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Exodus 31 closes with Moses being told what to say to the people, verbatim. The use of first person pronoun to refer to the LORD is consistent throughout the section. I quote it all just to display this:

Exodus 31:13-17 (ESV emphasis by me)

13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

Yet, I notice that the final phrase says that "he"(third person) rested. In isolation, it would appear to reference "the LORD" who made heaven and earth, but just before that the speaker uses the first person pronoun "me and the people of Israel."

Is there internal evidence to point us to its referent?

  • Simple Hebrew grammar solution?
  • Are there textual variants at work here?
  • Is the last phrase understood as a Hebrew "quote"? (Is the LORD is quoting Genesis?)
  • Source Criticism's perspective?

I do note that even while in first person, the LORD refers to himself as "the LORD" in verses 13 and 15. So this would align with it's use in verse 17. However, this does not account for the third person pronoun, since in the case of v13, he reverts to first person again.

  • yes i believe its referring to God and his 6 days of toil and 7th day rest from the book of genesis. – Allan Banis Feb 3 '19 at 12:00
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+100

The "He" Refers to the LORD

Grammatically

Hebrew functions just like many other language in that pronouns, unless specified by some grammatical gender distinction that would point to a further back referent, typically refer to the nearest antecedent.

So the last personal reference was "the LORD" (which is a third person form of reference to Himself as well) and the "he" (which is not a stand alone pronoun, but rather the built in pronoun of the verbs for "rested" and "was refreshed," since Hebrew verbs carry such "built in" subjects in their conjugations) should, barring contextual reasons otherwise, refer back to that last stated antecedent of "the LORD." Additionally, both verbs are "3rd person singular," and a reference back to "children" (the next antecedent available) would have been a plural (since the word children is plural, both in the English and the Hebrew). So grammatically, there is no doubt.

Contextually

The LORD is telling Moses to speak on His behalf. By v.17, He has established a lot of the why, how, who, etc., relates to the Sabbath as a sign day, but at the end of the verse, He is expanding on the reasoning behind the choice of the 7th Day. The ESV translation has the translation "that" before the final part of v.17 (which is acceptable for the Hebrew כִּי [kî], yet not by far the only acceptable translation). But I prefer the KJV/NKJV/NASB/NIV "for" as the context is clear that God is saying the reason ("because ...") behind the 7th Day choice. This last part of the verse is a reference back to the creation week of Genesis 1:1-2:3. Because God "blessed and sanctified" the 7th Day then and "rested from all His work" (Gen 2:3; NKJV), He has just now made that day a sign between Him and the children of Israel—whom He is in process of sanctifying (Exo 31:13)—by His call for their rest (Exo 31:15) in parallel to His rest (Exo 31:17).

Don't Miss

The Hebrew noun Sabbath (שַׁבָּת) is built on the triliteral root for the verb "rest" (שׁבת) used in the passage in v.17 (which is also the same verb used in Gen 2:3).

The verb meaning "refreshed" (נפשׁ) is only found three places in Scripture (in this passage, and also Exo 23:12, 2 Sam 16:14), and has the more literal idea of "take breath." One may notice that the triliteral root of that word relates to the word commonly used in Scripture (נֶ֫פֶשׁ) that means "soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, appetite, emotion, and passion" or as #1 of the definition states "that which breaths, the breathing substance or being" (Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977], s.v. נפשׁ). So in context, to catch one's breath from the six days of labor.

But the latter word "refreshed" does not appear in the Genesis reference, so what does the LORD mean by Him being the subject of one "catching a breath" from labor? Well we do not have much to go on, but I think God is identifying with Israel in that He labored in creation week by speaking things into existence; so metaphorically anyway, after six days of speech, God decided to give Himself a rest from the "work" of breathing out any more words. That conclusion at least fits the context both here and in Genesis.

Conclusion

There is no reason to believe the "he" refers to anyone other that the LORD in this passage. Grammar and context both point to that conclusion without any serious challenge to question it otherwise.

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  • Thank you for the answer. In looking at the other places where שָׁבַ֖ת is used, it seems like the pronoun is only implied. Is "For in six days YHVH made the heavens and earth and on the seventh rested and was refreshed" equally valid? – Revelation Lad Feb 8 '19 at 23:12
  • @RevelationLad I don't think it is implied in the other places. Most translations of Exo 23:12 place a "thou/you" for the 2nd pers. built into the verb, and most have in 2 Sam 16:14 a "he" (since it is a 3rd sing.); NKJV contextually translates the 3rd person as a reference to the group (the king and the people) giving a "they," but the KJV leaves the king and people as subject of the verb and does not use a pronoun. But yes, you can legitimately translate it as you have. The inherent "person" pronoun in the verb can be optionally translated for clarity if it is too distant from the subject. – ScottS Feb 8 '19 at 23:29
  • Thanks. One more reason in support of your conclusion. – Revelation Lad Feb 9 '19 at 0:26
  • Thank you! Obviously the answer wasn't in serious doubt but wanted to work through to it. I've often wondered if anyone had used this pronoun back and forth to support a trinitarian perspective, much like other passages where it's odd ("my Lord said to my Lord", etc). – Joshua Feb 9 '19 at 4:22
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Pronoun confusion in Exodus 31:17? Who rested?

It is God that rested on the seventh Day, if a verse is not clear, we can search the scriptures for similar verses to clarify it for us,for example we read in:

Genesis 2:1-3. (NASB)

1 "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts."

2 "By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done."

3 "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created [a]and made."

Many centuries later, Paul inspired by the spirit of God, wrote to the Christians , urging them to keep faith so that the may enter into God's seventh day of rest, we read:

The Believer’s Rest.

Hebrews 4:1-7 (NASB)

1"Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word [a]they heard did not profit them, because [b]it was not united by faith in those who heard.

3 For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world."

4 "For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.”

6 "Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying [c]through David after so long a time just as has been said before."

Today we are still living in God's seventh day of rest, and Paul urges Christians to strive to enter it, we read:

Hebrews4:11 (NASB)

11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Notes: Suggest reading Hebrews chapter 4:1-13

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  • True but the presence of "refreshed" (rested and refreshed) is unique if it applies to the LORD. OTOH while it is not brought out in the question, refreshed in the context of the 7th day is applied to others, Exodus 23:12. – Revelation Lad Feb 5 '19 at 18:09
  • While I agree with your conclusion, this offers nothing about the hermetics of the passage involved, Ex 31:17. Could you base your answer more on that passage and its relationship to others? – user25930 Feb 6 '19 at 7:53
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I do not see a problem in Ex 31:17. YHWH (the LORD) is speaking personally and using personal pronouns. All the personal pronouns (I, me, etc) refer to YHWH.

However, when God quotes the fourth commandment, He quotes (slightly paraphrases) the text from Ex 20:11 which uses a third person pronoun. Therefore, if I were offering my orthography of Ex 31:16, 17, I would punctuate it as follows:

Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that, "in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed."

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  • I think you should clarify what you mean by "quoted verbatim." There are several differences including the word in question שָׁבַ֖ת not וַיָּ֖נַח as Exodus 20:11. – Revelation Lad Feb 5 '19 at 18:04
  • Thanks, quite right - and corrected accordingly – user25930 Feb 5 '19 at 21:30

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