A Day of Rest?

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28

Michael LeFebvre, (The Liturgy of Creation) sees the culmination of the creation week in Genesis 2:1-3. Having ordered and filled the earth, God now rests.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

In Exodus 31 the wording is more specific, even in English translation.

The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. (vv. 16-17)

Did God really need to rest and refresh, weary from the labor of the previous six days? Clearly there must be something more going on here. LeFebvre suggests that rather than commemorating God’s need for refreshment, the Israelites are called to remembrance of the fruitfulness creation that God has provided. “The implication is one of resting among the fruits of the week’s labor just gathered for the sake of feasting.” (p. 187) God blessed the day and made it holy in  remembrance of his everlasting providence and provision. LeFebvre concludes:

In the Pentateuch, harvest festivals were inscribed with the memories of the exodus and Noah’s deliverance by means of dated narratives. And the creative goodness of God was similarly inscribed into Israel’s sabbath week through the dated events of Genesis 1:1-2:3. The purpose of that creation week calendar was to inspire the common Hebrew fieldhand and shepherd with an awareness that the fruitfulness they worked for each week was put there by God. And the rest they celebrated each sabbath enabled them to cling to his promises to complete the kingdom in which they served. (p. 195)

Exactly what this day of rest should commemorate for us as Christians will be addressed in the final chapter of LeFebvre’s book and the last post in this series. However, it is clear from this discussion and from the passage from Mark quoted at the top of this post, that it is not a set of opaque rules to be obeyed under fear of death. The Sabbath was important, but it was instituted for the good of the Israelites – not for their judgment. God himself was their provider and is ours as well.  Continuing on:

In this chapter, we have come to the end of the creation week narrative God has likened himself to a Hebrew laborer, weary but satisfied after six days of labor, sitting down to enjoy its bounty on the seventh. Even the most literalist readings of the creation week calendar admit the character of the  seventh day as a model for human imitation rather than an actual depiction of God “catching his breath:’ I agree but argue that the entire week has been cast as a pattern for human labor and worship and not as a record of God’s actual creation chronology. It is therefore incumbent on us in the church today to make less of efforts to mine the creation week narrative for scientific insights and to make more of its practical guidance for our own labors and worship as stewards of the earth God made, fostering its fruitfulness in God’s image. (p. 195)

Genesis 1 is a text that relates the fundamental truth of God as creator. It is historical in that sense. Although God did create everything, and thus from nothing, this isn’t the point of Genesis 1. (We find it in other places in the Bible.) Genesis 1 celebrates God’s ordering, separating and filling providence, providing a fruitful dwelling for his people and establishing a rhythm of work and worship. It isn’t a text focused on science and history providing us with a journalistic account of God’s work of creation. In taking it seriously as the word of God, Christians can disagree about the chronology of creation without fear of heresy, apostasy, or atheism.

The more important question is this: Is the rhythm of work and worship one we can or should ignore as 21st century Christians?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

This post is also visible at Jesus Creed now at Christianity Today.

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