And it happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. Luke 14:1 LSB
And it happened, probably just as Yeshua was finishing His journey through Herod’s southern dominion (the region of Peræa). This leader of the Pharisees was likely a member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court or Sanhedrin ha-Gadol “the Great Council” that consisted of 71 rabbis), and he had invited several other scholars of the Law and Pharisees to join in assessing the merits of this outsider who was teaching the people. Yeshua was invited to their Friday evening meal that welcomed in Shabbat. Such were often lavish and joyous affairs, the whole day having been spent on preparations before the Sabbath candles or lanterns were lit to herald its arrival as the day faded into evening.
Yeshua never refused an invitation, whether the inviter were a Pharisee or a publican, a friend or a foe. He never mistook the disposition of His host and always in His presence their hearts were exposed. On this occasion His host and their esteemed guests were watching Him closely to judge His response to each part of the situation before Him. The chill atmosphere of suspicion did not freeze the flow of His gentle beneficence and wise teaching. Yeshua’s meek goodness remained itself in the face of hostile observers. The miracle and the two parables are aimed straight at their errors.
To eat bread – in Jewish households, a meal is considered any repast in which bread is consumed, so Jewish meals begin with the blessing over bread and then the sharing of bread together. Bread and wine are the two food items that are always present at the Shabbat evening meal every Friday night, and prayers are said for both. In fact, on Shabbat evening it is traditional to have two challahs (loafs of bread) with the meal to symbolize the double portion of mana that the Jewish people received every Friday while wandering the desert.
And behold, in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the scholars of the Law and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. And He took hold of him, healed him, and sent him away. And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” And they could make no reply to this. Luke 14:2-6 LSB
The term “dropsy” is a shortening of “hydropsy” (Greek, “hudropikos,” “watery looking”). Better known as edema today, this is swelling due to excess fluid in the body, leading to unsightly, bloated limbs whose movements are limited and awkward. Dropsy could be a symptom of cancer or diseases of the kidney, liver, or heart, most often congestive heart failure. In the ancient world, untreated dropsy was, eventually, always fatal. It was considered ironic that one afflicted with dropsy was swollen because of excess water in the body but was at the same time thirsty for more water. Metaphorically, dropsy was used widely as a metaphor for greed and wealth, particularly in the writings of Greek philosophers.
Before they had done the ritual handwashing and taken their seats Yeshua was confronted with this man suffering from a fatal disease that carried connotations of guilt and shame. Yeshua answered the thoughts which He saw arising in the hearts of His host and their esteemed guests: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They refused to answer.
Displaying the kingdom of God, Yeshua “took hold of him, healed him, and sent him away.” The moment that Yeshua laid His hand on the man, his complexion returned, and his body was reduced to its ordinary size; becoming, at the same time, vigorous and fit for action so he could with ease go on his way. As He had done in the synagogue on a previous Shabbat (http://blog.renewal.asn.au/2023/09/26/repent-or-perish/), Yeshua reminded these religious leaders that the Sabbath itself is a reminder of the release from captivity that God effected. What is more fitting for such a day than to release people from the bondage of sickness and disease?
And He was telling a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they were picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not recline at the place of honor, lest someone more highly regarded than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in shame you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who recline at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:7-11 LSB
As each guest completed their hand washing ceremony they proceeded to the table, seeking the seats of highest honour. Jews are required to wash their hands and say a blessing before eating any meal that includes bread or matzah (the unleavened bread eaten at Passover). The ritual, known as netilat yadayim is unrelated to personal hygiene, and a person is still required to perform this ritual even if his or her hands are clean. It was customary to avoid speaking following the recitation of the netilat yadayim blessing until reciting the blessing for bread and partaking of some. Yeshua, who was waiting, watching and observing those who pushed ahead to wash their hands first so they could get the good seats at the table, used this period of enforced silence to teach His next lesson to these religious leader: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Then Jesus said to the man who had invited Him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Since they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14 BSB
Then, after He too had washed His hands, reclined at the table and the blessing on the bread had been said and partaken of, Yeshua speaks to His host. Those who would have been excluded from this man’s banquets are the very people Yeshua exhorts him to invite. Those who can do nothing to raise his social, political or financial standing are the ones he should be reaching out to, for such is the kingdom of God in action. Yeshua is challenging him to shift his focus from earthly rewards to heavenly rewards.
On hearing this, one of the people at the table with Yeshua said to Him, “How blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God!”
But He replied, “Once a man gave a banquet and invited many people. When the time came for the banquet, he sent his slave to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come! Everything is ready!’ But they responded with a chorus of excuses. The first said to him, ‘I’ve just bought a field, and I have to go out and see it. Please accept my apologies.’ Another said, ‘I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to test them out. Please accept my apologies.’ Still another said, ‘I have just gotten married, so I can’t come.’ The slave came and reported these things to his master. “Then the owner of the house, in a rage, told his slave, ‘Quick, go out into the streets and alleys of the city; and bring in the poor, the disfigured, the blind and the crippled!’ The slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ The master said to the slave, ‘Go out to the country roads and boundary walls, and insistently persuade people to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet!’” Luke 14:15-24 CJB
The guest presumed that one would have to work hard at diligently obeying all the commandments to try to earn his way into this banquet and Yeshua paints a totally different picture. Those who were invited had all sorts of worldly excuses for not attending, they thought they wanted such an honour but in reality they were too tied to the things of this world. So, it was all those who were thought not to qualify who were sort out, brought in and insistently persuaded to attend. What the Jews had presumed had to be earnt would be received through simple acceptance of the invitation.
HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
Holy Bible.New International Version. s.l. : Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
—. New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2020.
The Lockman Foundation. The Legacy Standard Bible. [Online] https://lsbible.org/.
Bible Commentaries. Luke 14:1. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: October 1st, 2023.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/14-1.htm.
Hartsock, Chad. The Healing of the Man with Dropsy (Luke 14:1-6) and the Lukan Landscape. BRILL. [Online] January 1st, 2013. https://brill.com/view/journals/bi/21/3/article-p341_4.xml#:~:text=Rather%2C%20the%20dropsy%20is%20itself,notice%20of%20the%20dropsy%20metaphor..
Smith, Ralph Allan. Everybody has Dropsy – Luke 14:1-24. Theopolis. [Online] July 2nd, 2019. https://theopolisinstitute.com/everybody-has-dropsy-luke-141-24/.
Estes, J. Worth. VIII.39 – Dropsy from Part VIII – Major Human Diseases Past and Present. The Cambridge World History of Disease. [Online] March 28th, 2008. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/abs/cambridge-world-history-of-human-disease/dropsy/C58BF7044399EE1E911299B54E39E484.
MY JEWISH LEARNING. Ritual Hand Washing Before Meals – The Netilat Yadayim practice and blessing. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: October 2nd, 2023.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hand-washing/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* What do you think brought the man with “dropsy” to this Shabbat meal? Was he seeking healing? Was he a plant by the pharisees to bring occasion to accuse Jesus? What in the text has led you to this conclusion? * Did you notice any shift in attitudes towards Jesus during the course of this meal? Explain. * What must we do to qualify to “eat bread in the kingdom of God”?
Now at that same time there were some present who were reporting to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered these things? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you think that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse offenders than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5 LSB
Yeshua countered the popular narrative concerning these terrible events – they were not God’s punishment on the individuals involved for their personal sins, but they were a warning to all that apart from repentance we will perish.
And He was telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in manure, and if it bears fruit next year, fine, but if not, cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9 LSB
Repentance bears fruit. John the baptizer had warned them before: “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10 NIV). During this the third year of His ministry, Yeshua now bemoans: Behold, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree without finding any. God’s goodness is to lead men to repentance, the nation of Israel were experiencing His goodness in all Christ was doing and teaching, yet there had been no national repentance.
Shabbat Teaching in a Synagogue
The next time we read of Yeshua, He’s no longer with the innumerable multitude but in a synagogue on shabbat, teaching the people.
And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had a sickness caused by a spirit, and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. But when Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.
