Was guarding a city wall allowed on the Sabbath?

Author: BibleAsk Team

The question of whether guarding a city wall was permitted on the Sabbath is one that arises from the intersection of religious law, practical necessity, and ethical considerations within ancient Jewish society. To explore this topic comprehensively, we’ll delve into relevant passages from the Bible, examine the principles underlying Sabbath observance in Jewish tradition, and consider historical and cultural contexts.

Sabbath Observance in the Bible

    a. Exodus 20:8-11: The fourth commandment of God’s moral law instructs them to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. This includes refraining from work, allowing rest for oneself, family members, and even servants.

    b. Exodus 31:12-17: The Sabbath is described as a sign between God and His people, emphasizing its importance in the covenant relationship between God and His people. Violating the Sabbath is punishable by death, indicating the seriousness of Sabbath observance.

    c. Deuteronomy 5:12-15: The Sabbath commandment is reiterated, with additional emphasis on remembering the deliverance from slavery in Egypt as a basis for Sabbath observance.

    Application to Guarding City Walls

      a. Nehemiah 13:15-22: In the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah confronts the violation of the Sabbath by merchants who set up shops outside Jerusalem’s walls. He rebukes them for profaning the Sabbath and commands the gates of the city to be shut during the Sabbath to prevent further violations.

      b. Nehemiah 4:1-23: Nehemiah oversees the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, which were destroyed during the Babylonian exile. In the face of opposition from surrounding enemies, Nehemiah organizes guards to watch over the city day and night, including on the Sabbath.

      c. 2 Kings 11:4-12: Athaliah, the wicked queen of Judah, seeks to destroy the royal seed and usurp the throne. In response, Jehoiada the priest organizes guards to protect King Joash from harm, including on the Sabbath.

      Interpretation and Application

        a. Practical Necessity: In ancient times, guarding city walls was essential for the defense and security of the city and its inhabitants. Threats from enemies, invaders, or marauders necessitated constant vigilance, even on the Sabbath.

        b. Exceptional Circumstances: Some interpreters argue that guarding city walls constituted a form of essential work or duty that was permissible on the Sabbath under exceptional circumstances, such as the imminent threat of attack or invasion.


        In conclusion, the question of whether guarding a city wall was allowed on the Sabbath in ancient Jewish tradition is a complex issue that involves balancing practical necessity, ethical considerations, and religious principles. While the Sabbath commandment emphasizes rest and refraining from work, historical and cultural contexts suggest that exceptions may have been made in cases of urgent need or imminent threat to the community’s safety and security.

        Biblical narratives such as those found in Nehemiah and 2 Kings illustrate instances where guarding city walls was deemed necessary, even on the Sabbath, to protect against external threats and ensure the safety of the inhabitants.

        In His service,
        BibleAsk Team

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