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Journal for the Study of the ‫ ه‬1،‫ ا‬Testament

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DOI: 10.1177/0309089215577580

Sabbath ‫؛‬١١ Egypt?

An Examination of Exodus 5

‫ اا‬.‫اااااا‬ . ‫اآلا‬: FREY

Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS), P.O. Box 038. Silang.
Cavite 4118, Philippines


This study presents indicators from the narrative ofExodus 3, which in their entirety may
suggest the notion of Sabbath rest among the Israelite slaves in Egypt. One such indicator
is the verb shabbatT‘to cease’. a verb that marks the seventh day of the creation week with
the quality of divine Sabbath rest. Its particular form and use ‫؛‬١ ١Exod. 5.5 entails various
semantic notions, sueh as the in d ic a tio n that the Israelites ceased from their slave labors
regularly. In addition, contextual, structural, and discourse elements allow for a reading
that is indeed telling with regard to the Israelites’ social status and the ‫ﻤ ﺼ ﺈ‬ofa‫؛ ﻣ‬possible
Sabbath cessation under an oppressive regime, pinally. certain verbal expressions link
w ith Sabbath texts of the Pentateuch such as Exod. 2 3 .1 2 , a Sabbath text that is embedded
in the exodus narratives of slavery and freedom. All these indicators when taken together
allow for a Sabbath-motivated reading ofExodus 5. Tire implications of such a reading
tell o fa world that tongs for freedom, restored identities, and renewed relationships.

Keywords: Sabbath, Egypt, slavery, work, rest, exodus, freedom.

250 Journal fo r the Study o fth e O ld Testament 39.3 (2015)

1 Introduction
Only th o sew h o have not ceased to he human in spile o f dehum anizing
conditions carry I'ortlt the vision offreedom into an enslaved world. The
Hebrew Bible Iclls o f M oses as such an individual. Right there in the
m idst o f slavery he sets the ground m arker for Israel's freedom trail:
'M oses, why are you freeing the people?... You even m ade ihcm l'csl
(,shabbat) from their labors!' (Exod. 5.4-5), is the Egyptian m onarch’s
bew ildered question. Slaves wlto are free? fo r Pharaoh this is an
incom prehensible thought. M oses knows 01'no limits, fo r him, Sabbath is
the divine insigne for freedom founded in crcalion and reinforced in the
redemptive event o fthe exodus (Exod. 20.8-12; 3 1 .12-17;Deut. 5.12-15).
To cease from work on the seventh day m eans to choose freedom over
slavery, to m aster w ork time for the sake o f divine time.
Pharaoh, on the other hand, in realizing that he lost control over his
enslaved subjects and their time m anagem ent, ordered an additional time-
consum ing workload to their labor. According to Exod. 5.5, the despot
used language elsewhere found in texts o f the seventh day w hen he
charged Moses for having authorized the Israelite slaves to cease/rest
(‫ ) ט ב ת‬from work (cf. Gen. 2.2-3; Exod. 16.20; 23.12).
Interpreters o fth e biblical text have recognized the peculiarity o fth e
term shabbat in the narrative o f Israel's oppression in Egypt and have
expressed their views either by linking the slaves' resting from w ork to
Sabbath rest‫ ؛‬or by ignoring the language o fth e text and its undertones

1. See Exod.R. 1.27-28. 32: 5.18; 17.3; b. Shab.% lb\T m \O R 430; Sefer Shibolei
Haleket, Seder Pesah 205; ٠٤Abrahani Joshua Heschef Heavenly Torah; As Refracted
through the Generations (London: Continuum. 2005), p. 445. See also Morris Jastrow Jr.
‘The Original Character ofthe Hebrew Sabbath’, The American ‫ أ م‬/‫«'ا‬،‫ا‬/ ofTheology 2/2
(1898). pp. 312-53; Frank Michaeli. Le Livre de l'Exod: Commentaire de L Ancien
Testament, II (Neuchâtel‫ ؛‬Delachaux ‫ ه‬Niestlé, 1974). pp. 64-65; Patrick D. Miller, Jr,
‘The Human Sabbath: A study in Deuteronomie Theology’, The Princeton Seminary
Bulletin 6/2 (1985), pp. 81-97; Walter A. Elwell ,Baker Theological Dictionary ofthe
Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996).p. 697; William ‫ ه‬Propp,Exodus 1-18(AB,2;
N^w York: Doubleday, 1999). p. 254; James K. Bruckner, New International Biblical
Commentary: Exodus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008). p. 58.
2. See, e.g., C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch. The Pentateuch (BCOT, 1; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1952); Brevard s. Childs, The Book o f Exodus: A Critical, Theological
Commentary (OTL: Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974); Frank B. Gaebelein (ed.).
The Expositor 's Bible Commentary‫ ؛‬II (Grand Rapids, MJ: Zondervan. 1992); Walter
Brueggemann, The ‫ صﺀ‬ofExodus: Introduction, Commentary and Reflections (New
F r ey Sabbath in Egypt? 251

In this article I 11‫؛‬

‫ ا ا‬suggest that Exodus 5 contains m ore than the verb
"cease/rest' (,shabbat) with its notion o f Sabbath rest.H ighly dram atized
dialogue seenes com binew ith historical events o f the exodus as well as
theological overtones3o fh u m an dignity and 1'rccdom within the realm o f
oppressive powers. Could it be, then, that shabbat placed in the tyrant's
m outh is m ost intent in the text 01'Exodus 5 to carry a concept that goes
far beyond mere cessation from work?

