Concluding Thoughts on the Fifth Commandment

Last time I summarized the meaning in of the fifth commandment in each of its contexts (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Now I’ll answer the question, “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?”

The Answer

In his essay “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” in The Gospel According to Moses, Daniel Block gives a few pointers on how we should view Moses’ transformation of the fifth commandment in Deuteronomy 5.

  • Moses acknowledges that beyond patterning human creative work after that of God the Creator of heaven and earth, the Sabbath is a gift, offering all who toil an opportunity to refresh themselves…
  • Instead of calling on Israelites to remember the Sabbath, Moses calls on them to treasure the Sabbath by recalling their time in Egypt, when they labored for brutal taskmasters, without Sabbath or relief.
    • In addition to observing the seventh-day Sabbath by celebrating God’s work in the creation of the cosmos, the Israelites were to use it to celebrate YHWH’s special creative work in rescuing them from bondage with his strong hand and outstretched arm.

Creation Accounts

In Deuteronomy, Moses is a pastor. He has been for the entire journey. Since he knows he will soon die and his time with Israel will soon be over, he gives them a last call to follow YHWH. Both Sabbath commands are rooted in creation. In Exodus 20 we have the creation of the world, and in Deuteronomy 5 we have the creation of Israel.

In Genesis 1-2 God created a people who were supposed to live eternally in his presence. They were to be fruitful and multiply, expanding the garden to the ends of the earth so that the earth would “be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2.14). Adam was to work and keep the garden (Gen 2.15; Num 13.21).

But Adam and Eve failed. Then God graciously rescued the Hebrews out of Egypt, and He created a new people. He made them to be a kingdom of priests (Exod 19.4-6). Later the priests in Numbers were to guard their priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and… serve (Num 8.7). The priesthood was given as a gift from God. In Deuteronomy the nation of Israel itself was to “walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice,” and they would serve him and hold fast to him” (Deut 13.4).

Just as in the creation story with Adam and Eve, now Israel has been created as a new people for God, and they are given the same kind of tasks as Adam and Eve. As God’s people they are to serve God, obey his word, and be a light among the nations.

But… the Animals

Moses adds a few comments on animals and servants in the Deuteronomy command (5.14). Block says,

“It is not difficult to imagine that in ancient Israel the male householder might have been tempted to have his animals and hired hands continue working on the Sabbath even as he and his immediate family personally and smugly observed this ordinance. But this philanthropic sensitivity is not to be restricted to one’s family or even fellow Israelites. All who live within the towns and villages of Israel — animal and human — are to be granted one day in seven as a day for rest and recuperation” (153).

“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?”

Both. In both instances we have a creation account. In both instances we have the creation of a new people who are to serve God and expand his kingdom to the rest of the world. In both instances there is an invitation to ascend the mountain of the Lord (Ps 15.1; 24.3; Exod 19.20).



Author: Spencer

I put ice in my cereal. Make yourself at home and feel more than welcome to contact me.

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