You Need to Rest—the Seventh Day of Creation

 Photo by  Civalias Kune  on  Unsplash

Photo by Civalias Kune on Unsplash

My good friend has a heart problem. Sometimes it races uncontrollably, and dangerously. He’s a very busy man, with lots of plates in the air. The doctor says he has to slow down: “There needs to be time each day when you end up saying to yourself, ‘What shall I do now?’” Times of boredom are highly recommended. Does he ever find such times? I doubt it.    

Our pace of life is frantic, perhaps especially if you have some kids running around. And then there’s our mind. There’s a three-ring circus going on up there: action, anguish, anger, drama, dismay, debate, and more action. “When I lay me down to sleep” is exactly when the circus of the mind is unmasked, “with inward furies blasted.” It can take a while to find sleep, and when you wake in the night, it begins again.

Whenever do we find rest for our bodies and minds? Rest from our worries? Rest from our financial obligations and strains? Rest from relationship clouds and puzzles? Above all, rest from sin? From relentless nagging temptation? From failure? From guilt and shame? When will we be able to look at one another with a placid conscience? When will we be able to look full into the awful and holy face of God without flinching with the shame and guilt of a sin-stained soul?

Rest is right here. Right here in the first three verses of the second chapter of Genesis.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. (Gen. 2:1)

Moses pictures completed creation: light, firmament, verdant land, sun, moon, stars, birds, fishes, and the mighty creatures of the ocean deep, the land animals—domestic, wild, and swarming—as a mighty and splendid army, a great host arrayed before her general. And we, male and female in the image of God, are at the head of that array, made by God to enjoy, subdue, and govern it all for the mutual benefit of humanity and creation. 

God finishes what he starts. 

God was thus successful in his work. This is emphatic—both verses one and two begin in the original language with the verb “finished.”

How many times do we start something that we never finish: War and Peace, a home-project, learning German, or writing a piece of music? And we fail so often to complete far more important things: we pull out of a friendship, we give up on parenting, or even a marriage. Why do we fail? Sometimes because we lack the strength and ability: we thought we could write an EP, or build a greenhouse, but we just can’t. More often we get bored, or we simply lack the will to stick with what we promised to stick with. God set out to create the universe, with humanity as his leading image-bearers; and lacking neither the power, ability, or will, he completed his work.

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Gen. 2:2-3)

Work is good.

God worked. Work is good. We were created to work. Work is not the result of the curse any more than childbirth is the result of the curse. It is the difficulty and frustration of work that came as part of the curse, just as it is the pain of childbirth—of bringing a child into a world of war and disease and evil—that was curse-caused.

The great goal of many in the West is retirement from work: endless summers of eggs Benedict, country drives, and barge tours down the Rhone. Work is painful and frustrating. Who does not want to be freed from that? But our Maker works (“My Father is always at his work to this very day,” John 5:17), and he made us to work. Work is good, and it is sin to want to have no work and responsibility. To get old and frail in body and mind, where we can no longer do as much work, is a sadness. We should look forward to those new bodies that are promised to Christ’s people, so that we can get back to work! What we need is not the absence of work, but the redemption of work.  

Yet on the Seventh Day of creation week, God stopped working, and rested. Work is good, yet work is not an end itself. It is done to make something good, to achieve something worthy, and then after completion there is rest and the enjoyment of what is made. It is very bold of Moses to say that “God rested,” and even to say that he was “refreshed” on that day (Exod. 31:17). The idolatrous mind, always hankering to belittle God, instinctively seizes at his phrase: “Who is this god who is so wearied by his exertions that he needs to rest? Is he really almighty and self-sufficient?” Genesis 2 doesn’t say that a tired god needed to stop. This is God’s way: he works, and then he ceases from work and rests.

God’s way: work, and then rest.

This is likewise to be the way of God’s image-bearers. For God “blessed the seventh day, and made it holy.” When God blesses, he turns his face towards someone or something, communicates his goodness to that thing, and bestows function. (Thus, God had blessed the birds and fishes, land-animals, and humanity [Gen. 1:22, 28].) The Seventh Day alone is blessed, to reflect the face of God and all his goodness. The Seventh Day will carry a special function: God makes it holy—distinct, life-imparting, and good.