2. Reading the Text ©f Ex©dus 5

Exodus 5.1-23 portrays Y ahw eh and Pharaoh in sharp coiiltoiitation with
each other,w hit the latter as a resolute opponent, an ‫؛‬،liti-Ciod who rejects
acknowledging Yahweh and his com m and to send 0 If the H ebrew slaves
(vv. 1-3)2 Pharaoh's explosion o f speeches ‫ ط‬vv. 4-5 establishes rest
froiti labor under die control o f M oses and A aron as the root 01'the prob-
lem. W hat then follows shows the cruelty ol'Pliai'aoliY highly organized
slave system: a sophisticated chain o f com m and that singles out a group
o f slaves (Hebrew 'l'oreincii') under the control ofE gyptian supervisors,
but then the seemingly privileged are held accountable for inevitable
failure (vv. 4-19)‫؛‬- e v e n worse, they become traitors and turn against
their ow n leaders w ith vicious resentm ent (vv. 20-21). History tells that
the biblical story has always had its parallels. The atrocities 01'the Nazi
concentration camps operating with sim ilar efficiency will forever remain
a heart-breaking memory.
Erom a tevt-critical perspective there are a 1‫ا ﺗ ﺂ‬differences,
‫ا‬ mainly
between the M asoretic text (MT) and the Septuagint (LXX).0' Eor this st ridy

Interpreter’s Bible. 1; Nashville: Abingdon P ress,199‫ ( ة‬pp. ‫ م‬725-31; Peter £ ‫ﻣ ﺪ ﺑ ﻤ ﺎ‬

fNIVAC; Grand Rapids. Ml: Zondervan, 2000); Douglas K. Stuart. Exodus (NAC. 2;
Nashville: Broadnian ‫ ه‬Holnian. 2006).
3. Ryken has shown how biblical narrative conrbines what he calls ‘the historical, the
theological, and the literary’. See Lei and Ryken, ‘“Words ٧٢Delight” : The Bible as
Literature’, Bibliotheka Sacra 1‫(و ه‬Januaty 1990), pp. 3-15; ‫ﺀ‬ '‫ﻣ ﺢ‬
«. ‫“‘ة‬And
‫ﺀ‬ It Came to
Pass'”: The ^ b l e a ^ o d ’s Story Book’. 149 ?،-‫ ﺀ‬/ //‫ق‬
‫س‬ /‫(ﺻ ﻎ ﺀ ﺀ‬April
‫ ر ﺀ‬1990). pp. 131-42.
4. Rolf Rendtorff. The Canonical Hebrew Bible: A Theology ofthe ‫ م‬/ ‫ﺢ‬ ‫ﻣ‬
(Leiden: Deo Publishing. 2005). p. 45.
5. James K. Hol'fmeier. Israel in Egypt: The Evidence fo r the Authenticity ofthe
Exodus ^ ‫ا‬-،‫( ﺀرم 'أﺀ' ﻫﺂ‬Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 114-16.
6. Durham and Propp diseuss each case in point and suggest which would likely
preserve the original reading; see Durham, Exodus, pp. 62.67-68; Propp.Exodus 1-18,
pp. 245-49.
Journal fo r the Study o fth e O ld Testament 39.3 (2015)

the m ain issue oeeui's in V. 5, where the MT reads: 'the ‫ه ﺀ د إ‬o fth
‫د ا‬e ‫ا‬hind'
(also 4QExodb). The LXX lacks the phrase 'o fth e land', and the Samaritan
Pentateueh has They are o i'^reatcr num ber than the people o fth e land .
Translations agree on the MT for the reason that the LXX and the
Sam aritan Pentateueh are nneo 1'rob<^atC(:l by Hebrew m anuscripts.
From a source-critical perspective Exodus 5 contains j and E scetions'
that have been m erged in such a way that the narrative rcllcets unity, and
tire endeavor to divide the text is inessential for its analysis and under-
standing.8 Propp settles on there being orre source, 'm ost likely the
E lohist'.9 Sourec-eritieal analysis relevant 0‫ آ‬this study pertains to w hat is
regarded as redundancy ‫<؛‬١ vv. 4 and 5: 'B ut the king o f Egypt said to
them, "M oses and A aron, w hy do you draw the people I'rom their work?
Get hack to your labors!” A gain Pharaoh said, "Look, the people o fth e
land are now m any, and you w ould have them ecasc from tlrcir labors!” '
( n a s b ) . However, the doublet theory ‫ ط‬tírese verses m ay be questioned
because o f their different content. Propp even concludes that the redun-
dancy is 'illusory and ‫آ س‬a valid source-criterion'.10
W ith regard to Exodus 5 as a record ol'lustoocal value, scholars have
recognized that tire text tells o f the lsr،rchtcs as doing the same work as
tire laborers who are portrayed in Egyptian inscriptions and relief
scenes.‫ ؛؛‬This involves labor relations drat existed between m asters and
w orkers in term s 01' treatm ent o f the workers by their taskm asters and
I'orcmett, rest days granted to the slaves, corporal punishm ent, etc.12 Thus
the use 01' tire w o«l 'cease/rest I'ronr labor’ and dre concept o f rest for
labor gangs in a biblical text that reflects genuine life in ancient Egypt is
interesting and deserves to be researched

7. j and E seetions are represented by the titles ‘pharaoh’ (see vv. 1 ,2 ,5 ,6 , etc.) and
‘king of Egypt’ ( ٧. 4), and the seeniingly redundant phrases in vv. 4 and 5. See
B. Bäntseh. Exodus— Leviticus-Numeri (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck ‫ ه‬Ruprecht, 1903);
G, Fohren Überlieferung undGescliichte desExodus: Eme Analyse vonEx 1-15 (Berlin:
Alfred Töpelmann, 1964). pp. 45-49; Martin Noth. Exodus: A Commentary (OTL;
Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962).
8. Duri1am ,£‫؛‬to،Ä،s', p. 63; Childs. The Book o f Exodus, pp. 94-95; Propp concludes O il
one source, ‘most likely the Elohist’. See Propp. Exodus 1-18, p. 250.
9. Propp.Exodus 1-18, p. 250.
10. Propp. Exodus 1-18, p. 250.
11. See especially Hoffmeier. ‫ ﻣ ﺤ ﺬ‬in Egypt, pp. 112-16; and Charles F. ^im s,
‘Bricks ‫־‬without Straw?’, Biblical Archaeologist 13/2 (1950). pp. 22-28.
12. See 1 .
aecessed 1 October 2012.
F r ey Sabbath in Egypt?

