Guarding Your Brother’s Rest
“…but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” Exodus 20:10NKJV
Today we look at Question 118 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “Why is the charge of keeping the sabbath more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors?” It gives the answer, “The charge of keeping the sabbath is more specially directed to governors of families, and other superiors, because they are bound not only to keep it themselves but to see that it is observed by all those that are under their charge; and because they are prone ofttimes to hinder them by employments of their own.” Last week we saw how Reformed people keep the Sabbath holy for themselves. Today we consider how we should care for and help others to obey God.
The verse quoted under the title of today’s article sets forth a particular focus that is found in both the fourth and tenth commandments. Each of these laws contains verses where God speaks specifically to the heads of households. It is significant that both the fourth and the tenth commandments each complete the two tables of the Decalogue (table one comprising commandments one to four and our duty to God; and table two comprising commandments five through ten and our duty to man). By this placement we ought to see our having a care for the obedience of others extended to all the commandments. No man is to live his life being concerned only for himself and his own holiness. We must look out for our own and our neighbor’s obedience. Thus, notice how in the first two verses of the fourth commandment, everyone is directed to keep the day holy by resting, but here in verse ten, God particularly speaks to the heads of households charging them with the additional duty of making sure those under them are also given liberty to rest. The heads of households are particularly addressed, but the principle extends to all relationships: we should all be concerned to do what we can to avoid hindering our brother from obeying God.
Specifically, we should understand two things from such an other-directed focus in the law of God: God’s mercy to the weak, and man’s responsibility to help one another. First, consider God’s mercy to the weak. God is the author and ordainer of all authority structures within the human race. Authority in the family, church, and state is God’s will for mankind. Therefore, authority is good and for the good of man. In particular, authority should function to protect the weak. Governors, magistrates, and police officers in the state are responsible to make sure that those with more power (whether physical, financial, political, or whatever) do not oppress those with less. Since all human beings are equal, everyone is to be given equal protection under the law. So also in the church, the family, or any subset thereof; whenever someone is placed in authority over someone else, one person has the duty to obey, the other has the duty to protect.
Ultimately, the purpose of all obedience to and protection by human authority is so that man can fulfill his duty to obey God. Thus, here in the fourth commandment, those in authority over others are particularly charged that they do not cause their subordinates to sin by requiring them to work even as they themselves enjoy God’s commanded rest. Servants, strangers, and even animals are included, not to imply that animals have a moral obligation before God (animals are not moral beings), but because of the sin it would be to any man to ensure his own rest by making any living thing work in his place. Consequently, notice how the Catechism states the reason for this address to human rulers is that those in authority over others are prone to often-times hinder the rest of their servants by making them work for them. Many Christians see here a duty to not frequent restaurants or other service industry establishments on Sunday, and thereby participate in making others work for you when you should be concerned that they too be free to rest. Whether or not you agree with this specific application, may God grant that each one of us is concerned to do what we can to allow others to enjoy God’s commanded rest!