Andrews University Seminary Studies, 38.2 (Autumn 2000) 223-229.

Copyright 2000 by Andrews University Press. Cited with permission.

 

 

THE SABBATH AND THE ALIEN

 

H. R. COLE

Pacific Adventist University

Boroko, Papua New Guinea

 

Many scholars in modern Judaism have discerned universal

dimensions to the Sabbath.1 However, few writers in earlier Judaism ever

saw them.2 It is almost superfluous to add that non-Sabbatarian Christians

have rarely seen these dimensions either.

This failure to see universal dimensions may seem surprising, for three

passages in the Pentateuch affirm that the rg, "resident alien," is to rest on the

weekly Sabbath, along with the Israelite (Exod 20:10; 23:12; Deut 5:14).

However, rabbinic Judaism has traditionally identified the rg in these passages

as the ger saddiq, the circumcised "righteous alien," rather than the ger toshab,

the uncircumcised "sojourning alien." The ger saddiq was a newcomer to

Jewish territory, but not to the Jewish religion.3

By the rabbinic period, the rg was understood in terms of religious

 

1 E.g., Leo Baeck, "Mystery and Commandment," in Contemporary Jewish Thought, ed.

Simon Noveck (New York: B'nai B'rith, 1963), 202; idem, This People Israel. The Meaning of

Jewish Existence, trans. Alben H. Friedlander (New York: Union of American Hebrew

Congregations, 1964), 138; Manin Buber, Moses, East and West Library (Oxford: Phaidon Press,

1946); Hermann Cohen, Reason and Hope: Selections from the Jewish Writings of Hermann

Cohen, trans. Eva Jospe (Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College, 1993), 87, 116, 117, 225. Note

the universality implied in the title of Abraham J. Heschel's book, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for

Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1951). See also Roy Branson,

"Sabbath-Hem of Jewish Unity," JES 15 (1978): 722-732.

2 Philo" has an extremely universal view of the Sabbath, as he has of the whole of Judaism,

which he strives to present as nothing more than Greek philosophy in its purest form

("On the Account of the World's Creation Given by Moses," 89). Genesis Rabbah 11:5 teaches

that if the Gentiles will not keep the Sabbath now, they will be forced to as they suffer in the afterlife.

However, the general trend of early Judaism is in the opposite direction, as exemplified

in the way the Babylonian talmud tractate Sanhedrin 58b and Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:21 forbids

non-Jews from observing the Sabbath under pain of death. See also Exodus Rabbah 25:11.

Jubilees has the seeds of universalism inherent in its claim that the Sabbath is first observed by

God and the angels at Creation, but immediately restricts its observance on earth to Israel (Jub 2:

16-22, 30-33). This apocalyptic tradition is continued in Pirke' de Rabbi Eliezer 18-20; Pesikta

Rabbati 26.3, 9. For more information see Roben M. Johnston, "Patriarchs, Rabbis, and Sabbath,"

AUSS 12 (1974): 98-101.

3 E.g., Mekilta Exodus 20:10 and Pesikta Rabbati 23.4. See also George

Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 1962), 1:339, 340.

223



224 SEMINARY STUDIES 38 (AUTUMN 2000)

conversion. The rabbinic distinction between the circumcised and the

uncircumcised alien may at first sight seem to be an artificial contrivance

to reconcile the apparently conflicting commands of Lev 17:15, 16 and

Deut 14:21. For the historical critic, it would normally be enough to

develop a theology of the alien and the law for just one of the supposed

sources, rather than attempting to identify a coherent pattern across the

board.4 However, the distinction cannot be dismissed out of hand, for

while the word rg sometimes does refer to the alien in general,5 at other

times it seems to refer exclusively to the alien who has been circumcised.6

The question here is whether it is an appropriate distinction to draw in

the context of the three Pentateuchal texts where the rg is discussed in

relationship to the weekly Sabbath.

John Calvin accepted that the rg in these passages includes

 

4 Jacob Milgrom argues that in the priestly laws, the alien is required to observe the

prohibitive but not the performative commandments (Jacob Milgrom, Numbers, JPS Torah

Commentary [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990], 399-400). The fact that Deut

14:21 exempts the alien from a prohibitive commandment is a clear barrier to extending this

maxim to the Pentateuch as a whole.

Lev 16:29 is a key peg in Milgrom's argument, since he accepts Ibn Ezra's contention

that the phrase, "either the nativeborn or the alien who sojourns among you" qualifies the

prohibition against working on the Day of Atonement, but not the immediately preceding

performative command to afflict one's soul on this day. See Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16:

A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB, vol. 3 (New York: Doubleday,

1991), 1055. However, Ezra's distinction itself seems to be contrived. The grammatical

pattern of a performative commandment followed by a prohibition of work then a list of

who is included is also found in Exod 20:9-10 and Deut 5:13-14. However, no one claims that

the dependents listed are prohibited from working on the seventh day, but are not included

in the earlier permission to work the other six days.

