The Sabbath in Genesis

Continuing to think through the matter of evening worship, in this article I want to focus on the doctrine of the Sabbath. How do we begin to examine this subject? Matthew 12:8 says, “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” The Jesus rules over the Sabbath. This point is where we begin and is also one of the first places of agreement for Christians in the discussion of the Sabbath. Jesus is our Lord and the Lord of the Sabbath. And as he is our Lord we must consider how we regard that day in light of Christ’s exhortations to his people. All of Scripture God’s word and is revealed for teaching and proclaiming the grand, redemptive, creative works of God to us. The doctrine of the Christian Sabbath is therefore rightly understood as shown by God for his purposes and our benefit. It is necessary for a discussion on the Sabbath to begin where the Scriptures first describe Sabbath in Genesis and move forward.

In this next series of articles, I examine the creation narrative and observe three points.
1. God is creator of creation and time
2. God makes man in his image
3. Man is to image God in his work and rest
This first article will focus on God as Creator of creation and time.

God is Creator of Creation and Time
After the initial moments of creation, Scripture records a state of “unbounded and deep and darkness” (Gen. 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.) Scripture describes Spirit of God as “hovering” over the face of the deep, a reference to the theophanic glory cloud suggests OT scholar M.G. Kline. The presence of the Spirit causes us to think of the power of God in creation, as the world is in chaos, but the power of God brings order and sustains it. (Calvin) The same Spirit that is present at Pentecost, the erection of the temple, and during the Exodus wanderings, is present in the creation event. The author of Hebrews identifies this description in Genesis as the Son.

Hebrews 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

The Sabbath Theme
In Genesis 1 the central theme of the creation account is the Sabbath, not the length of days as some choose to emphasize. The Sabbath is the culmination of the days. The Sabbath becomes rightly stated as “eschatological” because it is a sign of the Eschaton, along with the tree of life that is in the garden of Eden. The Sabbath is the promised blessing of God’s original covenant with Adam. God vows to grant to humanity an inheritance of rest after a trial of obedience.
The writer describes the Sabbath after the creation events where God is described with anthropomorphic language to rest

Gen. 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 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. 3 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.

We notice the writer uses the verb sabat with the seventh day instead of the word “Sabbath.” Likely to distinguish the Biblical Sabbath from the pagan views in the contemporary era.

It is interesting to compare the Biblical creation account with the contemporary pagan accounts, Enuma elish, and the Atrahasis Epic. In both of these accounts, the gods rest after the creation of man. Humanity is made to do the ordinary day to day work and maintenance of the earth so that the gods can do other tasks. The gods promise to build Babylon and a temple for Marduk. In this account, humanity is at service to the gods to make the workload of the gods easier. The idea of Mesopotamian rest was significantly different from the rest of God in the Bible. He blesses the day and invites humanity to participate in the rest with him.

The Pattern of Evening and Morning
There is a pattern that emerges from the creation account starting in verse 5, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.” What is the pattern the narrative repeats five times supposed to communicate? Some argue that this perhaps should be the basis to consider that a day was defined by the OT from sunset to sunset. Without going into too much detail, V. Hamilton states there is evidence through the OT that the day was considered by the OT to begin in the morning at sunrise. (Gen 19:33-34, Judg. 6:38; 21:4) Therefore this refrain of “evening and morning” is not to communicate when the day begins, but firstly it shows the time was vacant “until the morning, the end of a day and the beginning of the next work.”

God creates boundaries over time defining the day’s beginning and end. I am convinced that the pattern of evening and morning emerges in the text to communicate God’s sovereignty over creation and time to early Israel. They are learning that the God who redeems and delivers is also the God of time and space. Even time is subject to the commands of God. In the next article, I hope to explore the significance of God making man in his image.