But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, answered and was saying to the crowd, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath release his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead it away to water it? And this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for—behold—eighteen years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” And as He said this, all His opponents were being put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him. Luke 13:10-17 LSB
Once again the gentle love and purity of Yeshua’s actions generates conflict instead of peace in the community. His enacting of the kingdom rule of God is in stark parallel with the opposition that the coming of the kingdom provokes. Satan, the accuser, had bound this humble woman for eighteen cruel years but lost his hold immediately Yeshua spoke to her. She was set free and began glorifying God. But the proud synagogue official allied with the accuser in seeking to denigrate her for being healed on Shabbat. Yeshua replaced the woman’s shame with honour by referring to her as “a daughter of Abraham” and is so doing placed the shame where it belonged – on the accuser.
The synagogue official’s offence lay in his interpretation of Deuteronomy 5: 12-14: Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work. Yeshua’s interpretative strategy involved reading on, and more fully, to expound the theological principle of Sabbath observance rather than offering a mere surface reading. His response simply continues reading Deuteronomy 5 into its immediate context (Vs 14-15): On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
Sabbath means rest and liberation, not only for God’s people but also for the ‘ox and the donkey’ that Yeshua mentions. He again employs the first of Hillel’s rabbinic rules of exegesis – qal wahomer, “light to heavy.” Essentially this rule posits that what applies in a less important case (the “light”) will also apply in a more important case (the “heavy”), often using the phrase “how much more” to draw a conclusion. Here Yeshua argues, if you are prepared to offer Sabbath rest to your animals, surely you cannot withhold this from a precious daughter of Abraham? The Sabbath itself is a reminder of the release from captivity that God effected – if they thus release their animals to water them on Shabbat how much more should this child of Abraham be released from the bondage of disease on Shabbat! Setting people free is not only not a breach of Shabbat but provides a perfect illustration of the meaning and purpose of Shabbat.
It is worth noting that the cause of this woman’s ailment is attributed to a spirit, and Yeshua’s healing released her whom ‘Satan has kept bound’, but it is not described as demonic, nor does her … there is no sense in which this is described as exorcism from demon possession; the language of ‘demon’ or ‘unclean spirit’, and the actions of ‘possession’ and ‘expelling’, found in other gospel accounts of exorcism, and are all absent here. Rather, the physical and the spiritual are seen as inextricably interlinked; it is striking that when she is physically able to stand and look up, this woman immediately breaks into praise to God (surely the purpose of Shabbat). The cause of physical ailments is cosmological disorder and healing is an act of liberation from satanic bondage, it involves direct engagement in cosmic conflict, in the kingdom of God expanding and being manifest on the earth, overthrowing the rule of darkness.
Therefore, He was saying, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three sata of flour until it was all leavened.” Luke 13:18-21 LSB
Having displayed the kingdom of God in healing the woman, Yeshua reiterated (Matthew 13 and Mark 4) two parables teaching on this kingdom. They are two parables by which Christ foretells the great success of the gospel, despite the present small appearance of the efficacy of it, like the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands in Daniel 2, that grew to fill the whole earth.
Proceeding on His way to Jerusalem
And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. Luke 13:22 LSB
The point here is that Yeshua was teaching everywhere He could as He proceeded in determination toward His crucifixion in Jerusalem. Everything is leading towards that fateful day when He paid the price for our sins.
And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ And He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you workers of unrighteousness.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:23-30 LSB
We are to consider the question of salvation with reference to ourselves, not with reference to others. It is not “do they qualify to be saved”, but “do I qualify to be saved?” Have we entered through the narrow door or are we relying on knowing about Jesus or seeing His works, or our religious heritage to earn a place in the kingdom of God?
Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Leave and go from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish.’ Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day, for it is not possible that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you did not want it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate, and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Luke 13:31-35 LSB
There is some evidence that Yeshua was during this time ministering in the towns and cities of the Peræan area “beyond the Jordan”, and thus His journeys may have brought Him near Machærus, where John the baptizer had been imprisoned and murdered, and in which was one of Herod’s most stately palaces. Thence the Pharisees may have come with a threat, in which we may possibly trace the hand of Herodias, and which, at least, reminds us of the message sent by Jezebel to Elijah (1Kings 19:2). Yeshua was not perturbed, this threat aroused no fear in Him, He knew the Father’s will and sovereignty, neither Herod nor anyone else could take Him before it was His time to lay His life down for us all and that would not happen here, for Jerusalem was the appointed place and Passover the appointed time. He would not enter Jerusalem again until the triumphal entry when the people cried out: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/. 2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998. 3. Holy Bible.New International Version. s.l. : Zondervan Publishing House, 1984. 4. —. New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2020. 5. The Lockman Foundation. The Legacy Standard Bible. [Online] https://lsbible.org/. 6. Bible Commentaries. Luke 12:5. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: December 27th, 2022.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/12-5.htm. 7. Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary. Luke 12:1. Study Light. [Online] [Cited: December 28th, 2022.] https://www.studylight.org/commentary/luke/12-1.html. 8. Paul, Ian. The many layers of the story of the women bent double in Luke 13. Psephizo. scholarship. serving. ministry. [Online] August 21st, 2019. https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/the-many-layers-of-the-story-of-the-women-bent-double-in-luke-13/. 9. Burer, Michael H. Qal wahomer: light to heavy. Exegesis for Christ, the Gospel, and the Church. [Online] July 11th, 2012. https://michaelhburer.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/qal-wahomer-light-to-heavy/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* What are the warnings Jesus gave us in this chapter? * What do we learn from the woman’s healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath? * What do we learn about the kingdom of God from this chapter in Luke’s gospel?
As Yeshua passed along, He saw a man blind from birth. His talmidim asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned — this man or his parents — to cause him to be born blind?” Yeshua answered, “His blindness is due neither to his sin nor to that of his parents; it happened so that God’s power might be seen at work in him. As long as it is day, we must keep doing the work of the One who sent me; the night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:1-5 CJB
It was Shabbat. Yeshua had left from teaching in the temple grounds, narrowly escaping the attempt to stone Him, and was walking through the city of Jerusalem with His talmidim when He saw a man who had been blind from birth. Yeshua was not dwelling on the emotion of His rejection in the temple just minutes before this, His sole focus was on the Father’s will, and God’s will in this moment centred on a man who had been born blind. The blind man could not see Yeshua and did not cry out to Him, but Yeshua saw this man and stopped for him. Messiah always sees us before we see Him.
When Yeshua looked at the blind man He saw what God wanted to do for him.
When His talmidim (disciples) looked at the blind man they saw a theological dilemma: “who sinned – this man or his parents – to cause him to be born blind?” They were convinced that either one or the other had to be the case. Like Job’s comforters, they were possessed by the popular idea that special misfortunes were the punishment of special sins. Their compassion was stunted by the belief that either this man, or his parents, deserved the punishment of his being born blind. Their theological debate centred on whether so terrible a sin could be committed by a baby in the womb or just be the punishment for the parent’s sin placed on their unborn child. Like we so often are, they were wrong on both counts, totally missing God’s heart in the situation.
Yeshua corrected them:“His blindness is due neither to his sin nor to that of his parents; it happened so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.“ How often do we focus on what we think someone deserves instead of focusing on how God’s power might be seen at work?
“As long as it is day,” Yeshua continued, “we must keep doing the work of the One who sent me.” No matter what has just happened to us; no matter what others may be plotting to do to us; no matter what our situation or circumstance; our mandate remains the same – keep doing the work of God. Even if they threaten to stone you look away from the threat and towards our Father’s will. We MUST, it is not an optional extra, we MUST keep doing the work of God while we are able to do so.
For: “the night is coming, when no one can work.” Things were going to get worse, much worse, but that was no reason to dwell in gloom and doom. The prospect of night coming when things get so dark that it is impossible to work was simply more reason to keep focused on the Father and doing His work while they were able to.
Then Yeshuareminded them of what He’d been teaching in the temple: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” While ever He had breath Yeshua would shine the light of God into this dark world, doing the Father’s work and displaying God’s power in doing good and overcoming all the works of the evil one.