A narrative reading o f Exodus ‫ و‬shows its highly dram atized style in

the em otionally laden discourses o f the m ain characters: Pharaoh,
Yahweh, Closes and Aaron, the taskm asters, and the foremen. The peo-
pie, however, who am the 1'oeus o f the actual events, are w ithout words
and voice. The conlbct is about E gypt's m ethodically organized slavery
system. The m ethod, however, that is taken to tell the dram a is infrieate
and com plex in its use o f rhetoric, structure, subversive language, and
unexpected words that attract attention and create m eaningful ideas.13

3. Unexpectedness in Exodns 5
Propp com m ents about the rare harm onious situation betw een Israel,
M oses, and Yahweh in Exod 4.31: 'T he narrative msts there but for a
m o m en t'.14 Y et it is tlu$ m om ent that provides the setting for M oses'
audience w ith Pharaoh (Exod. 5.1-5). Backed by a congregation bowing
in faith and devotion to God, tire leader voices Y ahw eh's explicit order to
send Israel o ff ¡uto the w ild e rn e s s .P h a ra o h 's rcaetion to the divine
im perative is not a response; it is ‫آ س‬an ‫؛‬miuiry: it is a provocative attack:
'W ho is Y ahw eh... ? I do not know Y ahw eh’ (v. 2 ‫ ﻣ ﺮ‬Moses and Aaron
offer m ore detailed information: 'The God o f the Hebrews has called on
us. Please, let us go a three d ay s'jo u rn ey into tire w ilderness that we m ay
sacrifice to Yahweh our G od' (v. 3).17
Again, P haraoh’s reaction is not a response ; ‫ل‬IS‫آ‬an open affront: 'A nd
the king o fE g y p t said to them: W hy, M oses and A aron, are you I'reciiig
(‫ ) ת פ ר י ע ו‬the people I'roin its work? (v. 4). Note here, Ihe expression
'king o f Egypt’ and ‫آ س‬the title ‫ פ ר ע ה־‬, Phar aoh' But w hen the king

13. Benno Jacob’s masterful commentary on Exod . ‫ئ‬calls attention to the stirring
opening seenes between Israel’s leaders and the king ofEgypt and the dramatic force that
this chapter conveys. See Benno Jacob. The Second Book o f the Bible: Exodus (trans.
Walter Jacob; Hoboken: KTAV. 1992). p. 112.
14. Propp. Exodus ] / ‫'أ‬,‫ ا‬p. 258.
15. Brueggemann comments that ،[t]he conventional reading. ‘Let my people go’,
sounds like a re‫ ؟‬uest or a plea. In f‫؛‬،e). it is an imperative oil the lips ofYahweh, as though
Yahweh addresses a political subordinate (Pharaoh) who is expeeted to obey’. Walter
Brueggemann. ‘The Book ofExodus: Introduction. Commentary and Reflections’, in The
New Interpreter 's BibleTI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 726.
16. Brueggemann, ‘The Book of Exodus’, p. 726. The word ‘to know’ Yahweh is a
powerful Leitmotif \11 the exodus narration (Exod. 6 . 3 , 7 1 0 . 2 ;9.14,29 ;8.6.18 ;7
17. Tater in the narrative, this elause will become a standard mocking by Pharaoh and
the reason for calling the people ‘shirkers’ or ‘weaklings’ (vv. 8. 17).
254 Journal f o r the Study o f the O ld Testament 39.3 ‫ا‬.‫اﺋﺎر)ت‬

speaks he utters the verb ‫‘( פ ר ע‬lead, aet as leader' / ‘let free, let g o ') in
tire m iddle o fh is interrogative outburst: ‘W hy, M oses and Aaron, do you
act as pharaoh in letting the people go free from its work? The pun is
obvious,18 and ‫؛‬٩ the brusque coin in and ‘Go to your hibors!’ ‫ ل‬appears
‫آ‬ as
if for a ‫ د ا ة‬second
‫ ا ؛ ا‬the king had recognized the am biguity c f‫؛‬u$ own
w ords and m ust now dem onstrate his dictator role.
Pharaoh continues with another unexpected expression, ‘Look, many
already were/are the people o f tile land! And you m ade them rest
(٠ ١ ) from their labors!' (v. 5). Does tire despot rct'cr to a previous
record about the m ultitudes o f Hebrew slaves iir Egyptian annals (Exod.
‫؟ ر و إ‬Does‫ﺀ ﺀ‬he recognize M oses as the survivor o f the cruel pogrom o f
the Hebrew m ale babies? Does h© denounce M oses as a dissident who
now controls the slaves by antboi'i/iirg tire n!timatc stop to labor gangs?20
W hatever the case m ay be, in the hearing o f a Hebrew audience o f the
text, the day called ‫ ט ב ת‬, ‘Shabbat '5 resounds in P haraoh's w ords.21

4. Semantics and Syntax

Exodus 5.4-5 re p o rtstw e speeches o f Pharaoh. The first speech is the
interrogative verbal clause ‘W hy, M oses and A aron, are you i'rcciirg the
people from tts w ork?', w hich contains a bipbi! i mper f ect , ‫ ת פ ר י ע ו‬, ‘you
let them go free' (root 22.(‫ פ ר ע‬This i'orin sim ultaneously denotes past,

