Keeping the Sabbath: Because of Creation or Salvation?

In my last post in this series I showed the problem many have when it comes to the Ten Commandments: which ones did Israel follow? Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 give us the Ten Commandments. While most commandments remain the same, commandments 5 and 10 have some differences (with the basis for keeping the Sabbath being very different). In The Gospel According to Moses, Daniel Block gives his own answer to this “problem.” Though it is quite the academic book, with each chapter being a different article written by Block, there is still plenty from it that can be understood, and I hope to show you some of that in the coming posts. 

Here I’ll repeat both fifth commandments, summarize the meaning in its context, and say how I don’t see a problem here.

Two Purposes of the Ten Commandments

Block says that the Decalogue has a two-fold purpose:

(1) to provide the Israelites with a clear understanding of YHWH’s view of the appropriate response to salvation; and

(2) to instill in the redeemed a respect for God and other members of the community.

And herein we discover the Mosaic understanding of ‘love’: total commitment to the well-being of others, whether God or one’s fellow being, demonstrated in acts that seek the well-being of the next person — rather than self-interest (146-147).

The Fifth Commandment

Exodus 20.8-11

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Block notes that the “Exodus version of the Decalogue treats the Sabbath ordinance as a divine right to the Israelites’ time/life” (146, fn. 27). Here the God gives Israel the gift of rest. Just as YHWH created the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh, so Israel shall work six days and rest on the seventh. And the heads of household are supposed to present this gift to all those who live in their household too.

Deuteronomy 5.12-15

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.
And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Block says the “members of the household have the right to humane treatment from the head [of household]” (146). As in Exodus 20, Israel was to work six days and rest on the seventh. Here, we need to remember that Moses is speaking to a new generation of Israelites. Most of those who came out of the Exodus, even though they saw the “mighty hand of YHWH,” rebelled against him by denying his promise to be with them as they entered into the Promised Land (Num 13.20-23). This new generation was to never forget how they as a people were rescued from back-breaking slavery in Egypt and brought into the land God had promised Abraham. They were once slaves, but now they were a kingdom of priests (Exod 19.4-6).

Conclusion

But how do these two ideas mesh together? As a commenter on the Holeybooks blog pointed out, the two accounts don’t mesh together.

Here, we have the reason why the Lord God ‘commanded’ them to observe the sabbath.

Exo 20:11 – because God rested on the seventh day, He blessed it.

Deu 12:15 – because God brought them out of Egypt, He commanded them to observe the Sabbath.

So on which reason was Israel supposed to keep the Sabbath? Because God rested on the seventh day? Or because God brought Israel out of Egypt?

I’ve laid out just enough facts to make you go, “Hmmmmm….” My concluding thoughts will be found in my next post.

Outline

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Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology

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