A Surprising Insight on the Sabbath Commandment

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Knowing about the Bible’s cultural setting can shed remarkable light on things you thought you understood.

Take the Sabbath commandment. Before I started studying the Bible’s communal emphasis, I had always assumed that the Sabbath command was addressed to each person individually. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it is not, and this is quite important. Listen closely to what Exodus 23:12 says:

Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the sojourners, may be refreshed.

Take note of the emphasis here. Who is supposed to be refreshed when the people of Israel observe the Sabbath?

It’s the animals and the slaves and the sojourners.

Doesn’t that seem illogical? That doesn’t make sense if this command is addressed to each person individually. In order to understand it, you need to think communally.

Landowners were being addressed, and whole households were the focus of the command. As a community you shall rest, so that your servants and even your animals can be refreshed too.

Think about it. In that society, there was no way that animals and slaves could observe the Sabbath without the permission of their owners. If a farmer decided that it was a good day for plowing, his slaves and animals had little choice…

Getting Beyond Me-O-Centric Bible Reading

(Based on an excerpt from my upcoming book, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus (Baker, 2018).

Did you know that you can now order a copy of a Bible translation called “Your Personalized Bible” which will insert your name in more than seven thousand verses? 1 Here are a few verses from my copy:

Lois like a sheep has gone astray. Lois has turned to her own way; and the Lord has laid on Him Lois’s iniquity. (Isa. 53:6)

Lois is the light of the world. (Matt. 5:14)

You have made Lois a little lower than God,
And crowned Lois with glory and honor.
You make Lois a ruler over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things under Lois’ feet. (Ps. 8:5–6)

You might think I’d be a fan of this style of study. I’m single, never married. I’m self-employed. I work by myself out of my own home office. I have no boss, no husband, no children. I’m queen of my own pleasant little world.

I’ve heard the siren call of individualism and succumbed as much as anyone, so you’d think I’d want to read my Bible that way. The more I study the Bible, however, the more I’m realizing the many ways that a me-o-centric approach misunderstands the text.

Take, for instance, this Bible’s translation of 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Lois is a temple of God.” Often people read this line…