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The Shabbat for the Believer

In this week’s parashah (Torah Reading – Exodus 18:1-20:23), the Ten Commandments appear. They also appear in the book of Deuteronomy. However, it is important to note that there are some slight differences between these two accounts. In this blog post, we will examine some of the differences in one of the commandments. The particular commandment that we will focus upon is the Shabbat. In the Exodus account (See chapter 20 and verses 8-11), the passage begins with the word “remember” while in the text from Deuteronomy (See chapter 5 and verses 12-15) it begins with the word “keep“. The Hebrew word translated “remember” is in the imperative and the word does not only mean to think about the Shabbat, but also demands a response. In Deuteronomy, the word “keep” may also be translated “to guard” something of great value or importance.

Also in the Deuteronomy passage, there is an additional phrase which reads “as the Lord your God commanded“. In fact, throughout the Deuteronomy passage, there is an emphasis that the Lord commanded that the Shabbat should be kept. Another interesting aspect of the Shabbat is who is required to keep it. Although both passages require that animals also be given rest on the seventh day, the text from Deuteronomy specifies and adds to the general statement from Exodus; both the ox and the donkey and afterwards includes the word “all” in regard to the simple statement in Exodus that your animals observe the Shabbat.

The traditional reason for the detailed terminology from Deuteronomy is that it could be argued from the language of the Exodus passage that the commandment only applied to an animal that was not work related; that is sheep, goats, etc. This would mean that it was forbidden to slaughter them or shear them on the Shabbat. However, animals that were work animals by nature could be excluded from observing the Shabbat. In other words, one could ride a donkey on the Shabbat. Because of the specifics written in Deuteronomy, such an interpretation could not be made.

One also reads in greater detail from Deuteronomy that a Jewish individual should not see himself as different from a Gentile in his observance of Shabbat. While both passages state that servants must keep the Shabbat, as well as the one who sojourns in Israel, Deuteronomy adds the phrase, “on account that your servant and your maidservant will rest like you.” The last word in verse 14 in the Hebrew text is there to emphasize that Jews and Gentiles are not different, only that the Lord has first given the Law to the Jew (as He also first gave the Gospel to the Jew) for the purpose of demonstrating it and its benefits to the Gentiles.

It should also be stated that although some translations translate the Hebrew word גר as “a convert” to Judaism, such a rendering cannot be supported. The reason for this is simply that a convert would naturally be expected to observe not only Shabbat, but all of the Torah commandments. Furthermore, if one studies the additional occurrences of the word גר in the Scripture, it becomes self evident that this term relates to a Gentile who simply dwells within a Jewish community.

The Deuteronomy passage mentions the going out of Egypt which Biblically speaking is a reference to the concept of redemption. Hence, the book of Deuteronomy presents the observance of the Shabbat, as well as the Torah commandments in general, as the outcome of a redemptive experience with God. The Exodus passage unites the concept of Shabbat with the creation of the world. The reason for this is to teach that the observance of the Shabbat has an ordering effect on a person, in the same way that during the six days of creation, the Lord brought His order into the world that He created. It is also stated in Exodus that God rested on the seventh day.

This fact represents what the rabbis call Kal vahkhomer קל וחומר. This Hebrew expression simply means if something small causes a certain outcome, how much more would something big. An example to illustrate this would be the following. If I would not pay ten dollars for a particular item, I certainly would not pay 50 dollars for that same item. In this context, the reader should glean that if the Lord rested and observed the Shabbat, how much more should we mere human beings honor the Shabbat and observe it Biblically.

Both Exodus and Deuteronomy have what is called the “therefore” clauses in them, but they differ in what these clauses state. In Exodus one reads, “Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day” while in Deuteronomy one finds, “Therefore the Lord commanded to do the Sabbath day“. The reason for this difference is obvious; it is when one does, i.e. observes the Shabbat that he finds that the Lord will bless him.

Finally, there are two points I would like to address simply because I know that many of you are thinking about two passages of Scripture. The first is from Exodus chapter 31 which states emphatically that the Shabbat is a sign between the Lord and the Children of Israel. If so, why should Gentiles apply it to their lives? One needs to remember that the Biblical understanding of Israel according to the Torah (See Genesis 28:3) is that Israel is a congregation of peoples. Hence a Gentile who applies the Torah to his life, under the illumination and leadership of the Holy Spirit, will behave just like a Jewish individual who is under the same illumination and leadership of the Holy Spirit. As the Torah states, there is one Law for the citizen and the one who sojourns with Israel (See Exodus 12:49). Hence, there should not be any difference between a Jewish believer and a Gentile believer in regard to lifestyle simply because one is Jewish and one is not.  Observing the commandments does not mean that a Gentile becomes Jewish, but simply a member of God’s family and Kingdom.  The term Israel can be used and is used within the Scripture to denote this point.

The second and final point is what about the passage that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Lord of the Shabbat? Obviously I agree, but I do not see how this statement from Mark chapter 2 should lead one to conclude that the Shabbat loses its significance because of faith in Yeshua. Rather, I believe that because of faith in Yeshua one will apply the Shabbat to his life in a way that fulfills the spirit of the commandment and the reason why the Lord made the Shabbat for man.

One is not justified, saved, or redeemed by the Shabbat, but let me state unapologetically that when one applies the Scriptural teachings concerning the Shabbat to one’s life, he will be blessed.

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