Calling the Sabbath Day a Delight

The Fourth Commandment in the Prophets

3 min

The fourth commandment requires us “to remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” An important part of keeping this commandment is learning to view the Sabbath Day as a special day for God’s own purposes and designs. When most Christians hear “the Sabbath,” they often think “keeping” the Sabbath, or along similar lines: “remembering,” “observing,” or “sanctifying” the Sabbath Day. While all these ideas are important aspects of the sabbath rest, the Lord also instructs us to “delight” in the Sabbath Day.

Centuries of human traditions have added to revealed Scripture, and religious teachers of many sorts have multiplied man-made Sabbath Day rules and regulations. The rabbinic traditions of the Talmud laid down such detailed regulations, including how far a person could walk on the Sabbath Day, the specific activities that were prohibited, and the specific activities that were allowed. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for these man-made additions. He told the Pharisees that it was lawful to do well on the Sabbath Day. Some groups today are very specific and pharisaical about their Sabbath regulations. They make sweeping statements, trying to define exactly what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath Day.

One of the many practical passages on the Sabbath is found in Isaiah Chapter 58. While written to the “house and heritage of Jacob,” it contains instructive value to believers in any generation. The passage’s context is God’s rebuke to the nation of Israel for the way that they were merely observing the external aspects of the ceremonial law rather than giving heed to the heart of the matter. Isaiah 58:5–6 points out, for example, that appointed fast days were not given solely to spread out sackcloth (the external requirement), but rather the fast was a day “to loose the bands of wickedness.” Fasting, Sabbath-keeping, observing new moons, and presenting animal sacrifices were of no value unless men’s hearts were transformed by the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

In the passage about the Sabbath, Isaiah reminds us that God’s heart for this particular day is that we learn to delight in Him. “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it” (Isaiah 58:13–14).

In the past, the Pharisees were bogged down in strife and debate over the external requirements of Sabbath law; today, many people make the same mistake. Isaiah’s passage tells us that when we keep the Sabbath Day holy, calling it honorable and delighting in this day that God has given us as a blessing, we are actually delighting in God Himself.

When we understand the heart of the matter, the Sabbath Day is not a burden but a blessing! We can willingly lay aside our own ways when we are seeking God’s ways. As we learn to take pleasure in fellowship with God, we can more easily lay aside the lesser pleasures of this world. Filled with God’s Word, our own words no longer seem as important.

Jesus called His disciples to the heart of the Law in every one of the Ten Commandments. The sixth commandment is obeyed, not merely by abstaining from murder, but by loving our brother. The seventh commandment is obeyed, not by only keeping ourselves physically pure from adultery, but by an inner purity and freedom from lust. So also the fourth commandment is obeyed, not by a pharisaical list of dos and don’ts, but by delighting in the Lord Himself.

As we actively seek to pursue God’s ways, God’s pleasures, and God’s Word, we will find true joy that the world cannot give or take away. The Sabbath Day, as a rest from our regular labors and pursuits, is not a drudgery! Rather, it is a delight. Consider this: the prophet Amos warned about some in his day who could not wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could go back to their selfish ways, selfish pursuits, and selfish words. (See Amos 8:5.)

Just as the Lord Jesus Christ is the Christian’s ultimate rest, so He is also our ultimate delight. The Old Testament ceremonial system of sacrifices looked forward to a day when the Lamb of God would make the perfect sacrifice for sin forever. So also the Old Testament Sabbath Day law looked forward to a day when God’s people would find perfect delight in Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. 

Next week, we will look at the teaching of Jesus regarding the Sabbath Day: how He corrected the misunderstandings of the Pharisees and pointed His disciples to the heart of true Sabbath Day delight. Truly, when we brush aside all human traditions and focus solely upon what God’s Word reveals, we will find that the Sabbath Day is not a burden but rather a delight!

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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