Exodus 20:8–11 — “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
We are beginning to build the case for the continuation of a Sabbath day for the children of God in the New Covenant. We are going to look first of all at the reasons given by some to attempt to show that the Sabbath is obsolete under the New Covenant. Then we will go on to see what are the Biblical arguments for a continuing Sabbath day.
In arguing against a Sabbath for New Covenant believers, some point out that Israel kept its Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, which (they say) is what the Fourth Commandment teaches. Therefore, if this Commandment does continue, the New Testament church is breaking it by making the first day of the week its holy day. Indeed, some churches believe this so strongly that they still regard the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath.
How shall we answer such observations and practices? Is most of the church wrong to keep a Sabbath on the first day of the week? Take a look again at the Fourth Commandment as it appears above, and note carefully what it says, and especially what it does not say. Here is what it does not say:
Exodus 20:9–10 — “Six days of the week you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day of the week is a sabbath of the LORD your God;
In other words, the Fourth Commandment is not to keep the seventh day of each week as a Sabbath. Rather, the Commandment requires that after every six consecutive days of labor, there should be a Sabbath day. The frequency of celebration is established rather than the specific day. This Sabbath day was indeed fixed on the seventh day of the week for Israel under the Old Covenant, based on the pattern set by God in the creation week. But it is perfectly possible to move the day of the week on which the Sabbath is celebrated without a breach in the unchanging moral requirement of God.
We know that Israel was not able to keep its Sabbaths for 400 years when the nation was in bondage in Egypt, but God re-instated it when He redeemed Israel from Egypt. He commanded the nation to remember their slavery and their redemption on the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). It would be very hard to establish that Israel, after a 400 year remission, was now celebrating the Sabbath on exactly the same day in the week as that on which God rested from His work of creation. It is possible, but not certain. In any case, God clearly invested new significance in the Sabbath day following the redemption of His people from their slavery in Egypt, and He could do this (even if the day was changed) without breaking the fundamental moral principle that is established by the Commandment itself.
It is entirely possible, then, that God could change the day of the week on which the Sabbath fell when He liberated His New Covenant people from their bondage to sin, (investing the day with new significance under this New Covenant). In so doing, the moral force of the Commandment would be maintained. We will say more about this later, but there is a consistency here between the significance of a Sabbath under the Old and the New Covenants that is interesting.
To sum up, the Fourth Commandment requires the keeping of a holy day following each period of six days of labor. But the precise day of the week on which the rest is to take place must be directed by God (and changed as appropriate) outside the commandment without in any way nullifying it. This observation and objection does not therefore invalidate the concept of a continuing Sabbath observance for God's people under the New Covenant.