IBL04: Fourth Commandment (Craig Press)

Sabbath and Authority


*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.

R.J. Rushdoony: 00:00 The sabbath and authority. Ezekiel 44 verses 23 and 24. “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. And in controversy they shall stand in judgment; and they shall judge it according to my judgments; and they shall keep my laws and my statutes in all mine assemblies; and they shall hallow my sabbaths.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:00 There is a description of marriage in the Bible that sometimes causes women to snort. In the Book of Ruth, Naomi, as she speaks to Ruth concerning her plans to find a husband for her, declares … this is in Ruth 3:1 … “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?”

R.J. Rushdoony: 01:36 Now the word that is here used for rest is not exactly the same word as the word rest which is translated as Sabbath. So they are two different words for rest, and yet there is a relationship between the two. Marriage here is spoken of as a rest for the woman. Now of course the woman is inclined to snort at that and call attention to all the chores she has to do, and to say, “Well, it may have been a rest for Ruth, after all she was out gleaning in the fields. Working hard to earn a living for herself and her husband, and her mother-in-law. So to have a husband certainly was going to be a rest by comparison.” But this is not the point. Her rest was not that she later married Boaz, a wealthy man. It would have been a rest had she married a poor man and worked just as hard. The concept of marriage as rest meant to be under the care and authority of a man.

R.J. Rushdoony: 02:58 Even as a man’s rest, is to be under Christ and his authority. For Saint Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “For the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man.” Rest therefore, means here, to be under authority. We can understand the meaning of rest in this sense if we stop for a moment and consider our world today. One of the things that makes it difficult to feel at rest is the growing lawlessness. The fact that there is no law and order. The fact that our very Capitol today has block after block that is still a shambles, where store owners do not feel that they can reopen their places of business, so that whole streets stand vacant and burned out. Certainly does not make us feel able to rest, does it?

R.J. Rushdoony: 04:18 There is no principle of authority, and the lawless of the land, the criminals, the hoodlums, the rioters they know this. This fact certainly does not make for a rest for us. But if there were a principle of authority, we could rest. We are told that in the early centuries in England, when it had been a situation of utter lawlessness, a strong Christian king took over and he dealt with such authority, and threw such terror into all evil doers, because of course Saint Paul declared that rulers should be a terror to evil doers. But it was finally said that a virgin could walk from one end of the kingdom to the other with a bag of gold, without any guard, and be unmolested.

R.J. Rushdoony: 05:37 Now such a situation a good man could rest. There was authority. This is why when scripture speaks of marriage as rest for a Godly woman, the whole point is, it is rest because she under authority. An authority that protects her, that provides for her, that gives her a position of freedom and dignity in that care. In that rest. It is true rest therefore, even though she may be working hard, because she is under authority, and walks in the confidence of that authority. This of course is the meaning of that text in Corinthians that nowadays distresses a lot of women. The verses speaks of the woman’s long hair, and the covered head. It is of course a proper attribute of worship that in some churches to this day, a covered head, a kerchief, or a hat is required.

R.J. Rushdoony: 07:02 What does it signify? That long hair and the covered head were signs of submission to authority. For the authority of the husband, and that authority Saint Paul said is power on her head. Now that’s a curious phrase, power on her head. What did it mean? It meant that in the ancient world and until fairly recent times, in recent generations, this was still true on the frontier here in the West not too many years back. A woman with a covered head and long hair could walk down a western town that was lawless, secure. Why? It was power on her head. It meant she was a protected woman. She had the authority of a man behind her, so that no one dared touch her but her husband, or her father if she was a younger girl, would be a man they had to reckon with.

R.J. Rushdoony: 08:14 If they touched her, their life might be at stake. It was power on her head. She was protected. If she went without it, which prostitutes did, it meant she was open game, and advertising the fact. Thus, marriage could be spoken of in biblical terms as a rest for the woman, because she was under authority, and that authority gave her power and it gave her freedom. She could rest in that position. But she could not be on her own, she was under her husband. Now, this is closely related to the concept of the Sabbath. It is a rest for the Godly, and it is spoken of as a holy rest. And the Sabbath is spoken of as holy to the Lord, or a rest unto the Lord, because it is the covenant sign, a sign of our subjection to God and of our acceptance of God’s authority on God’s terms.

R.J. Rushdoony: 09:39 We are under authority, we can rest. We know that we have God’s protection, and we have God’s care when we walk on God’s terms and under his authority. So the Sabbath is to us a sign of power, of authority, of rest in the Lord. God declared in Ezekiel 20:12, “I gave them my sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.” Again in Ezekiel 44 verses 23 and 24, our text, God says, “They shall teach my people,” speaking of the Levites, the religious leaders, “The difference between the holy, and the profane, that which is under God, and that which is outside the temple.” Because that is the literal meaning of profane. “And cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. And in controversy they shall stand in judgment.” They shall bring authority to bear upon controversy.

R.J. Rushdoony: 11:07 The authority of God and his work. “And they shall judge it,” every controversy, “According to my judgments: and they shall keep my laws and statutes in all my assemblies.” And by way of summing it up, “And they shall hallow my sabbaths.” How are the sabbaths hallowed? Only when before they come to the sabbaths, they have made the point of discernment between the holy and the profane. The clean and the unclean. When they bring the word of God to bear upon every controversy, when they keep His laws and statutes and all His assemblies. These are the preliminaries, the necessary ingredients to hallowing the sabbath, which is a sign of subjection to God, and to his authority.

