deliverance from the slavery of sin. We hallow the Lord’s Day, not as a one-to-one replacement of the Sabbath, but in remembrance, honor, and joy in our Savior.

Jesus is our Sabbath rest. He has given us rest from our vain efforts to atone for our sins by giving us grace instead. Let us, likewise, be givers of rest and grace to others as well.

As receivers of grace, let us now be gracious.

As recipients of mercy, let us now be merciful.

Having had our debts forgiven, let us now forgive the debts of others.

Since we bear a light burden and easy yoke from Christ, let us now be shun placing heavy burdens upon the backs of others.

Jesus is our Sabbath; may we too be givers of rest by the strength of His Spirit.

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