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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Life Begins with Sabbath Rest

In the reading I have done on Sabbath, I frequently came across an idea I had never considered. Several authors and Bible scholars made this same point. The idea is that creation points to the 7th day, the Sabbath. God wasn’t just making the heavens and the earth on a whim. God wasn’t in his eternal glory, bored, and he thought, “I know! I’ll create a universe.” There was more purpose to it, so the idea goes. Sabbath is a key.

Consider the movement in the creation account: day one, separate light from darkness. Day two, God created the sky (the “dome”). Day three, God makes dry land and plant life. Day four, the sun and moon were created. Day five, it was sea creatures and birds.

Now up to this point, God reflects on each act of creation. God saw that it was “good.” But, there is more to it on day five. On day five, God has direct interaction with the living beings He has made. “21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth”(Genesis 1:21-22). God spoke to his creation and gave them responsibility. The animals (sea animals and birds) were to be fruitful and multiple.

Things changed even more dramatically on the fifth day. God made land animals; then God’s masterpiece. 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the [ak]sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the [al]sky and over every living thing that [am]moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).

God may have related to some animals through instruction, “be fruitful and multiply,” but it went much deeper with these he made in his image. Humans were also to be fruitful and multiply, which means procreation, and humans were to manage as God’s stewards. God blessed humans. That essentially communicates that God created conditions so that it would go well with human beings if they did things God’s way. Blessing is a component of covenant. Blessing means life is good.

Blessing also comes with responsibility. Humans were to fill and subdue the earth in a way that recognized the goodness of God’s creation and the wonder of God’s glory. When God saw all that was done and humans had the blessing and the commands God had given, God saw that it was better than good. It was “very good” (1:31).

Thus it appears that creation reaches its climax when men and women are made and given their divine marching orders to manage the earth. But this is only the sixth day and there are seven days. Creation is driven to the seventh day, the one day God “hallowed” (NRSV), or “made holy” (Genesis 2:3). When all the conditions were ready, by God’s creation, and God saw that the world was as He thought it should be, then God felt confident in rest. He could stop creating. He could leave humans in charge. He could rest and enjoy what He had made.

Sabbath is what God had in mind when God created. Creation leads to Sabbath. The first day of life, once created, for Humans was the seventh day, the Sabbath. Life for human beings began with Sabbath rest. In our keeping of Sabbath, can we recreate those Eden conditions where all we need is provided in fruit trees planted by God and streams that run as God directs them and there is no danger and nothing to fear? No!

Life in our time is full of pitfalls, some in nature, more in civilization. The fall of Adam and Eve and every human that has ever sinned has drawn away from God’s Sabbath intention. So what good today is Sabbath-keeping, if it simply amounts to a dim reminder of what was lost?

Sabbath-keeping remembers Eden, the perfection God created. Sabbath-keeping reminds us that God is good and God wants good for us. And Sabbath-keeping, when focused on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit calls us forward. Our life (our human origins) did not simply begin with Sabbath rest. We have ahead of us an eternity in God’s new heaven and new earth. When we set time apart as Sabbath time, time for worship, community, and rest, we anticipate the eternal joy we will have in the unending presence of God. That eternity will be filled with love, togetherness, worship, feasting, and peace. What was at the beginning, the goal of creation, Sabbath, will be forever. So, in Sabbath-keeping, we remember, we look ahead, and we celebrate God.


  1. The word "rest" keeps creeping in. I wonder what is meant by "rest." Is it to be still and contemplate God's gifts? No TV or football games, no cooking, none of the daily occupations in which we engage during the week? "Rest" has different meanings for different people. Could you clarify that?

  2. Great question about "rest" and I have to admit, I am still seeking on that. But I think part of my struggle is that what is "rest" for one person is not "rest" for another. You pointed that out pretty well. And that is why clarifying "rest" is something I find difficult. I am also finding it hard to carve in my own family's life what Sabbath looks like. I wish I had a ready made answer. I think rest is unstressed time - can cooking be relaxing, unstressed? Then I think it would be a good Sabbath activity. Is cooking just burdened labor? Then it would not be a good Sabbath activity. I would pose the same questions to gardening or walking. Watching football ... mmm. As I football lover,I want to say it is great! But I am not sure 4-5 hours of being a couch potato, neglecting family to focus on a football game or two is truly Sabbath activity. In fact, I would think it is not. It might be what I want to do, but it is not Sabbath, I don't think. Great question though. I need to write much more on it.

  3. Rob, This is prob. a little off of this, but if Day 1- He sep. light from the darkness; & Day 4- He created the sun & moon, What is the diff. between the 2 days?

