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…