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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
I’ve read that the Sabbath mentioned in Genesis 2:1-3 is not the same as the Sabbath in the fourth commandment. Please explain.
Some Protestants argue that Genesis 2:1-3 does not prescribe a Sabbath commandment; it simply describes what God did on the seventh day of Creation week. They argue that the Sabbath commandment was given to the Israelites as part of the old covenant, and was replaced by the new covenant. This is an obvious attempt to undermine the authority of the Sabbath for Christians. In Genesis 1-2 God is, among many other things, modeling for human beings the need and nature of work. The exemplary nature of His divine activity includes a Sabbath rest. This can be supported on several grounds.
1. The image of God and the Sabbath: The Creation narrative describes humans as unique, intelligent creatures, created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). They were to reflect God’s character and represent Him within the rest of creation. The narrative contains several important concepts. First, the fact that God rested from His works ascribes to God a human need in order to demonstrate how He planned to supply that need. The Creation narrative clearly demonstrates God’s concern for humans, who not only need to work but also to separate a particular time to enjoy communion with the Creator.
Second, it is the Creator, not the creature, who determines the time and nature of that rest. Human attempts to establish their own moment of rest are a rejection of the exemplary nature of God’s rest, and weaken the significance of humans as created in God’s image.
Third, had God rested without the companionship of humans, He would have left humans and the world He created to themselves; He would have absented Himself from His creation, leaving it without His sustaining power. He rested in the company of those He made in His own image in a joyous celebration of the mystery of His creation. He was willing to enjoy fellowship with humans during the seventh day.
2. God blessed the Sabbath: In the Creation narrative God is described as blessing the seventh day. That means, as suggested by the use of the same verb in Exodus 20:11, that through the Sabbath rest God mediates blessings to His people. The fact that His blessing is undefined implies its boundless richness. The verb “to bless” expresses the idea of bestowing benefits upon something or someone. When God blessed the Sabbath, He endowed it with benefits that would be enjoyed by those who would join Him in His gracious rest. In the Bible a day not blessed is a day deprived of positive content for human beings (cf. Jer. 20:14). The blessing pronounced by God on the seventh day was not for His personal benefit, but for those who were present with Him, to enjoy communion and fellowship with Him, within the fraction of time called the seventh day.
3. God declared the seventh day holy: The Bible contains rituals for the sanctification of persons, things, and places. But there is no ritual prescribed for the sanctification of the Sabbath. Only the Creation story informs us that its holiness is the result of a divine declaration. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament the holiness of that day is presupposed. For Old Testament writers, as well as for God’s people, the Creation Sabbath was the same as the seventh-day Sabbath mentioned in the Decalogue. Humans were responsible to keep it holy by obeying the fourth commandment. The Sabbath’s holiness was not a provisional status that was to wear out at the end of the day. There is no desanctification ritual for the seventh day after God declared it holy. By sanctifying it God placed it permanently apart for a particular religious use. Since, according to the Creation narrative, Adam and Eve had been created on the sixth day, they experienced the holiness of the seventh day in the presence of God. The Sabbath is the first thing God sanctified on this planet, and it has remained holy since then.
Any attempt to separate the Sabbath commandment from God’s rest on the seventh day in order to argue that it belongs to the old covenant and that Christians should not keep it is simply wishful thinking, resulting in a deterioration of God’s image in human beings.