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What the Bible says about Sabbath and Relationship with God
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 2:2-3

The Sabbath is not the afterthought of a majestic Creation, but it is the very climax of the Creation Week. It seems as if God intends us to conclude this as it is the last thing in the Creation Week that He draws our attention to. He specifically does this by resting on the seventh day - by ceasing from His labor. Is there an example there? Certainly! Keeping the Sabbath is an example set by the Creator - not one of His servants but the very Boss Himself! It is worthy of note.

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). It was made to ensure that man has the right kind of life - both physically and spiritually. The body needs a rest, but even more than that, the mind needs to be energized. It needs to be filled with the Word of God and to be energized by fellowship with God.

So that we have no excuse, God says, "I don't want you to do any work on that day. I don't want you to turn your attention to your own things." Nobody will be able to come to God and say, "I never had the time to spend time with You."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 4)

Genesis 2:3

Genesis 2:3 says that God blessed the Sabbath day, something He did to no other day. This blessing falls on the heels of the obviously physical blessings God pronounced on animals (Genesis 1:22) and man (Genesis 1:28). The Bible shows a blessing to be something given or conferred to produce a fuller, more abundant life. The Sabbath blessing, conferred upon the whole creation, acts as the capstone of Creation week.

By blessing a recurring period of time, God promises to be man's benefactor through the whole course of human history! The blessing invokes God's favor, and its primary intent is that God will be our spiritual benefactor. It does, however, include the physical as well. Thus, Jesus clearly ties His ministry to the Sabbath concepts of blessing, deliverance, liberty, and redemption.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath

Exodus 20:8-11

When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them a law for community relationships. Did He say, "All of My commandments you must keep—except for one"?

The Sabbath is not a minor ceremonial regulation that rarely affects man's relationship with God. It is one of the major Ten Commandments, the laws that spell out God's character, defining love and sin for us. This is why James explained that the law is a package (James 2:10); if you break one law, you break them all. Once the package is broken up, it loses its effectiveness.

The fourth commandment is especially important in keeping the other nine. In Ezekiel 20:7-8, 12-13, God specifies two specific commandments that Israel broke: the ones concerning idolatry and Sabbath-keeping. They are linked: If one does not keep the Sabbath, he will commit idolatry.

In one sense, these are the two key commandments around which all the others revolve. If we break the first one, we will certainly break the rest. If our god is not God, then we are off the track already. In the same way, if we break the Sabbath day, then the others will be broken. Without the Sabbath, contact with God is lost.

God has called a meeting of His Kingdom and Family to occur on that day. If we fail to attend, we are obviously absent and unable to benefit from it. For God to command something that we do not really have to keep would not be beneficial. It would be double-dealing, like handing someone a biscuit with one hand and taking it back with the other.

People observe the practices of their religion because they matter to them. Yet, we have been told that one can be a Christian without keeping this beneficial day. Some people claim that it does not matter. If, then, we can meet the requirements of being a Christian without keeping the Sabbath, a law that does not fit the flow of this world's social, business, and religious activities, then why keep it? That would not make sense.

What has happened? They have bought into the Protestant notion that God is only trying to save people, and that His law only defines sin. Such a belief has ramifications: The law will be seen in a totally negative light, rather than God's intended positive purpose. Law not only defines sin, but also provides a guide that will produce character in us identical to the Creator's, if we live by the power of His Spirit.

Our small part in this entire wonderful purpose is not merely to say, "I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior," but it is to use our God-given free moral agency to make the right choices in order to do our small part in producing godly attitudes and character.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part One)

Exodus 20:8-11

No other day is hallowed as the Sabbath is: It is set aside as holy to God. It belongs to Him. It is time for Him. Thus, the basic rule that the commandment lays down is that God requires that each person set aside this day for the worship and service of Him. Nothing in it even begins to suggest that this commandment is merely ceremonial in nature. Protestants say Christians do not have to keep the Sabbath because it is just a ceremony, but they cannot find that idea in Scripture - certainly not in the commandment itself.

Like the other commandments, the fourth commandment deals with relationships. One set of relationships - the business and work-a-day-world ones - is broken off or stopped on Friday at sunset, and another set of relationships - the spiritual ones - begin to be emphasized. In addition, the commandment looks back on creation, identifying that we are to keep the seventh day because God, the Creator, set it apart at creation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)

Exodus 31:13

The Sabbath was made so that we would know God and that He would know us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)

Exodus 31:13-17

God has designated the Sabbath to be "the sign" between Him and His people. It is evidence that He, the Creator, is our God, and that those who keep it are His children. As a whole, the Bible shows that it is not just that it is observed, but also the manner in which it is observed that makes it the sign.

Except by creation, the Jews are not His children, but they keep the Sabbath. The same applies to Seventh-Day Adventists. The way it is observed makes a huge difference. Only then is it the sign. If this were not so, God would not have shown as much concern about how it is observed—even to the extent of saying that breaking it was a major reason why Israel went into captivity and was divorced by God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)

Exodus 31:13

An interesting and significant term is used in Exodus 31:13, 17: The Sabbath is a sign, not a mark. Bible usage shows that a sign is something voluntarily accepted, whereas a mark is placed on a person against his will. The Sabbath is a special sign of a special covenant between God and His people. In the wilderness, His people were the Israelites; today, it is the Israel of God, the church of God (Galatians 6:16).

A sign can identify a person's occupation or an individual's or group's purpose. Signs can give directions (like traffic signs), or they can bring people together with shared interests and a common purpose (like flags). A sign can be the pledge of mutual fidelity and commitment (as in putting a hand over one's heart). Organizations use signs to designate membership so that members can recognize each other (as with secret handshakes).

In the church's case, the Sabbath serves as an external and visible bond that simultaneously unites and sanctifies us from everyone else. Almost everybody else keeps Sunday or nothing. Through the Sabbath, the Christian knows that God is sanctifying him. Everyone who has kept both Sabbath and Sunday knows this. Sunday sets no one apart from this world because so many in this world observe it.

God has a purpose He is working out. If the only reason He created the Sabbath were because we need physical rest, any old time would do. Ultimately, however, the real sign appears in how and why one keeps the Sabbath. Thus, God made a specific period of time special so that He could meet with His people during that sanctified period to help them become even more different for their benefit.

What is His major goal in doing this? He educates His people in His way of life. In part, He prepares His people to witness for Him by this means. As an analogy, suppose a basketball coach told his players, "Come to the gym at 8 AM Monday, and I will teach you how my team plays ball." Yet, what if some players went to a different gym at a different time with a different coach?

Players on a team who take the game seriously begin to take on the qualities and philosophy of their coach. People who involve themselves deeply in athletics say they can often tell by a player's characteristics that he has trained under a certain coach. They remark that he has the John Wooden or John Thompson "way" about him. What has happened is that the player has taken on the "sign" of his coach, and it has "sanctified" him from other players who were not trained by that particular coach.

The Sabbath was created because it both enhances and protects a Christian's relationship with God. It also provides a witness to God, to the person keeping it, and to the world. It exists to help keep a Christian pointed in the right direction and in a proper frame of mind, and it provides him with the right knowledge and understanding to negotiate the way to God's Kingdom.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment

Deuteronomy 5:15

This rendering of the commandment adds that we are to remember our bondage in Egypt, shifting the spiritual emphasis from recalling creation to recalling redemption. The Sabbath commandment does not entirely lose its connection with creation but is added to. Now it looks back, not only on the fact that our God is the Creator, but also that the Sabbath deals with God as our Redeemer. God is Creator and Savior.

Thus, the commandment suggests liberty—our release from slavery, as well as preserving freedom and its relationship with the Redeemer. This helps us to understand specifically why no other day will do. It is not only the sign that God is the Creator, but it is also the sign that He is our Savior. The Sabbath is the day He appointed as the day to memorialize that He set us free and continuously maintains our liberty. As long as we are keeping it, the relationship with Him will be preserved.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)

Isaiah 40:28-31

It is vital for us to understand that this is where the Sabbath "rest" comes from! God is the source of strength, power, and refreshment. They all come from our relationship with God within the proper keeping of the Sabbath day. He gives it to us as a gift of His grace.

He restores our energy. He gives us the power to overcome and to grow. He gives us peace of mind so that we are truly rested. He helps us to recover our strength. He enables us to live confident, hope-filled lives. He gives us good health and sound minds. "The Lord gives His beloved sleep" (Psalm 172:2). He gives us strength-restoring sleep. All of these things are gifts of grace from time well-spent in fellowship with Him, developing the relationship with Him and communicating with Him in Bible study and prayer.

