Sabbath Grain

If we look for an original context for Israel’s Sabbath observance, I believe the evidence points to agriculture; the prohibitions of the day of rest were first directed to such activities as plowing, sowing, tilling, irrigating, and harvesting.

This supposition explains the extension of the Sabbath rest to the benefit of farm animals. The beasts that pull the plow and the wagon, after all, arguably work harder than the farmer himself. (Robert Palmer, in The World of the French Revolution, records how France’s brief experiment with a ten-day week caused extreme fatigue and a high death-rate among draft animals. Nine straight days of labor was too deadly to last long.) So dominant is farming in considerations of the Sabbath that a variant of it was imposed even on the soil (’adamah), which was to lie fallow every seventh year.

Genesis says that agriculture was man’s first form of labor: “Now the Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.” After the Fall—and because of it—man’s care and cultivation of the soil became exceedingly onerous: “Cursed be the ground (’arurah ha’adamah) because of you. . . . You shall eat bread in the sweat of your face until you return to the ground (’el-ha’adamah).” Henceforth, an ongoing struggle with weeds was added to the daily burden, until man himself, at the end of his labors, would return to the soil.


Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

more on bible from the online archives

31.4—July/August 2018

Listening to Eve

on the Brevity & Theology of Her Recorded Words by Judith Anderson

32.3—May/June 2019

Editing Jesus

on the Implications of Changing the Pater Noster by John M. McCarthy

5.3—Summer 1992

The Bible Tells Me So

Everything You Need to Know About Morality & the Bible by David Mills

more from the online archives

30.3—May/June 2017

Not Merely Islam

C. S. Lewis Assesses the Religion of Mohammed by Jacob Fareed Imam

32.5—September/October 2019

Must Say No

on When Christians Can't Compromise by Joshua Steely

31.2—March/April 2018

Reason Takes Up Arms

How Best to Face the Total War of the Anti-Culture by R. J. Snell

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone