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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Ten Words (4)

The fourth of the Ten Words (Commandments) is the first of only two that are framed in a positive fashion.  It reads: "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; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, 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 the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it." (Ex 20:8-11). It is also the only one of the Ten Words that is not repeated in the New Testament!

The tradition of keeping this one day in seven - Shabbat (= 'rest') - was already established within the nation of Israel, but now it became an integral part of their Law, and of the covenant relationship that they had with YHWH.  It was a reminder of creation as it was "... on the seventh day God [that] finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation." (Gen 2:2-3).

Of course, when the Children of Israel celebrated Shabbat, it was not only a means of honouring YHWH, but was also a witness to their pagan neighbours.  It was also a means by which to demonstrate their different attitude to slaves.   In other nations, people might take tiime to rest, but their slaves and servants were not afforded such an opportunity.  Only in Israel was it made mandatory that the whole family, including the servants, the very animals, and even foreigners who were merely 'passing through' should take time out.

To Gentiles (non-Jews), the Shabbat restrictions often appear to be onerous.  However, to a Jew, Shabbat is a celebration.   YHWH intended that it be a time of joy; an opportunity to draw closer to Him; to study Torah; to be 'recreated'.   Through the prophet Isaiah, YHWH was later to say: "If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of YHWH honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in YHWH, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of YHWH has spoken." (58:13-14).

So, what are the lessons for the disciple of Jesus, today?  Well, we note that, from the earliest days of the Church, it assembled on the first day of the week - Sunday.  Of course, we read of men like Paul, who made use of the synagogue, and the Shabbat service.  "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'." (Acts 17:1-3).   Some would use such a passage to claim that disciples of Jesus should worship on the seventh day, just like the Children of Israel.  However, such people ignore, for example, Acts 20:7 where we read that "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight."

In passing, let me explain a little about that particular passage.   There are those who assume that Paul commenced his message to these believers in Troas some time in the late morning - maybe about 1100, as is common for many worship services today.  They then marvel that he could speak on until midnight - some thirteen hours!  That would be impressive.  I have spoken for an hour and a quarter, on occasion; but would never even contemplate speaking for such a long time.

The problem is that we forget the way in which the Jewish day is calculated!   It, too, has its basis in the Creation record where we have the refrain: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." (Gen 1:5, inter al).  This led to the Jewish day being calculated from sunset until sunset.  So, when Paul met with these believers "On the first day of the week, ...", they met at sunset on Saturday!  It was still a long message (little wonder that Eutychus fell asleep!), but not the ridiculous length that some would seek to suggest in an attempt to belittle the written Word of God!

So, disciples of Jesus ought to be faithful in their attendance at the worship service(s) of their local congregation/fellowship, remembering the injunction of the writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus: "... not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb 10:25).   More than that, we should see it as a joyful occasion, not some boring duty!  We are to attend "... with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Heb 10:22). 

That is, I suspect, a challenge for some - but it is a challenge worth accepting as, in New Testament terms, you keep this important commandment.

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