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Sabbath Law: What About Engaging in Commerce with Neighbors Outside Spiritual Community?

I strenuously have defended that Gentiles who join the New / Renewed Covenant with Israel must obey Sabbath. (See Sabbath Command.) It is a right as much as an obligation. The word in Hebrew is SHABBAT. It literally means "REST DAY." God rested from His labors on this day, and that is an analogy for us to rest from our labors on that day. 

The question arises whether a member of the Spiritual Nation of Israel (a Jew who found Yahshua, their Messiah) or a Sojourner / Foreigner (Gentile) who wishes to be part of that Spiritual Nation today should view as wrong when doing commerce on Sabbath such as going to restaurants or buying gas from those outside the Spiritual Nation of Israel as it exists today. 

I do not believe it is wrong to do business with a non-member of our spiritual community on the Sabbath day. In my article, I quote the Law given Moses that clearly says it is applicable to Israel and to sojourners in the "midst" of Israel. (See Sabbath Command.)

12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, 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 livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. (Deut. 5:12-15 NIV.)

Clearly, the true Israel today are those who have agreed that their Davidic King, Yahshua, reigns over them. And the sojourner in their "midst" (within the "gates" of Israel) are those who have clung to the 'skirts of such Jews' to use a Biblical metaphor. 

However, the express scope of the Law given Moses, if extended in the circumstances we find ourselves, and applied logically, does not prohibit commerce outside the orbit of those who have subjected themselves to the true king of Israel today - Yahshua.

Someone asked me to consider whether Nehemiah 10 and 13 indicate otherwise. Let's take a careful look at these passages. These passages will reveal how an excessive zeal to comply is wrong -- by exceeding the bounds of the Law. These passages clearly show Israel committed a grave sin against God's Law towards foreigners / Gentiles by exceeding its bounds, as we shall see.

Nehemiah 10 & 13: Commerce Concern with Foreigners in Israel on Sabbath (Proper) Ends In Wrongful  Exclusion of Them Entirely From Israel

In light of past sins in the time of Nehemiah, the people made a promise among themselves that would guide their behavior moving forward. In Nehemiah 9:38 (NIV) we read:

38 “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement,putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.”[d

One of their promises was not to engage in commerce with neighbors on the Sabbath:

31 “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. (Nehemiah 10:31, NIV.)

This was the people's own self-guidance. They did not receive a command from Nehemiah to do this. Thus, this is not from the Law given Moses itself nor a prophet.

Were the people flawless in their own self-guidance, and thus to be respected? Nehemiah gives us a later example where the people exceeded what God commanded, and make a terrible spiritual blunder at odds with the Law given Moses. In Nehemiah, we read in chapter thirteen:

13 On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of Godbecause they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.)When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent. (NIV.)

So here we see the people excluded from Israel (and not just the uncircumcised or specific foreign tribes from the Temple) all of foreign descent when the Law only said to exclude the Ammonite or Moabite from the Temple, or those Gentiles who were uncircumcised. This is a terrible error by these people for both historical and spiritual reasons.

First, two tribes of the 12 are of foreign descent -- the tribes tied to Joseph's mother, an Egyptian. (The tribes of Ephraim & Mannaseh.) So the people erred by an excessive application of the Law. The people whom Nehemiah describes are in fact violating the Law by exceeding its principles.

Furthermore, circumcised foreigners / Gentiles were not excluded from the Temple under the Law or Prophets. Instead, an uncircumcised Gentile could not enter the Courtyard of the Gentiles (See "Second Temple")-- designated for circumcised Gentiles. (The Prophet Ezekiel explained this principle which clearly implied a CIRCUMCISED Gentile could indeed enter the Temple Courtyard of the Gentiles.) Hence, the people whom Nehemiah is describing were engaged in a clear violation of the Law given Moses by entirely excluding any Gentiles from Israel, let alone from coming to worship at the Temple.

As explained in "Temple Culture," we read:

Could people who weren't Jewish go to the Temple?