5 Lev 18:26-27 forbids the native born and the alien alike from committing the sexual

practices listed in the chapter, because the people already in the land have done these

things and the land has become defiled. The fact that the present occupants of the land are

not a part of Israel has not prevented their actions from defiling the land. Accordingly,

the preservation of the land from the defilement under Israelite occupation must

presuppose that the Israelites ensure that none of its inhabitants commit these acts,

uncircumcised aliens included.

6 Exod 12:19 states that anyone who eats leaven during the Feast of Unleavened Bread

will be cut off "from the congregation of Israel" (lxWy tr-fm) whether alien or nativeborn.

According to Milgrom's maxim, this command applies to aliens (whether circumcised or not)

because it is prohibitive rather than performative. However, in Exod 12:47-48 uncircumcised

aliens are not counted as part of the congregation of Israel, for in Exod 12:47-48 they are

specifically prohibited from taking part in Passover in the same breath as all the congregation

of Israel is commanded to observe it.

It is also possible that in Lev 16:29, the rg includes only the circumcised alien, since in

vs. 33 the priest is said to make for "all the people of the assembly" (lhqh Mf-lk), an

expression that includes only Israelites and assimilated aliens in Deut 23:3-8 (vss. 4-9, Heb.),

just as (lxWy tr-fm) does not include uncircumcised aliens in Exod 12:48.


 


THE SABBATH AND THE ALIEN 225

 

uncircumcised aliens, but denied any universal dimensions to the Sabbath

by adding that aliens and domestic animals are included

not for their sakes, but lest anything opposed to the sabbath

should happen beneath the eyes of the Israelites. . . . Besides, if

the very least liberty had been conceded to them [the Israelites],

they would have done many things to evade the Law in their

days of rest, by employing strangers and the cattle in their work.7

 

There seems to be no evidence in Exod 20:10 to establish whether the

term rg is being used in a restricted or a broad sense, or to indicate

whether the alien's rest is merely incidental to that of the Israelite.

However, there is evidence on both these points in Exod 23:12 and Deut

5:14. The purpose of this article is to explore the place of the alien in these

two texts and to use the evidence as it arises to test the traditional rabbinic

interpretation and the explanation given by Calvin.

 

The Alien in Exod 23:12

 

On the basis of the "catchword" principle, the scheme of six years

followed by a seventh year in Exod 23:10-11 naturally lends itself as an

introduction to the scheme of six days followed by a seventh day in v.

12:8

jrvw Hvny Nfml tbwt yfiybwh Mvybv jyWfm hWft Mymy tww

rghv jtmx-Nb wpnyv jrmHv

Six days you must do your work, but on the seventh day you must stop,

so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female

servant and the stranger may be refreshed.

 

The inclusion of the rg in the Sabbath rest is clearly not incidental to the

rest of the Israelites in this text. Indeed, the verse does not even mention the

benefits of the Sabbath rest for "the addressee and his family..9 Instead, the

 

7 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the

Form of a Harmony, trans. Charles William Bingham, vol. 2 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950],

439). See also Daniel Augsburger, "Calvin and the Mosaic Law," 2 vols. (DSR thesis, Universite des

sciences humaines de Strasbourg: Faculte de theologie protestante, 1976), 1:280.

8 See C. W. Kiker, "The Sabbath in the Old Testament Cult" (Th.D. dissertation,

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1968), 90.

9 Dale Patrick, Old Testament Law (Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1985),92. This fact does

not mean that no benefit for the addressee of the command is envisaged at all, nor that the

worship value of the Sabbath is being denied. Instead, it simply suggests that the Sabbath is here

presented as having a distinctly humanitarian purpose. Exod 23:1-12 is a list of judgments

outlining humanitarian obligations and Exod 23:14-19 contains a list of judgments outlining

Israel's festal obligations, with v. 13 forming a boundary between the two. This structure may

explain why in

 



226 SEMINARY STUDIES 38 (AUTUMN 2QOO)

addressee is to rest expressly "so that" (Nfml) his animals may rest and the son

of his female servant and the alien may be refreshed.10

The inclusion of the uncircumcised alien in the statement of Exod

23:12 is confirmed by the fact that nearby in Exod 23:9, the term rg clearly

includes all aliens, circumcised and uncircumcised alike:

 

Myrfm Crxb Mtyyh Myrg-yk rgh wpn-tx Mtfdy Mtxv CHlt xl rgv

You must not oppress the alien. You know the life of the alien, for you

were aliens in the land of Egypt.

The allusion to the Israelites as aliens in Egypt is suggestive of their

erstwhile vulnerability as a dependent minority in a foreign land. It has

nothing to say about their adoption of Egyptian religious practice.11

Conversely, the command not to oppress the rg must also have all aliens

in view, not just those who adopt the Israelite covenant by being

circumcised.

The Alien in Deut 5:14

 

The Sabbath commandment in Deut 5:12-15 stands at the heart of the

Deuteronomic account of the Decalogue. Verse 14 lists those included in the

prohibition against working on the Sabbath and concludes with a purpose

clause:

jtmxv-jdbfv jtbv-jnbv htx hkxlm-lk hWft xl jyhlx hvhyl tbw yfybwh Mvyv

jvmk jtmxv jdbf Hvny Nfml jyrfwb rwx jrgv jtmhb-lkv jrmHv jrvwv

 

Exod 23:10-12 "there is no allusion to the keeping of a sabbath unto the Lord. . . in connection

with either the seventh year or seventh day," such as is found in Exod 20:10 and Lev 23:3 (C. F.

Keil and F. Delitm, The Pentateuch, 2 vols., Biblical Commentary, trans. James Martin, Clark's

Foreign Theological Library, 4th series, vol. 3 [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1872], 146). It would also

explain the absence of any mention of benefits for the addressee of the command.

10 It has been argued that the welfare of animals, slaves, and aliens is not primarily in focus in

Exod 23:12. Instead, a sacral "'return to the original state,' a restitutio in integrum," is in view, and

they are to rest simply because "they are an integral part of the creation which. . . ' is to return to its

'rest'" (Martin Noth, Exodus; A Commentary, trans. J. S. Bowden, Old Testament

Library [Philadelphia, P A: Westminster Press, 1962], 190). However, such a conclusion is not

drawn from evidence in the passage itself. See Niels-Erik Andreasen, The Old Testament

Sabbath; A Tradition-Historical Investigation, SBLDS, no. 7 (Missoula, MT: Society of Biblical

Literature,1972), 135; Jay W. Marshall, Israel and the Book of the Covenant: An Anthropological

Approach to Biblical Law, SBLDS, no. 140 (Atlanta, GA; Scholars Press, 1993), 159.

11 In view of the scattering of the Jewish exiles, it is understandable that the LXX

translators would interpret the rg primarily as a newcomer to the Jewish religion, whenever

possible. Nevertheless, their translation of Myrg in the last clause of Exod 23:9 as prosh<lutoi

("proselytes") is clearly anachronistic. It would have been more appropriate if the terms

Myrg/rg had been translated as pa<roikoj/pa<roikoi ("sojourner/sojourners") in both verses.



THE SABBATH AND THE ALIEN 227

 

However, the seventh day [is] a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You must

not do any work: [not] you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male

servant, or your female servant, or your ox, or your donkey, or any of

your cattle, or your alien who [is] within your gates, so that your male

servant and female servant may rest like you.

 

"Although only the male and female slave are mentioned in the clause

stating the rationale, it seems clear that they represent the entire list of

dependents mentioned earlier in the command."12 Accordingly, the extension

of rest to the household, the alien, and the livestock is not incidental to the

rest of the Israelite householder. Instead, it is placed on a par.

The inclusion of the uncircumcised alien in the command of Deut

5:14 is confirmed by the fact that it is reinforced in v. 15 with an appeal

to the Israelite experience of slavery in Egypt.

 

hyvFn frzbv hqzH dyb Mwm jyhlx hvhy jxcyv Myrfm Crxb tyyh dbf-yk trkzv

tbwh Mvy-tx tvWfl jyhlx hvhy jvc Nk-lf

 

And you must remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and

Yahweh your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and with

a stretched-out arm. Therefore Yahweh your God commanded you to

observe the Sabbath day.13

 

The fact that the Israelites were aliens in Egypt is not explicitly stated

in this verse, but it is implied, in the same way that the inclusion of the

alien in the rationale of v. 14 is implied. Accordingly, the issue of the

alien's vulnerability is what is in view, not the question of his inclusion

in the Israelite covenant through circumcision, just as in Exod 23:9.

 

Conclusion and Implications

A universal dimension to the weekly Sabbath is implied by the

presence of three commands in the Pentateuch that specifically include the

 

12 Christiana van Houten, The Alien in Israelite Law, JSOT Supplement Series, no. 107

(Sheffield: JSOT Press, Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 92.

13 The conclusion of this verse may seem to suggest that the deliverance from Egyptian

slavery is being advanced as the reason for Sabbath observance itself, rather than as reason for

extending its privileges to one's dependents. However, while Exod 20:11 has an introductory

"for" (yk), the reference to Israel's redemption in Deut 5:15b begins with the "conjunction 'and'

and simply enlarges the command" in v. 15a "to include remembrance of the Exodus on the

sabbath" (Niels-Erik Andreasen, "Festival and Freedom: A Study of an Old Testament Theme,"

Int 28 [1974]: 284). The "therefore" (Nk-lf) of Deut 5:15b may thus simply be by "analogy of [sic]

Exodus 20:8-11, for. . . no reason for the sabbath per se is really provided here" (ibid). On the other

hand, even if Israel's deliverance from slavery did constitute one reason for

Sabbath keeping, there is no reason to deny that contextually it also serves as a prod to show

kindness toward one's dependents (see Martin Rose, 5. Mose, 2 vols., Zurcher Bibelkommentare,

Altes Testament, no. 5.2 [Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1994], 431).



228               
SEMINARY STUDIES 38 (AUTUMN 2000)

 

alien in the Sabbath rest (Exod 20:10; 23:12; and. Dent 5:14). Traditional

rabbinic interpretation has resisted this implication by claiming that the

rg or alien in these verses is the ger saddiq, the circummcised "righteous

alien, rather than with the ger toshab, the uncircumcised "sojourning

allen, who is a newcomer to Jewish territory, but not to the Jewish

religion. According to John Calvin, the uncircumcised alien is included,

but simply to prevent any stumbling-block to Israelite Sabbath keeping,

not because of any benefit he himself might gain. There seems to be no

evidence as to the validity or otherwise of these arguments in Exod 20:10.

However, an exegesis of the place of the alien in Exod 23:12 and Deut 5:14

provides strong evidence that these texts do include the uncircumcised

alien in their perspective, and that his rest and refreshment is just as much

apart of the purpose of the Sabbath as the rest and refreshment of the

Israelite householder.

In Christian circles, the continued observance of a weekly Sabbath

has generally received wider support than the continued observance of

other OT sacred times. A number of reasons might be cited, not least of

which is the fact that the Sabbath is the only sacred time that is

specifically included in the Decalogue.14 Rarely has attention been given

to the possible significance of a comparative study of the Pentateuchal

laws governing the relationship of the alien to different sacred times, and

it is beyond the scope of this article to undertake such a study in detail.

nevertheless, on the basis of a preliminary investigation, it would seem

that the Pentateuch itself does give the uncircumcised alien a special status

in relationship to the weekly Sabbath, one that it does not afford to him

in relationship to any other sacred time.15 This distinction may indeed

 

14 Because of its position in the substance of the "Ten Commandments," the weekly

Sabbath retains its binding character on the recipient of the new covenant in a manner which

does not apply to the sabbatical year or the year of jubilee" (O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ

of the Covenants [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980], 74).

15 The uncircumcised alien is specifically barred from observing the Passover (Exod

12:43-49). The alien is prohibited from eating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened

Bread (Exod 12:19, but the examination of context undertaken above (seen. 6) indicates that

the circumcised alien is specifically in view in this verse. The examination of the context of

Lev 16:29 undertaken above (nn. 5-6) suggests the possibility that just the uncircumcised alien

may be specifically in view in commands given with reference to the alien is apparently

permitted and encouraged to observe the Feast of Harvest/Weeks (Deut 16:11, 12;26:11), but

he does not seem to be required to do so (Deut 16:16). The same situation seems to apply to

alien observance of the Feast of Booths (Lev 22:42, 43; Deut 16:14, 16). In the Sabbatical

Year, provision is made for the sustenance of the uncircumcised alien while the land lies

fallow (Lev 25:6) and the uncircumcised alien attending the Feast of Booths that year is

included in the comprehensive list of people who are to listen to the reading of the law (Deut

31:11, 12). The provision for the sustenance of the alien may be to ensure his survival as a

landless individual during the fallow year. However, his debts are not remitted as the

 



THE SABBATH AND THE ALIEN 229

 

offer one justification for the special place of honor sometimes accorded

the Sabbath in Christian tradition vis-a-vis other OT sacred times.

 

Israelite's are, nor is the non-Israelite slave released after seven years, as the Israelite slave is

(Deut 15:1-18). Likewise, in the Year of Jubilee, Israelite servants are to be released, whereas

the slaves who are foreigners or the children of aliens may remain enslaved and be passed on

from generation to generation (Lev 25:47-54). In none of these cases is there a categorical

requirement for the uncircumcised alien to participate fully in the observance of a sacred

time, such as we have found in this article with the weekly Sabbath.

 

 

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Andrews University

Berrien Springs, MI 49104

www.andrews.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu