You’ll find the final mentions of the Sabbath in Leviticus in the twenty-sixth chapter. It’s an “I have set life and death before you, choose life” situation, where God lays out the blessings that Israel will reap from obeying his commandments and the penalties they’ll suffer if they don’t. The passage opens by recapitulating the prohibition on idolatry, then adds, “You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord” (2). Here the Sabbath is tied to reverence for God’s space and rejection of the worship of other gods. As an emulation of the example set by God in creating the world, it’s a way of joining him in one’s rest. The Sabbath is serious business.
Today on our Sabbath study, we have a grab bag of Sabbath mentions from Leviticus. The first one in the English translation doesn’t even have the word “Sabbath” in it! Leviticus 2:13 contains the statement “The salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering.” See that phrase “shall not be lacking?” That’s a form of the Hebrew verb shabath, “to cease.” The salt don’t stop, y’all. This doesn’t really shed much light on the practice of keeping the Sabbath day, but it does occur to me: the religious use of salt adds a new layer to Jesus’ words about salt losing its taste in Matthew 5:13. It’s not simply a secular seasoning; the Jewish grain offering puts it to sacred use as well. An ordinary thing takes on a holy dimension–until it loses its flavor.
Leviticus! Everyone’s favorite book of the Bible, next to Ecclesiastes! Seriously, though, ever since I read through it during the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I’ve found Leviticus interesting. Which laws are meant to be distinguishing marks for the ancient Hebrews as God’s chosen nation? Which laws constitute moral principles that all of us benefit from following? Which laws are oriented toward ancient agrarian culture and are of little concern to us in the 21st century because, for example, we don’t own any oxen? Sorting out what the laws say and what they mean for us today takes work, but I’ve found that it’s worth tackling.
The issue of the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai isn’t the only place in Exodus that God commands the Hebrews to keep the Sabbath. There are four more injunctions to seventh-day rest throughout the rest of the book. Exodus 34:21 and Exodus 35:2-3 briefly mention the Sabbath, the former noting “even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest,” and the latter adding “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.” The other two passages have a bit more to say about the Sabbath.
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.
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.
Manna takes its name from the Hebrew for “What is it?” which is what you’ll be asking after you read about it. The stuff comes down with the morning dew and forms a flaky white crust on the ground once the dew evaporates. Its bizarre properties include that after morning, if not stored in a cool place, “when the sun grew hot, it would melt” (21). Moreover, after twenty-four hours it “it bred worms and became foul” (20). But there’s an exception: on the sixth day, it doesn’t spoil after twenty-four hours. As the Hebrews discover, on the seventh day their stored mana from the previous day “did not become foul nor was there any worm in it” (24). It’s enough to make 17th century deists spin in their graves, but we risk getting far afield from our Sabbath study if we don’t reel it back in. What’s the significance of the manna’s physical properties?
In our study on the Sabbath today, like yesterday, we’re looking at a letter-for-letter appearance not of the English word “Sabbath,” but of the Hebrew word shabath, “to rest.” When Moses and Aaron are pushing for Pharaoh to let the enslaved Hebrews celebrate a feast to the Lord, Pharaoh uses the word when he denies their request. He repudiates Moses and Aaron: “Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!” (Exodus 5:5). The word translated “cease” here is shabath. Pharaoh forbids them from stopping: not only are they denied a weekend, they are denied a vacation. Welcome to Egypt, the No-Sabbath Zone, the Labor Hole.
To continue our study of the Sabbath, we’re going to backtrack to the first two chapters of Genesis. You won’t actually find the word “Sabbath” in here, not in English. But if you look at Genesis 2:2, “[God] rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done,” in Hebrew? You’ll find that “rested” is the verb shabath.
Today is Labor Day, that paradoxical day when we in America celebrate hard work by taking a day off. Well, most of us. Here at Chocolate Book, we, in the words of nerdcore rappers Mega Ran and Adam WarRock, “never take a day off, not even bank holidays.” Okay, not literally, but I wanted to share a link to their music because it’s excellent, and also because I wanted to raise the questions: how do you strike a balance between work and rest? How much work is a recipe for burnout? How much rest is just being lazy?