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Exodus 31:13-17

Context
31:13 “Tell the Israelites, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, 1  for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. 2  31:14 So you must keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you. Everyone who defiles it 3  must surely be put to death; indeed, 4  if anyone does 5  any 6  work on it, then that person will be cut off from among his 7  people. 31:15 Six days 8  work may be done, 9  but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, 10  holy to the Lord; anyone who does work on the Sabbath day must surely be put to death. 31:16 The Israelites must keep the Sabbath by observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 31:17 It is a sign between me and the Israelites forever; for in six days 11  the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” 12 

1 sn The instruction for the Sabbath at this point seems rather abrupt, but it follows logically the extended plans of building the sanctuary. B. Jacob, following some of the earlier treatments, suggests that these are specific rules given for the duration of the building of the sanctuary (Exodus, 844). The Sabbath day is a day of complete cessation; no labor or work could be done. The point here is that God’s covenant people must faithfully keep the sign of the covenant as a living commemoration of the finished work of Yahweh, and as an active part in their sanctification. See also H. Routtenberg, “The Laws of Sabbath: Biblical Sources,” Dor le Dor 6 (1977): 41-43, 99-101, 153-55, 204-6; G. Robinson, “The Idea of Rest in the OT and the Search for the Basic Character of Sabbath,” ZAW 92 (1980): 32-42; M. Tsevat, “The Basic Meaning of the Biblical Sabbath, ZAW 84 (1972): 447-59; M. T. Willshaw, “A Joyous Sign,” ExpTim 89 (1978): 179-80.

2 tn Or “your sanctifier.”

3 tn This clause is all from one word, a Piel plural participle with a third, feminine suffix: מְחַלְלֶיהָ (mÿkhalleha, “defilers of it”). This form serves as the subject of the sentence. The word חָלַל (khalal) is the antonym of קָדַשׁ (qadash, “to be holy”). It means “common, profane,” and in the Piel stem “make common, profane” or “defile.” Treating the Sabbath like an ordinary day would profane it, make it common.

4 tn This is the asseverative use of כִּי (ki) meaning “surely, indeed,” for it restates the point just made (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 73, §449).

5 tn Heb “the one who does.”

6 tn “any” has been supplied.

7 tn Literally “her” (a feminine pronoun agreeing with “soul/life,” which is grammatically feminine).

8 tn This is an adverbial accusative of time, indicating that work may be done for six days out of the week.

9 tn The form is a Niphal imperfect; it has the nuance of permission in this sentence, for the sentence is simply saying that the six days are work days – that is when work may be done.

10 tn The expression is שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן (shabbat shabbaton), “a Sabbath of entire rest,” or better, “a sabbath of complete desisting” (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 404). The second noun, the modifying genitive, is an abstract noun. The repetition provides the superlative idea that complete rest is the order of the day.

11 tn The expression again forms an adverbial accusative of time.

12 sn The word “rest” essentially means “to cease, stop.” So describing God as “resting” on the seventh day does not indicate that he was tired – he simply finished creation and then ceased or stopped. But in this verse is a very bold anthropomorphism in the form of the verb וַיִּנָּפַשׁ (vayyinnafash), a Niphal preterite from the root נָפַשׁ (nafash), the word that is related to “life, soul” or more specifically “breath, throat.” The verb is usually translated here as “he was refreshed,” offering a very human picture. It could also be rendered “he took breath” (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 345). Elsewhere the verb is used of people and animals. The anthropomorphism is clearly intended to teach people to stop and refresh themselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally on this day of rest.



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