18. Propp. Exodus 1-18, p. 253. Martin Luther also reeognized Sabbath rest 11‫ ؛‬the
expression and rendered it by the word ‘feiern’ (celebrate) in the Gernian translation of the
Bible (Revidierte Fassung voll 1984).
19. Lilis is often understood as explaining the econoniic reasons for refusing to let the
people go. SeeNahuniM. Sarna,Exodus (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: The
Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p. 28. ‘The sons oflsraep (Exod. 1.9) are replaced with
‘the people of the land’ (Exod. 5 .5 ), ‫ م؛ﻫﺄ‬possibly draws 011 a change in perspective
regarding the status of th e ‫إ ا ﻫ ﺼ ﺄ‬in‫ ؛‬Egypt
‫ ة ﺀ‬over the course of their time of slavery. It
could imply that ‘the sons oflsrael’ had been integrated as slaves and had become in
Pharaoh’s eyes ‘the people of the land’ (Exod. 5.5) who are now regarded as Egyptians.
See Propp, Exodus 1—18, p. 254.
20. Houtman interprets Pharaoh’s words ill the sense that ‘Moses and Aaron are
troublemakers who incite the people to shirk their duty and stop working’. Lornelius
Houtman, Exodus 1 ‫(؛‬ran‫؛؛‬. Johan Rebel and Sierd Woudstra: HCOT; Kämpen: Kok
Publishing House, 1993), p. 456.
2 ‫ إ‬. See 11. 1; e£ Waldemar Janzen,‫ ه‬، ‫( م‬Believers Church Bible Commentary;
©ntario: Herald Press, 1989), p. 398; Propp, Exodus 1-18, p. 254.
22. HALOT. II. p. 97Q; T. Kronhulrtt,‘‫ﺀ‬1 ‫ﻢ'ر ق‬ ‫ﻫﺄ‬,‫ﺣ‬S~1Zperac\ in TDOT, XII. pp. 98-
101 .
F r ey Sabbath in Egypt?

present, and future in the sense that M oses and A aron are responsible for
letting tire people go free t'roin their ‫ اا‬0‫ آا 'ا‬repeatedly or habitually
(iterative) and w ere continuing to do so (durative).“ The king then eon-
eludes with a strong imperative, 'Cío (‫ ל כ ו‬, qal im perative)to> our labors! ’
The im perative enforces the tim c/aspeet o f the yaqlîl verb irr the sense
that M oses and A aron have to get back to wtrcrc they b c lo u g - to their
labor gangs.24
The second speech starts with an interjection highlighting a nom inal
clause: Look, m any already were/are the people o f the land!’“ The
deictic stress ol'tfic interjection bound to the adjective-adverb combina-
tion (‫ ה ך ר ב י ם ע ת ה‬, Took, m any already’, note the m aqqef) signifies
P haraoh's em otional perception about tire great num ber o f people that has
been a problem already during his predecessor's time (Exod. 1.9).2‫ة‬The
nom inal clause is tiren linked to a verbal clause w ith another lriplul verb.
‫ו ה ש ב תי ם‬, 'an d y o u cause them to cease, stop, rest'.“ Several observations
are hr order for the syntactic and semantic use o f ‫ו ה ש ב ת ם‬:

23. Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar ofBiblical Hebrew (Rome: Editrice
Pontificio Iatituto Bíblico, 2006), pp. 338-39. Cf.،»« 1—18, p. 253.
24. The NKÏV and NASB render the imperative, ‘Get back to ‫أ‬/‫أاه‬ labors!’, which
underscores the view that the people had been freed of labor in the past.
25. Cf. Sarna, Exodus, p. 28.
26. The Masoretic aceents tiflia and merkha in the phrase ‫ הן־רבים עתה‬highlight the
exclamation and vividly eonvey the emotional aspeet in Pharaoh’s speech. See Arnold and
Choi, A Guide ‫؛‬٠Biblical Hebrew Syntax, pp. 157-58; Raymond 1). Hoop, ‘Stress and
Syntax; Music and Meaning: The Purpose and Function of the Masoretic Aceentuation
System’, JNSL 34/2 (2008), pp. 99-121. The accents bind the words ‘many’ and ‘now’
together for stress, syntax, and recitation reasons. The accents may also graphically show
corresponding hand gestures in the recitation o f the Hebrew text in front of an audience.
See the explanation given to the Masoretic signs for musical recitation, http://, accessed 30 September 2012.
27. The root ‫ טבת‬takes the meaning To cease, stop, rest, stand still, remove, come to
an end, take a holiday’. See HALOT. II. pp. 1407-12. For a diseussion concerning the
origin of the verb ‫ טבת‬and the relation to the ‫ا‬1‫ اه‬1 ‫ טב ת‬, see E. Haag, ‘‫ טב ת‬säbäf, in
TDOT, XIV, p. 385; Gnana Robinson, Tile Origin andDevelopment ofthe OldTestament
Sabbath: A Comprehensive Exegetical Approach (Bern: Peter Lang. 1988); idem, ‘The
Idea ofRest in the Old Testament and the Search for the Basic Character o ft‫؛‬،®Sabbath’,
7AIV 92 (1980), pp. 32-42; c f . ‫ﻋﻤﻮام؛ ال‬ : Andrea sen. The Old Testament Sabbath: A
Tradition-Historicallnvestigation (Missoula, MT: Society ofBiblical Literature Scholars
Press, 1972). pp. 94-121; GerhardF. Hasel, ‘Sabbath’, in.45D,V. pp. 850-51; idem, ‘The
Sabbath in the Pentateuch’, in Kenneth A. strand (ed.). The Sabbath ‫اﺀ'ﺀ‬Scripture and
History (Washington, DC: Review & Herald Publishing. 1982), pp. 21-43.
Journal fo r the Study o fth e O ld Testament 39.3 (‫ رات‬1‫ائ‬

( ‫ ) إ‬The ‫ ة؛ ו ה ש ב ת ם ا؛آاوا؛آا‬a perfect ‫'ا‬0‫ آآا 'ا‬o fth e verb ‫ שבת‬preceded by a

