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Nehemiah 9:5-15 lists a brief chronology of God's people from creation to Moses, emphasizing all that God had done. (The verses following show the proud, disobedient reaction of the people.) While God Himself rested on the seventh day in Genesis 2:2-3, Nehemiah 9 doesn't mention the Sabbath as being "made known" until verse 14, which is connected with the time of Moses.

With this in mind, would the natural reading of Nehemiah 9:14 suggest that the Sabbath wasn't made known to mankind in the times of Genesis, as some have thought, but that it rather was made known during the time of Moses?

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There are several things that suggest that the Sabbath and all the other ten commandments were known well before the formal written recording provided through Moses:

  • The material in the appendix below shows that all the commandments, including the Sabbath, were well-known before Sinai. Further, the context of the same verse in Neh 9:14 applies to both the Sabbath commandment as well as all the other nine commandments.
  • The Sabbath commandment specifically begins with the verb "remember" זָכַר (zakar)
  • As documented below, the people were held responsible for keeping the Sabbath before Sinai in places such as Ex 16.

So what is the meaning of the Neh 9:14?

It is true that the Israelite covenant and the creation of the nation of Israel occurred at Sinai when the Israelite community and Jurisprudence was formally established, including the Levitical laws. That is, the Israelite nation did not exist until this point in time and the written formal recording of the law was the basis for them becoming, "[God's] treasured possession out of all the nations—for the whole earth is Mine. And unto Me you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5, 6).

Thus, Neh 9:14 states the obvious - Moses provided the following:

  • The first formal recording of the 10 commandments in written form
  • The legal framework for a nation, including jurisprudence and penalties, etc, for a new nation to hold and enforce the moral code
  • a form covenant between God and Israel (Ex 19-23) of which the law was an integral part.
  • Many cultic and ritual laws and statutes in addition to the 10 commandments. This included the Levitical laws, tabernacle and the Levitical covenant as well.
  • In any case, Moses very likely wrote the history we have in Gen 2:1-3 which is the origin of the Sabbath law at Sinai.

However, none of this alters the fact (as shown in the appendix below) that the moral law of the 10 commandments existed well before Moses and Sinai.

APPENDIX - Ten Commandments Before Sinai

The following (far from exhaustive) list shows that people knew of the ten commandments well before the formal giving at Mt Sinai. Indeed, we have the very general comment –

  • Gen 26:5, because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.

Commandment #1 – Worship only YHWH:

  • Gen 22:5, 24:26, 48, 52 all describe worship of the true God of heaven, YHWH.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #2 – Idolatry prohibited

  • Gen 31:32-35 – Jacob clearly understood that idolatry was forbidden.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #3 –Cursing and taking the name of the LORD in vain prohibited

  • Job 1:5 – When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

Commandment #4 – Sabbath worship

  • Gen 2:1-3 – Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. And by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on that day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on that day He rested from all the work of creation that He had accomplished.
  • Ex 5:5 - And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest [שָׁבַת shabath] from their burdens!”
  • Ex 16 also records the incident with manna and that collecting manna on the seventh-day Sabbath was forbidden

Commandment #5 – Respect for parents, elders and authority

  • Gen 28:6, 7 tells of the story of Jacob following his mother’s advice. Respect for parents is built into the very fabric of the patriarchal stories in Genesis.

Commandment #6 – Sanctity of Human life

  • Gen 4:8-12, 15 records Cain’s punishment for the sin of murder
  • Gen 4:23, 24 – Lamech realises that he has murdered someone and will suffer consequences
  • Gen 9:5, 6 records that murder was prohibited under the ancient Noahide covenant

Commandment #7 – Adultery prohibited

  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for almost tricking a pagan king into committing adultery
  • Gen 19 records the appalling events involving attempted pack-rape of the two angels
  • Gen 39:7-9 – Joseph calls Potiphar’s wife proposal “a great evil and sin against God”.
  • Gen 49:4 – Reuben is scalded for his sin of incest
  • Gen 34 – the story of Dinah records a heinous incident involving her defilement (plus murder and lying)

Commandment #8 – Stealing prohibited and respect for property

  • Gen 30:33 – Laban and Jacob discuss the problem of stealing of wages and property
  • Gen 31:32-35 – Laban is angry about the sin of stealing the household gods
  • Gen 44:9 – Joseph’s brother accused of stealing his divination cup.