How we use the Sabbath day tells Him a great deal about how we will do in His Kingdom. I fear that many of us have put the wrong emphasis on it. We tend to look at the Sabbath day as "things that we cannot do" rather than "things we can do" - truly liberating things we cannot devote time to do on the other six days of the week.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)

Isaiah 58:13-14

On the surface, the Sabbath appears to be only a rest - a break from physical labor. Rest is a factor in keeping it, but its central purpose, which should guide our use of the day, is the developing and building of our relationship with God, an exceedingly more important reason than ceasing to work! Not working only provides the time so that we can do what is more important - develop our relationship with God. The core reason for breaking from the normal routine is to get to know Him. Jesus says that eternal life is to know God (John 17:3). Do we want eternal life? We need to get to know God. That is what the Sabbath is for.

The Sabbath is a weekly, and sometimes annual, appointment of time to be devoted to God, so that the relationship does not become lost in the swirl of life's activities. If it is done right, no one has an excuse for not "knowing" Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 2)

Ezekiel 20:10-12

It is very clear to see that a major purpose of the Sabbath, apart from it being a sign, is that we might know God, which is eternal life (John 17:3)! If we are going to know God, the Sabbath must be kept. This passage ties the two of them together. Without knowing God, there is no eternal life. The Sabbath, then, is a necessary fixture in having eternal life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)

Ezekiel 20:18-20

Keeping the Sabbath identifies the true God to us. It is not merely the fact that one observes the day, but rather it is observing it combined with how one observes it. People can surely keep it, as the Jews did, and not keep it right. Did they know God? No, they did not (Ezekiel 20:10-12)—obviously, because, when God came in the flesh, they rejected Him. All the while, however, they were keeping the Sabbath. So the instruction is that it is not merely a matter of just observing the day but how the day is observed that enables a person to know God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)

Amos 3:3

Applying this principle to the Sabbath, if we want to be in God's presence in this special way, no other day will do. God has set a weekly appointment with His people to meet with Him for purposes pertaining to His spiritual creation. It is largely on this day that we are blessed, empowered by Him with His Spirit to promote our success in His way. The keeping of the Sabbath also functions to identify the two parties involved in the covenant.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)

Romans 1:24-25

Beginning with the fact that mankind generally shows no fear of God, Romans 1:24-25 illuminates how this lack of respect for Him has produced what we now observe in the world every day.

In examining the central issue of the first few commandments, we find that the first concerns what we worship. These verses in Romans 1 recap what the first commandment forbids, the worship of someone or something other than the Creator. Worship is the devoted service that an individual gives to what he regards above all. It is most assuredly not restricted to activity done on only one day of the week. As verse 25 shows, a person can give devoted service to created things as well as to the Creator. In addition, Paul observes in Colossians 3:5 that covetousness is also idolatry, amplifying the fact that a person can give unlawful respect and thus devotion to things other than the Creator God.

We have all heard the argument that "all religions are good," but this is simply not true. Based on what it produces as a way of life in countries where it dominates, is militant Islam good? Are this world's many variations of what is called Christianity good? This world's religions can be evaluated as good or bad only in relation to each other. Not one of them is good when evaluated against Jesus' religion, the one He passed on to the apostles.

Paul's argument in Romans 1 is that God abandoned to uncleanness those addressed as idolaters. The term "uncleanness" indicates immorality and strongly implies sexual immorality. Based on these few verses, the conclusion is that any religion other than the true one is in reality a curse—actually, in some ways a punishment—even though it may occasionally produce some good effects!

The context pinpoints their sin in verse 25: "They exchanged the truth for the lie." Notice the definite articles. Here, God and His way is "the truth," and the people's idolatryis"the lie." How can that be good? Paul is showing that only the Creator God can be worshipped profitably. Worshipping someone or some thing other than the Creator subtly turns the thrust and direction of a person's life off the true path of God's purpose because the source of the authority permitting or guiding his conduct is not the true God. Even though the object of devotion may be otherwise harmless, it is sin to give it that level of respect because it absolutely cannot produce anything good toward God's purpose.

Recall that idolatry is a sin whose fruit is almost never immediately seen. It is like a cancer that destroys by slow increments. Life's direction and any course corrections must come from within one's relationship with the Creator God. The wrong source will lead one astray. Clearly, properly keeping the first commandment requires a great deal of soul-searching evaluation of the true value of what we hold dear.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment


 




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