Rest For The Animals? Nonhuman Sabbath Repose In Pentateuchal Law -- By: A. Rahel Schafer

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 23:2 (NA 2013)
Article: Rest For The Animals? Nonhuman Sabbath Repose In Pentateuchal Law
Author: A. Rahel Schafer

Rest For The Animals?
Nonhuman Sabbath Repose In Pentateuchal Law

A. Rahel Schafer

Wheaton College

Israel’s legal material embodies care for nonhuman creatures. In comparison to the Decalogue, the concept of animal Sabbath rest is broadened in motivation, definition, and scope in each of the other sections of law. Exodus 20:8–11 provides the definition of Sabbath rest: animals are to do no work on Sabbath just like humans. Deuteronomy 5:12–15 expands the motivation for the Sabbath: rest for all laborers and domestic animals; deliverance from Egypt and oppression. Leviticus 25:2–7 expands the scope of Sabbath rest: Sabbath food is even for wild animals, and Sabbath rest is also for the land. The paradigm shift of Exod 23:10–12 expands the definition (animal rest is like God’s rest), the scope (provision for the disadvantaged/rest for all workers), and motivation (in order that animals and servants may rest) of Sabbath rest. Other biblical passages shed further light on nonhuman Sabbath repose, as well as implying contemporary responsibilities for all humans regarding animal rest and care.

Key Words: animals, rest, Sabbath, Decalogue, law

Author’s note: I originally wrote this article for a doctoral seminar in OT ethics at Wheaton College in 2008. I am indebted to my professor/mentor Daniel I. Block and several classmates for their many helpful comments and suggestions for improvement.


The recent plethora of zoological surveys and faunal analyses expresses the increased interest in the types of animals mentioned in the Bible, along with those animals present in surrounding regions.1 Scholars have

examined the functions of animals in the ancient Near East and the history of the domestication of animals,2 but very few have investigated in detail the ethical implications of domestication.3 Religious communities also have been slow to recognize the accountability of humans towards nature, a fact reflected in the relative paucity of scholarly work concerning the proper treatment of animals.4 For example, Christians are accustomed to interpreting the Bible’s command for humans to rule over and subdue the earth as permission to exploit animals without hesitation, even if only...

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