This time there was no noisy crowd accompanying Yeshua and shouting His praises, no excited chatter about His miracles, no one drawing attention to Him, He had slipped away from the crowds in the temple. There was nothing to alert the blind man to Who had seen him or what He could do for him. So he had not been calling out to Yeshua, had not been asking for his sight. But this blind man was at this place in this time by God’s purpose, even if he did not yet know it – his whole life, a life of being falsely judged and cruelly rejected because of his disability, had been for the sake of this moment. His congenital blindness was not a punishment but an opportunity for all in Jerusalem to see the glory of God displayed and believe Messiah at this crucial point in His ministry to them.
Having said this, He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, put the mud on the man’s eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash off in the Pool of Shiloach (Siloam)!” (The name means “sent.”) So he went and washed and came away seeing. John 9:6-7 CJB
Yeshua spat on the ground, the dust from which He had made man, and mixed the two together to form a holy mud to place upon these eyes which had never seen. Yeshua then sent this man to the very pool that had been the centre of a week of great rejoicing with the drawing of water for the festival. The water from this pool had been poured out with the offerings in the temple to the jubilation of all the people and now this source of joy was to be used for healing a man born blind.
The man knew this pool well, and could pick his way through the streets to get there on his own. This journey took him away from Yeshua, who continued along another path in staying hidden from the crowds. There, alone at the pool of Siloam, the man born blind washed the mud off his eyes and for the very first time in his life, they opened and he could see. Suddenly his life had been transformed and his excitement started attracting attention.
His neighbors and those who previously had seen him begging said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “Yes, he’s the one”; while others said, “No, but he looks like him.” However, he himself said, “I’m the one.” “How were your eyes opened?” they asked him. He answered, “The man called Yeshua made mud, put it on my eyes, and told me, ‘Go to Shiloach (Siloam) and wash!’ So I went; and as soon as I had washed, I could see.” They said to him, “Where is He?” and he replied, “I don’t know.” John 9:8-12 CJB
Notice who the people were who saw that the man born blind could now see – neighbours and those who had previously seen him begging. No mention of friends. No one in this crowd really knew him, no one had helped him to the well – they even debated whether he was that blind man they’d seen begging or someone else. This was a man who had largely lived alone in society, begging for his needs, but rarely had anyone paid him much attention. None had bothered to get to know the blind beggar. Suddenly he was the centre of attention because of what Yeshua had done for him.
They took the man who had been blind to the P’rushim. Now the day on which Yeshua had made the mud and opened his eyes was Shabbat. So the P’rushim asked him again how he had become able to see; and he told them, “He put mud on my eyes, then I washed, and now I can see.” At this, some of the P’rushim said, “This man is not from God, because he doesn’t keep Shabbat.” But others said, “How could a man who is a sinner do miracles like these?” And there was a split among them. So once more they spoke to the blind man: “Since you’re the one whose eyes he opened, what do you say about him?” He replied: “He is a prophet.” John 9:13-17 CJB
Over and over again Yeshua demonstrated that the Jewish religious leaders had misunderstood His Shabbat commandment as He perfectly kept God’s law with God’s intent. Never had God designed Shabbat to limit compassion or healing. Whenever Yeshua came across someone who needed healing He healed them, whether it was Shabbat or not. So it was with this man born blind – God’s purpose was that His power would be seen at work in this man, Yeshua acted in accord with the Father’s purpose and did a creative miracle in healing this man on Shabbat.
WHAT THE TORAH COMMANDS CONCERNING KEEPING SHABBAT The first reference to the day of rest in scripture is Genesis 2:2-3 “On the seventh day God was finished with his work which he had made, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day God rested from all his work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.” CJB
The next reference is in Exodus 16 when God taught them practically through providing bread from heaven, Manna – twice as much on the sixth day and none on the seventh: “And the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.” Vs 28-30 NKJV This rest was to take precedence even over the necessary work of providing for their family, as an expression of trust in God’s provision.
Then in Exodus 20 God gave the 10 Commandments and the 4th Commandment is: “Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why Adonai blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for Himself.” Vs 8-11 CJB
For the next several chapters God gives Moses the laws that are to govern the nation of Israel and in Exodus 23:12 declares: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.” NKJV All who dwelt with them were to be blessed with Shabbat, even the lowliest of slaves, even their work animals. This was so different to the cultures around them where workers and servants were expected to work every day, seven days a week. Here we see how, as Yeshua said in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was created for the sake of man and not man for the sake of the Sabbath.” ABPE
Then, in Exodus 24, the people of Israel affirmed that they would do all that God had said and Moses was called up to God on Mt Zion for 40 days and nights – for the next 7 chapters God teaches Moses how the people were to build the Tabernacle, dress the priests, and worship Him. At the end of this teaching God says: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ Exodus 31:13-17 NKJV
After the sin of the golden calf, in Exodus, when Moses went back up the mountain God gave him instructions for when they would enter the Promised Land and declared: “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest.” Exodus 34:21 NKJV Even in the midst of the urgency of ploughing or bringing in the harvest they are to set aside the seventh day for rest and cease from this necessary work of providing for their family and community to set aside the day to God.
When Moses came down from the mountain, before giving the instructions for building the tabernacle he first taught the people: “These are the words which the Lord has commanded you to do: Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” Exodus 35:1-3 NKJV It was not just outside work like ploughing and harvesting that was prohibited on Shabbat, but also the inside work of forging metals for their religious duty of making the tabernacle. Resting relationship with God was more important than the work of making the physical place for sacrifices and worship.
In Leviticus 19:3, 19:30, 23:3 and 26:2 God reiterates the command to keep Shabbat. Then Numbers 15:32-36 provides a solemn warning and example of profaning Shabbat: “While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” What a solemn warning of the seriousness of breaking this command! There was only one reason for gathering sticks – in order to kindle a fire.
Numbers 28:9-10 provides instructions for special offerings to be made each Shabbat.
Deuteronomy affirms the Shabbat command and links it to God’s deliverance of them from the slavery in Egypt: “‘Observe the day of Shabbat, to set it apart as holy, as Adonai your God ordered you to do. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your ox, your donkey or any of your other livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property — so that your male and female servants can rest just as you do. You are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Adonai your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. ThereforeAdonai your God has ordered you to keep the day of Shabbat.” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Shabbat was a reminder of God’s deliverance and a command to show His love to all, enabling all to enter into His rest.
In SUMMARY, the Torah teaches that Shabbat (the 7th day): 1) is blessed and separated from the other days as holy; 2) precluded collecting Manna, God provided twice as much on the 6th day so they would have no need to go out and collect it on Shabbat; 3) was to be a day of rest; 4) to be set apart for God; 5) all were to be given rest from any kind of work, including foreigners, slaves and animals; 6) to enable everyone to be refreshed; 7) any who worked on Shabbat were to be put to death; 8) even at the busiest times of the year, ploughing time and harvest, all were to stop and rest every 7th day; 9) forbidden to kindle a fire in their dwellings (burn in order to purge and utterly remove waste) to do the metalwork required in building the tabernacle – even this service to God is to be rested from on Shabbat; 10) a man who profaned Shabbat by going out and gathering sticks was to be stoned outside the camp; 11) special offerings were to be made in the tabernacle / temple each Shabbat; 12) give Shabbat rest to all, including servants, in remembrance of God’s deliverance from their slavery in Egypt.
In their development of Shabbat laws the Sanhedrin focused on God’s rest from creating on the seventh day and thus concluded that man is likewise to refrain from any constructive, creative effort that demonstrates man’s mastery over nature. To determine what constituted human acts of creation they looked to the juxtaposition of the endeavour to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) with the commandment to observe Shabbat in Exodus 24-35, and from that deduced that the melachot (work forbidden on Shabbat) was any type of labor involved in construction of the Mishkan.
With typical Jewish regard for the importance of specific numbers their Oral Torah, as later written in the Mishnah, stated: “The primary categories of prohibited labors are forty minus one:” (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2). Forty days it rained to flood the whole earth; forty days Moses was up on the mountain neither eating or drinking as he received the Ten Commandments and instructions for worship; forty days the spies explored the Promised Land; forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness after their disobedience; forty days Elijah walked to Horeb the mount of God after Jezebel’s threats against him, and the inhabitants of Nineveh were given forty days notice of God’s impending judgment.
