Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Ex 20:8-11
The Pharisees considered the actions of Jesus and his disciples on the Sabbath to be in contravention of the fifth commandment. The problem was, they had missed the point of the Sabbath laws. We have been designed to work six days in the week, and rest on one, and so God had commanded as such. As such, the commandment was given for our benefit that we might enjoy life, rather than as a way of regulating us and making life dour. If we try and work seven days a week, our productivity is affected and in the long run we actually achieve less than we would in a six day working week.
Once we’ve established we need to rest, from our regular work, for one day a week, the rest of the commandment can be unpacked. We are to keep this one day holy, to remember the God who made us in six days. This is not to say we should become hermits for a day. If we can, we should meet with others to worship God, in fellowship.
Not only are we to remember God our creator, but also God our redeemer. This is the reason Christians observe the first day of the week, for it the day their Saviour rose from the dead. Through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, his death and resurrection, we can celebrate the grace of God.
Of course, Jesus demonstrated that it was perfectly within the commandment to feed oneself, as his disciples did, and heal others, for this law was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Indeed, in this passage, Jesus claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath, to be God himself. The Pharisees had no comeback. Jesus had answered their questions, and had gone way beyond their thoughts. May we never misunderstand the commandments, nor try to put God in a box.
Looking at the Old Testament, it can appear a little brutal sometimes – even barbaric. How could God sanction the destruction of a whole city, bar a prostitute and her family?
The Canaanites knew what was coming, for they heard of the God of the Hebrews bringing his people out of Egypt, destroying neighbouring warlords for their evil practices. Yet, they continued to worship other, false, gods, continuing in evil practices such as child sacrifice. With these things considered, it is more remarkable God hadn’t sent down fire from heaven as he had done with Sodom and Gomorrah. For even the slightest sin is enough for a thrice holy God to justifiably turn his wrath towards.
However, God is also a merciful God. This is evidenced in the fact a prostitute and her family were saved from the destruction. They had heard about the God of heaven and earth and turned away from their false gods to do the will of the one true God. There was nothing in their acts which could atone for their sin, but their faith was credited to them as righteousness.
Above all, God is powerful, for what the Israelites did would in no way compromise the walls of Jericho. He is not to be messed with, and we would be wise to do his will. For he is holy, and cannot bear the sight of sin, but he is loving and merciful and has done everything necessary to effectively deal with our sin.