Jewish explanation of Sabbath command in Exodus 20



Israel365News posted the following Jewish perspective on the meaning and application of the Sabbath command in Exodus 20 from a rabbi Pesach Wolicki:

February 9, 2023

Anyone who has heard me teach will be familiar with my constant refrain, “Read the Bible carefully.” …

Remember the Sabbath day, to make it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. And the seventh day is Sabbath for the Lord your God: Do not do any work; you and your son and your daughter, your servant and your maidservant and your livestock, and the foreigner within your gates. – Exodus 20:7-9

A number of questions emerge from a careful reading of this text.

First, we are commanded to “remember the Sabbath day, to make it holy.” How is this done? If you were told to make a day holy, what would you do? What exactly is God commanding us to do? We should note that many translations render this phrase: “to keep it holy.” This is incorrect. There’s no other way to say it. The word le’kadesho is clear and simple to translate. It means “to make it holy” or “to sanctify it.” The reason these translators opt for “to keep it holy,” has nothing to do with actual translation. Rather, they are sensitive to the fact that way back in Genesis 2, we read that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,” (Gen. 2:3). If God already made the seventh day holy, how can we be commanded to make it holy again? But these translators are missing the point, as I will explain.

A second textual issue relates to the second verse in our passage, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” What is this verse telling us? Is it a commandment to work for six days? From context, we understand that it is setting up the Sabbath. Essentially, it says that, as opposed to the other six days of the week, the Sabbath is a day when we don’t work. Still, the plain meaning of the words that seem to command us to work for six days is strange. But a bigger problem with this verse is the second phrase, “and do all your work.” This phrase does not appear to add anything of value. If the point of the verse is to tell me that after six days of work, we are to observe the Sabbath, a day when work is forbidden, the verse should have simply said, “Six days you shall labor. And the seventh day is a Sabbath…” What would be missing from our understanding of the commandment to observe the Sabbath if it were written this way? What do the words, “and do all your work” add?

Furthermore, within this apparently superfluous phrase, what purpose does the word “all” serve? Why didn’t the verse say, “Six days you shall labor and do your work,” without the word “all”?

One good rule of thumb when reading the Bible carefully is that if there are words or phrases that appear to be superfluous or redundant, it is precisely those words or phrases that we ought to pay greatest attention to. These are the words that require greater study. More often than not, it is these seemingly “extra” words that contain the Bible’s deepest teachings.

Let’s start with the last question we raised. The verse says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” What does this even mean? When was the last time you ended a week with “all” your work done? Unless you happened to retire on a Friday, this is impossible. The Jewish sages of 2000 years ago were sensitive to this strange word and commented as follows:

“Is it possible for a person to complete all his work in six days? Rather, [the intent of the verse is] ‘Rest on the Sabbath as though all your work is complete.’” – (Midrash, Mekhilta, Ex. 9:1:1)

“Rest on the Sabbath as though all your work is complete.” In other words, the word “all” teaches us that we are to enter the Sabbath with the frame of mind that “all” our work is done. The Bible is telling us that it is not enough for us to not work on the Sabbath. That would be fine if the sole purpose of the Sabbath was merely to give us a break with a day off. But the Sabbath is meant to be a sanctified day, a day for God. To achieve this, we must put work out of our minds completely.

Doing what God wants us to do and focusing on Him, His creation, and His ways helps put our thoughts where they should be. During the Sabbath we should refrain our minds from focusing on our regular jobs, school, and/or other work we may have.

King Solomon was inspired to write:

10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.  (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

And that should be our attitude towards the observance of all the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath command. We should also be thankful for the Sabbath as it is not a burden as many Protestant leaders have called it.

The prophet Isaiah was inspired to write:

13 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  (Isaiah 58:13-14)

As far as our thoughts and attitudes on the Sabbath go, the following from the Apostle Paul came to mind:

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:8-9)

The Sabbath is a “holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:2) and by attending/watching church services there are things which you should learn and think on consistent with what the Apostle Paul wrote.

Delight in God’s ways and observe the Sabbath God’s way.