Thus, the Jewish Rabbis designated forty minus one, ie 39, categories of activities forbidden on Shabbat, and each of these represented many different activities which they deemed unlawful on Shabbat.
THE39 PROHIBITED MELACHOT The first 11 melachotencompass all the steps that go into producing bread, from plowing the soil to baking the dough: (1) sowing, (2) plowing, (3) harvesting, (4) binding sheaves, (5) threshing, (6) winnowing, (7) selecting, (8) tochen (grinding), (9) sifting, (10) kneading, (11) baking. The next 13 melachot encompass all the steps that go into making material curtains: (12) shearing wool, (13) bleaching it, (14) hackling it, (15) dyeing it, (16) spinning, (17) stretching the threads, (18) making two meshes, (19) weaving two threads, (20) dividing two threads, (21) tying, (22) untying, (23) sewing two stitches, (24) tearing in order to sew two stitches. The following 7melachotencompass all the steps that go into making leather curtains: (25) hunting a deer / animal, (26) slaughtering it, (27) flaying it, (28) salting it, (29) curing its hide, (30) scraping it, (31) slicing it. The next 2 melachot were connected to the Krushim (beams of the Mishkan) which were inscribed with letters to facilitate matching them each time the Misgkan was erected: (32) writing two letters, (33) erasing in order to write two letters. The following 2 melachot were connected with putting up and taking down of the Mishkan: (34) building, (35) pulling down. The last 4 melachotwere related to the final touches of the Mishkan: (36) extinguishing, (37) kindling, (38) striking with a hammer and (39) taking out from one domain to another. Each one of these 39 categories of work is considered to have many “children”, related activities that are thus also forbidden – providing a very long list indeed of activities one must avoid doing on Shabbat.
Other parts of the Oral Torah developed by the Rabbis had additional activities forbidden on Shabbat: Mishnah Shabbat 12:2 prohibits plucking, trimming, and cutting; and Mekhilta d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, prohibits other activities “unbecoming the tone of Shabbat“, such as: buying, selling, loaning, placing an article in deposit, legal judgments, legal claims, appeals, other court activities, marriage, divorce, and accounting.
SHABBAT ACCUSATIONS AGAINST YESHUA THIS TIME The Sanhedrin reasoned that each of the above 39 categories of forbidden acts is a “father” that has many “offspring” that are also forbidden due to their intrinsic similarity to the parent act. An example of this is the rabbinic decree that refu’ah (an act of healing) is forbidden on Shabbat because it might violate the prohibition of the 8th category, tochen, by grinding herbs to produce medicine. Thus, they judged Yeshua guilty of breaking Shabbat for healing the man born blind. They also wanted to know how Yeshua provided the healing to determine if that was another violation of their Shabbat laws. Thus also judging Him guilty of breaking Shabbat for “toladot” – mixing sand or earth with liquid, as He did in making the mud that He placed on the blind man’s eyes – which they had forbidden as an “offspring” act to their 10th melachot of “kneeding”.
Straight after receiving his miracle the man born blind faced a character test – would he have the strength to stand on the truth under questioning and pressure from the Jewish leaders who refused to believe in Yeshua?
The Judeans, however, were unwilling to believe that he had formerly been blind, but now could see, until they had summoned the man’s parents. They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind; but how it is that he can see now, we don’t know; nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him — he’s old enough, he can speak for himself!” The parents said this because they were afraid of the Judeans, for the Judeans had already agreed that anyone who acknowledged Yeshua as the Messiah would be banned from the synagogue. This is why his parents said, “He’s old enough, ask him.” John 9:18-23 CJB
To be banned from the synagogue was to be shunned and ostracised from their whole community, with the religious assumption that this represented total rejection by God. The man’s parents were still trying to earn their place in society after suffering the shame of having a son born blind. They were honest, would not lie, but they had not encountered Yeshua and did not have the courage to stand up for their son and risk rejection from their community, expulsion from the synagogue. So they refused to answer how their son had been miraculously healed and instead let him stand alone on this.
So a second time they called the man who had been blind; and they said to him, “Swear to God that you will tell the truth! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he’s a sinner or not I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, now I see.” So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” “I already told you,” he answered, “and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you too want to become his talmidim?” Then they railed at him. “You may be his talmid,” they said, “but we are talmidim of Moshe! We know that God has spoken to Moshe, but as for this fellow — we don’t know where he’s from!” “What a strange thing,” the man answered, “that you don’t know where he’s from — considering that he opened my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners; but if anyone fears God and does His will, God does listen to him. In all history no one has ever heard of someone’s opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He couldn’t do a thing!” “Why, you mamzer (born in sin)!”they retorted, “Are you lecturing us?” And they threw him out. John 9:24-34 CJB
These religious leaders made a pretence of wanting to know the truth while hating every word of truth that was spoken. The hypocrisy of it was glaring. The man born blind could see it clearly and became more and more emboldened in his replies to these deliberately blind guides. In the end they admitted that they knew he had indeed been born blind as they hurled their derogatory accusation against him referring to the belief that his blindness had come from pre-natal sin: “mamzer!”
They were not willing to believe the truth so they threw this man out whose very presence shouted the truth that Yeshua is the Son of God. Those who reject the truth will reject any who speak truth and want nothing to do with them. Those who love truth will welcome any who speak truth and want to hear all they have to say.
1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/. 2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998. 3. Chabad.org. The Shabbat Laws. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: March 12th, 2022.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/95907/jewish/The-Shabbat-Laws.htm. 4. OU Staff. The 39 Categories of Sabbath Work Prohibited By Law. Orthodux Union. [Online] July 17th, 2006. https://www.ou.org/holidays/the_thirty_nine_categories_of_sabbath_work_prohibited_by_law/#23. 5. Jewish Virtual Library. Shabbat: What is Shabbat? Jewish ?Virtual Library. [Online] AICE. [Cited: March 12th, 2022.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/what-is-shabbat-jewish-sabbath. 6. Posner, Rabbi Menachem. What is Shabbat? Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: March 12th, 2022.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/633659/jewish/What-Is-Shabbat.htm#Things. 7. Student, Gil. Medicine on Shabbos. Torah Musings. [Online] February 14th, 2013. https://www.torahmusings.com/2013/02/medicine-on-shabbos/. 8. Neustadt, Rabbi Doniel. Medicine on Shabbat. Halachipedia – Halacha On The Web. [Online] [Cited: March 12th, 2022.] https://halachipedia.com/index.php?title=Medicine_on_Shabbat. 9. Pfeffer, Rabbi Yehoshua. Medicine and Health-Related Activities on Shabbos. [Online] January 14th, 2015. https://dinonline.org/2015/01/14/medicine-and-health-related-activities-on-shabbos/. 10. Ellicott et all. John 9:35 Commentaries. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: March 12th, 2022.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/9-35.htm. 11. Chabad.org. The 39 Melachot. Chabad.0rg. [Online] [Cited: March 19th, 2022.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/102032/jewish/The-39-Melachot.htm. 12. Wineberg, Mendy. Introduction to the 39 Melachot. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: March 19th, 2022.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4739282/jewish/Introduction-to-the-39-Melachot.htm. 13. Chabad Editors. Melacha – A Unique Definition of Work. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: March 19th, 2022.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/95906/jewish/Melacha-A-Unique-Definition-of-Work.htm. 14. Aknlah Editors. 39 Melachot – 39 things prohibited on Shabbat. Akhlah: The Jewish Children’s Learning Network. [Online] [Cited: March 19th, 2022.] https://www.akhlah.com/jewish-holidays/shabbat/39-melachot/. 15. Hauptman, Prof. Rabbi Judith. 39 Melachot of Shabbat: What Is the Function of This List? The Torah. [Online] [Cited: March 19th, 2022.] https://www.thetorah.com/article/39-melachot-of-shabbat-what-is-the-function-of-this-list. 16. Drazin, Dr. Israel. Why Are 39 Labors Prohibited on the Sabbath? Books and Thoughts. [Online] January 4th, 2015. https://booksnthoughts.com/why-are-39-labors-prohibited-on-the-sabbath/. 17. Torahtots Editors. THE 39 MELACHOT – Lamed-Tet Melachot. Torah Tots. [Online] [Cited: March 26th, 2022.] https://www.torahtots.com/torah/39melachot.htm.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
Jesus healed all who came to Him, but this time the blind man had not come to Him nor called out to Him. Share an experience when God put on your heart to go to someone who had not been seeking God, and pray for them.
The disciples had missed God’s heart in the situation and instead were concerned with who was right about the reason for this man’s blindness. Share an example of where Christians have been more concerned about which one of them was right than what God wanted to do in the situation.
How can we keep from missing what God wants to do?
The Sanhedrin had turned God’s command to rest on Shabbat into a multitude of man-made rules. What man-made rules have you come across in churches in your region?
Church discipline is needful but must be motivated by love for the body of Christ and based on God’s word not man-made rules. Do you have any examples of God directed church discipline and what fruit it brought?
After their two days staying with, and teaching the Samaritans, Yeshua and his talmidim then continued on to Galilee.
Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee. John 4:43 NKJV
So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they also had gone to the feast. John 4:45 NKJV
Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. Luke 4:14-15 NKJV
The word “synagogue” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew ‘Beit Knesset’, meaning ‘House of Assembly‘. Other Hebrew terms, less frequently used, describe the synagogue as a ‘House of Study‘, or a ‘House of Prayer‘. Whereas the structure and function of the priesthood and tabernacle (later replaced by the temple) were commanded by God through Moses, synagogues grew organically out of the Jew’s desire to maintain their identity as a community of God regardless of who ruled over them. Since the synagogue belonged to the local community that built and maintained it; there never was a higher authority that determined its policy, namely how it should be built, decorated, administered, or what sort of liturgy was to be used in it. Thus, the diversity among synagogues so evident in the first century (1). It was, therefore, not until well after the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD that the structure and governance of the synagogues was standardised.
Synagogue – the centre of Jewish community life
During Yeshua’s day each was structured according to the needs of the local community and functioned according to the teachings accepted by the local community, hence there was variety in architecture and how they operated. They were multi-functional institutions answering the many needs of the entire Jewish community in each location: schools (Josephus, Antiquities 16.43), hostels, courts (Acts 22:19), a place to collect and distribute charity (Matt 6:2), for political meetings (Josephus, Life 276-289), for communal meals (Josephus, Antiquities 14.214-216), and for worship which focused on prayer, reading and interpreting the Hebrew scriptures.
The synagogue was the social, intellectual, spiritual, political and legal centre of the Jewish community’s life in that village. (2) (3) Worship and study, friendship and community celebration, schooling, collection and distribution of charity, governing of the community and court proceedings were all done in the synagogue and by the synagogue rulers. The synagogue was thus the heart of every Jewish community and being a member in good standing was essential to being accepted in the Jewish community. (4) (5) (6)
Architecturally, synagogues were public buildings constructed, where possible, near a body of water for a mikveh and for the Tashlikh ceremony on Rosh HaShanah, or on the highest point in town, or on a raised platform. They had a large hall for Shabbat services and many also had smaller rooms for study.
They generally had a Mikveh (ritual bath / baptismal pool) for ritual washings, and this had to contain enough water for a person to walk down into it, squat and be completely submersed with water. The Mikveh had one set of steps for people to walk down into it as ceremonially ‘unclean’ and another set of steps for them to walk up out of the water ceremonially ‘clean’. Synagogues also had kitchen facilities for community feasts, and accommodation for visitors.
In some cases, the front façade of the main hall had three doors. Inside there were benches, made of wood or stone, along three or sometimes four sides of the room, with a break for the door of course. (7)
Within Jewish tradition one stood to read from the Torah and Prophets (t. Sukkah 2.10), so the centre of the room would have a small platform for the readers to stand on, and it is possible that a small menorah (seven-branched candlestick), like the one in the Temple, also stood on that platform. The floor was usually dirt or flagstones, and common people probably sat on mats on the floor, while the important people sat on the stone benches (Matt. 23:6). There was a seat for the reader of the Torah called the Moses Seat (or the Seat of Honour), because the Torah recorded the words of Moses so the reader was taking Moses’ place (Matt. 23:2). The Torah scrolls and the writings of the prophets were either kept in a portable chest and brought to the synagogue for worship or were kept in the Synagogue itself in a permanent Torah cabinet. (8) (9)
A Greek inscription dating to the first century dedicating a synagogue gives us some insight into their architecture and functions, as well as the importance that the people placed on lineage:
Theodotos, son of Vettenus, priest and ruler of the synagogue, son of a ruler of the synagogue, grandson of a ruler of the synagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Torah and the teaching of the commandments, and also the guest chamber and the upper rooms and the ritual pools of water for lodging for those needing them from abroad, which his fathers, the elders and Simonides founded.
Three sacred spaces in Judaism
In Yeshua’s day there were three sacred spaces in Judaism, each of which had its own ordered rituals: Temple, Synagogue and Home (10). Yeshua attended and ministered in each of these spaces. For the Jews the Temple was the place of the presence of the transcendent God on earth and so the daily Temple worship involved sacrifice accompanied by worship in music and song. It was patterned after 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 where David appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD with lyres, harps, cymbals and trumpets, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD. Twelve was the absolute minimum number of musicians the Mishnah deemed appropriate for the daily psalm, and there was no maximum number. (11) Whereas the temple was governed by priests and its functions undertaken by priests, the synagogue was governed by local elders of the community and all but one optional function was undertaken by the laity. Priests and Levites were welcome to participate in synagogue life but they had no special role except that only priests could offer the blessing of Aaron from the Torah (Num. 6:23-27) at the end of the service. (8)
Synagogue as centre of community justice…
The Synagogue provided the structure whereby a qahal (community) became rooted in God. Its primary purpose was the dispensation of justice, which was defined as the study, teaching and application of the Tanakh (Torah (Law of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings) – ie what we refer to as the Old Testament) and the Oral Law. Jewish tradition placed the roots of the synagogue in Jethro’s advice to Moses (Exodus 18) to select able men who feared God as rulers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens to judge the people. In light of that and Boaz’ gathering of ten elders of Bethlehem to witness the legal transaction that gave him possession of the land that belonged to Naomi, and Ruth as his wife (Ruth 4:2-12) Jewish tradition demanded a minimum of ten persons for any public or official religious gathering. Less than ten persons was not a community and did not qualify for a communal gathering. The Mishnah preserves the ruling concerning this required minimum number:
If there are less that ten present, the congregation may not recite the Shema with its benedictions, nor may one go before the ark [to lead the prescribed congregational prayers], nor may priests lift up their hands [in pronouncing the blessing], nor may one read the portion of the Torah or the Prophets, nor may one observe the stations [when burying the dead] or say the mourners’ benediction or the mourners’ consolation, or the benediction over newlyweds, nor may one mention the name of God in the invitation to recite the blessing after the meal. Also [the redemption value of dedicated] immovable property [is assessed] by nine and a priest, and similarly, [the valuation vow] of a person. (Megillah 4:3)
The importance of this religious quorum cannot be overestimated. Rabbi Eliezer, a member of the generation that witnessed the destruction of the Temple, freed one of his slaves so that there would be a quorum of ten for the “Eighteen Benedictions,” the central prayer of the synagogue service. (12)
First Century Jewish society was communal, not individual, and that community was defined as being more than ten people. At this time women could be counted among the ten for a quorum to enable a ShabbatSynagogue Service to go ahead. The wellbeing of the individual, the family and the community were intimately tied to the proper functioning of the Synagogue and its officers.
