Published on October 31, 2013 by Mark DeVine  
7 work week

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." It is not wrong that when we think of the fourth commandment, these words from Exodus 20:8 immediately, indeed reflexively, come to mind. Sabbath-keeping is reinforced in verse 10 and developed, now identifying the One "to whom" Sabbath is kept--"the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God." But insofar as our comprehension of the fourth commandment essentially reduces to this Sabbath-keeping imperative, it remains incomplete.

Though Sabbath-keeping is the heart of the fourth commandment, it cannot, on its own, fully articulate the divine will asserted there, nor can it do justice to the full scope of the commandment's application. Vital to comprehension of the commandment is a little package of verbiage embedded between iteration and re-iteration of the Sabbath-keeping dimension; ten words apart from which not only is Sabbath-keeping rendered incomprehensible but without which obedience to the command itself becomes impossible.

The purpose of this blog is to take these ten words with as much seriousness as we can muster. Here they are, the bundle of verbal dynamite comprising verse 9: "Six days you shall labor, and do all your work." Immediately, these words reveal much that must concern and intrigue any orthodox, evangelical Christian. They evoke an array of questions, suggest potentially fruitful paths of Biblical inquiry and point to potentially rich discoveries of truth and meaning.

Dual Commandment

Verse 9 immediately confronts us with the unique feature of the fourth commandment; its duality. Two imperatives, not one, confront the people of Israel. Sabbath-keeping defines the central command but does not exhaust the full imperative force of the command. Sabbath-keeping forms the heart of the command because it is the keeping holy of this one day, which is to be "set apart" from the other six days. The other six days pose a real threat to the obedience of God's people and thus are treated as the potential enemies of both God and his people. The other six days threaten to undermine, marginalize, or even usurp altogether the Sabbath-keeping God requires and his people need. Thus, the core and final aim of the command is to warn against and indeed prevent such usurpation.

Nevertheless, the secondary, embedded imperative is no less pointed and no less essential both to the fourth commandment and to God's revealed will for his people. Where the Sabbath day is not kept, God's will is not done. On the other hand, when and where in the other six days God's people fail to do their work, the work from which they cease in order to keep Sabbath, God's will is likewise not fulfilled. The command to work as an essential dimension of humanity's happy duty before God as his unique image-bearing creatures reaches back to the primal history of humanity and to the earliest revelation of God's purposes for man.

"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heavens an over the livestock an over the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. . . . Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves over the earth" (Genesis 1:26-28).

Note the basis of the divine lament and the content of the divine response that surfaces in the parallel creation account of Genesis 2: ". . . and there was no man to work the ground . . . the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. . . . The Lord God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."

These words provide the earliest, the original, the primal window into God's vision for the everyday lives of the creatures (this is no exaggeration) for whom creation of the universe took place. We human beings are the crowning achievement of God's creative activity; those uniquely capable of reflecting God's own glory, God's own worthiness for praise. In the Sabbath God carves out one special day to interrupt humanity's other days. He does this not, as we shall see, to diminish or marginalize or in any way cast aspersions upon the other six, but in order to serve those days; days that constitute, by God's favor to his special creature, six-sevenths of their very lives.

In this smallish handful of passages from Genesis and Exodus we glimpse but the tantalizing tip of an enormous iceberg of biblical truth addressing the question "what about the other 6 days?" The goal of the blog is to press this question upon Holy Scripture with the energy and devotion it deserves.