Sabbath in the ten commandments
Two versions in the Bible
There are two versions of the decalogue (normally known as ten commandments) in the Old Testament. The first one is in the book of Exodus (Ch. 20) and the second one is in the book of Deuternomy (Ch. 5). There are repetitions (mostly in part) in different books of the Bible and possibly the latest one is in the Gospels (where Jesus talks with a young man who asks for the means to get eternal life; Mark 10). It is interesting to look at the two versions in the book of Exodus and Deuternomy, to see the points of similarities and differences.
- Both of them start with a premise stating who is God. Interestingly God is mentioned here as the one who brought them out of slavery. The God who gives them the decalogue is not a far-away God who created and left everything, but an “accompanying-God” or a “God who liberated them”.
- It is followed by aspects connecting to idolatry and other Gods. There are many interdictions. But it never “explicitly” says that we should adore God. (we can always say it is in the background). I would like to see it more than a commandment… Adoring God is an act that has to be done in liberty. It can’t be commanded. After knowing the God who liberated them, the commandments give the people an invitation to adore God in liberty and freedom.
- Though there are variations, both versions can be divided into three parts (approximately equal). The first part is connected to — who God is and idolatry. The second part is connected to Sabbath. The third part has commandment to honour parents and commandements against violence (don’t kill, steal, covet etc). The importance given to Sabbath is very interesting; we can’t easily blame the pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ time for the importance given to Sabbath by them.
- “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20, 8; NRSV). “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy as the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deuternomy 5, 12; NRSV). Many commentators (including ancient Jewish commentators) have highlighted the difference of the verbs… remember and observe. Both the versions give a reason to keep the Sabbath holy. When Exodus mentions that God rested on the seventh day (as in creation), Deuternomy invites us to remember that God brought them out of the slavery of Egypt and so keep the Sabbath. When creative action is emphasised as the reason in Exodus, liberative action is emphasised in the book of Deuternomy. At the same time, we don’t forget that liberative action of God was already there in the beginning of both the versions and it is definitley a context.
- It is interesting to see what God says in this Sabbath commandment. They are very similar in both versions; “ For six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates.” (Exodus 20, 9–10) Yes the Sabbath interdiction of not doing work is for all the people, which means you have to give holidays (or rest) for your servants and foreigners. They should have sufficient wages for their work that they can afford to rest on the Sabbath day without starvation (just wages). Sabbath is not only a day of prayer, but also a day of rest for all. Many aspects of human-rights do exist there. When Jesus states two commandments of loving God and loving neighbour as one, he was only stating it clearly what was already hinted in the Sabbath commandment.
Probably when we read all this together, the decalogue invites us to keep Sabbath holy, which is day of prayer to a creator and liberator God (who is very much personal), day of rest, and a day which reminds us strongly of justice, fraternity and other aspects. I think this is true for the Sunday (Lord’s day) celebrations of Christians; if all these dimensions are not appearing there, we are missing the point.
*NB: I am extremely grateful to Paul Beauchamp and his book “La Loi de Dieu” for some of the ideas. It is a real pity that such a great French exegète like him is not translated to English.