Rulers of the Synagogue, הכנסת ראשro’sh ha-keneseth, governed the community. They formed the בית דיןBet Din, bench of three judges, who dispensed justice to the community. They were also empowered to collect taxes, buy and sell public property such as Torah scrolls, pay for the construction and maintenance of the synagogue, and pay the salaries of town officials – agronomos (market inspectors), Chazzan (synagogue officers), city guards and teachers. Ro’sh ha-keneseth had to be tsadiqim (righteous men), that is men who knew Torah and Halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from both the “Written Torah” and the “Oral Torah”) and followed these as the pattern of their lives. These synagogue rulers were also responsible for the conduct of the synagogue services. When the congregation had assembled it was the ruler’s duty to select the various persons to take the leading parts in the service on that day and send the Cḥazzān to notify them what part they were to perform – prayer, reading from the Scriptures, preaching or translating.
חזן Cḥazzān(attendant) was the other regular official of the Synagogue. They were generally provided with a salary for their service. Their primary role was to keep the synagogue clean and appropriately lit and to care for its sacred scrolls. At the proper stage of the service the attendant would take the appointed scroll out from the ‘ark’ where they were kept, unwrap it and give it to the person chosen to read, then return it to its rightful place when they were finished reading. He also blew the shofar at sunset of Friday to announce the arrival of Shabbat. All work would cease and the people gather in their homes to eat the Sabbath meal which had been prepared that afternoon. The same word, Cḥazzān, was used for the synagogue police who would bring those accused of Law breaking to be judged by the Bet Din and were responsible for whipping synagogue members found guilty. This scourging was carried out in front of the Bet Din who proclaimed during the scourging “If do not carefully observe all the words of this Law…” (Deut. 28:58).
Except in an occasional large synagogue the following positions were not permanent appointments and did not attract any salary, but were just filled on the day by those chosen by the Synagogue ruler from the congregation gathered once a quorum had been reached.
מתרגמןMeturgeman (interpreter or translator) would be appointed for each service. This man was skilled in languages and stood by those that read, to translate the Hebrew reading into the vernacular language of the synagogue so everyone could understand the message.
שליחצבורSheliach Tzibbur (angel – or messenger – of the assembly) were required to be humble, be knowledgeable of the rules of prayer and the proper pronunciation of the Hebrew text, have an agreeable voice, proper dress and a beard. They would recite the prayers on behalf of the congregation, often with musical intonation – representing the community before God in prayer. They could also be called upon to be messengers of the Bet Din and under their authority transmit Halakhah (Jewish community law), supervise the conversion procedure and lay hands.
פרנסיםParnassim (administrative officers) were responsible for the care of the poor, and often included at least one woman. They were in charge of the Mikveh, collection of alms for the poor administration of these funds, visiting the sick, attending to the orphans and widows. According to Pe’ah 8,7, the collecting was to be done by at least two persons and distributed by three.
דרשןDarshan (expounder) was the preacher who expounded the Torah in a sermon, delivered after the reading from the Prophets. This office was also in charge of helping anyone plead their case before the Bet Din. Some would be travelling preachers, visiting many different communities with their messages.
בעל מסרהBa’al Masorah(master of the tradition) was responsible for teaching proselytes in their process of conversion and integration into the Jewish community. He would also help defend against any deviation from the accepted doctrines and practices of the community as defined by the Bet Din. (13) (14)
A Shabbat Service
On Saturday morning the community gathered in the synagogue, then the Ro’sh ha-keneseth (there could be one or more of these synagogue rulers) appointed members of the congregation to various roles in the service. There was no uniform set order of service that synagogues followed, but most often their pattern was similar to the following:
Their service began with blessings offered to God, prayers read with musical intonation by the Sheliach Tzibbur appointed for that day and possibly responses by the congregation.
The whole congregation recited the Shema: “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra’el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one];” (Deut. 6:4)
More structured prayers read by the Sheliach Tzibbur and there may also be responses by the congregation or some spontanious prayers.
The Torah scrolls would be brought out by the Chazzan and would be read by the one(s) appointed that day. In some synagogues one person would be appointed to read while others might have as many as seven readers of different portions. If Hebrew was not understood by the congregation then a Methurgeman would be appointed to targum (translate) after each verse of the Torah and every three verses of the Nevi’im.
Following the Torah portion, a selection from the Nevi’im (prophets) would be read by the same or another reader.
After all the readings, the one appointed Darshan for that day would teach on what had been read. The teaching incorporated open responses by those assembled (questions and answers) rather than being a strict monologue.
The service ended with a benediction using the Aaronic blessing found in the Torah (Num. 6:24-26), if a priest was present to offer it. (8) (15) (16)
Music in Jewish Worship
The Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures) clearly exhorts, and gives honoured examples of, praising and worshipping God with musical instruments, song and dance:
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them:“Sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider, He has thrown into the sea. Exodus 15:20-21 NKJV
Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. Leviticus 25:9 NKJV
After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 1 Samuel 10:5-6 NKJV
Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. 2 Samuel 6:14-15 NKJV
Then Zadok the priest took a horn of oil from the tabernacle and anointed Solomon. And they blew the horn, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” And all the people went up after him; and the people played the flutes and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth seemed to split with their sound. 1 Kings 1:39-40 NKJV
Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets. 1 Chronicles 13:8 NKJV
Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy. So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of their brethren, the sons of Merari, Ethan the son of Kushaiah; and with them their brethren of the second rank: Zechariah, Ben, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Elipheleh, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, and Jeiel, the gatekeepers; the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were to sound the cymbals of bronze; Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah, and Benaiah, with strings according to Alamoth; Mattithiah, Elipheleh, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel, and Azaziah, to direct with harps on the Sheminith; Chenaniah, leader of the Levites, was instructor in charge of the music, because he was skilful; Berechiah and Elkanah were doorkeepers for the ark; Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer, the priests, were to blow the trumpets before the ark of God; and Obed-Edom and Jehiah, doorkeepers for the ark. 1 Chronicles 15:16-24 NKJV
David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod. Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps. 1 Chronicles 15:27-28 NKJV
And he appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel: Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, and Obed-Edom: Jeiel with stringed instruments and harps, but Asaph made music with cymbals; Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests regularly blew the trumpets before the ark of the covenant of God. 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 NKJV
…and with them Heman and Jeduthun, to sound aloud with trumpets and cymbals and the musical instruments of God. Now the sons of Jeduthun were gatekeepers. 1 Chronicles 16:42 NKJV
Moreover David and the captains of the army separated for the service some of the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals. And the number of the skilled men performing their service was: Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied according to the order of the king. Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp to give thanks and to praise the Lord. Of Heman, the sons of Heman: … … All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer in the words of God, to exalt his horn. For God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All these were under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, stringed instruments, and harps, for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the authority of the king. So the number of them, with their brethren who were instructed in the songs of the Lord, all who were skilful, was two hundred and eighty-eight. 1 Chronicles 25:1-7 NKJV
…and the Levites who were the singers, all those of Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, stood at the east end of the altar, clothed in white linen, having cymbals, stringed instruments and harps, and with them one hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets— indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. 2 Chronicles 5:12-14 NKJV
And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets. The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel. So all the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had finished offering, the king and all who were present with him bowed and worshiped. Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.
Then Hezekiah answered and said, “Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the Lord, come near, and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord.” So the assembly brought in sacrifices and thank offerings, and as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. 2 Chronicles 29:25-31 NKJV
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.”
Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:10-11 NKJV
Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps. Nehemiah 12:27 NKJV
Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skilfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33:2-3 NKJV
Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God. Psalm 43:4 NKJV
They have seen Your procession, O God, The procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; Among them were the maidens playing timbrels. Bless God in the congregations, The Lord, from the fountain of Israel. Psalm 68:24-26 NKJV
Also with the lute I will praise You — And Your faithfulness, O my God! To You I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel. Psalm 71:22 NKJV
Sing aloud to God our strength; Make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, The pleasant harp with the lute.Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon,At the full moon, on our solemn feast day. Psalm 81:1-3 NKJV
Sing to the Lord with the harp, With the harp and the sound of a psalm, With trumpets and the sound of a horn;Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King. Psalm 98:5-6 NKJV
Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples, And I will sing praises to You among the nations. Psalm 108:2-3 NKJV
I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, Psalm 144:9 NKJV
Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation. Psalm 149:3-4 NKJV
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Psalm 150:3-5 NKJV
And in every place where the staff of punishment passes, Which the Lord lays on him, It will be with tambourines and harps; And in battles of brandishing He will fight with it. Isaiah 30:32 NKJV
Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tambourines, And shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice. Jeremiah 31:4 NKJV
Since the beginning of the nation, back in Exodus, music had been an integral part of Jewish worship of God. Something happened during the second temple period which would change all that, and it had nothing to do with what was thought proper for worship. Rather it was the laws that they built around Shabbat which brought an end to playing musical instruments in Jewish worship. Influential Pharisees feared that a musician might be tempted to replace a string or otherwise repair or tune his instrument when playing on the Sabbath, and they classed such an act as falling into the forbidden category of work called “repairing a utensil”, and so prohibited the playing of any musical instrument on the Sabbath. This ruling of the Sanhedrin affected the synagogue services, rendering their worship devoid of music. Only in the temple did the prescribed instruments for worship continue to be played, on Shabbat, and every day.