’. Gram marians
‫ااﺀﺀ’اا‬ identify this form as w eqatal a n d ‫ اا‬0‫ ااا‬tliat tire perfect
preceded by a waw is associated 0‫ ااا آاا؛ اآ‬sem antically distinct con-
structions, one w ith relative force m ainly denotin§ future action (xvaxv
conversive or waw consecutive), and the other wilh coordinate force
denoting past action ( ‫ ’اا ’»اا‬conjunctive).28
W hen considering the w eqatal ‫ וה ש ב ת ם‬under the ‫ ’اا »׳اا‬conversive or
waw consecutive theory,29 the xvaxv w ould relate the attached perfectverb
to a previous verb and then represent a situation that is logically
contingent on that previous verb and at the same tim e entail a tem poral
sequence, w hich would denote future action.* However, the relation o f
‫ וה ש ב ת ם‬in Exod. 5 .‫ و‬is not to a irrcecrling verb but to the nom inal elausc
‘Look, m any already were/are the people o f the land’. There is no
conditional, consequent or volitional relation between the nom inal elausc.
and the xveqaialwAh a future sense.31 On tire contrary, the nom inal clause
parallels another nom inal clause I'ound in Exod. 1.9 ( ‘ Look, the people o f
Israel are m any') and refers to the past situation ol'tlrc Israelite multitudes
in Egypt. Thus the weqatal ‫ ו ה ש ב ת ם‬does not point to a future situation
when M oses and A aron w ould cause the Israelite slaves to rest: the
w eqatal relates to the great num ber oflsraelites in the past (Exod. 1.9) and
present (5.5) w hom M oses and Aaron caused and are causing to rest.
W hen considering ‫ וה ש ב ת ם‬under the aspect o f a xvaxv conjunctive,
gram m arians take into aeeount the narrative setting and note that the
xvaxv + perfect signals an action that is out o f chronological order and is
equivalent to the English pluperfect.32 This aspect o fth e w eqatal denotes

28. Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax

(Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990). pp. 519-20.
29. Walrke and O’Connor. Introduction, pp. 458-60.
30. Thonias o . Lambdin. Introduction to ‫ق'ﺀﺀ‬/‫ﺀ'ﺀ‬،‫ا‬/ Hebrew (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons. 1971), pp. 107-109: Waltke and tycomxorjntroduction, p. 525; Christo
H. van der Merve. Jackie A. Naudé, and Jan H. Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference
Grammar (Sheffield: Sheffield AcadeniicEress, 1999), p. 164; Arnold and C h o 4 , , Guide
to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, p. 87. See, for example, the oracle texts, divine promises and
others that contain the perfect form of ‫ סב ת‬attached to a waw with the meaning of a
consecutive (of. Lev. 25.2; 26,6; 2 Kgs 23.5; Isa. 13.11; 17.3: Jer. 7.34:48.35; Ezek. 6.6;
16.41;23,27;26,13; 34.10). Here, the perfect form always relates to a previous imperfect
or a participle in order to follow consecutively and indicate future action.
31. Waltke and ©’Connor,/ ‫س‬-‫ إﺀﺗﻪﺀاس‬, p. 534.
32. Bo Johnson, Hebräisches Perfekt undlmperfekt mit Vorangehendem ١٠٠(Lund:
Gleerup, 1979), p. 41; Waltke and O’Connor Jntroduction, pp. 540-42; A1viero Niccacci.
F r ey Sabbath in Egypt? 257

a co m p leted ‫؛‬Kllou 1‫آل‬the sense that the leaders had allowed the people to
cease/rest from labor in the p،ast.^ Such ceasing muy have happened at
least once w hen Exod. 4.31 m entions that the people bowed down and
w orshiped after Closes and A aron had spoken to them about G od's
intention o f deliverance. Thus, Pharaoh expressed his indignation toward
M oses and Aaron, because they had authorized the Israelites to rest from
their labors, and not because they will do so at some point ‫ ط‬the future.
(2) The ltipltil stem o f the verb ‫ ט ב ת‬irr Exod. 5.5 is unique irr the
Hebrew Bible in that it has an accusative oftlre person ' t h e m' (‫ ) א ת ם‬and
is associated w ith a w ord for w ork w ith the preposition ‘from ' (‫)מ ן‬.
H A L O T identifies this form as To allorv to rest from their forced labor’.34
Nowhere else is the hiphil o f ‫ ט ב ת‬connected to rest from w ork.35
(3) O ftlre 71 occurrences ot ' ‫ יבבת‬there are only tw o places where the
Hebrew Bible associates this verb wlllt a w ord for w ork with the
preposition 'fro m ' (‫) מ ן‬, and this is in Gen. 2.2-3 and Exod. 5.5. On the
seventh day o f the creation w eek God rested 't'rom all his w o rk ’
(‫) מ כ ל ־ מ ל א כת ו‬. The Hebrew Bible identifies this day as the Sabbath
(Exod. 20.8-11) and ‫ آس‬as a mere interruption or an undefined cessation
from work. By speaking 01' ‫ יבבת‬as resting ■from w o rk ', Exod. 5.5 creates
a direct link to the only other occurrence o f rest fl'oin work, the creation
Sabbath.^ Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, w hen the m eaning is to stop
w ork or cause to cease work, the verb ‫ ט ב ת‬is follow ed by a direct object,
and not by the preposition Trom ' (see Neh. 4.5; 6.3; 2 Chron. 16.5).

5. Discourse Linguistics
Robert L ongacre's discourse-m odel approach contributes significantly to
the understanding 0‫ ד ה ט בי ם ؛‬as the only weqatcd o f a xvaxv conjunctive ‫ا‬

The Syntax ofthe I erh in (,7<‫ر‬.‫־ا‬.‫'ﺀ׳ا‬،‫»׳‬///،‫׳‬

> · ‫ا(ا‬-،'‫ ا׳‬Prose (Sheffield: Sheffield Acadeniic Press,
1990), p. 35; Arnold ‫ دس‬Choi.rt Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, p. 93.
33. See Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus (NAC; Nashville: Broadnran ‫ ه‬Holman. 2006), p.
162; Durham. Exodus, III, p. 64.
34. Ä 4 A 0 r,II.p . 1407.
35. Elsewhere, hiphil occurrences of ‫ סב ת‬have the meaning ‘to bring to a eonclusion,
put an end to, remove, put away, cause to di sappear’ various things such as leaven (Exod.
12.15), grain offerings (Lev. 2.13), idolatrous priests (2 Kgs 35.5), the land (Jer. 36.29),
pride (Ezek. 7.24), harmful beasts (Ezek. 34.25), the enemy (Ps. 8.2), strife (Ps. 18.18),
sacrifice (Dan. 9.27), etc.
36. h'mere cessation from work were the intention ofthe text, the verb ‫ ח דל‬would be
a better fit (such as in 2 Chron. 16.5) than the verb ‫ סב ת‬.
Journal fo r the Study o fth e O ld Testament 39.3 (15 ()‫ ت‬I

perfect in Exodus 5.37 Longacre suggests that such an isolated w eqatal in

the m iddle o f a narrative m arks a clim actic or pivotal event in the
narrative flow.38 W hen applied to the verb ‫ו ה ש ב ת ם‬, the m odel suggests
that Pharaoh spoke o fth e people’s resting I'roin w ork as a m ost slguificaut
and 1na¡or event lluil had already occurred, an event llutl required him to
take ،Imstlc measures.

