“…And [God] rested on the seventh day from all the work which He had done.”
Such a nondescript, straight-forward verse like this located at the beginning of Genesis 2 seems like it almost doesn’t fit in the hustle-and-bustle creation narrative of Genesis 1. There, God has literally created everything under the sun – including the sun itself – by merely speaking it into existence. I don’t presume to understand everything about how that happened, but I do know that it happened.
For God to make the entire world in six days must’ve taken an extraordinary amount of work. These days, for me to simply mow the lawn usually justifies at least a shower and a short siesta, so I can’t imagine what creation itself does. But since God is omnipotent, we assume that He doesn’t really need a rest (Is. 40:28), so why did He do so on the seventh day?
For starters, we need to make something clear: It doesn’t say that God needed to rest, it simply says that He did rest. He could’ve done so for a variety of reasons, but the narrative account in Genesis 1-2 more or less states that He simply stopped working. Creation was finished after all, what else was there to do?
Also, keep in mind that everything He created, He also labelled as “good” – until after He created man, which He then said things were “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Not only had He created everything, but everything he created was complete and couldn’t be improved on, thus denoting not only the power but the wisdom of God.
Later, as God gives the Israelites their marching orders at the top of Mt. Sinai, one of the great Ten Commandments reflects this practice by God: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” A quick glance at the rest of the items on the list denote some strong commandments that we as mortals understand – thou shalt not make any graven images, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, etc. – so it seems weird that in such a serious list of commandments, a commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy almost – once again – seems out of place.
There’s two aspects to this commandment. The first, to “remember the Sabbath day” is pretty simple: It’s a decree for the Israelites not forget this day as they go about their weekly activities. It’s also a callback to the practice that was instituted four chapters previous (Exodus 16:22-30), while the actual text in Exodus 20:11 calls back to the Sabbath rest performed by God. He kept it, and the Israelites needed to also.
The second part of the verse declares that the Sabbath will be “kept holy” – i.e. it should be a unique day compared to the rest of the days of the week. There was something special and unique about it, and the Israelites activity on that day should reflect that.
What we often forget about the Sabbath day is that while most of the Israelites were commanded to not work at all (Ex. 20:10; ref. also Ex. 31:14), the priests were actually told to increase their output (Num. 28:9-10), reflecting a heightened sense of spiritual devotion on that day.
What you have when you put all of those different ingredients together is a special day that was to be marked by zero secular work and a greater focus and devotion towards God. This explains why it was included in a list containing so many other great commandments: Failure to keep the Sabbath would result in a forgetful attitude towards God (Deuteronomy 8) and ultimately a devotion to the carnal, complete with all of the gods that carried with it.
As you look back on the history of Israel, you can see that that’s precisely what happened.
I know what you’re thinking: “Brady, that’s an Old Testament commandment that we as New Testament Christians are not commanded to observe.” And right you are, astute Bible student! The New Testament clearly teaches that we are not under the Law of Moses anymore (Romans 7:1-6; Galatians 2:19; Ephesians 2:15; et. al.), so any argument for keeping a literal Sabbath day in 2018 would be unBiblical.
Furthermore, in a spiritual sense, the Sabbath is actually referenced in the same breath as Heaven (Hebrews 4), denoting that our ultimate “rest” is with God in the life hereafter.
But does that mean we shouldn’t take a rest every now and then? Absolutely not.
“Taking a rest” – at least in the Biblical sense – is not simply curling up on the couch and engaging in a multi-hour, multi-day Netflix binge, but a time when we turn off the distractions of the world and focus our attention solely on God. You can do that through prayer, Bible study, or a combination of the two, and you can do it for a few minutes, a few hours, or even longer if you would like (for similar activities, reference 1 Corinthians 7:5, as well as the one of the benefits of fasting in Acts 14:23 and Luke 2:37).
When the Pharisees accosted Jesus and His apostles for picking up grain on the Sabbath, Jesus responded with a statement of His own that denoted the true importance of the Sabbath: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In short, the Sabbath was never intended to be a restriction on the Jews; it was intended to be a gift.
Let me be clear: In no way am I saying we need to stop working on Saturday and devote the entire day to communion with God. The Sabbath is an Old Testament commandment that applied to the Jews in Old Testament times.
But we would be wise to regularly schedule time in our busy lives for quiet reflection on God and His word, not only to remind us what God we serve, but of our dependency on Him.
If you’ve never done that before, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Vary the Activities: Prayer and Bible study will be the cornerstone of your rest, but you should also take some time to engage in other activities. Get outside and “observe the lilies of the field” to find contentment (Matthew 6:28) or learn a new hymn that you can use in a time of distress (Acts 16:25). This is your time to get closer to God; use it in a manner that will help you refocus your life.
- Schedule Individual and Family Rest: You absolutely need your own time between just you and God, but your family does too. Make a point to schedule quiet, contemplative time between you and God, but also schedule time for your family to get together and study His Word too. If you’re the leader in your home, find a time where the family isn’t going 100 different ways and open your Bibles as a family to pray and study and discuss together. If there’s not a convenient time, create one.
- Search Your Heart: The unique thing about Biblical rest is that it is specific to each individual person, and since it can be taken any day at any time, you can approach God multiple times for every different matter that is on your heart. Resist the urge to simply “go through the motions;” earnestly approach God with what is on your mind at that moment, and ask for His help with daily life (1 Peter 5:7).
In truth, there are few things more enriching and energizing than focused, contemplative rest that allows us to focus solely on God and get rid of the idols of this world. Not only does it orient our minds towards what’s important, but it helps train our hearts to search for Him in times when we may otherwise look to the world for answers. He alone is the source of our strength; may we never forget that as the Israelites did.Last modified: January 22, 2019