Keeping Shabbat (the Sabbath) was the fourth of the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses. Here is what God said about it:
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. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. Genesis 2:3
“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work – not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself. Exodus 20:8-11 CJB
“On six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is to be a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest in honour of ADONAI. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. You are not to kindle a fire in any of your homes on Shabbat.” Exodus 35:2-3 CJB
“You are to take fine flour and use it to bake twelve loaves, one gallon per loaf. Arrange them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure table before ADONAI. Put frankincense with each row to be an offering made by fire to ADONAI in place of the bread and as a reminder of it. Regularly, every Shabbat, he is to arrange them before ADONAI; they are from the people of Isra’el, as a covenant forever. Leviticus 24:5-8 CJB
“On Shabbat offer two male lambs in their first year and without defect, with one gallon of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with olive oil, and its drink offering. This is the burnt offering for every Shabbat, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.” Numbers 28:9-10 CJB
Happy is the person who does this, anyone who grasps it firmly, who keeps Shabbat and does not profane it, and keeps himself from doing any evil. Isaiah 56:2 CJB
“If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, ADONAI’s holy day, worth honouring; then honour it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them. If you do, you will find delight in ADONAI – I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya’akov, for the mouth of ADONAI has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14 CJB
Thus says the LORD, “Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the Sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 17:21
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.” Nehemiah 13:15-18
In order to enforce regulations against work on Shabbat, the Jewish religious leaders created a legal definition of what work was prohibited. They concluded that what God ceased from in Genesis 2:1-3 was creating, and saw a connection between this and construction of the tabernacle. From that, they defined thirty-nine categories of activity needed for the construction and use of the Tabernacle, which were thus designated as ‘creating’ and therefor forbidden on Shabbat (and could receive the death penalty from the Sanhedrin). The thirty-nine categories of forbidden activities, based on the Oral Torah which was being developed and debated in Yeshua’s day are:
Planting (Hebrew: זורע Zorea) Not only planting is included in this category; other activities that promote plant growth are also prohibited. This includes watering, fertilizing, planting seeds, or planting grown plants.
Ploughing (Hebrew: חורש Ḥoresh) Included in this prohibition is any preparation or improvement of land for agricultural use. This includes activities whose purpose is not agricultural such as dragging chair legs in soft soil thereby unintentionally making furrows, or pouring water on the ground or making a hole in the soil.
Reaping (Hebrew: קוצר Koṣer) Removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth is considered reaping. Climbing a tree is forbidden, for fear this may lead to one tearing off a branch. Riding an animal is also forbidden, as one may unthinkingly detach a stick with which to hit the animal. (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28)
Gathering (Hebrew: מעמר Me’amer) Initial gathering of earth-borne material in its original place. E.g. After picking strawberries, forming a pile or collecting them into one’s pockets, or a basket. Collecting rock salt or any mineral (from a mine or from the Earth) and making a pile of the produce. However, a bowl of apples that falls in a house can be gathered as 1) they do not grow in that environment and 2) they were already initially gathered in the orchard.
Threshing/Extraction (Hebrew: דש Dosh) It refers to any productive extraction and includes juicing fruits and vegetables and wringing (desirable fluids) out of cloths, as the juice or water inside the fruit is considered ‘desirable’ for these purposes, while the pulp of the fruit would be the ‘undesirable.’ As such, squeezing (S’ḥita) is forbidden unless certain rules are applied.
Winnowing (Hebrew: זורה Zoreh) Sorting undesirable from desirable. The separation of chaff from grain, or any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Rubbing a couple of grains in your hand to remove the husks before eating them would be considered “winnowing” and therefore forbidden. (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28)
Sorting/Purification (Hebrew: בורר Borer) Any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible or desirable that which was inedible or undesirable. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. Or, if there is a bowl of mixed peanuts and raisins, and one desires the raisins and dislikes the peanuts: Removing (effectively sorting) the peanuts from the bowl, leaving a ‘purified’ pile of raisins free from unwanted peanuts, would be Sorting/Purification as the peanuts are removed and therefor considered a serious transgression. However, removing the desirable raisins from the peanuts does not purify the mixture, as one is left with undesirable peanuts (hence unrefined), not a refined component as before, and is thus permissible.
Dissection Hebrew: טוחן (Toḥen) Dissection can arise in simply cutting into pieces fruits or vegetables for a salad. Very small pieces would involve ‘Dissection’, therefore cutting into slightly larger than usual pieces would be permitted, thus avoiding cutting the pieces into their final, most usable, state.
Sifting (Hebrew: מרקד Meraked) This is essentially the same as Sorting / Purification (see above), but performed with a utensil specifically designed for the purpose of sorting, such as a sieve, strainer, or the like.
Kneading/Amalgamation (Hebrew: לש Losh) this prohibited activity is the combining of solid and liquid together to form a paste or dough-like substance.
Cooking/Baking (Hebrew: אופה/בישול Bishul/Ofeh) Any method of heating food to prepare for eating is included in this prohibition.
Shearing (Hebrew: גוזז Gozez) Severing/uprooting any body-part of a creature.
Dyeing (Hebrew: צובע Ṣovea) Colouring or enriching the colour of any material or substance.
Spinning (Hebrew: טווה Toveh) Twisting fibres into a thread or twining strands into a yarn.
Warping (Hebrew: מיסך Meseḥ) Creating the first form for the purpose of weaving.
Making Two Loops/Threading Heddles (Hebrew: עושה שתי בתי נירין Oseh Sh’tei Batei Nirin) Forming loops for the purpose of weaving or the making of net like materials.
Weaving (Hebrew: אורג שני חוטין Oreg) Forming fabric (or a fabric item) by interlacing long threads passing in one direction with others at a right angle to them.
Separating Two Threads (Hebrew: פוצע שני חוטין Poṣe’a) Removing/cutting fibres from their frame, loom or place.
Tying (Hebrew: קושר Kosher) Binding two pliant objects skilfully or permanently via twisting.
Untying (Hebrew: מתיר Matir) The undoing of any tied (see Tying) or spun (see Spinning) binding
Sewing (Hebrew: תופר Tofer) Combining separate objects into a single entity, whether through sewing, gluing, stapling, welding, dry mounting, etc.
Tearing (Hebrew: קורע Kore’a) Ripping an object in two or undoing any sewn connection.
Trapping (Hebrew: צד Ṣad) Forcible confinement of a living creature, the confining of a creature to make it easier to capture in one’s hand.
Killing (Hebrew: שוחט Shoḥet) Ending a creature’s life, whether through slaughter or any other method.
Flaying/Skinning (Hebrew:מפשט Mepashet) Removing the hide from the body of a dead animal.
Curing/Preservation (Hebrew: מעבד Me’aved); sometimes referred to as “Salting” ( מולח Mole’aḥ). Preserving any item to prevent spoiling for a long period of time.
Smoothing (Hebrew: ממחק Memaḥek) Scraping/sanding a surface to achieve smoothness.
Scoring (Hebrew: משרטט Mesartet) Scoring/drawing a cutting guideline.
Measured Cutting (Hebrew: מחתך Meḥateḥ) Cutting any object to a specific size.
Writing (Hebrew: כותב Kotev) Writing/forming a meaningful character or design.