6. Structural Analysis
The high slgmficauce o fth e verb ‫ וה ש ב ת ם‬in Exodus 5 together wiflr its
past and continuous or pluperfect m eaning receives an even stronger
em phasis w hen one considers the tw ofold struetui'cd speeches in vv. 4-5.
The narrative introduces each o f Pharaoh's speeches by an introductory
line ('T h e king o f Egypt said to them ' and 'Pharaoh said') w ithout any
narrative com m ent ill between the speeches.39 P haraoh's speeches are
arranged in such a way that th e 0‫ ااا‬Iriplril verbs correspouel to each other
and form a chiastic structure w ith the im perative 'G o ! 'i n the center.
Introduction 1: And the king of Egypt said to thenr.
Speech 1: ‘Why. Moses and Aaron, are you freeing (‫ ת כ כ כ ו‬.
hiplul inrperfect) the people from its work (‫’?)ממעש י ו‬

‘Go (‫ )לכ ו‬to your labors! ’

Introduction 2: Again ?haraoh said,

Speeeh 2: ‘Look, many already are/were the people ofthe land!
And you made them rest (‫ו ה ס ב ת ם‬, Iriplril perfect)
from their labors (‫’!) מ כ כ ^ ת כ‬

37. RobertE. Longacre, ‘Discourse ?erspective on the Hebrew Verb: Affirmation and
Restatement’, in Walter R. Bodine (ed.)Hingnistics andBiblical Hebrew (Winona Lake,
IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992), pp. 71-91.
38. Longaere, ‘Discourse Perspective on the Hebrew Verb’.
39. Cynthia L. Miller, Tile Representation ofSpeech in Biblical Hebrew Narrative
(Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1996), pp. 233-97. Milter has observed adjoined direct
speeches in biblical narratives that she labeled as ‘adjacency pairs’, which include
successive speeches of a single speaker eaeh introduced by a quotative frame. According
to Milter, the structuring ofthe speeches signifies the speaker’s twofold move to provide
mom detailed and thorough information (p. 241). Cassuto holds that the first speech
becomes fe a re r beeause ofthe second one. See Cassuto, A Commentary ٠» the Book o f
Exodus, p. 38. Conroy observes that the second speech often signals a point of major
inrportanee. 8ee Charles Conroy,Absalom, Absalom! Narrative andLangtiage‫ﻣ ﺢ « « ا ه ﺀ و إ ﺀ‬
13-20 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1978), p. 130.
F r ey Sabbath in Egypt?

Note 110W both verbs express causative aspect, both have the accusative ٠‫؛‬
person, and both are followed by a word for w ork w ith tire preposition
Hrotn’. The chiastic structuring shows that Pharaoh’s harsh com m and to
M oses and Aaron—‫־‬Go to your l a b o r s '- i s thus issued in reaction to both
hiphil verbs: first, in reaction to the urgent and im m ediate situation o f
regular‫}؛‬/ freeing the people I'rom their w ork (v. 4); and, second, in
reaction to having authorized the people to rest (‫ ) שב ת‬I'l'oin their labor
gangs (v. 5). The second part 01'the structure indicates, by its highlighted
reference to tire past (Exod. 1.9) and by the unique use 01'tire weqatal,
that Pharaoh em phasizes the leaders’ powerful inllucnec for rest as the
m ajor problem.

7. Intertextuality
A narrative, sequential, and holistic reading 01'tire Hebrew Bible40 shows
that there exist intertexhral links betw een Exodus 5 and various Sabbath
texts 01'tire Pentateuch over tire use ol’ thc verb ‫ שבת‬in relation to slavery
work. The narrator o f the Pentateuch sets the reader up, right in the
beginning o f tire Pentateuch, w ith the specific m eaning o f ‫ שב ת‬as tire
(Creator's rest fi‫־‬om w ork on tire seventh day, w hich is a day blessed and
sanctified by his presence (Gen. 2.2-3). W hen the reader then continues in
tire pentateuchal text and cucotiu tcrs the word ‫ שבת‬again in direct relation
to work, associations with the specific theme o f Sabbath rest in creation
times resonate. This technique is superfluous in texts where a direct
statem ent is m ade ،about Sabbath rest, such as in Exod. 20.8-11, but it is
all the m ore im portant in texts that seem to obscure the csscutial m eaning
o f ‫ שב ת‬in relation to work. Here, the subtleties o f Hebrew narrative
technique call for special attention

40. Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1—20: A New Translation with / ‫ﺀ‬/‫ﻫ ﻢ־اا‬،‫ص‬ '‫ﺀ »م‬and
Commentary (AB. 22; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), p. 21; ٥،'■idem, ‘The Vision
of Jerusalem inEzefciel 8-11 : A Holistic Interpretation’, in J.L. Crenshaw and s. Sandmel
(eds.),DivineHeh 1 isman:StudiesonGod’sControIofHmnanEventsPresentedtoLouH
Silberman (New York: KTAV, 1980). pp. 143-64(148); John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch
asNarrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), pp. 1-3,24-30; James Watts ^Reading
Law: The Rhetorical Shaping o f the Pentateuch (BS, 59; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic
?ress, 1999), p. 29. Robert Alter, while holding to the composite construction of the
Pentateuch, asserts that there is a eohesiveness and continuity that allows for the Torah To
be read as a fom'ard-nioving process through time and theme from book to book yielding
an overarching literary stiuetiiro’; see also The Five Books of&toses: A Translation with
Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton. 2004). pp. 42-43.
260 Journal fo r the Study o fth e O ld Testament 39.3 (2015)

