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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 buying cooked food from those outside the Spiritual Nation of Israel as it exists today. 

 

I do not believe it is wrong to do such business with a non-member of our spiritual community on the Sabbath day. It can actually facilitate our compliance with the principle that no baking or boiling on a fire should be done on Sabbath. (Exodus 16:23: 35:3.)

 

In my article, I quote the Law given Moses that clearly says the Law 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 entry in the Temple by 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 application inconsistent with 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, only 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 allowed a CIRCUMCISED Gentile to enter the Temple Courtyard of the Gentiles. Ezekiel 44:9.) 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 excluding any of them from worshipping 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 to do. 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 -- the promised land. 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 sojourners living in Israel were doing -- bringing in commerce into Jerusalem. These sojourners 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. They were treading winepresses, and carrying loads in violation of Sabbath. Thus, Nehemiah's response to this -- which he never says he was told by God by inspiration was true -- was nevertheless legally correct to not reward a Sabbath violation by these sojourner-people from Judah in Israel:

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.)

 

Hence, the work activity to gather food was done within Israel but outside Jerusalem. These Gentiles were gleaning crops and hence obviously sojourning "within the gates" of Israel.

 

Buying Food Implicitly Was No Sabbath Violation Itself.

 

Incidentally, the people's joint agreement assumes that merely purchasing food on Shabbat is not "work" in violation of Sabbath. For had they thought so, then this joint agreement would be unnecessary, as it would be moot. It would never be material to prove the seller had desecrated Sabbath by food-gleaning on Shabbat, as these "people from Judah" had done. Hence, the people obviously understood that as long as food was prepared beforehand, if you handed it or sold it to a fellow-Israelite, there was no Sabbath violation.

 

The People Did Not Extend This Rule To Complete Outsiders.

 

It is worth noting that the people correctly did not extend this Sabbath rule they made up themselves to say one should not do commerce (purchasing activity) on the Sabbath with those outside the national community of Israel, such as the city-state of Tyre, for example. Such a conclusion would be beyond the commands in the Law itself.

 

Analogizing to Ourselves.

 

By analogy, we should not do work-business with each other on the Sabbath -- a follower-believer with another follower-believer. Yet, we can do a purchase of food with those who are not follower-believers as they are outside the kingdom of God, and there is no law against a purchase of food from a non-sojourner in the Law.

 

Moreover, even though Nehemiah's actions against buying food from sojourners living in Israel was legally correct as to these farming-people of Judah coming to Jerusalem does 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 only hopes God will be happy with these decisions: 

 

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 the people under Nehemiah's influence took. It makes sense to not reward someone for violating Sabbath whom are growing crops just oustide Jerusalem, and then try to bring them into Jerusalem on Shabbat. But no command in the Law says this expressly.

 

Then had these merchants not been from Judah, but let's say from Tyre, then a very different outcome would apply. The Law  given Moses did not apply the Sabbath to them at all. Buying from them right after they harvested on Sabbath some food would not allow a resident of Israel to arguably circumvent the Sabbath law. There would be no justification to make up a pact of the people of Jerusalem to not buy from Tyrinian merchants. 

 

 

Conclusion.

 

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 followers-believers of the community bound 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 make our joint-follower-believing servants work, but this does not prohibit us from doing commerce with those non-follower-believers outside the "gates" of our spiritual community. 

 

In sum, I think we are safe to buy some fruits or veggies from a merchant on Shabbat just like on any other day.

 

(1/21/2013)