The origins of the Sabbath are obscure; there are no contemporary parallels in ancient Near Eastern practices. On the other hand, the Bible gives two contradictory accounts for its origin. Both Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:8-11 claim that its origin is
because for six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day. On account of this, Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The last sentence here is a direct reference to the Priestly creation account (Gen 2:3). Whoever authored this origin for the Sabbath—bear in mind that Ex 20:11 is merely a part of its immediate context, the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17)—was familiar with P’s text or the textual tradition from which P itself was composed.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15, however, which is a part of a duplicate rendition of the Ten Commandments in the Deuteronomic source (Deut 5:6-18), accredits a different origin to the Sabbath:
you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yahweh, your god, brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. On account of this, Yahweh, your god, has commanded you to do the Sabbath day.
The different explanations given for the origin of the Sabbath observance reflects yet again the fact that these two accounts were penned by different authors. In the end it may be that neither author was familiar with the reasons behind the establishment of the Sabbath, and that both authors merely culled their responses from two different traditions: the 7th day of rest from the creation account and the Exodus tradition. Furthermore, Deuteronomy’s explanation of the origin of the Sabbath stresses the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites. It is secular and humanitarian in nature, an act of remembrance that the community is obliged to reenact out of covenantal obligations. This stress on secular and humanitarianism is a common theme throughout the Deuteronomic literature and we will see more of it when we get to this book. This explanation additionally correlates well with the Deuteronomist’s general emphasis on the covenantal obligations inherit in the Exodus narrative. The phrase “Yahweh, your god, who brought you out from Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm” only occurs in the Deuteronomic corpus.
The explanation giving by the author of Ex 20:11, following Gen 2:2-3, stresses the sacred character of the Sabbath, understanding it as holy, consecrated, and woven into the fabric of the universe itself. See #1 for more about the Priestly conception of the Sabbath.
Coincidence or divine providence, but as I write this post Friday evening, Jan the 4th, the Sabbath has just commenced. Yea, that’s right, the Sabbath is Saturday! Don’t fret, wordpress will automatically post contradiction #5 tomorrow so we won’t miss a beat.
See also #171.