The Sabbath rest denounced in Pharaoh’s speech !٦١٤،} indicate various

ideas. The Israelite slaves had been m otivated to keep a Sabbath rest from
their labors. Pharaoh condem ned Sabbath rost as an act that underm ined
his authority and Inudcre،‫ ؛‬the econom y o f Egypt.41 Furtherm ore, the
language o fE xodus 5 m ay test¡!'} to the subversive nature o f Sabbath rest
w ithin a suppressive system. M oses and Aaron, identified as the driving
force for Sabbath rest, do not use the w ord shabbat; further, they do not
defend them selves, and they do not respond to Pharaoh's aggressive
questioning. A superficial reading w ould thus hold that M oses and Aaron
and the Hebrew slaves had surrendered to their hopeless situation.
However, P haraoh's word about Sabbatlr rest in the m idst ofsufl'cring
stands as a powerful testim ony that in reality tire slaves w ere m asters—
not m asters over their workloads, but m asters o f tiinc. The following
intertextual links indicate drat Sabbath rest in Exodus 5 m eans to live as
free h u m a n beings even in the m idst o f slave-like cireuinstairces.

a. Exndus 5.5 and Genesis 2.2-3

As noted in the analysis o f P haraoh’s expression ■you m ade them rest
from fire‫ ־!؛‬labors', there is a unique link created, by the use o f fire
preposition ■from attached to a w ord for work, to the seventh day oftlrc
creation w eek w hen God 'rested from all his w ork’, a day that the
Pentateuch identifies w ith weekly Sabbath rest (Exod. 20.8-11; 31.12-

b. Exodus 5.5 and 23.12

Exodus 5 uses different words for work: ‫ מ ע ש ה‬,‫ ס ב לו ת‬, and ‫ ע ב ד ה‬. It is tire
norm ‫ מ ע ש ה‬that is o f significance for this study because it occurs in close
connection w ith foe verb ‫ שבת‬only ¡II tw o places, Exod. 5.4-5 and 23.12.
A ccording to Exod. 5.4-5, M oses ،rud A aron caused the people to go free
from their work (‫) מ עש ה‬, even rest (‫) ו הש בת ב‬. ¥ crsc 13 reeords that tire
taskm asters pressed the people to com plete tlrcir w ork (‫) מ עש ה‬, which had
becom e heavier.

41. Benno Jacob (Exodus. p. 131) understands Pharaoh’s ‫ והשבתם‬as referring to a

holiday from hard work either in the sense o f ٠١# Sabbath (Exod. 16) or the Passover feast
(Exod 12.14), the only holidays before Israel arrived at Mount Sinai
42. Stephane A. Beaulieu shows further links to the creation account in Gen. 1 based
upon the verb ‫עשה‬. ‘do. make’, hr an unpublished paper titled ‘The Sabbath hr Exodus
F r ey Sabbath in Egypt? 261

The Sabbath com m andm ent in Exod. 23.12 is unique in that it is the
only Sabbath com m andm ent that uses the w ord ‫ מ ע ש ה‬for the w ork o f the
six w eekdays in relation to the verb ‫ ש ב ת‬. ‫ ااا׳ﺀ‬other com m andm ents have
the w ord ‫ מ ל א כ ה‬denoting work o f the weekdays. Exodus 23.12 states that
the Sabbatlr observer w ill do (‫ ) ת ע ש ה‬w ork (‫ ) מ ע ש ה‬for six days, but on ، be
seventlr day he shall cease (‫ ) שב ת‬s o ‫ اا؛ا]ا‬the hard-working ox and donkey,
the slave-w om an's son, and the stranger m ay rest and be refreshed.
The verbal and conceptual links that exist between the S‫؛‬،bba،l، coin-
m andm ent in Exod. 23.12 and the exodus narratives in chs. 1-5 are stimu-
lating.43 Israel is regarded as E gypt's stranger (22.2 ‫ أرل‬The people are
oppressed and their cries to God become ،he trigger for ،he exodus event
(2.23-25). It is, then, because the liberated Israelite knows the lil'c o f an
oppressed stranger (23.9) that he is called to create the ‫ >ا؛ آااااآﻫﺪإواه‬for ،he
stranger and for the slave, as w ell as for anim als, to have Sabbatlr rest

c. Exodus 5.5 and Deuteronomy 5.12-15

W hile afllicted w ith additional hard labor because o f going free and
resting (‫ וה ש ב ת ם‬and ‫) שב ת‬, Israel receives the prom ise that God will bring
them out o f Egypt w ith a powerful and ou،$،rc،chcd arm (Exod. 6.1, 6).
A ccording to tire Sabbath com m andm ent in [)cu t 5. [5, God liberated
Israel 'b y a m ighty hand and by an outstretched arm ' (cf. Exod. 13.9), and
therefore Israel will always keep s 1 ‫؛‬b b 1 ‫؛‬،l ، rest (‫)ש ב ת‬.
A nother link betw een Exodus 5 and D euteronom y 5 is the word ‫ע ב ר‬
that is used for labor, to serve as a slave, and to be a slave. Exodus 5 uses
the w ord ‫ ע ב ר‬seven ،‫؛‬mes (vv. 9, 11, [5, 16, 18 [2x], 21) meluding in
?h arao h 's cruel com m and 'now go, w ork!' (v. 18). The Sabbath com-
m andm ent in Dcu،. 5.12-15 places sim ilar em phasis upon ‫ ע ב ר‬, as seen in
the chiastic airangem ent:
A Six days you shall se13 . ‫؛‬¥، ‫ ) (תעבד) ؛‬٧)
But on the seventh day...
B your servant (‫ ) ע ב ד ך‬shall not do any work (v. 14)
B' your servant (‫ ) ע ב ד ך‬shall rest (v. 14)
Renieniber that
A' you were a servant (٠٠) (v. 1‫ئ‬ )