R.J. Rushdoony: 12:17 Thus while rest, in the sense of cessation of labor, is a part of the sabbath. It is not the entirety of it. As a matter of fact, when we go through the various sabbaths of the Old Testament, we find first of all the weekly sabbaths, which did require a cessation of work. The New Moon sabbath, and the Feast of Prophets, when labor was not forbidden, but sacrifices and family observances were required. The sabbatical year, and the year of Jubilee, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles; these were all sabbaths.

R.J. Rushdoony: 13:13 Most of them required a cessation of labor, but not all. But all of them required a life submission to the authority of God. So that when we are told to keep the sabbath day holy, this means far more than no work. Holiness in itself implies authority. It means separation and dedication to God and living under him. This means, therefore, that the rest of the sabbath comes from the fact that the covenant man is under authority, and he can rest in that fact. He keeps the sabbath therefore, as a sabbath to the Lord our God as a sign of the covenant. He keeps it holy unto the Lord. He recognizes the basic fact of the sovereignty, and the authority of God, so that his sabbath rest must set forth God’s sovereignty and authority. Not our rest. Our rest is an important aspect of the sabbath, but the authority of God recognized is primary.

R.J. Rushdoony: 14:45 Now from this it is apparent that the development of the synagogue and the church, out of the fourth commandment is logical. We saw that originally the sabbath was not a day of worship, it was a day of rest. There were no congregational meetings in Israel. The sabbath was not kept as a day of worship until sometime during the captivity it began, and after the captivity it became a formal part of life of Israel. But while not a part of the original sabbath, it was still a logical development, because to be under authority requires knowledge. How can you be under authority unless you know the nature of that authority? What that authority requires of you? And so Israel, having been apostate, came together during and after the captivity to know the nature of God’s authority, to study again the word.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:03 The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:21 declared, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” Israel having been lawless, turned again to the law that they might know the Lord. A growth in the knowledge of God and his law word is thus important to a celebration of the sabbath. And all the evidence of the New Testament indicates that the Christian sabbath is geared to a knowledge of scripture, and this is basic to Christian rest. The saved man, to serve God, gathers to study his word.

R.J. Rushdoony: 16:59 Then we must say that while the Christian sabbath is linked to Israel’s sabbath, it has undergone a change in view of Colossians 2:16-17, which says that the old sabbath ordinances are now altered. The forum which was required in the Old Testament, gives way now to the meaning, Saint Paul says, which meaning is Christ. So that the woman no longer is bound to avoid even starting a fire on the sabbath. But she is bound to recognize the authority of Christ every day of the week and supremely on the sabbath. The forum gives way to an emphasis on the meaning, so that Calvin as he analyzed the passages of scripture, and pointed out the works of mercy, the works of necessity, went on to say nonetheless, “The sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own.”

R.J. Rushdoony: 18:19 We are the Lord’s. We are at all times under authority. So that whatever good work or work of necessity we may do on the sabbath and every day of the week, we do because we are extending the authority of God and his reconquest of the kingdoms of this world, bringing all things, extending his salvation, his help, into all corners of creation. The essence therefore is our rest in Christ and our growth in the knowledge of that salvation by his grace.

R.J. Rushdoony: 19:02 The first day of the week was, in Palestine, a workday and it was a workday throughout the Roman Empire. This is why the Christians in the early church worshiped in the evening. Go through Acts and you will find that they met in the evening. The men worked during the day, they had to, it was a work of necessity. They were compelled to or they would lose their jobs. And they met in the evenings, and we know on one occasion a young man fell asleep sitting in the window, and fell to the ground floor dead, and was raised up by Paul. If work had been under the same ban in the New Testament as in the old, Paul would have spoken of it. But Paul spoke of not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of sound heads.

R.J. Rushdoony: 20:05 But then we must say that the Christian sabbath as a day of rest, can in a sense only be observed by Christians. Because a Christian alone is truly capable of resting. The wicked scripture says, “Our eyes with trouble see which cannot rest, but cast out all manner of mire and dirt.” God works in the believer by his word and by his spirit to bring growth in grace and wisdom as they rest in him. And the Godly man, as he walks not in the council of the ungodly, or the lawless, but in the word of God. Work. Psalm one brings this out. This Psalm has not been properly translated by most translations, and a biblical archeologist and Hebrew scholar, who unfortunately is not well known for the area of his specialty … Dr. Theodore Jackman … has brought out this aspect of the first Psalm in his translation of it.

R.J. Rushdoony: 21:26 “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the council of the lawless, nor standeth in the way of the unlawful, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night, and he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that bringeth forth his fruit in his season. His leaf also shall not wither and whatsoever he doeth shall flourish. The lawless are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away, therefore the lawless shall not stand in the judgment, nor the unlawful in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the lawless shall perish.” True obedience thus rests in true knowledge. True knowledge places us under authority. To be under authority therefore is to rest. And he who truly keeps the sabbath is the man who places himself under the authority of God.

R.J. Rushdoony: 22:49 Let us pray. Our Lord and our God we thank thee that thou has separated us unto thyself, has placed us under authority, so that there is power upon our head. Give us grace therefore day by day to walk under authority, that we may truly rest in thee. Knowing our God that thou wilt never leave us nor forsake us, so that we may boldly say the Lord is my helper I shall not fear what man may do unto me. Our Lord and our God, how great is our rest in Jesus Christ. We praise thee. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder