Copyright © 2000 Andrews University Press. Cited with permission.
THE SABBATH AND THE ALIEN
H. R. COLE
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.
Noveck (New York: B'nai B'rith, 1963), 202; idem, This People
Jewish Existence, trans. Albert H.
1964), 138; Martin Buber, Moses, East and West Library (
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-Heart 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 Rabbab 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
30-33). This apocalyptic tradition is continued in Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 18-20; Pesikta Rabbati
26.3, 9. For more information see Robert 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. (
Press, 1962), 1:339, 340.
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
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 (
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 nativeborn 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
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
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
specifically prohibited from taking part in Passover in the same breath as all the congregation
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.
jrmHv jrvw Hvny Nfml tbwt yfybwh Mvybv jyWfm hWft Mymy tWW
rghv jtmx-Nb wpnyv
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 [
also Daniel Augsburger, "Calvin and the Mosaic Law," 2 vols. (DSR thesis, Universite des
sciences humaines de
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
obligations, with v. 13 forming a boundary between the two. This structure may explain why in
226 SEMINARY STUDIES 38 (AUTUMN 2000)
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
The allusion to the Israelites as aliens in
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
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
jtbv-jnbv htx hkxlm-lk hWft xl jyhlx hvhyl tbw yfybwh Mvyv
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. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, 2 vols., Biblical Commentary, trans. James Martin,
4th series, vol. 3 [
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
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;
SBLDS, no. 140 (Atlanta, GA; Scholars Press, 1993), 159.
"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 ("so)ourner/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
hqzH dyb Mwm jyhlx hvhy jxcyv Myrfm Crxb tyyh dbf-yk trkzv
Nk-lf hyvFn frzbv
tbwh Mvy-tx tvWfl jyhlx hvhy jvc
And you must remember that you were a slave in
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
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
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 : 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
Sabbathkeeping, 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 [
228 SEMINARY STUDIES 38 (AUTUMN 2000)
alien in the Sabbath rest (Exod 20:10; 23:12; and Deut 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
alien," 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 Sabbathkeeping,
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
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" (0. Palmer Robertson, The Christ
of the Covenants [
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 (see n. 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.
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