No Work vs. No Servile Work

Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath (H7676) of rest (H7677), an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. (Lev 23:3 KJV)

Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be unto you a sabbath (H7676) of rest (H7677), and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath. (Lev 23:27-32 KJV)

vs.

And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: seven days ye must eat unleavened bread. In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. (Lev 23:6-8 KJV)

And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD… And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations. (Lev 23:15-16,21 KJV)

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath [rest H7677], a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. (Lev 23:24-25 KJV)

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD. On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein. (Lev 23:34-36 KJV)

There seems to be a distinction in the kind of work that is forbidden between the Sabbath day (and the Day of Atonement) and the rest of the yearly days of holy convocation. Leviticus 23:3 says “do no work” on the Sabbath day and verse 31 says the same about the Day of Atonement, which we are told is a Sabbath. However, on all the other yearly days of holy convocation, we’re told to “do no servile work” (verses 7-8,21,25,35-36). Why the distinction and what does it mean?

No Servile Work

The first mention of “no servile work” is found in Leviticus 23:7 (and repeated in the following verse), speaking of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile (H5656 “abodah”) work (H4399 “melakah”) therein. 

The word translated as “servile” here is “abodah” (H5656) and comes from the verb “abad” (H5647), which means “to work, serve” according to Brown Driver Briggs. The word translated as “work” is “melakah” (H4399) and means “occupation, work, business”.

When studying the other mentions of these words in the Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), I found some pretty interesting insights, which I will likely share in future posts. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage doing your own personal word studies.

The first mention of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is found in Exodus 12 and it gives us a little bit more insight as to what can and cannot be done on these days of “no servile work”.

Exo 12:15-17 ESV
(15)  Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.
(16)  On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you.
(17)  And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever.

The Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of an earlier Hebrew text says this:

Exo 12:15-17 Brenton LXX
(15)  Seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread, and from the first day ye shall utterly remove leaven from your houses: whoever shall eat leaven, that soul shall be utterly destroyed from Israel, from the first day until the seventh day.
(16)  And the first day shall be called holy, and the seventh day shall be a holy convocation to you: ye shall do no servile work on them, only as many things as will necessarily be done by every soul, this only shall be done by you.
(17)  And ye shall keep this commandment, for on this day will I bring out your force out of the land of Egypt; and ye shall make this day a perpetual ordinance for you throughout your generations.

It appears that these passages are telling us the “no servile work” that is to be done only allows for “what everyone needs to eat” or “as many things as will necessarily be done by every soul”.

Carrying this understanding through to all of the other mentions of “no servile work” in Leviticus 23, we see that it applies to the Feast of Weeks, Yom Teruah, Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day. But what about the Sabbath day and the Day of Atonement?

No Work

As laid out in the beginning of this article, we can see that we are not to do any work on the Sabbath day, to include the Day of Atonement. For a long time I understood this to mean that there was a greater restriction on those days as it pertained to work, but upon further study I have found this not to be true.

The first mention of doing no work on the Sabbath is found in what is commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8-11 commands us to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. It is explained that for six days we are to labor and do all our work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHVH our God. On that day we are not to do any work. It goes on to include our children, servants, livestock and sojourners within our gates. The account in Deuteronomy reiterates this.

But I want to point out a few things that I so often overlooked in the past primarily because of the English language and not understanding what was being said in the Hebrew.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour (H5647 “abad”), and do all thy work: (Exo 20:8-9 KJV)

Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour (H5647 “abad”), and do all thy work: (Deu 5:12-13 KJV)

Notice the word translated in Exodus 20:9 and Deuteronomy 5:13  as “labour” is the same word translated elsewhere as “serve”. This is the root word for “abodah” translated as “servile” in the above verses of Leviticus 23.

So this Sabbath command is telling us to “serve and do all our work” in six days, but the verses that follow tell us we are not to do any work on the seventh day. Is this not telling us in essence that we are not to do any servile work on the seventh day?

