[On Sabbath] Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15: Sabbath in the Neighborhood

Bible opened to Deuteronomy 5 with Endangered Species extreme dark chocolate topped with Justin's Almond Butter on green plate

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa topped with Justin’s Almond Butter

Today’s PassageExodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Welcome back to the fourth commandment. In fact, welcome back to the fourth commandment twice. The first time, in Exodus, God issues the ten commandments from Mount Sinai, but for the reprise in Deuteronomy, Moses gives the Hebrews an annotated refresher course before they enter the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The two iterations of the commandment appear similar, but if you take a close look at them like the “spot the difference” page in Highlights for Children, you’ll observe some subtle variations.

A common thread in both passages is the communal nature of the Sabbath. The emphasis on observing Sabbath together, which Walter Brueggemann terms “neighborliness,” eluded me until I read Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance. You aren’t supposed to just keep the Sabbath individually; the commandment extends to your sons, daughters, servants of both sexes, livestock, even travelers and strangers (Ex. 20:10, Deut. 5:14). When you’re the single occupant of the house you live in, like me, it’s easy to ensure that your “household of one” keeps the Sabbath. I’m still figuring out what resting together means in my life, but God intended us to connect with each other, and I’m realizing that even introverts can benefit from keeping the Sabbath with other people, at least for part of the day.

Brueggemann elaborates how the Sabbath observance sets Israel apart from Egypt. God’s commandments contrast with Pharaoh’s decrees in that they “include the neighbor in the social calculus and dare to imagine the maintenance of a neighborly community” (Sabbath as Resistance 25-26). In Pharaoh’s No-Sabbath Zone, one’s community is taskmasters and slaves, authority figures and potential competitors, and as a result the whole system is suffused with anxiety. But when God institutes the Sabbath, it imposes a limit on production-driven work, and whatever one’s social status, everyone is equal in their rest on the seventh day. The Sabbath, observed together, allows a measure of security, respect, and human dignity for the inhabitants of the neighborhood.

Those are my thoughts on the similarities between the two passages. I’ve got to wrap today’s post up now, but join me on Monday for a point-by-point look at the differences. Happy Friday, and enjoy your Sabbath tomorrow with the people in your life.


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