Monday, April 5, 2010

The Fourth Commandment

Well, I got so many "likes" yesterday when I posted that I would be delaying Coffee with Calvin that I decided to take the whole day off and see the reaction (just kidding).  It was also somewhat appropriate that I take yesterday off since the topic is the fourth commandment, and I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter.

The fourth commandment is this: "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" (Exodus 20:8-11 NKJV).  The general reasoning for this commandment is to give us some time to meditate on God, his works, and his law.  Calvin states that there are three deeper meanings for this commandment.  (1) To give the people of Israel a spiritual rest, where they may cease working for a period of time and allow the Holy Spirit to work in them.  (2) To give the people an opportunity to gather together in order to hear the law, perform the rights, and meditate upon God's works.  (3) To give a day of rest to servants and slaves in order that they may have a break from their work.

There are promises within this commandment.  First, there are promises of punishment for not following this commandment.  We read in Numbers 15:32-36 that God commanded Moses to have the people stone a man to death who had gathered sticks on the Sabbath.  Exodus 31:14-15 contains another example of God instructing that anyone caught breaking this commandment shall be put to death.  But backing up just one verse, God reveals a promise related to this commandment, "Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you" (Exodus 31:13 NKJV).  Calvin later writes, "We must be wholly at rest that God may work in us; we must yield or will; we must resign our heart; we must give up all our fleshly desires.  In short, we must rest from all activities of our own contriving so that, having God working in us [Hebrews 13:21], we may repose in him [Hebrews 4:9], as the apostle also teaches."  This is something I know I need to work on - resting in a way to make myself more receptive to God's work in me.  So often we pray in a fashion to let God know (as if he didn't already know) our needs and desires.  When we finish praying, we tend to be finished with our communication with God.  We are not very receptive to his message for us.  God wants us to rest, relax, and be receptive to his message.

We may ask why we should rest every seventh day.  There are a couple explanations for this.  The first is our attempt to imitate our Creator.  He created the universe and all that it is in it in six days and rested on the seventh.  Even if you don't believe that God created the universe in six 24-hour periods, you do recognize that this is how God revealed the beginning of his creation to us.  Secondly, the number seven is a number of perfection in Scripture and it denotes perpetuity.  Combining these two ideas, Calvin wrote, "It would seem, therefore, that the Lord through the seventh day has sketched for his people the coming perfection of his Sabbath in the Last Day, to make them aspire to this perfection by unceasing meditation upon the Sabbath throughout life."

Calvin decided that some people might not like the subtlety of the previous explanations of why every seventh day.  He came up with the ultimate reason even though he did not write it using these words: "Because God said so, that's why!"  The words Calvin used were this: "...the Lord ordained a certain day on which his people might, under the tutelage of the law, practice constant meditation upon the spiritual rest."  Like I said, "because God said so."  We really do not need more of a reason than this.  Calvin thinks that the reasoning behind the choice of the seventh day is not very important, what is important is that we follow God's command, rest from our labors, and worship him.  Calvin then writes, "But there is no doubt that by the Lord Christ's coming the ceremonial part of this commandment was abolished.  For he himself is the truth, with whose presence all figures vanish; he is the body, at whose appearance the shadows are left behind.  He is, I say, the true fulfillment of the Sabbath."  Calvin then calls us to action: following Christ "is not confined within a single day but extends through the whole course of our life, until, completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.32-2.8.34

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