43. See my dissertation on ‘The Sabbath in the Pentateuch: Air Fxegetical and
Theological study’ (Andrews University, 2011), pp. 170-82‫ ؛‬also, ‘The Sabbath
€ 0 nrn1andnrent iir the Book oTllre Covenant: Btlries oir Behalf ofthe Outcast’. Journal of
Asia Adventist Seminan’ '1 ١(2006). pp. 3-11; and Ί Have Heard their Cry’, Shabbat
Shalom 2006) 3/1‫) ة‬, pp. 24-26.
Journal fo r the Study o fth e O ld Testament 39.3 (2015)

This arrangem ent is placed into the m otivation clause ofD euteronom y's
Sabbath com m andm ent and carries the slave inotil'to dem onstrate the
significance 01' this day as a sign o f deliverance from slavery. In other
words, the Sabbath corresponds to the exodus.44The Sabbath keeper who
has been a slave in the past w ill rest, and in resting he will be equal with
tire slave in his house

d. Exodus 5 and Numbers 15.32-36

The Hebrew Bible creates a direct link betw een Exodus 5 and tire story o f
tire m an w ho gathered w ood on the Sabbath. The link exists because the
verb ‫קטש‬, ‫־‬gat her' , occurs only four times in the Pentateuch, twice w hen
describing the toil and oppression 01'tire Israelites in Egypt (Exod. 5.7,
12) and twice w hen narrating the offensive behavior o f the wood-gatherer
on Sabbafil after his deliverance from Egypt (Num. 15.32, 33 )‫ م‬The
telling link that the Pentateuch draws between tire slaves who were forced
to gather (‫ )קשש‬straw w ithout rest (‫ ) ט ב ת‬and tire m an who defiantly w ent
out and gathered (‫ ) ק ש ט‬w ood on the day o f Sabbath rest (‫ ) ש ב ת‬shows the
im portance that Sabbath rest carries w ith regard to freedom from slavery:
fire one who had been set free from slavery chose, in an act o f open
rebellion against God, to place him self back into the position ol'a slave in

e. Exodus 5 and Genesis 11.1-9

The links that the Hebrew Bible creates betw een Exodus 5 and the tow er
o f Babel story are intriguing as well. Pharaoh’s building program is
view ed under the perspective o f all that is transient, fleeting, and w ithout
any stable and enduring substance. Brick m aking is the m ain w ork in
Egypt (‫ ל ב נ ה‬, vv. 7, 8, 14, 16, 18, 19; cf. 1.14) in order to build cities
(Exod 1.11), just as in the land o f Slrinar (Gen. 11.2) w hen tire people
began to build the city and the tow er o f Babel (Gen. 11.3.4, 5, 8). W hile
the tow er builders were eager to produce bricks o f high quality by
burning them thorough!‫(■ ؛‬v. 3), Pharaolr's bricks are m ade w ith straw,
which, yes, is to provide strength and cousisteirey. ‫ '؛‬but in the biblical text

44. Jacques B. Doukhan, ‘Loving the Sabbath as a €hrist‫؛‬an’. in Tanrara c. Eskenazi,

Daniel c. Harrington, Willianr H. Shea (eds.). The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian
Tradition (New york: Crossroad. t991), pp. 149-68 (16t).
45. Outside the Pentateuch the verb occurs in 1 Kgs 17.10, 12 and Zeph. 2.1.
46. See Frey, ‘The Sabbath in the Pentateuch’, pp. 118-31.
47. See Ninrs, ‘Bricks without straw?’; Propp.E.w،»« 1-18, p. 255.
F r ey Sabbath in Egypt?

has the m etaphorical connotation o f frailness and transitoriness (Job

21.18; 41.27-29; Jcr. 23.28); stubble is blown away by the w ind (Isa.
40.24; 41.2; Jer. 13.24) or burned down by fire (Isa. 47.14; Joel. 2.5‫؛‬
Obad. 18; Mai. 4.1).
A nother w ord that links the two texts is the verb ‫ פ ו ץ‬, 'scatter,
disperse’, telling o f the slaves who 'scattcrc،‫ ؛‬over all the land o f Egypt to
gather stubble for straw ' (Exod. 5.12). The result was incom plete work,
punishm ent, distress, and resentm ent (vv. 13-19). The tow er builders,
however, were eoneerned w ith bciug 'scattered over the surface o f the
whole land’ (Gen. 11.4) and began to build a city w ith its tow er in order
to stay together. But theu Yahweh confused the language 01'their world
and 'scattered them over the surl'aec 01'the whole land’ (vv. 8, 9), which
brought to a halt the entire building project.

8. Conclusion
The rel'creuec to Sabbatli rest in Exodus 5 is not intended to prove that
this was an established w eekly institution o f Israel in Egypt. Eor. when
tire liberated slaves gathered m anna for six days in the w ilderness and did
not find any on the seventh day, drey still had to becom e I'uniliarw itli the
Sabbatlr's rhytlunic and weekly recurrence (Exod. 16). On the otlrcrlraud.
scholars have noted that while the narrative ofE xodus 16 does not depict
the Sabbath as a new ordinance ،'or the liberated slaves in the wilderness,
its existence is assum ed.4‫؛؛‬
Sabbath rest in Exodus 5 I'orccs one to link the w eekly rhythm o f the
day w ith the essentialnreaning o f tire Sabbath. Sabbath rest in Exodus 5 is
about destabilizing the very foundation o f an autocratic system by m eans
o f subtle and unexpected language. Voiceless slaves caught in tire middle
o f im m ense suffering are builders o f cities destined for ruin. W hile over-
flowing the land to I'ctclr stubble blow n away by the wind, or scorched
rmder the burirurg Egyptian snu. tire old story o f Babel stirs ‫ا‬،‫ ﺗﺎ‬visions o f
a transient empire. The oppressor's w ord about Sabbath rest portrays him
as a defeated tyrant within his own pow erful and foll-l'uuctiouiug, regime.
This is the m om ent w hen Sabbath rest begins to disclose its trairsccirdcut
and perm anent quality: to m aster tim e is to be truly 1'1'CC.

48. Martin Buber. Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (New York: Harper,
1958), p. 80; Childs, The Book o f Exodus, p. 290.

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