Thus, a principle and pattern is established. We note here the correspondence between the Hebrew ordinal “seventh” (שׁביעי, shabīī) and the verb “to rest, cease, stop, take a holiday” (שׁבת, shābat), whose equivalent noun is שׁבת, shabāt, “Sabbath,” “a set-apart day of rest,” or a “week.” We can see then in the Old Testament how intertwined are the ideas of Sabbath, seventh, rest, and week.  

In the world’s first week sacred principles are thus blessed: of work not being in itself an end, of working for something, of enjoying its completion in subsequent rest, and of all God’s work tending toward supreme life and goodness.

For the first readers of Genesis, the Hebrew slaves of Pharaoh, this represented 1) salvation liberation, and 2) its means.

The Hebrew slaves needed salvation liberation.

First, the Hebrew slaves’ work was bitter, unreasonable, and driven by the overseer’s blood-caked lash. The days were very long. There was no day of rest.  

God showed them his original plan and design: six days of work, then one day of rest. And God pledged to replicate this work with his people. From the black chaos of slavery, he would bring light and life. He would redeem his people from the lash into the Promised Land, a place of salvation plenty, freedom, and rest.

God showed the Hebrews how their salvation liberty would be won.

Second, by establishing among the freed Hebrews a weekly routine of human work and rest patterned on the creation week, God also showed how salvation liberty would be won. We see this with the establishment of the Sabbath in Exodus 16 and the gracious provision of manna. Every day God would rain down food from heaven, except on the sixth day, when he would rain down double, so that his people would not have to go out and collect food on the seventh. This inculcated faithful reliance on God’s gracious provision: “On the Sabbath we don’t have to work for this life-giving food: he has given it to us already! And we will trust week-after-week that he will do this.” 

God reinforced this blessed pattern with a rule:

“This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord…’” (Exod. 16:23)
“…Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” (Exod. 16:29)

God gave two reasons for the Fourth Commandment.

This command is then generalized and enshrined as the fourth of the Ten Commandments: 

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Exod. 20:8-10)

The reason given in Exodus for the Fourth Commandment is God’s own creation-week work:

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exod. 20:11)

The reason given in Deuteronomy for the Fourth Commandment is God’s redemption:

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deut. 5:15)

The Seventh Day of creation was thus a pattern for God’s image-bearers, and a picture of redemption. The Seventh Day teaches that God will save his people from slavery. Obeying the creation week pattern, and resting on the Seventh Day, teaches that we are saved not by our works, but by trusting in God’s work for us. Thus for Isaiah the Sabbath is a delight:

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasureon my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure,or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isa. 58:13-14)  

The Sabbath is Jesus’ day.

In the Gospels we see Jesus taking complete charge of the Sabbath. He taught on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21, 6:2). He picked heads of grain on the Sabbath, and demolished the Pharisees’ protests, teaching that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-28). He defiantly healed people on the Sabbath: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:1-5). Above all, he declared about himself: “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).  

The Pharisees loaded the Sabbath with untold stupid laws and turned it into a day of fear and misery. Jesus now recovers it. For he is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the God of the seven days of creation. He was the one who created the world and who rested on the Seventh Day. He determines what is good for the Sabbath because it is his day.  

Hebrews 4:9-10 says that “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” In Jesus we are delivered from lives cut short by death and are brought to the fulfilment of our God-given destiny. In Jesus we are delivered from cursed frustrating work and brought into rest. Jesus wins for us Sabbath rest. We stop trying to work and win salvation for ourselves, and we trust in him and his work for us, for:  

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)   

Christians now gather together on the Lord’s Day as they rest in Christ.

Thus, in the New Testament God’s blessed day shifts from the last day of the week to the first—the day when our salvation was completed, the day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:1; Mark 16:2), and the day of his repeated resurrection appearances (John 20:19, 26). Christians met on this day (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2), and thus it came to be known as “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10).  

The ancient church manual known as the Didache commends this:

But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure” (14:1).

And Justin Martyr (110-165) said:

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the overseer verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
Then we all rise together and pray, and when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the overseer in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons....
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. (First Apology, chap. 67).

You will find the peace that your mind and soul craves, and rest from your sin, in the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ.

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Campbell Markham is a Presbyterian pastor in Hobart, Tasmania. He blogs at Campbell Markham: Thoughts and Letters.

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