Sunday, September 26, 2010

Giving the seven day creation a rest

What are the creation texts in Genesis really about it?
A colleague has continually emphasized to me that a main point of Genesis 1-2 is to teach the Israelites to keep the Sabbath. Genesis 2 says:
2And 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. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
I thought he was pushing this point too far because it seems to diminish the significance of Genesis 1 and all it tells us. But then this morning (on the Sabbath) I read in the ten commandments (Exodus 20):

8 "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. ... 11For 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.
Here is a little of Karl Barth's commentary on Genesis 2:3
the real question is whether it is not a modern notion to interpret rest in the sense of recuperation after preceding exhaustion. It is true that in the parallel in Ex. 3117 God's resting after the completion of creation is connected with the concept of "refreshment"(naphash), and that in Ex. 2312 this refreshment is also ascribed to the "son of thy handmaid" and the "stranger" who are also to keep the Sabbath. But as a comment on "resting" the term "refreshment rdquo; inclines us in the direction of "coming to oneself" or "reviving." And if (apart from the later laws of the Sabbath, cf. Ex. 208f., etc.) the decisive commentary is to be sought in the connexion, indicated in the passage itself ( v. 3), with the day which is blessed and sanctified for man by divine precedent, it must be said that according to Ex. 1629 the Sabbath is a divine gift to man. In bringing relief, it means positive blessedness, freedom, joy, rest and-it may be added-peace. ......
 In fact, however, the saga says and means the very opposite. It is a part of the history of creation that God completed His work and confronted it as a completed totality. The true and finished world in its actual constitution is heaven and earth and all the host of them, not without but with the God who willed and created them as the world, and who now confronts them in this being of theirs as the Lord. On the seventh day God was blessed as the One who had thus completed the world. And for this reason He has blessed and sanctified the seventh day to man as a day on which man may also be blessed and free and joyful, resting from his labours, belonging to himself in peace, breathing freely and being refreshed.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.1 Doctrine of Creation, pp. 221-222

1 comment:

  1. I think there is perhaps an echo here of the work of Jesus Christ. Barth in speaking of "reviving" here almost invokes "resurrection." In even typing these words, I am reminded of Christ saying, "Until now I am working, and my Father is working" (Jn 5:17). Then of course the blessed phrase, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30).

    I do not think it is a mistake that we see this in the beginning of the gospel (and elsewhere, of course), as "all things were made through him." There is a connection between the creative activity of Christ in the world and in his creative activity in the new man, I would think.

    It would be worthwhile to explore these connections, to link the Sabbath of the 7th day of creation to the Sabbath following the finished work of Jesus Christ.

    Thanks for the food for thought.