The Bible records that sin, suffering and death entered the world because man disobeyed God. The first order God gave to man was a prohibition: he must not eat the fruit of a certain tree. Adam and Eve had just celebrated the first Sabbath, which was a joyous occasion the day after they were created. God had invited them to join the angels in celebrating the completion of His work of creation. "Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made." Gen. 2:1-3.
1) Can you call the Sabbath institution a command?
Answer: Adam and Eve did not regard the keeping of the Sabbath as a command, but rather a blessing. We too should see the Sabbath as a blessing. Job 38:7 says, "When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy." That first Sabbath was a glorious occasion, causing Adam and Eve to look forward to the next Sabbath with joyous anticipation. Years later, mankind became corrupted by sin. Gen. 6:5 says, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." They forgot the sanctity of the Sabbath, so God had to issue the command, "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.." Exod. 20:8-11.This precept makes up a third of the words of all ten, showing how highly God regards His day.
2) The Bible says that the Decalog was proclaimed by God with His own mouth and written with his own hands. What other evidence is there to prove its divine authorship?
Answer: Internal evidence of the divine authorship of the Decalog is in the phrase, "nor your male servant nor your female servant, nor your cattle." This was written in the 15th century B.C., when all people on the globe lived under a slave economy. "Male servant and female servant" were illiterate slaves who had not the ability nor the right to make laws. The legislators were all slave owners, and none of them would consider letting all slaves and beasts of burden rest a full day every week. It is therefore clear that this law providing for a day of rest for slaves and beasts of burden was not written by man, but must have been written by God.
3) Does "the seventh day" mean any seventh day that men may choose?
Answer: No. It is a day fixed by God. Soon after the Israelites came out of Egyptian bondage, God began to teach them to keep the Sabbath. Exod. 16:22,25 says, "On the sixth day , . . Moses said, . . 'This is what the Lord has said, "Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord," On the seventh day, Moses said, "Today is a sabbath unto the Lord."'"
Some have wondered if since creation the weekly cycle could have been lost. Are we sure that the seventh day is still the original seventh? That is easy to determine. In the 15 centuries from Moses to Jesus, the weekly cycle has not been lost. If there was an error, Jesus could have corrected it. No error has occurred since Jesus' day, as is confirmed by historians and astronomers.
Another evidence is found in the languages of many races. The Hebrew term for Sabbath is Shabath, which is Sabado in all the Latin languages and Subota in Russian. These three language groups have no other name for Saturday but "Sabbath". So the people of Latin America and Russia read the fourth commandment in their Bibles as, "Remember Saturday to keep it holy." So Latin Americans and Russians do not need to be told by anyone that Saturday is the Sabbath, and many of them begin keeping the true Sabbath simply by reading God's word. 70 more languages that call Saturday "Sabbath," are Arabic, Syrian, Ethiopian, Hungarian, Greek, Bulgarian, Polish, Bohemian (Czech), Malayan, etc. Only the Chinese have the habit of calling Monday the first day of the week, thereby needing to be told that Sunday is actually the first day. Yet most informed Chinese Christians know that Christ rose on Sunday the first day of the week, after resting in the grave over the Sabbath.
4) How can we know that God highly regards the holy day that He has instituted?
Answer: Firstly, God has put the Sabbath command in the Decalog, indicating that it is not a ceremonial law, but a moral one. God regards a violation of the Sabbath as serious as dishonoring one's parents, murder, adultery, theft and deception.
Secondly, God used the Sabbath to test the obedience of His people. When they lightly regarded it, He reproved them saying, "How long will you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?" Exod. 16:28.
Thirdly, God gave the Sabbath to His people as a sign of sanctification, saying, "Moreover I also gave them My sabbaths, to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifies them." Ezek. 20:12.
Fourthly, Though God had placed the Sabbath precept in the Decalog, yet in Ezek 20 He cites "My Sabbath" six times apart from "My statutes" and "My judgments" to play up its distinctiveness. Four times He repeats the statement, "The house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness: they did not walk in My statues, and despised My judgments, . . . and My sabbaths they greatly polluted." Though "My statutes" included the Sabbath command, He cited it separately because of its special importance.
5) Since this text says that the Sabbath was given to the Jews, does it mean that we Christians do not need to keep it?
Answer: No. Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man." Mark 2:27. This truth should be seen from two angles: Firstly, there was no Jew (descendant of Jacob) until more than 2000 years after the Sabbath was instituted. Did God have to wait 2000-odd years until a Jew was born to keep His Sabbath? No. There was, is, and ever will be a holy line of people who faithfully observe God's holy day and walk with Him, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, after which God chose the Jews to preserve a knowledge of the truth. Rom 3:1,2 says, "What advantage then has the Jew? . .. . Much every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God." In the center of the oracles of God is the Decalog; in the center of the Decalog is the Sabbath.
Moreover, in Isa. 56:6 God says that He wants Gentiles to keep His Sabbath, "Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants---everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant---even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. . . For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations."
Secondly, "The Sabbath was made for man" as a token of God's love for him. It is like a mother making a dress for her child. After completing it, she brings it to her and says, Mom just made this dress for you, put it on and let all see. If her girl hates it and throws it on the floor and tramples on it, won't her mother be heartbroken?
6) Yes, she would surely be heartbroken! Since the Sabbath is a gift from God, if men reject it, God will be deeply grieved.