Commandment #9 – Lying prohibited; insistence of honesty and integrity

  • Gen 4 – the story of Cain being punished, among other things for not being honest with Abel and God in his statements
  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for lying to a pagan king about their marital status
  • In the story of Jacob, he is pejoratively called Jacob = “deceiver”, Gen 27:36.
  • Gen 37:31-33 – Jacob rebuked for lying and deception

Commandment #10 – Coveting prohibited

  • Gen 3:6 – the woman is tricked by the serpent using the sin of covetousness
  • Job 31:9, 10 – Job says he is innocent of coveting his neighbor's wife. Other Laws

Even the probation against eating blood is listed among the requirements in the Noahide covenant, Gen 9:4, 5.

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  • If Moses wrote Genesis, you need to establish the people understood 2:1-3 before the Exodus. Also citing events from the Exodus to support a position the people knew of the Sabbath before Moses (which is the question asked) is weak at best. Exodus 5:5 speaks about rest, not the Sabbath; nor is there any indication Pharaoh is speaking of a regular 1-day in 7 rest. Exodus 16 is in fact the first recorded Sabbath instruction, but that occurs during the Exodus, at most 1 month before Sinai and is the basis for the command, remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy, and, obviously, Moses is present Dec 28, 2021 at 5:55
  • @RevelationLad - I accept that Moses wrote Genesis (or at least edited pre-existing materials). However, assuming that Moses was inspired to write accurate history, then Gen 2:1-3 is an accurate record of what went on: The seventh day was sanctified of which the Ex 16 is a reminder. In any case, as you correctly state, Moses wrote the record in Genesis.
    – Dottard
    Dec 28, 2021 at 6:08
  • "History" for man begins on the sixth day: what the reader of Genesis knows is the sixth day of creation, the first man knows as his first day, The seventh day would be his second day. It is reasonable to assume the man and woman rested, but unless they had been informed to work the next 6 days before taking a day of rest, they would have no idea they needed to follow a pattern which began before they came into existence, I'm certain the first Sabbath observed in Exodus 16 was on a seventh day counted from the days of creation, but that is solely a matter of faith, not one of history. Dec 28, 2021 at 6:17
  • @RevelationLad - interesting point of view that is not supported by Bible references. The Sabbath was to celebrate God's works, not man's works according to bother Genesis 2:1-3 and Ex 20:8-11.
    – Dottard
    Dec 28, 2021 at 6:29
  • The reason for the Sabbath is not in question. The issue is when and how it is to be observed. The first man and woman have two options: either they read the account in Genesis, or they received the command from God, and Moses did not include it in the written record of history. There is simply no way for them to know by "experience" as you suggest. They could experience God's rest on His seventh day, but the Bible is quite clear, that was not their seventh day. Dec 28, 2021 at 7:20
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Based on [Nehemiah 9:14], was Shabbat actually revealed to mankind through the hand of Moses?

"And Your-Holy Shabbat You made known to them, and Commandments and Statutes and Torah You commanded them, by the hand of Moshe Your-Servant." (וְאֶת־שַׁבַּ֥ת קָדְשְׁךָ֖ הוֹדַ֣עְתָּ לָהֶ֑ם וּמִצְו֚וֹת וְחֻקִּים֙ וְתוֹרָ֔ה צִוִּ֣יתָ לָהֶ֔ם בְּיַ֖ד מֹשֶׁ֥ה עַבְדֶּֽךָ)
  • No. | Moshe tells us in Exodus 31:18 that the Etsba of Elohim אֶצְבַּ֥ע אֱלֹהִֽים "Finger-[of]-God" inscribed the mitsvah of remembering Yom Ha-Shabbat to sanctify it [Exodus 20:8].

If the יַד מֹשֶׁה hand of Moshe was not the אֶצְבַּ֥ע אֱלֹהִֽים Finger of Elohim, then why would Nechemiah claim Shabbat was made known by Moshe?

  • Nechemiah נְחֶמְיָה was not living during the first Shavuot when mitsvot were first spoken to Yisrael at Horev. Thus the mitsvah of Shabbat was made known to Nechemiah's generation through the scroll of Shemot (originally written by Moshe).

