The Fourth Commandment

Exodus 20

Exodus 20:8-11

8. Remember the sabbath-day, to keep it holy.

8. Recordare diei Sabbathi, ut sanctifices eum:

9. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work:

9. Sex diebus operaberis et facies universum opus tuum.

10. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

10. Dies autem septimus Sabbathum Jehovae Dei tui est. Non facies ullum opus, tu, et filius tuus, et filia tua, servus tuus, et ancilla tua, et inquilinus tuus qui est in portis tuis:

11. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath-day, and hallowed it.

11. Quoniam sex diebus fecit Jehova coelum et terram, mare et quaecunque in illis sunt, et quievit die septimo: propterea benedixit Jehova diem sabbathi, et sanctificavit eum.


its repetition

Deuteronomy 5

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

12. Keep the sabbath-day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.

12. Observa diem Sabbathi ut eum sanctifices, quemadmodum praecepit Jehova Deus tuus.

13. Six days thou shalt labor, and do all thy work;

13. Sex diebus operaberis, et facies universum opus tuum: dies autem septimus sabbathum est Jehovae Dei tui.

14. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou.

14. Non facies ullum opus tu, et filius tuns, et asinus tuus, quodvis jumentum tuum, et inquilinus tuus qui est in portis tuis, ut quiescat servus tuus et ancilla tua sicut tu.

15. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand, and by a stretched-out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath-day.

15. Ac recordare quod servus fueris in terra Aegypti, et eduxerit to Jehova Deus tuus inde per manum fortem et brachium extentum. Idcirco praecepit Jehova Deus tuus ut facias diem sabbathi.


Exodus 20:8. Remember the Sabbath-day. The object of this Commandment is that believers should exercise themselves in the worship of God; for we know how prone men are to fall into indifference, unless they have some props to lean on or some stimulants to arouse them in maintaining their care and zeal for religion. Under the Second Commandment we have already indeed made some remarks on the outward profession of piety, and under the First also brief mention has been made of some festivals, inasmuch as in the passover and the offering of the first-fruits the people devoted themselves to God, as if by a solemn repetition of the covenant. Many also of the ceremonies which we have explained had an affinity to the Sabbath. Yet it is not without good cause that God has appointed a special place to the Sabbath as well as to the other festivals; and although there is a connection between the observance of the Sabbath and the tabernacle with its sacrifices, and the priesthood itself, still it was advisedly done that the festivals should be separately appointed, that by their aid the people might be the more encouraged to maintain the unity of the faith and to preserve the harmony of the Church. Meanwhile, the mutual connection between the sanctuary and the Sabbath is evident from what has been already said. God indeed would have it to be a notable symbol of distinction between the Jews and heathen nations. Whence, too, the devil, in order to asperse pure and holy religion with infamy, has often traduced the Jewish Sabbath through froward tongues. But the better to shew what there is peculiar in this Commandment, and what is its difference from the First, we must remember the spiritual substance of the type; for not only did God prescribe certain days for the holding of assemblies, in which the people might give attention to sacrifices, prayers, and the celebration of His praise; but He placed before their eyes as the perfection of sanctity that they should all cease from their works. Surely God has no delight in idleness and sloth, and therefore there was no importance in the simple cessation of the labors of their hands and feet; nay, it would have been a childish superstition to rest with no other view than to occupy their repose in the service of God.1 Wherefore, lest we should make any mistake in the meaning of this Commandment, it is well to remember its analogy and conformity with the thing it signifies; i.e., that the Jews might know that their lives could not be approved by God unless, by ceasing from their own works, they should divest themselves of their reason, counsels, and all the feelings and affections of the flesh. For they were not forbidden without exception from the performance of every work, since they were required both to circumcise their children, and to bring the victims into the court, and to offer them in sacrifice on that day; but they were only called away from their own works, that, as if dead to themselves and to the world, they might wholly devote themselves to God. Wherefore, since God declares elsewhere by Moses, and again by Ezekiel, that the Sabbath is a sign between Him and the Jews that He sanctifies them, (Ezekiel 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12,) we must see what is the sum of this sanctification, viz., the death of the flesh, when men deny themselves and renounce their earthly nature, so that they may be ruled and guided by the Spirit of God.

Although this is sufficiently plain, still it will be worth while to confirm it by further statements. And first of all, that this was a ceremonial precept, Paul clearly teaches, calling it a shadow of these things, the body of which is only Christ. (Colossians 2:17.) But if the outward rest was nothing but a ceremony, the substance of which must be sought in Christ, it now remains to be considered how Christ actually exhibited what was then prefigured; and this the same Apostle declares, when he states that "our old man is crucified with Christ," and that we are buried with Him, that His resurrection may be to us newness of life. (Romans 6:4.) It is to be gathered without doubt from many passages, that the keeping of the Sabbath was a serious matter, since God inculcates no other commandment more frequently, nor more strictly requires obedience to any; and again, when He complains that He is despised, and that the Jews have fallen into extreme ungodliness, He simply says that His "Sabbaths are polluted," as if religion principally consisted in their observance. (Jeremiah 17:24; Ezekiel 20:21; 22:8; 23:38.) Moreover, if there had not been some peculiar excellency in the Sabbath,2 it might have appeared to be an act of atrocious injustice to command a man to be put to death for cutting wood upon it. (Numbers 15:32.) Wherefore it must be concluded that the substance of the Sabbath, which Paul declares to be in Christ, must have been no ordinary good thing. Nor does its excellency require much eulogium, since spiritual rest is nothing else than the truly desirable and blessed death of man, which contains in it the life of God, even as Paul glories that he is as it were dead, because Christ liveth in him. (Galatians 2:20.) The Apostle in the epistle to the Hebrews argues more subtilely, that true rest is brought to us by the Gospel, and that it is rejected by unbelievers, (Hebrews 4:3;) for although he mixes up some allegorical matter with it, he still retains the genuine reason of the Commandment, viz., that we should rest from our works "even as God from His." (Hebrews 4:10.) On this ground Isaiah, when he reproves the hypocrites for insisting only on the external ceremony of rest, accuses them of "finding their own pleasure" on the Sabbath, (Isaiah 58:13;) as much as to say, that the legitimate use of the Sabbath must be supposed to be self-renunciation, since he is in fact accounted to cease from his works who is not led by his own will nor indulges his own wishes, but who suffers himself to be directed by the Spirit of God. And this emptying out of self must proceed so far that the Sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own; for rightly does Augustin remark in the last chapter of the 22d book, De Civitate Dei, 3-- "For even our good works themselves, since they are understood to be rather His than ours, are thus imputed to us for the attaining of that Sabbath, when we are still and see that He is God; 4 for, if we attribute them to ourselves, they will be servile, whereas we are told as to the Sabbath, Thou shalt not do any servile work in it."

Next it is asked, why God rather assigned every seventh day to the Sabbath rather than the sixth or tenth. Because the number seven often represents perfection in Scripture, some have thought that believers were thus reminded that they must strive after perfect holiness with all their might, and not devote themselves to God by halves only. Others elicit a different meaning from it, although not a contrary one, that believers were taught that although they might be sanctified and laboring in all sincerity to cease from their own life, still some remainders of the flesh would continue in them, and therefore that through the whole course of their life they must aspire to that holiness which no mortal attains. I do not, however, doubt but that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, that He might give a manifestation of the perfect excellency of His works, and thus, proposing Himself as the model for our imitation, He signifies that He calls His own people to the true goal of felicity. Although a promise is included in this Commandment, yet will we observe upon it separately, and as if by the way. He promises indeed that as He blessed the seventh day and set it apart, so He will bless believers to sanctify them. But the main point is the command, and the recital of the blessing is equivalent to an exhortation to obedience, since otherwise it would be inappropriately placed here amongst the Commandments of the Law. When I said that the ordinance of rest was a type of a spiritual and far higher mystery, and hence that this Commandment must be accounted ceremonial, I must not be supposed to mean that it had no other different objects also. And certainly God took the seventh day for His own and hallowed it, when the creation of the world was finished, that He might keep His servants altogether free from every care, for the consideration of the beauty, excellence, and fitness of His works. There is indeed no moment which should be allowed to pass in which we are not attentive to the consideration of the wisdom, power, goodness, and justice of God in His admirable creation and government of the world; but, since our minds are fickle, and apt therefore to be forgetful or distracted, God, in His indulgence providing against our infirmities, separates one day from the rest, and commands that it should be free from all earthly business and cares, so that nothing may stand in the way of that holy occupation. On this ground He did not merely wish that people should rest at home, but that they should meet in the sanctuary, there to engage themselves in prayer and sacrifices, and to make progress in religious knowledge through the interpretation of the Law. In this respect we have an equal necessity for the Sabbath with the ancient people, so that on one day we may be free, and thus the better prepared to learn and to testify our faith. A third object of the Sabbath is also stated by Moses, but an accidental one as it were, viz., that it may be a day of relaxation for servants. Since this pertains to the rule of charity, it has not properly any place in the First Table, and is therefore added by Moses as an extrinsic advantage, as will be seen a little further on.

