This is the famous "ox in the ditch" example. "Ditch" is incorrect; "pit" is correct. It is virtually impossible for an ox or an ass to fall into a ditch. They have four legs, four hooves, making among the most stable and sure-footed of all domesticated animals. Man has two legs, and how many times do we fall in a ditch? Almost never, and an ox or an ass will hardly ever fall into a ditch either.
But they did occasionally fall in a pit. He is specifically speaking about a cistern, which caught rainwater and stored it in the ground. People occasionally, carelessly, left the lid off the cistern, and a person or an ox or ass would step into the hole and fall into the pit. Sometimes it was a life-or-death situation, because the cistern might be full of water many feet deep.
The chances, then, of an ox or an ass falling into a pit are probably about as good as seeing a blue moon. It just does not happen all that often. This examle, of course, applies in principle to emergency situations that might arise on the Sabbath. True emergencies do not happen all that often either. They occur every once in a while.
If somebody comes to us with what they claim is an emergency, we must make the decision as to whether it is an emergency or not. We must not let them bulldoze us, because often the "emergency" will be something like, "I forgot to buy sugar yesterday when I went shopping, and now I need to go to the store." There is a big difference between that and, "My son just fell out of the apple tree and broke his arm." One is a genuine emergency, the other is merely an inconvenience.
If we do any old thing just because somebody else decides it is an emergency, there will not be any witness made, is there? We will be making no witness that we are keeping the Sabbath holy. In addition, we are showing God that we will probably be a weak king because we will let any special-interest group just bulldoze us into doing what they want. So we need to decide whether the situation will be resolved the way they want or the way we—and God—want.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 5)