Although the Sabbath day is documented only as a holy observance by Elohim [Genesis 2:3] but not observed by Adam, Noach, Avraham, we are told in [Deuteronomy 5:15] that Yom Ha-Shabbat was reminded to Yisrael who forgot its observance while slaves in Egypt :

"And you shall remember - that you were a slave in the land of Mitsrayim, and that YHVH your God took you out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm - thus YHVH your-God commanded you to observe Yom Ha-Shabbat." (וְזָֽכַרְתָּ֗ כִּ֣י עֶ֤בֶד הָיִ֨יתָ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיֹּצִ֨אֲךָ֜ יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֨יךָ֙ מִשָּׁ֔ם בְּיָ֥ד חֲזָקָ֖ה וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֑ה עַל־כֵּ֗ן צִוְּךָ֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לַֽעֲשׂ֖וֹת אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת)
  • As slaves in Mitsrayim, Israelites forgot what was holy to Elohim (like the observance of Shabbat given first to Adam).
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  • Just to clarify, my question isn't about the ultimate source of the information on the Sabbath; that obviously would be God Himself, not Moses. My focus is on the timing. Some say that the Sabbath is an eternal law that was practiced by Adam and Eve and should still be practiced now under the New Testament. However, while God is said to have blessed the seventh day in Genesis 2:2-3, my question is if it wasn't made known to man, for mankind to observe it, until the time of Moses. Does Nehemiah 9:14 suggest that the Sabbath wasn't made known for mankind to practice until the time of Moses?
    – The Editor
    Dec 10, 2021 at 19:19
  • If God blessed the Sabbath day after He made it, what would have been the point of doing so if God wasn't singling out the Sabbath for some important reason? Why didn't Moses simply write, "And God added the Sabbath to the list of everything else He had blessed"? Dec 10, 2021 at 21:25
  • @CoryHaffly Is it sinful to work on the seventh day (Saturday), then, even now under the New Testament?
    – The Editor
    Dec 10, 2021 at 22:36
  • I don't have that information. Dec 12, 2021 at 2:40
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Does Nehemiah 9:14 teach that the Sabbath was made known through Moses rather than from the beginning?

First, let us look at the original Hebrew to understand it a little better.

The Hebrew used at Nehemiah 9:14 is shabbath (Strong's H7676) which means "sabbath". Looking at the Englishman's Concordance shows that the usage of this word starts at Exodus 16:23 and goes forward through the Bible. This word comes from the Hebrew word shabath (Strong's H7673) meaning "to cease, desist, rest" and begins at Genesis 2:2.

What does this tell us? Yes, the Israelites were aware of a day of rest as is used in Genesis 2:2. But the Sabbath (H7676) is specifically the day of rest that was commanded by Jehovah God in the Law.

What is the difference? The Sabbath as written in the Mosaic Law had additional instruction. The topic "Sabbath Day" in the Insight on the Scriptures lists a subheading "Benefits and Importance of the Sabbath":

The desisting from all labor and observing other God-given Sabbath requirements not only gave rest to the body but, more important, provided opportunity for the individual to demonstrate his faith and obedience through Sabbath observance. It gave parents the opportunity to inculcate God’s laws and commandments in the minds and hearts of their children. (De 6:4-9) The Sabbath was customarily occupied with taking in knowledge of God and attending to spiritual needs, as is indicated by the reply of the Shunammite woman’s husband when she requested permission to go to see Elisha, the man of God: “Why are you going to him today? It is not a new moon nor a sabbath.” (2Ki 4:22, 23) And the Levites who were scattered throughout the land doubtless took advantage of the Sabbath to teach the Law to the people of Israel.​—De 33:8, 10; Le 10:11.

It was important for individual Israelites to remember to keep the Sabbath because violation was regarded as rebellion against Jehovah and was punished by death. (Ex 31:14, 15; Nu 15:32-36) The same principle applied to the nation. Their observing the entire sabbath system, days and years, in a wholehearted way was a vital factor to their continued existence as a nation on their God-given land. Their failure to honor the Sabbath laws contributed largely to their downfall and the desolation of the land of Judah for 70 years to make up for the Sabbaths violated.​—Le 26:31-35; 2Ch 36:20, 21.

So the Israelites did take rest (shabath) but more importantly was the Sabbath (sabbath) to take time out to reflect on all the things Jehovah God had done for the nation of Israel. Furthermore, if an Israelite failed to rest (shabath) nothing more than fatigue would befall him/her. But if the Israelites were not to observe the Sabbath (sabbath) then the individual was punishable by death.

We can see the difference in just taking a break and not acknowledging Jehovah God.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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