[On Sabbath] Moses the Exegete (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 contd.)

bible opened to deuteronomy 5 with endangered species extreme dark chocolate on zebra plate

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa

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

Welcome back, everyone. I hope you had a restful Sabbath and a productive Sunday–or the other way around, if you choose to keep Sunday as your day of rest. I’m sure we’ll get to the matter of resting on Sunday soon enough in this study. But for now we’re picking up where Friday’s post left off, taking a look at the differences between the fourth commandment as it’s issued in Exodus and reiterated in Deuteronomy.

Generally speaking, I believe the two passages are intended to complement each other. In Exodus, God himself speaks the commandment (out loud, apparently!) from Mount Sinai to the Hebrews. In Deuteronomy, Moses gives the Hebrews a reminder of the commandment, and while it’s Moses doing the talking, I do think God inspired his commentary. We can learn more about what it means to keep the Sabbath from his commentary on the commandment.

The differences between the two passages are as follows:

  • “Remember the Sabbath” (Ex. 20:8) vs. “Observe the Sabbath” (Deut. 5:12)
  • Deuteronomy adds “as the Lord your God commanded you” (5:12)
  • “or your cattle” (Ex. 20:10) vs. “or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle” (Deut. 5:14)
  • Deuteronomy adds “so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you” (5:14)
  • Exodus refers to the creation account as the basis for the Sabbath commandment (Ex. 20:11), while Deuteronomy reminds the people of their slavery in Egypt and God’s liberating intervention in their history (Deut. 5:15)

Regarding the first difference, I’m not familiar with the Hebrew verbs for “remember” and “observe,” so I’ve once again turned to Strong’s Concordance for help. “Remember” as used in Exodus 20:8 is zakar, which as far as I can tell denotes a primarily mental activity of pulling up a memory to the front of your mind. “Observe” is shamar, “keep,” which elsewhere is translated “guard,” “be careful,” “perform,” and…frankly, a whole lot of other words. Through them all, however, I see a common thread of attentiveness and diligent maintenance. Think of holding the commandment inside your fist: your hand both protects it and holds it close to you. The commandment is yours and you’re keeping it. It may be that, since the Sabbath was first formally instituted at Sinai, the people began a cycle of remembering it only to forget it again. Moses wants the people not just to pull up the commandment to the front of their mind, but to keep it there.

Moses also makes a critical addition to the list of household inhabitants who should keep the Sabbath in Deuteronomy 5:14. No, I’m not referring to the donkeys and oxen, though it’s important to give your work animals a break, assuming you own any work animals. I’m talking about where Moses gives the reason for the commandment: “so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you” (5:14). He’s already mentioned the servants, but he comes back to them to underscore the importance of fair treatment for those who work for you. It frankly doesn’t matter if Pharaoh kept a life of luxury and leisure, or if he fastidiously calculated brick quotas and production schedules every day of the week, “touring the facilities and picking up slack” like the modern-day professional described in Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” You shouldn’t overwork yourself, and you shouldn’t overwork the people who work for you, regardless of how many hours you’re putting in. Give them at least a day off every week. Maybe even give them two–they’ve probably got work to do around the house and in their home communities.

Ultimately the basis for this valuation of human life and respect of human needs comes from God. The God of the Hebrews stood in opposition to the nonstop Egyptian exploitation of his people. Moses reminds them, some forty years later: “The Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm” (Deut. 5:15). Don’t simply rest because God himself modeled rest on the seventh day. Rest, and rest with your community, because God liberated you and wants all of you to be free together from the tyranny of the slave-driver’s whip. And if you pick up the whip yourself? Remember Egypt, remember God’s plagues on Egypt, and remember how well the whole slavery thing worked out for them.


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