Shabbat Shalom Magazine

Written by: Jacques B. Doukhan

The Sabbath and the Sanctuary

Biblical theology understood the Israelite sanctuary as representative of the whole world that God created. The description of the construction of the sanctuary in Exodus 25–40 parallels the narration of the creation of the world in Genesis 1:1–2:4.

Both occur in seven stages and both end with the same technical phrase: “finished the work” (Gen. 2:2; Ex. 40:33). The construction of the temple by Solomon also takes place in seven stages and ends with the same words: “finished the work” (1 Kings 7:40, 51). The phrase appears only in these three passages of the Bible and clearly indicates the relationship between the sanctuary, or temple, and creation. The psalms also attest to that connection: “He built the sanctuary like high mountains, like the earth that he established forever” (see Ps. 78:69; cf. 134:3; 150:1, 6).

It is significant that the commandment of the Sabbath has been given in connection with the commandment of building the sanctuary and is even intimately integrated with the various prescriptions concerning that construction.

Thus, the description of the work of the artisans of the Sanctuary (Ex. 31:1–11) is immediately followed by the prescription of the Sabbath as a sign of “perpetual covenant” (Ex. 12:12–18); likewise, later in the same book, the Sabbath regulation (Ex. 35:1-3) is immediately followed by the description of the offerings for the Sanctuary (Ex. 35:4–9).

This juxtaposition of the instructions to build the sanctuary and the commandment of the Sabbath has struck the rabbis so much that they instituted the practice of the Sabbath in connection to the sanctuary (Shab. 49b). Any work reminding of the works for the building of the sanctuary was classified as biblically forbidden. The Mishnah gives a list of 39 main classes of such work (Shab. 7:2).

Whenever a religious Jew keeps the Sabbath, he should then remember the profound truth of the Sanctuary: the Sabbath just as the Sanctuary speaks about the redemption of the world.


Image: Model of Herod's Temple . Public Domain


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