Exodus 31:14
Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) Every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death.—This is a new enactment, and must be regarded in conjunction with the new dignity attached to Sabbath observance by its having become the special covenant sign between God and His people. The Sabbath-breaker now threw himself out of covenant with God, and not only so, but did what in him lay to throw the whole people out of covenant. His guilt was therefore great, and the assignment to it of the death-penalty is in no way surprising; rather, it is in accordance with the general spirit of the code (see Exodus 21:16-17; Exodus 21:29; Exodus 22:18-20, &c.). When the occasion arose, there was no hesitation in carrying the law out (Numbers 15:32-35).

Cut off.—Or, separated, set apart from. His act at once cast him out from the number of God’s people, made him an outlaw, ipso facto excommunicated him.

Exodus 31:14-16. It is holy unto you — That is, it is designed for your benefit as well as for God’s honour; it shall be accounted holy by you. It is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord — It is separated from common use to the service of God; and by the observance of it we are taught to rest from worldly pursuits, and devote ourselves, and all we are, have, and can do, to God’s glory. It was to be observed throughout their generations, in every age, for a perpetual covenant — This was to be one of the most lasting tokens of the covenant between God and Israel.

31:12-17 Orders were now given that a tabernacle should be set up for the service of God. But they must not think that the nature of the work, and the haste that was required, would justify them in working at it on sabbath days. The Hebrew word /shabath/ signifies rest, or ceasing from labour. The thing signified by the sabbath is that rest in glory which remains for the people of God; therefore the moral obligation of the sabbath must continue, till time is swallowed up in eternity.See Numbers 15:32-36. The distinction between the meaning of the two expressions, "to be cut off from the people", and "to be put to death", is here indicated. He who was cut off from the people had, by his offence, put himself out of the terms of the covenant, and was an outlaw. On such, and on such alone, when the offence was one which affected the well-being of the nation, as it was in this case, death could be inflicted by the public authority.12-17. Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep—The reason for the fresh inculcation of the fourth commandment at this particular period was, that the great ardor and eagerness, with which all classes betook themselves to the construction of the tabernacle, exposed them to the temptation of encroaching on the sanctity of the appointed day of rest. They might suppose that the erection of the tabernacle was a sacred work, and that it would be a high merit, an acceptable tribute, to prosecute the undertaking without the interruption of a day's repose; and therefore the caution here given, at the commencement of the undertaking, was a seasonable admonition. Shall surely be put to death; of which see an example, Numbers 15:32, &c. i.e. Servile work, as it is explained. Leviticus 23:7, &c.

Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore,.... Strictly observe it, according to the rules given concerning it:

for it is holy unto you; a day that was set apart of God for holy exercises, peculiarly on their account:

everyone that defileth it; by doing any servile work upon it, or not observing it in a religious way:

shall surely be put to death; by the hand of the civil magistrate; if the law of the Jewish sabbath is now in force, the sanction continues, and the violation of it ought to be punished by a judge with death:

for whosoever doeth any work therein; so much as to kindle a fire, and dress any food, by boiling or roasting, or any other way:

that soul shall be cut off from among his people; that is, shall die by the hand of the civil magistrate, it being but another phrase for being put to death; though the Jewish writers, particularly Jarchi, understand the former phrase, "put to death", as to be done by a civil magistrate, when there are witnesses and full proof of the case; but this of "cutting off" by the hand of God, by immediate punishment from heaven, when it was done secretly, and there was no proof to be made of it.

Ye shall keep the {g} sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

(g) God repeats this point because the whole keeping of the law stands in the true use of the sabbath, which is to stop working and so obey the will of God.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
14. holy] cf. Exodus 16:23 (P), Exodus 20:8 (E), Isaiah 58:13, Ezekiel 20:20, &c.

profaneth] To ‘profane’ is characteristic—like its opposite, to ‘sanctify’—of H, Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 19:8; Leviticus 19:12; Leviticus 19:29; Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 21:4; Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 21:9 (twice), Leviticus 21:12; Leviticus 21:15; Leviticus 21:23, Leviticus 22:2; Leviticus 22:9; Leviticus 22:15; Leviticus 22:32, and Ezek. (about 30 times,—6 times, as here, of the sabbath, viz. Ezekiel 20:13; Ezekiel 20:16; Ezekiel 20:21; Ezekiel 20:24, Ezekiel 22:8, Ezekiel 23:38 : so Isaiah 56:2, Nehemiah 13:18). In P only once (Numbers 18:32).

shall surely be put to death] cf., in the Book of the Covenant, Exodus 21:12; Exodus 21:14-17, Exodus 22:19; and in H, for various moral and religious offences, Leviticus 20:2; Leviticus 20:9-13; Leviticus 20:15-16; Leviticus 20:27; Leviticus 24:16-17 (for murder). In Numbers 15:32-36 (P) this penalty for sabbath-breaking is said to have been inflicted.

that soul, &c.] See on Exodus 12:15, and Exodus 30:33.

Verse 14. - Every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death. To defile the sabbath was to do any unnecessary servile work upon it. Works of mercy, works of necessity, and works connected with religious observance were not prohibited. (See Matthew 12:1-7; Matthew 10-12.) The penalty of death for breaking the sabbath seems to moderns over-severe; but the erection of sabbath-observance into the special sacramental sign that Israel was in covenant with God made non-observance an offence of the gravest character. The man who broke the sabbath destroyed, so far as in him lay, the entire covenant between God and his people - not only broke it, but annulled it, and threw Israel out of covenant. Hence, when the sin was committed, no hesitation was felt in carrying out the law. (See Numbers 15:32-36.) Exodus 31:14(cf. Exodus 35:2-3). God concludes by enforcing the observance of His Sabbaths in the most solemn manner, repeating the threat of death and extermination in the case of every transgressor. The repetition and further development of this command, which was included already in the decalogue, is quite in its proper place here, inasmuch as the thought might easily have occurred, that it was allowable to omit the keeping of the Sabbath, when the execution of so great a work in honour of Jehovah had been commanded. "My Sabbaths:" by these we are to understand the weekly Sabbaths, not the other sabbatical festivals, since the words which follow apply to the weekly Sabbath alone. This was "a sign between Jehovah and Israel for all generations, to know (i.e., by which Israel might learn) that it was Jehovah who sanctified them," viz., by the sabbatical rest (see at Exodus 20:11). It was therefore a holy thing for Israel (Exodus 31:14), the desecration of which would be followed by the punishment of death, as a breach of the covenant. The kernel of the Sabbath commandment is repeated in Exodus 31:15; the seventh day of the week, however, is not simply designated a "Sabbath," but שׁבּתון שׁבּת "a high Sabbath" (the repetition of the same word, or of an abstract form of the concrete noun, denoting the superlative; see Ges. 113, 2), and "holy to Jehovah" (see at Exodus 16:23). For this reason Israel was to keep it in all future generations, i.e., to observe it as an eternal covenant (Exodus 31:16), as in the case of circumcision, since it was to be a sign for ever between Jehovah and the children of Israel (Ezekiel 20:20). The eternal duration of this sign was involved in the signification of the sabbatical rest, which is pointed out in Exodus 20:11, and reaches forward into eternity.
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