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Sunday, July 19, 2009

On observing the sabbath

I get a very excellent ‘inspiration’ every Sunday morning from a brother dedicated to spreading the word through his business web mail. He has been doing a series on the Ten Commandments that have been very thought provoking. This week was the Fourth Commandment and he brought up some thoughts on whether we are to observe ‘the sabbath’ per se or not, since most of us go to church and worship on Sunday and not technically the ‘seventh day of the week.” I wrote him my thoughts on the subject and then decided that I’d post it here too. So for your consideration, here it is.

Looking at the Sabbath as a particular day does lead us into confusion. However, if we look at the purpose of the Sabbath, things become more lucid. Reading the entire text of Exodus 20 regarding this day, we see that God had a reason for designating the Sabbath: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. In this we see the purpose of the Sabbath indicated. It was to be a day of physical rest commemorating the work of God in His Creation. The Israelites were instructed to ‘keep it holy’ to sanctify it, to use it only for the Lord. To sanctify means to keep something set apart for reasons of sacred use—be it an object, a piece of clothing or a day.
The Israelites were accustomed to specific items being reserved for sacred use—the temple vessels, the fire on the altars, the priests clothing, even specific items of dress for the individual worshippers. Thus one day was to be set apart for sacred use, to worship and dwell on the blessings of God. This was designated as the Sabbath. Only the most absolutely necessary things were done that could not be arranged prior to the day. (Matthew 12:11 and Luke 13:15) Even the distance a man could travel was curtailed. (Acts 1:12)
It would appear that the emphasis is not so much on which particular day is observed as holy, but on what is done on the Sabbath. The seventh day is a rather arbitrary term. Depending on how any certain schedule runs, it begins and ends on different days. What day specifically is the seventh? A lot of argument could be made for this. From a purely business, MONDAY is designated at the ‘first of the week.’ Given this designation, then Sunday is the seventh day. I believe the point is not the specific day but that we have one day that is specifically set aside for sacred purposes
Now we come to the sticking point of whether or not we really observe Sunday as our Sabbath. In the not too recent past, Sunday was totally a day of rest,. Even sinners observed these practices. Only those absolutely necessary things that couldn’t possibly be done beforehand were done on Sunday-- perhaps milking the cows and turning them out to graze. Other arrangements were made to be sure any work that could be done ahead of time was completed before Sunday arrived.
I can remember my father talking about their house on Sunday. This would have been in the 1920’s. He had specific toys that were reserved only for Sunday because they were quiet and didn’t disturb the reverent silence of the day. They were still things, no rowdy little boy romping; they did puzzles, played jack straws, drew pictures, etc. He talked about his Ma making as much of the food as possible on Saturday afternoon so meals could be prepared with a minimum of work… All of Sunday morning was spent in worship services. Good Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes were worn all day and that ensured children and adults were more careful of their actions. Sunday afternoon was a quiet time with Bible reading at bedtime.
When I was a child, we spent all of Sunday morning in worship services. Sunday dinner was the main meal and there was only a quick easy snack before we returned to Sunday evening services at 6:30 or 7:00 pm. Often family and friends visited in the afternoon and the time was spent visiting. Many times the topic of conversation centered on religious doings, but certainly no secular or financial arrangements were made. All the stores were closed. All the shops and factories were closed. We children were allowed to play outside, but any running and screaming and chasing was met with quick reprimand.

Gradually the world has crept in. First more and more people neglected to attend church services on Sunday. Gas stations were the first things I can remember staying open on Sundays. People needed to get gas for expeditions on their “day-off”. Sunday had become a “day off” instead of a “day of rest”. One by one other business began opening their doors on Sunday. People needed to buy groceries on their day off. They needed to be able to get to the drug store if someone was sick and so forth. And of course, if these businesses were open they had to have clerks there to help the customers. And so the situation snowballed.

Of course these were all “necessary” work. And I heard the excuse many times: “Farmers have to milk the cows on Sunday. How is this any different?” Well you know and I know how it is different, but again it was the Devil’s best gift of rationalizing.

So now the question becomes not do we observe the seventh day as a Sabbath, but do we observe any day as the Sabbath. Do we observe any day as a day of rest, sanctified to the Lord? I’m afraid that too many ‘good Christians” don’t.

This isn’t to condemn or find fault but only to stir up our minds. The Ten Commandments are still part of our standard today, but do we observe and obey them? And this fourth one is a prickly point for many.

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