Most temples in antiquity encouraged the respect and patronage of as many people as possible. It's simply good business. And again, in this respect, the Temple in Jerusalem was no different. Gentiles had an area within which they could penetrate the sacred precincts of the Temple. They were certainly permitted to give offerings.... The Temple was organized in terms of degrees of sacred space, and the most sacred space was occupied only by the Priest. But the gentiles, who could bring offerings, would pass it over so that eventually the offering would be offered by the Priest on behalf of the gentile who was making the offering.

God taught Moses the error of excessively re-interpreting what God told him. When God told Moses to speak to the rock but Moses instead struck the rock, Moses was held accountable for not following precisely the command. ("Moses Striking the Rock.") The consequence was that Moses was excluded from entering Canaan. Moses apparently thought it was not a big deal to stray slightly from God's word. God taught Moses otherwise. 

So right here, we see these people whom Nehemiah is describing allowed zeal to blind them to the Law's actual language. They did not follow it strictly, but loosely expanded its scope in overzealous belief they were doing right. Moses did too, and look what happened to him!

Next, Nehemiah talks about what foreigners living in Israel were doing -- bringing in commerce into Jerusalem. These foreigners were part of the legal community of Israel --- they were "inside the gates" of the NATION of Israel. The Law did apply to them, as mentioned before. Thus, Nehemiah's response to this -- which he never says he was told by God by inspiration was true -- was nevertheless legally correct:

15 In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day.16 People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah.17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day?18 Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” (Neh. 13:15-18, NIV.)

But to extend this Sabbath rule to say one should not do commerce on the Sabbath with those outside the national community of Israel, such as the city-state of Tyre, for example, is beyond the commands in the Law itself. Clearly we should not do business with each other on the Sabbath -- a believer with another believer.

What about doing business with a believer's servants who are not believers? Can you ask a non-believing servant to work on Sabbath for you? Well, if you unthinkingly apply Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the answer would appear as yes. But if you put this back in the framework of the Kingdom of Israel versus today's Kingdom of  God, the command in Deuteronomy expressly does not apply. That passage explains the Gentile servant of yours is subject to the law as a "sojourner within your gates." This meant the servant was member of the kingdom of Israel to whom the Law applies. The Law did not extend to those sojourners who were not "within your gates." So if we refresh the application of those words in Deuteronomy to where the Kingdom of God's citizens are only believers today, then any sojourner / Gentile who works for you who is not a believer is not a member of the kingdom to whom Deuteronomy 5:12-15 applies -- by its express terms. Hence, you can employ non-believers on Sabbath because they are not citizens of the present Kingdom of God, just as much in Israel's day you could do commerce with foreigners who lived outside the Kingdom of Israel at the time that command was originally issued.

We must never stretch the law beyond what it expressly commands. 

Moreover, Nehemiah's actions even though I contend were legally correct do not establish any principle beyond the Law given Moses. Why? One must note that Nehemiah never says -- as is required to have a prophecy, that the Lord burdened him with this message. Quite to the contrary, after doing all this, Nehemiah says:

Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love. (Neh. 13:22 NIV)

Remember me with favor, my God. (Neh. 13:30 NIV)

Hence, in context, we have no idea whether God precisely blesses these steps that Nehemiah took. We need to review the Law given Moses. And there we see those who are "sojourners" in the midst of Israel -- of which Jerusalem was just one city, indeed had to obey Sabbath. Hence, Nehemiah interpreted this Law correctly as applicable to the merchants at the doors of the City of Jerusalem who sought to enter the gates to do commerce.

When today the Spiritual Nation of Israel and Gentiles under King Yahshua are a community without any national boundaries, the only way to apply the Sabbath command is to apply it to those who are believers / adherents of the community bond to Yahshua. We are in the same "Gates" of our Pastor Yahshua / Jesus. The Law on Sabbath does not extend beyond our community Gates to those who are not part of our spiritual community. Thus, on Sabbath, we cannot do business with one another, or do any commercial labor as we do the other six days, or make our believing servants or believing family work, but this does not prohibit us from doing commerce to those non-believers outside the "gates" of our spiritual community and with their non-believing servants and family.  

(1/21/2013)