James Nisbet Commentary - Exodus 20:8 - 20:8

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James Nisbet Commentary - Exodus 20:8 - 20:8

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘The Sabbath Day.’


I. The first word of the Fourth Commandment reminds us that the Sabbath Day was already established among the Israelites when the law was delivered on Sinai. That law created nothing. It preserved and enforced what God had already taught His people to observe by another method than that of formal decrees.

II. In this Commandment work is enjoined, just as much as rest is enjoined. Man’s sin has turned work into a curse. God has redeemed and restored work into a blessing by uniting it again to the rest with which, in His Divine original order, it was associated.

III. God rests; therefore He would have man rest. God works; therefore He would have man work. Man cannot rest truly unless he remembers his relation to God, who rests.

IV. It is not wonderful that the Jews after the Captivity, as they had been schooled by a long discipline into an understanding of the meaning of the Second Commandment, so had learnt also to appreciate in some degree the worth of the Fourth. Nehemiah speaks frequently and with great emphasis of the Sabbath as a gift of God which their fathers had lightly esteemed, and which the new generation was bound most fondly to cherish. His words and acts were abused by the Jews who lived between his age and that of our Lord’s nativity, and when Christ came, the Sabbath itself, all its human graciousness, all its Divine reasonableness, were becoming each day more obscured.

V. Jesus, as the Mediator, declared Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and proved Himself to be so by turning what the Jews made a curse into a blessing. He asserted the true glory of the Sabbath Day in asserting the mystery of His own relation to God and to His creatures.

Rev. F. D. Maurice.


(1) ‘The observance of the Sabbath is the one piece of ritual, or form of worship, in the Decalogue. It is founded in Exodus on the divine rest from creation, while in the version of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 5 it is based on kindliness to servants, accentuated by the remembrance of Israel’s servitude in Egypt. Both reasons point to the fact that the Sabbath was instituted primarily as a day of rest from worldly toil, while the place of the Commandment among the “religious duties” points to the no less important fact that the Sabbath rest is used for its highest purpose when it is welcomed as giving opportunity for devout meditation, united worship, and gracious ministries of beneficence. The machine of the body needs a seventh-day rest, and the spirit no less needs a seventh day on which it may be recreated, calmed, and stimulated by communion with God and the vision of the invisible.’

(2) ‘In the East some attend early morning service in their respective churches, and, having done their duty in this respect, pass the rest of the day, like any other “aied” (feast day), in visiting and promenading, etc. Butchers and small tradesmen find it their most profitable day for business, but mechanics and labourers, if lazily inclined (as is usually the case) maintain their right to rest. However, not principle, but inclination, guides them in this respect, for some are willing to work on the Sabbath if you will employ them.’

(3) ‘You can judge a man’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual attainments by the use he makes of his Sabbaths. If they bore him, it is as certain that he has not achieved true culture as is his being bored by literature and art. If he devotes them to idleness or pleasure, it is like letting a pianola stand closed, or using it to play rag-time music. I would be more ashamed not to know how to make my Sabbath days a supreme joy and blessing than not to know how to spend a thousand pounds to my own advantage. Men need to bathe their souls in their peace and quiet as they need to bathe their bodies in pure water. It takes time to be holy. Men can no more be holy without quiet hours of exposing themselves to the influence of the Divine Spirit than an apple can get mellow without weeks of hanging in the sun. You may be able to keep honest and industrious and faithful by being everlastingly on the hop, skip, and jump, but holy (calm, serene, tranquil, at rest in moral equilibrium) you will never be without your hours and days of meditation and worship. Men are not polished into holiness by being eternally rolled along the shore of the ocean of life, like pebbles. Don’t try to keep Sunday holy, but your self.’