What is the exact meaning of the Hebrew word m'lacha and its variants? What types of work were prohibited by the Old Testament?
Question: ,I’d like to hear your opinion on the following question I heard… In the first narrative of the Ten Commandments, the verses regarding sabbath observance read as follows: Ex.20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work,but the seventh day… you shall not do any work /m’lacha… for in six days The Creator made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day” ,In these verses (as well as many others – my Concordance listed 166 entries of the term ‘”m’lacha” and its variants in the Old Testament) the term used to refer to “work” is “m’lacha”. The question is this: What does this term mean? What types of “work” are being strictly forbidden by the Old Testament? How were the readers and followers of the Old Testament supposed to know what this important prohibition included? This term is nowhere defined or explained in the Old Testament? ,Answer,I believe that it was on purpose that God did not give an exact legalistic meaning to the word work. Of couse, I assume you know that the Jews did exactly what God did not want them to do. The Jews, like many of us, are looking for legalistic rules or definitions. Is it legal to go out and plow your field on the Sabbath? Well, obviously not. What about leading your cattle out to water or milking your cows, which is necessary for the cows to live? Obviously, that is OK. Is it “work” for mom to make dinner on the Sabbath? Well, it depends on whether she opens a can or not. If she opens a can, it is work, but if she just opens the refrigerator it is not work. Is it work to clean the house on the Sabbath? Yes. Well, what about cleaning the dishes? If we do not clean the dishes it can attract flies and become unhealthy. OK, I guess it is OK to clean the dishes on the Sabbath. Well then, is it OK for a professional dishwasher to work on the Sabbath? No! Why is it OK to do dishes at home, but not at work? Do you see the problem here? If you want a definition of work, you miss the point, and you risk becoming a legalist.,Bottom line, God made the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath!!! (this is a quote from the Bible, not from people trying to avoid obeying the command). God wanted his people to stop work, to rest and to worship him one day a week. Thus he instituted the Sabbath. I think that ALL of us know what work is. We do not need a definition, such as how far we can walk or how heavy a load we can pick up. All these things were defined to ridiculous extent by the Pharisees, which is exactly what Jesus opposed. God did not define work because what is important about the Sabbath is the heart. What is work for one person may not be for another, but common sense is sufficient to answer 99% of all questions. The rest is probably not worth arguing over. The Sabbath was a law, but all along God wanted it to teach a principle, which is the need to stop, rest, and contemplate our God. Christains (including myself) can learn a lot from the Jewish Sabbath. One thing for sure, it is not about legalism. For example, if my neighbor is in great need, I will help him or her on the Sabbath, regardless of whether it is “work.” The principle of helping people can take precedence over the need to not work.,In summary there is not strict definition of work in the Old Testament for a reason. The Sabbath is a principle of not working, not a rule of not working.,John Oakes, PhD