Now catch this…

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant (H5650 “ebed”), nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: (Exo 20:10 KJV)

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant (H5650 “ebed”), nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant (H5650 “ebed”) and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. (Deut 5:14 KJV)

The word translated here as “manservant” is “ebed” (H5650) and comes from the root “abad” (H5647). This Sabbath command is not just for the children of Israel but it is also for those who serve or labor for them. What work are these manservants forbidden to do? Would it not be “servile work”?

Deuteronomy 5:15 continues with…

And remember that thou wast a servant (H5650 “ebed”) in the land of Egypt,… (Deu 5:15a KJV)

Here we see a correlation being drawn between the children of Israel as a whole and the manservant. They are being reminded that they were servants in the land of Egypt but the LORD (YHVH) their God brought them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. And this is why they are commanded to keep the Sabbath day.

I personally believe that the reason Leviticus 23 does not include “servile” with the mentions of the forbidden work on the Sabbath day is because it was unnecessary since the command given by YHVH at Mt Sinai already addressed it.

The instructions concerning the work that is forbidden on the Sabbath day is addressing the same work that is forbidden on the other days of holy convocation: “servile work”. Therefore, it seems reasonable to me that the allowance made for the Feast of Unleavened Bread as to what kind of work may be done (“what everyone needs to eat” or “as many things as will necessarily be done by every soul”) would also be the same for the Sabbath day.

Answering Objections

But doesn’t it say in Exodus 16 that we are to do all of our cooking on the sixth day in preparation for the Sabbath day?  Plus there’s the command to not kindle a fire on the Sabbath day in Ex 35:3. Wasn’t the man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath day stoned for defiling it in Numbers 15? These all seem to support *no cooking* on the Sabbath day, but when we look at these passages in their greater contexts, we can better see their intended meanings.

Bake That Which Ye Will Bake…

Exodus 16 recounts the instructions for the gathering of the manna. We’re told the Israelites were to gather a day’s portion of manna for five days. They were not to hold over any manna to the following morning, lest it spoil and breed worms. However, on the sixth day, they were told to gather a double portion of manna, and were specifically instructed to hold over the second portion of manna for the seventh day. We learn later that this was instructed to be done because there would not be any manna provided on the seventh day for them to gather.

And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it (that which remaineth over) up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it (that which remaineth over) did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that (that which remaineth over) to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it (that which remaineth over) in the field. Six days ye shall gather it (that which remaineth over); but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. (Exo 16:22-26 KJV)

I used to think “that which remaineth over” was a reference to the leftovers of that which was baked, but clearly if we continue reading, we can see it is a reference to the manna in its raw state. The thing that they were laying up for the morning was to be done because they were not going to find it in the field that day.

Let No Man Go Out of His Place on the Seventh Day

Exodus 16 is also often used as evidence that we are forbidden to travel on the Sabbath day. However, when we look at the proof text in its immediate context we see what was being forbidden on the seventh day was actually the gathering of the manna.

And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exo 16:27-30 KJV)

Also, if we look at the chapter starting from the beginning, we are told they “took their journey from Elim, and…came unto the wilderness of Sin” on the 15th day of the 2nd month. If the Sabbath day was seven days later, then it stands to reason that the 15th would have been a Sabbath day as well.

And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. (Exo 16:1 KJV)

Kindle No Fire

And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These are the words which the LORD hath commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day. (Exo 35:1-3 KJV)

Exodus 35 starts with Moses assembling the people for some announcements. First a reminder of the Sabbath day instruction given by YHVH in Ex 20 with added detail is given, a free-will offering is requested with a list of materials needed, and a call for skilled labor to work on the Tabernacle building project is made. Given the context of verse 3, it seems reasonable that the added detail of “kindle no fire” is directly related to the labor required in the work of the Tabernacle building project.

Read my post “Do Not Kindle A Fire” to see what I mean.

A Man That Gathered Sticks Upon the Sabbath Day

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses. (Num 15:32-36 KJV)

Numbers 15 begins with outlining the sacrificial offerings required for unintentional sins. It segue ways into a scenario where a man is found gathering sticks/wood on the Sabbath day, and the people are at a loss as to how to handle the situation. Clearly, the man’s actions were in violation of the Sabbath commandment and YHVH ruled he was deserving of death.

It appears that there was no sacrificial offering available for him, because his sin was intentional. What was his sin? This passage says he was gathering sticks/wood on the Sabbath day. This does not say he was building/kindling a fire, nor does it say he was getting ready to build a fire. We are not told what it was for, rather the text simply says he was gathering wood. But is the mere act of “gathering sticks/wood” considered “work” that is forbidden on the Sabbath or is there more to it?

Many would have us believe that the mere act is forbidden and that what he was doing was equivalent to what the widow in Zarephath was doing in 1 Kings 17:8-12, gathering sticks to build a fire to make a last meal. However, this does not ring true to me.

It seems more likely that the “gathering sticks/wood” in the Numbers 15 scenario was this man’s job/occupation. Therefore, the sin was that this man chose to defiantly engage in his job/occupation on the Sabbath day.

Bottom Line

It is my understanding that the instructions concerning the work that is forbidden on the Sabbath day is addressing the same work that is forbidden on the other days of holy convocation: “servile work”. Therefore, it seems reasonable to me that the allowance made for the Feast of Unleavened Bread as to what kind of work may be done (“what everyone needs to eat” or “as many things as will necessarily be done by every soul”) would also be the same for the Sabbath day.

About Messyanic

Homesteading Wife, Homeschooling Mom and perpetual Bible student, continually taking the road less traveled. (@messyanic)

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14 Responses to No Work vs. No Servile Work

  1. Just wanted to share with you my article about Shabbat. I agree with you on many points. Thanks.

    Here is the link: http://thedeserttabernacle.blogspot.com/p/how-to-observe-shabbat.html

  2. bro yako'ov says:

    Thanks be 2 Yahweh the author and finisher of our faith through Yahushua Ha Mashiach

  3. Sherry T says:

    Your explanation is probably right, considering we see the text in chapter 34 specifically say “God said…” before reiterating the Shabbat commandment. Then in chapter 35, when reiterating Shabbat again, the text first says “Moses assembled Israel and said to them…”

    We don’t know why the man in Numbers 15 was punished for gathering wood, but we do know what immediately happens after – Yahweh calls the Israelites to wear tassels, the very “fashion statement” of high status and wealth of those days. Thus, it’s possible to gather from the text that, this man was doing something for the purpose of his job and acquiring more wealth. I’ve come across a paper recently, where the author pointed out that the man’s gathering very much mirrored what Israel was doing in Egypt, under Pharaoh – gathering as work.

    So in that respect, I believe you may be correct.

    However, I’m a bit on the fence when it comes to your interpretation of Exodus 16. In Exodus 16:4-5, the text very clearly says Yahweh spoke to Moses, and He says this: “On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.””
    ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭16:5‬ ‭NASB‬‬

    I’m not sure what “prepare” means here, but it may actually mean all manner of preparation possible, like cooking?

    • Messyanic says:

      The word translated as “prepare” in Ex 16:5 is “kun” (H3559) and means “to be firm, to be stable, be established” according to Brown Driver Briggs. According to the Greek Septuagint, the Greek word (“hetoimazo” G2090) used there means “to prepare or make ready” according to Thayer’s.

      I could see how this can be thought to mean “cook”, but I think it can also just mean to “establish” or “make ready”. I’d like to see a second witness to clarify if this “preparation” particularly related to cooking. I’ve yet to see it, so I’m staying open-minded on the matter. 😉

      Regardless, it seems to me that what was being particularly forbidden in Exodus 16 was *the gathering of* the manna on the 7th day, not the preparation of it.

      (Thanks for your comment! 😉 )

  4. Patsy Taylor says:

    There was no manna to be gathered on the 7th day.

  5. David says:

    Shalom,

    The 7th day Sabbath and Day of Atonement do not have (“no servile work” except that which must be eaten) because it didn’t apply in that regard.
    Day of Atonement is a fast day Sabbath.
    The 7th day Sabbath is a rest day for all- both the owners and the servants.
    I believe the servants were included so they wouldn’t have to cook and serve their masters on that day. Just like the Hebrews had to do in Egypt, thus the remembering they were slaves and they were to give them rest that day also.
    The other holy convocations are Sabbath related to a feast and feasts have food and no servile work except that which they had to eat was to specifically mention that cooking was allowed on this day whereas it was not allowed on the Sabbaths that do not exclude it. Even though the 4th Commandment was in Exodus 20 and again in Deuteronomy 5 and it doesn’t mention this but mentions to give servants the day off actually fits in with what I’ve typed here. It’s not included where it could have easily been included. Also, at the beginning of the chapter of Leviticus 23 it mentions the 7th day Sabbath and could have mentioned no servile work except that which needs to be cooked, etc… But it doesn’t. I don’t add it in as it’s not there.

    I did enjoy the post and it has been a blessing to read. The verses was put together well and it gives us all who read something to think about as I hope this comment might do the same.

    • Kay says:

      David, you’re comment is very thoughtful. I had a similar line of thinking in the past, until I realized I’ve assumed so many things, mostly due to listening to other teachings more than doing my own due diligence. Where in Scripture does it say that the Day of Atonement is a “fast day Sabbath?”

      I appreciate how everyone here has aseeking attitude…humble and teachable before Abba Yah. 🙂

  6. David says:

    Additionally, I’m still searching and studying and I find it refreshing to read positive words on this site and pleasant responses below. No harsh words anywhere, but words of peace and scriptural basis with in depth word searches.

    Thanks again.

    Shalom

  7. Robin D says:

    I am still confused because although you mention the day of atonement near the top being the other time “no work” is mentioned as with the 7th day, you fail to mention it again as you justify the servile work not being needed to be said because it was already commanded at Mt Sinai It seems to me to still be unanswered as to why “servile” IS mentioned in the other holy days by no work is said on Sabbath and Day of Sttonement.
    So again what is the difference between no work and no servile work?

    • Cynthia Knowing Lyons says:

      ser·vile
      ˈsərvəl,ˈsərˌvīl/
      adjective
      1.
      having or showing an excessive willingness to serve or please others.
      “bowing his head in a servile manner”
      synonyms: obsequious, sycophantic, deferential, subservient, fawning, ingratiating, unctuous, groveling, toadyish, slavish, humble, self-abasing; More
      2.
      of or characteristic of a slave or slaves.

  8. Annie says:

    I believe the intendment regarding servile work is: no service in labor to any but the Lord. The day of atonement makes clear the distinction between work and servile work: in that “ye shall do no manner of work…” see e.g., Leviticus 23:28 through 31; and compare with prior readings regarding servile work in Leviticus. Also, recall that Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man; not man for the sabbath. see Mark 2:27
    Annie

  9. Quin says:

    How would you apply this in a modern context where our culture and society are so different? We cease from our “day job”, but what about laundry, homework, piano practice, etc.? What if something seems like servile work to me but is a delight in God’s creation to someone else (e.g., planting flowers in a garden)? Would the exception in Exodus 12 for food mean we could cater or eat out? Does it apply to those outside the community of believers?

    In short, should we approach the proper application of this in a minimalist way (i.e., apply only what transliterates across the cultural chasm with little ambiguity) or a maximalist way (i.e., seek to translate across cultures, e.g., by transforming at-will employee of a theme park into the manservant we should not ask to work by showing up)? (I omit the spiritualized view, ala John Calvin.)

    • Messyanic says:

      Personally, when questions like these arise, I always say, pray about it. I believe as we continue to seek the will of our Father and obey the letter of the law (as in what is plainly stated), we will be convicted concerning the spirit of the law as to the nuances of what we are to specifically do and not do.

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