Erasing (Hebrew: מוחק על מנת לכתוב שתי אותיות Moḥek [al menat lichtov shtei otiyot]) Cleaning/preparing a surface to render it suitable for writing.
Construction (Hebrew: בונה Boneh) Contributing to the forming of any lasting structure. The action of joining different pieces together, e.g. inserting the handle of an axe into the socket is a derived form of this activity. Also, making a protective covering (or a ‘tent’) is forbidden.
Demolition (Hebrew: סותר Soter) Demolishing for any constructive purpose. For example, knocking down a wall in order to extend or repair the wall would be demolition for a constructive purpose. Combing a wig to set it correctly and pulling out hairs during the procedure with a metal toothed brush or comb would be constructive ‘demolition’, as each hair that is removed in the process of the wig (a utensil) is progressing its state towards a desired completion.
Extinguishing a Fire (Hebrew: מכבה Meḥaveh) Extinguishing a fire/flame, or diminishing its intensity. While extinguishing a fire is forbidden even when great property damage will result; in the event of any life-threatening fire, the flames must be extinguished, by the principle of pikuaḥ nefesh.
Ignition (Hebrew: מבעיר Mav’ir) Igniting, fuelling or spreading a fire/flame. This includes making, transferring or adding fuel to a fire. This is one of the few Sabbath prohibitions mentioned explicitly in the Torah (Exodus 35:3). Judaism requires Sabbath candles to be lit before the Sabbath; it is forbidden to light them on the Sabbath. They are intended to take the place of candles which cannot be lit on the Sabbath.
Fine-tuning / Repairing a Utensil (Hebrew: מכה בפטיש Makeh Bapetish). This activity refers to completing an object and bringing it into its final useful form. This is the prohibition by which instruments cannot be tuned nor a string replaced which lead to the prohibition on any playing of a musical instrument on Shabbat and thus barred instruments from the synagogue.
Transferring Between Domains / Carrying (Hebrew: הוצאה Hotza’ah) Transferring something from one domain type to another domain type, or transferring within a public thoroughfare. All areas are divided into four categories: a private domain, a public thoroughfare, an open area and an exempt area. Transferring an object from a private domain to a public thoroughfare, or the reverse, is forbidden. Transferring an object between an open area to a private domain or public thoroughfare is prohibited. Transferring an object between an exempt area and any other domain is permissible. In addition, transferring an object for a distance of four cubits (or more) in a public thoroughfare or open area is forbidden.
In Yeshua’s day, some of this had been handed down through the generations as “traditions of the elders”, and some was still being newly formed and debated. Yeshua joined in such debates and even called into question traditions of the elders when these brought forth actions which were contrary to the intent of Scripture. In 1st Century Jewish society, the job of protecting Shabbat, and defining the other laws of the community,was ascribed to the members of the Sanhedrin – hence all the political intrigues engaged in to get a majority representation on the Sanhedrin. For each of these thirty-nine prohibitions they made rulings as to what the Jewish people were commanded or forbidden to do in keeping with the prohibition – and such rulings were the “Law”, sometimes even referred to as the “Torah” of the Jewish people. Breaching these rulings was considered to be breaking God’s law, even when the ruling had little relationship to what God had written for us in Scripture.
Thus, despite all the exhortations in Scripture for the Jewish people to praise and worship God with instruments, they were forbidden to be played as part of the Shabbat Service in the Synagogue. In another context Yeshua said of the religious leaders: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commandments of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9)Music did, however, remain an essential part of services in the Holy Temple. This kind of rabbinical enactment—a prohibition designed to prevent desecration of Shabbat—is called a shvut. In general, a shvut was deemed not to apply in the Holy Temple. Music accompanied even those Temple rituals that were deemed not to essentially require musical accompaniment in order to be obedient to Torah. However, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, this left the Jewish people totally devoid of music in their worship as they had enculturated the prohibition against such in their Synagogues on Shabbat. (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23)
1. Levine, Lee I.The First Centurary Synagogue: New Perspectives. Arg. 77 : Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift, 2001. 2. Lacey, Ian. Synagogue Services. Israel & Judaism Studies. [Online] NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, 2007. [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] http://www.ijs.org.au/Synagogue-services/default.aspx. 3. Spigel, Chad. First Centurary Synagogues. Bible Odyssey. [Online] [Cited: 3rd April 2019.] https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/places/related-articles/first-century-synagogues. 4. The First-Centurary Synagogue – New Perspectives. Levine, Lee I. Jerusalem : Svensk Teologisk Kvartalskrift. Arg., 2001, Vol. 77. 5. Laan, Ray Vander. He Went To Synagogue. That The World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 25th July 2019.] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/he-went-to-synagogue. 6. —. He Went To Synagogue. That the World May Know. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Dec. 2016.] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/he-went-to-synagogue. 7. Spigel, Chad. First Century Synagogues. Bible Odessey. [Online] [Cited: 2nd April 2019.] Chad Spigel, “First Century Synhttps://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/places/related-articles/first-century-synagogues. 8. Turnage, Marc. Exploring the Practices and Customs of the First Century Synagogue. [Online] 9th August 2016. [Cited: 19th April 2019.] https://news.ag.org/features/exploring-the-practices-and-customs-of-the-first-century-synagogue. 9. Synagogues – Before and After the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Hachlili, Rachel. May/June, s.l. : Biblical Archaeology Society, 2015. 10. Matthews, Doc. History of Christianity: Early Christian Worship. Youtube. [Online] [Cited: 17th April 2019.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fw56BWL2cn4. 11. The Exclusion of Musical Instruments from the Ancient Synagogue. McKinnon, James W. s.l. : Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 1979, Vol. 106, pp. 77–87. 12. Sauter, Megan. Ancient Synagogues in Israel and the Diaspora. Biblical Archiology. [Online] 3rd September 2016. [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/temple-at-jerusalem/ancient-synagogues-in-israel-and-the-diaspora/. 13. Killian, Greg. The Synagogue – Bet HaKnesset. Bete Munah. [Online] [Cited: 9th November 2019.] https://www.betemunah.org/synagog.html. 14. Gafni, Professor Isaiah. Jewish Life in Palestine at the Beginning of the Christian Era. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/their-love-for-tilling-the-soil-is-truly-great/. 15. The Ancient Synagogue Service. Burton, Ernest De Witt. The Biblical World, Vol. 8, pp. 143-148. 01903578. 16. Hegg, Tim.The Public Reading of the Scriptures in the 1st Century Synagogue. s.l. : Torah Resource, 2007. 17. Shurpin, Yehuda. Why can’t we connect to G-d through music on Shabbat? Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 9th November 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/965540/jewish/Why-no-music-on-Shabbat.htm. 18. Activities Prohibited on Sabbath. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activities_prohibited_on_Shabbat. 19. EISENBERG, RONALD L. Shabbat’s Work Prohibition. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbats-work-prohibition/. 20. Palatnik, Lori. Laws of Shabbat for Beginners. Aish He Torah. [Online] [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.aish.com/sh/l/48971331.html. 21. OU Staff. The 39 Categories of Sabbath Work Prohibited by Law. OU. [Online] 17th July 2006. [Cited: 11th November 2019.] https://www.ou.org/holidays/shabbat/the_thirty_nine_categories_of_sabbath_work_prohibited_by_law/. 22. Melamed, Rabbi Eliezer. Laws of Shabbat – Volume 1. s.l. : Yeshivat Har Bracha Maggid Books. 23. Lizorkin, Ilya. Aspects of the Sabbath in the Second Temple Period. 2006.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* In what ways was worship in the Synagogue like worship in your church, and in what ways was it different? * What were the functions that the synagogue fulfilled in Jesus’ time, and what functions does your church fulfil now? * Compare the rolls of the synagogue officials with the roles of leaders within your church. * What do you think of the 39 laws that the Jews made to ensure their people kept the Sabbath as God had commanded? Can you think of any instances when Jesus commented on any of their Sabbath rules? * What are your thoughts on their reasons for excluding the playing of musical instruments in their synagogue worship and the ultimate result of such being that after the destruction of the second temple in 70AD, all Jewish worship has been without musical instruments? Is this practice of excluding instruments from worship in agreement with the scriptures?