Nehemiah 13:15-22 – Loads Brought into Jerusalem for Commerce on the Sabbath


“In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, ‘What is this evil thing you are doing, by profaning the sabbath day? Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.’ It came about that just as it grew dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and that they should not open them until after the sabbath. Then I stationed some of my servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the sabbath day. Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. Then I warned them and said to them, ‘Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will use force against you.’ From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness.”

The concluding chapter of the Book of Nehemiah records that there was a reneging on the commitments made to God by the returned Jewish exiles, for them to abstain from commerce on the Sabbath (10:31-34). Nehemiah, the Jewish governor, enacts some critical Sabbath reforms, which would not only have an influence until the time of Yeshua of Nazareth, but also on to post-Second Temple Judaism. Nehemiah wanted to decisively halt any violation of the Sabbath, not just so his fellow Jews would be obedient to their God and to His Law—but so that past Sabbath violation which merited the judgment and exile, would not be repeated. Hindy Najman observes in The Jewish Study Bible, “As is clear from the covenant in ch 10 and the discussion here, Sabbath observance is seen as inextricably linked to the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Israel. Violation of the Sabbath would result in the loss of Jerusalem and Judah again, as it did earlier, according to Jer. 17.1-24.” The actions of Nehemiah, in steering the people away from a course of disobedience, are astutely summarized by L. Allen and T. Laniak:

“With hindsight the governor thought of what had happened in the year 587 and the disastrous aftermath that dogged Judah thereafter. Like Ezra in Ezra 9:14 (also compare 10:14), he warned of a fresh outbreak of divine wrath. Again he took matters into his own hands. He closed the city gates near the market on Friday evening when the Sabbath began and took the extra precaution of temporarily manning them with his own staff. He warned traders who lingered hopefully outside, scaring them off. Then he put Levites in charge of the gates on the Sabbath, regarding the maintenance of its holiness as an extension of their religious duties.”

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reproduced from the Messianic Sabbath Helper

The instruction to remember the Sabbath is the Fourth of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8-10a). The seventh-day Sabbath or Shabbat is widely associated with God’s creation of the world (Genesis 2:2-3) and the Exodus of Ancient Israel from Egypt (Deuteronomy 15:15). The Sabbath is one of the Torah’s moedim or appointed times (Leviticus 23:3). Desecration of the Sabbath actually brought judgment to Ancient Israel (Jeremiah 17:19-27), but blessings are offered to those who value and honor Shabbat (Isaiah 56:1-8), with a universal observance for the entire world anticipated in the Messianic Age (Isaiah 66:23).

Today’s Messianic movement is different from evangelical Christianity, in that while it affirms the Messiahship of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, it continues to observe the seventh-day Sabbath along with Judaism, in fidelity to the Torah or Law of Moses, and in conjunction with the example of the First Century Believers. Certainly, holding services on the seventh-day (commonly called Saturday), can be viewed as appropriate for a faith community identifying with the Jewish Synagogue, but it also raises many questions. Inquiries abound pertaining to the ongoing validity of the Sabbath in the post-resurrection era. Was not the Sabbath transferred to Sunday, in honor of the Messiah’s being raised from the dead? Was the Sabbath actually abolished by the Messiah? Inquiries abound pertaining to the observance of the Sabbath. Should not the Sabbath be kept according to the Scriptures only? Should not mainstream Jewish tradition and custom play some role in honoring the Sabbath? What does it mean to not “work” on Shabbat?

The Messianic Sabbath Helper includes a wide breadth of material, addressing a wide array of topics associated with Shabbat. This publication has been divided up into two main parts: The Significance of Shabbat and A Theology of Shabbat. You will be able to detect a progression of sorts, in our family’s own approach to the subject matter, as some things are addressed first more generally and then more specifically. In our experience, we ourselves have certainly had to move from a more elementary view of the issue of the seventh-day Sabbath, to a more developed view, and we recognize how the Messianic community needs to do the same.

This is a massive collection of material, well needed for every Messianic home and congregational library!

676 pages