  4. As a follow up to your's and Kathleen's comments about rest, I stop and think a moment about the idea that " God saw that the world was as He thought it should be, then God felt confident in rest." Confident that He could rest? I don't think we can apply a human need of "rest" to God. We all need rest to recharge our batteries but I don't really think God has that need. I do think God took the time on the Sabbath to look at all he had made and think it was "Good". Although we should do it every day, the Sabbath is the one day we should slow down (rest) and contemplate God and his creation! Rob, as you said, rest can take many forms, cooking, watching football, or in my case, just playing in the floor with my granddaughters. Sometimes I just stop and sit back and marvel at what they say and do. Truly, Jesus knew what he was doing in brnging the "little children" to him. I guess what I am trying to say is that I think resting in your own way and contemplating God and all his creation and goodness go hand in hand to creating the kind of Sabbath that God wants us to observe.

  5. To me a day of rest is not having deadlines,to be able to act on things with out preasures.I find it restful to tinker with things,watch tv,do things with family.Should our Day of Sabbeth be spent all day worshiping God as modeled by other churchs?I beleive tru rest comes from God,and that rest can be achevied by comunicating with God,in short every day to me can be a day of rest as long as you are in tune with God.

  6. I find your thought about the first week as a kind of trajectory toward the Sabbath very interesting. Though I also had a similar reaction to Nelson's to the attribution of confidence to God, it seems to me the important point is that "Creation is driven to the seventh day, the one day God 'hallowed' (NRSV), or 'made holy' (Genesis 2:3)." God created (and is still creating today), and the climax of the creation is not that He sat back to rest; it's that He made some defined portion of the creation holy--set apart for His special purposes. Resting is part of those purposes, but not all.

  7. Great feed back from everyone.

    CARLA - Your question is a problem when one reads the days of creation as a literal recording of how God did thing. I do not read Genesis 1-2 that way. I read the opening chapters of scripture a theological spiritual reflecation and proclamation of what God. Specifically how did God do it? I am not sure we can definitively say. I tend to think evolutionary biology along with geology has a lot right in describing what God did in creating. But I don't think the sciences get it all right. I am probably a beiever in theistic evolution with some intelligent design sprinkled in. I say that as a faith statement, not as a science statement.

  8. I love Nelson's observation that playing with grandkids is a Sabbath activity. It absolutely is because it can be an activity that honors God, and in doing it one can seek God. The Sunday afternoon can be a special "grandpa time," so it is unique. And, it is a time we can share the gospel in an appropriate way that takes into account the age, maturity, and spiritual situation of the people involved. Appropriate also means natural - not, I repeat not, turning play time into an evangelism session. But rather sharing Jesus as a natural part of the play.

    DAVID SENG - I agree that Sabbath should not be a 12-hour church service. On Sabbath there should be fun, play, rest, and togetherness for talking and sharing life. I do think worship is an essential part of Sabbath and it is not Sabbath without prayer and worship. But, there is also more to it than just going to church.

  9. Rob, I am doing a Bible study on Hebrews, and it's such a coincidence (or not) that I am studying Hebrews 4 this week. It talks about God's rest. To me it seems that the rest the author talks about in Hebrews has several meanings: 1. the land of Canaan that God promised to the Israelites, 2. the rest (heaven) all will receive who believes in Jesus as their Saviour, 3. Inner-peace. Then I read this article you wrote, and a question keeps coming up that bothers me. Can it be that the seventh day refers to the future? When earth and heaven is no more, and we live with God in heaven (or on the new earth). God's work surely did not stop on the 6th day, but will it stop when it's all say and done, and not only us, but also God can rest? Sorry for being off the real topic here, but all this talk about "rest" just happen to cross my path now for the last 4 days.

  10. RIANA - I certainly think Sabbath rest anticipates the eternity we will experience in the New Heaven and New Earth. I think Sabbath points to it and when we are able to keep Sabbath, we get a preview of what Heaven will be like, just a little bit. So in some sense, I think Sabbath connects Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. I don't think Sabbath refers only to the future. But I absolutely do think it does point to the future and I think Sabbath keeping is one way of experiencing what we will experience.

  11. I've been thinking about Gen. 1:31-2:3. I think that one of the questions I have is: Is celebration a part of rest? I never really thought about that until this series on rest, & so I was looking things up in diff. versions & in my Strongs's. I looked up the word "rest" in diff. verses. Gen. 2:2-3 was the only one of the ones I looked at(in the Strongs Concordance) that mentioned the word "celebrate". I'd never thought of it as being, but when I kept re-reading those verses, I realized that God didn't have to rest! He's the creator, he never tires! But then I thought, Gen 1:31; God saw all that he had made & it was very good.... Don't we tend to "celebrate" be happy if we've done something well? Then I was thinking, God is the energizer bunny that just keeps on going no matter what! But he knew that mankind would not be able to do that. Therefore, resting on the 7th day, he is instructing us to take time & focus on him, & all he has created. The other verses I looked up, Heb. 4:3 - seemed to indicate an abode: While Matt. 11:28 seemed to imply to repose, to refresh; & Matt. 11:29- seemed to say intermission, recreation, rest. These verses cause me to think of Ps. 46:1, because he is our refuge! I do think that "rest" involves many diff. things. Carla