Several other items of possibly related interest may include:

How to Observe the Sabbath How should you keep the Sabbath? This is an old article by Raymond Cole, with updated information for the 21st century.
The Ten Commandments: The Decalogue, Christianity, and the Beast This is a free pdf book explaining the what the Ten Commandments are, where they came from, how early professors of Christ viewed them, and how various ones, including the Beast of Revelation, will oppose them. A related sermon is titled: The Ten Commandments and the Beast of Revelation.
FOURTH COMMANDMENT: The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad Was the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath observed by the apostolic and post-apostolic Church? Here is a link to a related sermon: Fourth Commandment: Saturday or Sunday?
Another Look at the Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath Did Ignatius write against the Sabbath and for Sunday? What about the Didache? What does the actual Greek reveal?
Is Revelation 1:10 talking about Sunday or the Day of the Lord? Most Protestant scholars say Sunday is the Lord’s Day, but is that what the Bible teaches?
The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad Was the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath observed by the apostolic and post-apostolic Church? Here is a related sermon video The Christian Sabbath and How and Why to Keep It.
The Christian Sabbath. This is a series of articles from the Catholic Mirror essentially proving that the biblical Sabbath was Saturday, that the Lord’s day in Revelation 1 is not a reference to Sunday, that the Church of Rome implemented Sunday, and that nearly all Protestants followed Rome. Here is a link to a related sermon: Catholic teachings on the Sabbath, Sunday, and Protestantism.
Early Sabbath Keeping in North America When did Europeans first keep the Sabbath in North America? Did the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower keep Saturday or Sunday?
Can You Keep Your Job, Get Your Degree, and Keep the Sabbath? This article has some information on that. Here is a link to a related video titled: Can you keep the Sabbath and your job? What about college?
The Dramatic Story of Chinese Sabbathkeepers This reformatted Good News article from 1955 discusses Sabbath-keeping in China in the 1800s.
Is God Unreasonable? Some have suggested that if God requires Sabbath-keeping He is unreasonable. Is that true? Here is a link to a related article in Mandarin Chinese NN*N Ttv„y^ÿ
Should You Keep God’s Holy Days or Demonic Holidays? This is a free pdf booklet explaining what the Bible and history shows about God’s Holy Days and popular holidays. Two related sermons would be Which Spring Days should Christians observe? and Fall Holy Days for Christians.
Is There “An Annual Worship Calendar” In the Bible? This paper provides a biblical and historical critique of several articles, including one by the Tkach WCG which states that this should be a local decision. What do the Holy Days mean? Here is a related link in Spanish/español: Calendario Anual de Adoración Una crítica basada en la Biblia y en la Historia: ¿Hay un Calendario Anual de Adoración en la Biblia? A sermonette in English covers: Colossians, Galatians, and the Feasts of God.
Messianic Judaism Beliefs Differ from the Continuing Church of God Both groups keep the seventh-day Sabbath, but have important differences in doctrines and practices. Here is a link to a related sermon: Messianic Judaism beliefs.
SDA/CCOG Differences: Two Horned Beast of Revelation and 666 The genuine Church of God is NOT part of the Seventh-day Adventists. This article explains two prophetic differences, the trinity, differences in approaching doctrine, including Ellen White. Did Ellen White make prophetic errors? Did Ellen White make false prophecies? Here is a version in the Spanish language: SDA/COG Diferencias: La bestia de dos cuernos de Apocalipsis y 666. Here are two sermons in the English language: Seventh Day Baptists/Adventists/Messianics: Protestant or COG? and CCOG and SDA differences and similarities. Here is a link to an article in the Spanish language: Diferencias: SDA/CCOG: La bestia de dos cuernos de Apocalipsis y 666.
Seventh Day Baptists are Protestant, not Church of God This article explains reasons why Baptists, include seventh day ones (SDBs) do not have the historical and doctrinal ties to the original church that many have claimed. Here are two related sermons in the English language: Seventh Day Baptists/Adventists/Messianics: Protestant or COG? and Protestant, Baptist, and CCOG History.
CG7.ORG This is a website for those interested in the Sabbath and churches that observe the seventh day Sabbath.

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