8. Remember the Sabbath-day. The word keep is used in Deuteronomy with the same meaning. Hence we infer that it is no trifling matter here in question, since God enforces the sanctity of the Sabbath by these two words, and exhorts the Jews to its scrupulous observance, thus condemning carelessness about it as a transgression. Moreover, when He says, "Six days shalt thou labor," He indirectly reproves their ingratitude, if it should be irksome and disagreeable to them, to devote one day out of the seven to God, when He in His generosity gives up six to themselves. For he does not, as some have foolishly thought, make a demand here for six days' labor; but by His very kindness entices them to obedience, since He only claims a seventh part (of their time) for Himself -- as if He had said, Since you cannot be instant in seeking me with all your affection and attention, at any rate give up to me some little undistracted time. Therefore, He says, "all thy work," whereby He signifies that they have plenty of time, exclusive of the Sabbath, for all their business.

10. Thou shalt not do any work. That is, whatever could have been finished yesterday, or postponed till to-morrow. (For instance,5) it was not lawful for judges to give a hearing to two litigants; but if any one had violently assaulted his neighbor, it was allowable to prevent the injury, and to give relief to the unoffending person; because the necessity of the case admitted of no delay. It was not lawful to cook food for your guests; but if an ox or an ass had fallen into a pit it was to be taken out, because aid would have been too late on the morrow. For this reason Christ. declares that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," (Mark 2:27,) since God does not require more than was useful or necessary for keeping the people in the exercise of piety. Thus it would have been wicked to send out an ox to pasture; but if an ox that tossed had got out, it was right to bring it back to its stall, lest it should kill or injure those whom it met.

Thy man-servant and thy maid-servant. Although it is added in Deuteronomy that God had respect to equity, when He commands a relaxation from labor to be given to the men and maid-servants, and the Israelites are called upon to remember that they were once servants, that they may be more disposed to act humanely, still we must bear in mind what I have stated, that the direct object here was the honoring of the One God. We know that the whole race of Abraham were consecrated to God, and that their servants were a kind of adjunct to them, so that they were circumcised in common with themselves. And assuredly it is very absurd that a man should encourage a profane contempt of God in the family over which he presides, and in which he would be recognised as master. The case of "strangers" was different, who were obliged to rest on the Sabbath, although they remained uncircumcised; for he does not only refer to the foreigners, who had subscribed to the Law, but also to the uncircumcised. If any should object that they were improperly made partakers of the sacred sign whereby God had bound His elect people to Himself, the reply is easy, that this was not done for their sakes, but lest anything opposed to the Sabbath should happen beneath the eyes of the Israelites; as we may understand more clearly from the case of the oxen and asses. Surely God would never have required spiritual service of brute animals; yet He ordained their repose as a lesson, so that wherever the Israelites turned their eyes, they might be incited to the observation of the Sabbath. Nor can we wonder at this, when in the general mournings which were appointed for the deprecation of God's wrath, a fast was imposed upon the brutes, that wretched men being admonished by the sight, might feel the burden of their guilt the more, and by their voluntary serf-accusation might prevent the judgment of God, and might be seriously dissatisfied with themselves on account of those sins, whose punishment they saw to be imposed to a certain degree upon innocent animals. Besides, if the very least liberty had been conceded to them, they would have done many things to evade the Law in their days of rest, by employing strangers and the cattle in their work.

11. For in six days the Lord made. From this passage it may be probably conjectured that the hallowing of the Sabbath was prior to the Law; and undoubtedly what Moses has before narrated, that they were forbidden to gather the manna on the seventh day, seems to have had its origin from a well-known and received custom; whilst it is not credible that the Observance of the Sabbath was omitted, when God revealed the rite of sacrifice to the holy (Fathers.6) But what in the depravity of human nature was altogether extinct among heathen nations, and almost obsolete with the race of Abraham, God renewed in His Law: that the Sabbath should be honored by holy and inviolable observance; and this the impure dogs7 accounted to be amongst the disgraces of the Jewish nation.

1 "Sans autre regard que servir a Dieu en se reposant." -- Fr.

2 "S'il n'y eust eu quelque mystere excellent, et singulier;" if there had not been some excellent and peculiar mystery, etc. -- Fr.

3 The heading of this 30th chapter is, -- " Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and the Perpetual Sabbath."

4 Psalm 46:10, "Vacate, et videte quoniam ego sum Deus." -- V. "Be still, and know that I am God." -- A. V.

5 Added from Fr.

6 Added from Fr.

7 "Les payens, comme chiens mastins;" the heathen, like dogs. -- Fr.


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