Genesis 1 and 2 tell of God spreading out his work of creation over 6 discrete days. But why did this take a period of time at all? He is God, he could have created it all in an instant had he chosen to do so.
It seems that God used this timescale specifically to teach us that we need rest. God himself does not require rest. His strength is inexhaustible. But he thus gives us, made in his image, Genesis 1.26, 27, a pattern of work and rest to copy.
God made us to work. But he also indicates that rest is essential for us as finite creatures.
THE FUNDAMENTAL PATTERNS OF WORK AND REST
In Genesis we find that as God makes the world two basic rhythms of work and rest are established.
- In Genesis 1 we find a daily cycle of work and rest with evening and morning, Genesis 1.5; 1.8; 1.13; 1.19; 1.23; 1.31 (cf. John 9.4). God appears to work during the day but cease in the evening until the next morning.
- In Genesis 2 we find a weekly cycle of work and rest established. The pattern is of six days work followed by a day of rest, Genesis 2.1-3.
In Genesis 2.1-3, Moses draws attention to the special nature of the 7th day in several ways. First, although 2.1-3 belongs with Genesis 1 there is nevertheless a break from the ‘And God said…’ pattern introducing the previous 6 days. Second, the day is emphasized in a way the other days are not. Each is mentioned only once, 1.5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31. The phrase ‘the seventh day’ is repeated three times in 2.2-3. What is more the Hebrew phrase occurs in three separate sentences each composed of 7 words. Third, though the word ‘Sabbath’ is not here, yet the word for ‘rest’ used in this verses is virtually the same word (Shabbath compared with Shabath). Fourthly, God is said to ‘bless’ the seventh day. Implied is the thought that those who so rest from labour one day in 7 will be blessed. Fifthly, we are told God ‘made it holy,’ a day set apart for God. Sixthly, the ‘evening and morning’ formula is abandoned for the 7th day (hinting at God’s salvation provision of an eternal Sabbath in Christ?).
There are those who try to deny that the day of rest is a creation ordinance, arguing that it was first revealed at Sinai, that it was for the Israelites only and was part of the ceremonial law which is now gone in Christ. But as we see from the wording, to deny a reference to the Sabbath in Genesis 2.2, 3 would be to be pedantic in the extreme. Furthermore, Moses specifically explains in the 10 commandments that the Sabbath is does go back to creation, Exodus 20.11. So to try to restrict the one in 7 day of rest to it being solely the covenant sign of the Mosaic covenant with Israel won’t wash.
The 4th commandment is part of the moral law. It is wrong to try to make people work 7 days a week.
REST IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The great emphasis of the NT is on the spiritual rest of salvation to be found in the Lord Jesus as we cease from relying on our works to put us right with God and trust in Christ alone, Matthew 11.28-29. Believing in Christ opens for us the prospect of heavenly rest, the eternal Sabbath which still remains for the people of God, Hebrews 4.9, 10; Revelation 14.12, 13. In this sense it is true that Christ brings to fulfilment the rest pictured in the Sabbath.
But to say that because we already enjoy something of this spiritual rest we no longer require the physical rest of one day off in seven would be as ridiculous as saying that because Christ and the church fulfil the true meaning of marriage, we no longer require marriage between men and women.
- The Lord Jesus, while rejecting the man-made rules of the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath, confirmed that confirmed the pattern of one day of rest in 7 as a good gift of God for mankind and declared its place within the sphere of his Messianic Lordship, Mark 2.27, 28.
- As Lord of the Sabbath he encouraged the first Christians to meet together on the first day of the week rather than the last through his resurrection appearances and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost which was a Sunday, John 20.1, 19; Acts 2.1.
- No other day, except the first day of the week, is singled out for special mention in the NT showing it had special significance for Christians, Matthew 28.1; Mark 16.2; Luke 24.1; John 20.1; Acts 20.7.
- Paul’s words of apparent ‘indifference’ towards ‘special days’ Romans 14.5,6 and ‘a Sabbath day’ Colossians 2.17, occur against a Jewish influence in the church and should not be generalised. Paul himself saw ‘every first day of the week’ was special, 1 Corinthians 16.2. And the apostle John certainly thought Sunday was special, calling it ‘the Lord’s day,’ Revelation 1.10.
This series on ‘The Bible and Our Daily Work’ is taken from a sermon series given by Dr. John Benton at Chertsey Street Baptist Church in 2012.
A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.