Answer: Yes. People ask, "If I don't keep the Sabbath, will I be lost?" Others say, "One is not saved by keeping the law, but is justified by faith." These are all words against the Sabbath. We should ask, "Do I please God? Or do I cause Him sorrow?" Jesus teaches us always to please God, saying, "The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him." Jn 8:29.
7) We should value the truths God stresses, but people seem to think that we are making a mountain out of a molehill.
Answer: No. We are calling a mountain a mountain. Think how God reproves His people, saying, "They greatly defiled My Sabbaths." To defile God's Sabbath is to make a breach in the Decalog. That is why in Isa. 58:12 God commends the one who builds up the old waste places, calling him "Repairer of the Breach." It may sound strange: how could it be that we should have to repair a breach made in God's law? Well, Christ said that "the Sabbath was made for man." So the breach must be repaired by man. Because if there is no man to observe the Sabbath that He made for man, it would be God's failure, and Satan's victory, who would then deride God as having made a law which cannot be kept, and say, "The holy day which He made for man, man fails to keep! Shame on God! My rebellion is justified!" If angels wish to repair the breach, they cannot do so, because the Sabbath was not made for angels, but for man, so man must keep it properly in order to repair the breach. Here is a chance for us to stand up for God: not just to pay Him lip service, but to honor God in our actions, to contend for His honor and uphold His authority.
8) This is one of our failings---thinking only of being saved, not caring for God's pleasure and His glory.
Answer: All who claim Christ as Savior must also honor Him as King. If you don't obey the King of kings, then He is not your Savior. All your hymns of praise will sound hollow. God says, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence?." Mal. 1:6.
Rom. 6:16-19 says, "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. . . . For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness."
9) Oh! Now I understand. Our keeping the Sabbath has much to do with God's honor. It is a matter of His glory.
Answer: If the children do not obey their parents, the parents are dishonored. Likewise, when nobody obeys God, He is dishonored. The devil will then exult against God. On which side do you stand? All who stand on God's side, must uphold His glory.
10) Some say, It is hard to keep the Sabbath holy. Can you keep it holy?
Answer: All who don't want to obey God will always find an excuse for disobedience. Actually, the standard set by Christ for Christians is very high too. He says, "You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Matt. 5:48. Can you reach that standard? Do you feel turned off by it? That's not all; even to live as a human being is not easy! Some feel they would rather not live on and wish to end it right now. Actually, the fact that God expects us to reach a perfect standard shows that He loves us, hoping that we would be ready when Jesus comes to spend eternity with God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and all the angels in the new heavens and new earth. God gave the Sabbath for a weekly exercises in holy living. Isa. 58:13,14 tells us how highly God regards His holy day: "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words. Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken."
11) The fourth command says, "You shall not do any work" on the Sabbath. Does He define any limits here?
Answer: According to the Bible, Jer. 17:21,22 speaks of heavy physical labor. Neh. 13:15-22 prohibits people from buying and selling on Sabbath. Exod. 16:4-30 teaches us to prepare the food for the Sabbath on Friday, so that we need not spend much time in the kitchen on the Sabbath. On Preparation day we should also do our house-cleaning, washing and bathing, so that we can spend most of our Sabbath hours in prayer, Bible study, public worship and visiting the weak and disabled. Families with children can go for an outing in nature on Sabbath afternoons to lead them to appreciate God's creative handiwork.
12) The Bible records many cases of the Jewish authorities accusing Jesus of violating the Sabbath. What do they indicate?
Answer: Jewish leaders were extremists, adding many regulations above the rules in the Bible, causing people to be mentally tense on the Sabbath, for fear of committing sin. The most unreasonable rule was that it was a sin to heal the sick on the Sabbath. In this Jesus offended the Jews, who accused Him of breaking the Sabbath. He refuted them, enunciating the principle: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath." Mark 2:27,28. He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Matt. 12:11,12.
13) Jesus said, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." But there must be a limit to the definition of "good."
Answer: Yes. According to the example given by Jesus, "good" refers to the relief of suffering in an emergency. In hospitals run by Seventh-day Adventists, the emergency ward is open on Sabbaths, but regular out-patient service and the surgery department is closed. The daily needs of bed-ridden patients must be cared for in harmony with this principle.
"Not doing your own ways" of Isa 58:13 does not imply that it is proper to engage in public activities on the Sabbath. For the opposite of "your own ways" is not public service, but the service of "the Lord."
14) One more question: Why is it that most Christian churches worship on Sundays and most people stop work on Sundays?
Answer: That is going to be the topic for our next study. Today we hope all our friends will decide to obey God, not just calling Him Lord, but actually doing His will. People like to follow the crowd and do what all others do. Jesus says, "What is that to you? You follow Me." Jn 21:22. What most people do may not be the right thing. Only Jesus is our example. Luke 4:16 says, "He came to Nazareth, . . And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read."
Jn 7:45-48 says, when the officers whom the chief priests and Pharisees sent to bring Jesus returned empty-handed, they were asked, "Why have you not brought Him?" the officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!" Then the Pharisees said, "Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him?" The preachers of today who hate the Sabbath are like the Pharisees who hated Jesus. They also argue that most religious leaders are opposed to the Sabbath, using it as their excuse for disobeying God.