At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, #stayathome spread on social media. However, it entails privilege. The hashtag assumes the widespread availability of housing for all people, which is not true. Second, some work can be done from home. However, this is not the case for various types of laborers, as well as those who do not have access to a decent internet connection in their homes. Third, government support for those who lost their jobs or could not continue working was inequitable. It required laborers to rely on their savings. In the beginning of COVID-19, the Indonesian government enforced a lockdown throughout the country. People were expected to stay in their homes, including street merchants. Local officers were assigned to patrol, and if any street vendor dared open their business, they were forced to return home. Street vendors resisted the officers in more than a few places. Among the various things they said to the officers in their anger and resistance, there is a consistent theme.
If they go out, they are at risk of Corona, but they argue that if they stay at home, they are at risk of starvation. One woman was quoted as saying, “outside, I will die because of Corona, but at home, I will die because of hunger.”
Similarly, Exodus 16 narrates some people “who went out” on the Sabbath to gather manna.” Scholars are almost in consensus in viewing the “Sabbath outgoers” negatively, usually for two reasons: disobedience and greed. These people were considered to have recurring disobedience of the instruction or were considered greedy for unceasingly pursuing profits even on the Sabbath. Furthermore, some scholars also contrast the intention to gather the manna on the Sabbath in this passage with the “Sabbathless” regime of Exodus 5. The intention of “gathering” the manna was contrasted with the enslaved Israelites’ assignment to “gather” the straw in Egypt. For that reason, they were viewed as desiring to return to their enslavement.
However, it is essential to note that this narrative opens and concludes with obedience—not disobedience. Moses instructed the Israelites to gather as one needs (v. 16). Immediately following verse 17, the scripture says the Israelites thus so. It is emphasized by verse 18, which says they gathered as each one needed. This statement exactly mirrors Moses’ instruction. The statement is also repeated in v. 21, “morning by morning, they gathered as each one needed.” The passage ends in obedience (v. 30). After the command, “do not leave your place,” it says, “so the people ceased.” After this, we do not have any other disobedience in the narrative. Hence, the narrative opens and concludes with obedience. Focusing only on the alleged disobedience overlooks the obedience example within aspects of the narrative.
These Sabbath outgoers did not have the privilege of the information that would enable them to not “go out” on the seventh day. When Moses issued the first manna-related announcement to the general Israelites (běnê yiśrā’ēl)(v. 15-16), he did not mention the double portions. He mentioned the double portions on the sixth day when only the leaders of the congregation were present (v. 22-23). He also mentioned the preservation method, the baking and boiling of manna (which perhaps explains why the manna is not spoiled the next day), and the Sabbath absence of manna (v. 25). One may assume that these leaders passed on this information to the general public. As important as what is said in a text, it is also important to notice what is not said. This “gap” of information transmission testifies to the exclusivity of this information.
It is information exclusively available to the leaders and can also be noted by the fact that the appearance of the Sabbath outgoers begins with the vayhî (“and it came to pass”), which functions as a new episode marker in Hebrew. A new episode marker, along with an introduction of a new masculine plural subject (“some of the people” [min-hā’ām]), indicates that these plural subjects differ from the preceding episode. After all, they were not introduced as “some of them.” These Sabbath outgoers were not the ones who received the information regarding the double portions, preservation method, or the absence of manna. It is through the lack of information—lack of manna for the Sabbath—that they decided to go out to find it. It is not for the sake of being disobedient or greedy.
With this reading in mind, we should consider different perspectives for comparing the intention to gather the manna on the Sabbath with the enslaved Israelites gathering the straw in Egypt in Exodus 5, as suggested by scholars.
Instead of reading Exodus 16 as the desire of some people to go back to enslavement, where they gather the straw ceaselessly. Like the enslaved in Exodus 5, who struggled to fulfill their daily portion of labor, the Sabbath outgoers in Exodus 16 struggled to fulfill their daily portion of manna for the Sabbath. Like the enslaved in Exodus 5, who need to go out to gather straw while the elites do not, the Sabbath outgoers in Exodus 6 need to go out to gather manna while the leaders do not.
Similarly, street vendors in Indonesia need to go out to trade while the privileged do not. Like the Indonesian street vendors who required material resources to afford to #stayathome, the Sabbath outgoers required manna to afford the Sabbath. In this reading, ensuring a liberative Sabbath is beyond just securing a day to not work—but also securing a “just, equitable, and sustainable economies that benefit all members of society, especially marginalized and vulnerable people,”1 for the whole week and beyond.
1: United Methodist Church Revised Social Principles, p. 15, https://www.umcjustice.org/news-and-stories/social-principles-2020-607
Ludwig Beethoven J. Noya (he/they/dia) is a Ph.D. candidate in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East at Vanderbilt University. His previous studies include master’s degrees from Boston University and Vanderbilt University. Noya’s dissertation revisits the Sabbath narratives in the Hebrew Bible in conversation with the Sabbath experiences of the enslaved in Antebellum North America and those colonized in the British Colonial Global South, along with other critical theories. His writings have appeared in the Biblical Interpretation and are forthcoming in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, the Oxford Handbook for Wealth and Poverty in the Biblical World, and the Multiracial Biblical Studies volume by SBL Press.