Thursday, May 15, 2008

Drulogion's Hexameron - The Seventh Day

This week we come to the end of our series on the first creation story in Genesis. Although it was later placed at the head of a new chapter, the seventh day is not the beginning of the second creation story but the conclusion of the first. This mistake was understandable, for the work of creation was completed on the sixth day. But it is still a mistake, for the first creation story comes to its conclusion on the seventh day. In creating, God not only works. God also rests. And, as we shall see, even in resting God creates. Even as God ceases from his creative work, God does not cease being the creator. In order to flesh this out, let's take get the text in front of us and put to it our usual questions of how, what and why.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

How does God create?
God sanctifies.

On the seventh day, God ceases his creative work. God rests. This ceasing is not only meaningful in itself, but also says something in relation to what came before. God ceases his creative work because it is finished. Looking back over the work of the six days in all their vast array, God sees it is not only good but very good and so deems it appropriate to stop. So the ceasing on the seventh day tells us that the sixth day was the final day of the work of creation. God's creative work has reached its apex. God's creation is complete.

And so, God rests. Resting is the first intransitive verb to appear in the first creation story. Speaking, separating, naming, seeing, blessing, and addressing are all transitive verbs -- they ask for objects. They are all done to something or someone. But resting is not done to anything or anyone. One simply rests. "God rests," is a complete sentence. On the seventh day, God does something for himself. He rests.

But resting is not the only new verb that appears on the seventh day. On the seventh day, God also sanctifies. And unlike resting, sanctifying is transitive. So even as God ceases his creative work, he still manages to create something by doing nothing. God ceases his creative work in order to sanctify the seventh day. By resting on the seventh day, God sets aside the seventh day as a special, different kind of day. It cannot be simply numbered among the first six days or coordinated within its complex parallelism. The seventh day is in a class of its own. It has been set apart, and set apart for God's use, to be his day of rest on which he does not make anything new but simply is the creator. And by simply being the creator at rest on the seventh day, this day is sanctified.

What does God create?
God sanctifies the seventh day.

God sanctifies seventh day among the others. He sets this one apart for himself. The seventh day is his. And so from the beginning the practice of sabbath is instituted. Even at the moment of creation God already has in mind his covenant with his people. Now this word "sabbath" can easily carry too much freight. We must be reminded from time to time that "sabbath" is simply the Hebrew word "to cease" and that it is closely related to "shabbat" which means "seventh." The shabbat is the seventh day of the week, "Saturday" in the Roman calendar with which we are more familiar. And to sabbath on the shabbat is to cease, to remove oneself of one's work for one day. And as God ceases his work, the creation commences its most proper work: the praise of God. The sabbath is a day of worship. On the first sabbath, God receives the praise of his completed creation. On the first sabbath, God is the basis of the trust of his sustained creation. On the first sabbath, God is the source of hope for consummated creation. The sabbath was made by God for God.

Why does God create?
God sanctifies the seventh day so that we too may rest.

But God not only sanctified the seventh day for himself, but also for us. The sabbath is not only a day of worship, but also a day of rest. As Jesus puts it, "Man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man." The incorporation of the sabbath tradition within the creation story could be read as a priestly legitimizing move, claiming that sabbath regulations are a part of the created order. But the incorporation of the sabbath into the creation story could also be read as a prophetic relativizing move, placing the sabbath regulations under a more basic creative intention. Both readings are plausible, and perhaps can be reconciled as the "foreshadow" and "foundation" of sabbath law. However it is read, God's sanctification of the seventh day from the beginning of creation must not be viewed as a burden but as a gift. God not only rests but invites us to rest with him. During our week we may work under God or even for God, but on the seventh day we rest with God. It is a day for communion with him. We join him in ceasing from our work. We can take it further and say that we rest in God. We not only commune with him but participate in him. We depend on him as the creator who sustains us. Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. We can take it even further and say that we rest like God. In some sense, we are the most like God when we rest. God rests; we rest. And so God's sanctification of the seventh day leads to God's sanctification of us, for to be sanctified to be made like him.

How does this happen? The short answer: in Christ. On the first day of the week, God raised Jesus from the dead. In Christ, we have died and our life is hid with Christ in God. In Christ all God's children find their rest. Like him we too will be raised. On the day of the Lord, when Jesus will be revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he truly is. Then we will rest with, in and like God. We will enter God's rest. As we worship on the first day of the week and rest on the seventh day, we have a foretaste of the eight day of creation, when all things will be made new and all God's children will find their rest in him.


Bob MacDonald said...

Nice finish. - how does this sanctification relate to John 17: "for their sakes I consecrate myself".

Bob MacDonald said...

There is quite a lot in the blogworld on Genesis at the moment - e.g. Chris Heard here.

I find it fascinating that Numbers 16:30 should come up twice for me after my short holiday (see here - I find that story difficult to fathom - but the death of Christ again points me to a real escape from our own self-centered and usurping positions.)

Also - have you thought of Jesus statement again in John - the gospel most centered around Creation - where he says - my Father is working and I am working now - implying that the 6th day is still happening (the 6th of 7 but the 7 are also 1.) Psalm 95 as interpreted in Hebrews is another pointer of course.