In Genesis 2:1-4, we have the conclusion of the days of creation. God declares, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (Gen. 2:1-4a). At the completion of His creative masterpiece, God rested. But why did God have to rest from His work, and what makes the seventh day something so special that He blessed and sanctified it? First, I will address some misconceptions of the Sabbath day, and then I will explain the ultimate purpose that God has stated in His Word for why the seventh day must be sanctified or set-apart as a holy day.
Misconceptions of the Sabbath day
Today you will find many doctrines that are taught concerning the Sabbath day that are not rooted in the Bible, but are traditions set up by man. It is important to note that even the Jews in Jesus’ day did not understand the purpose of the Sabbath. We know this because Jesus reproved the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees over and over again about their lack of understanding, and the error in their thinking concerning the Sabbath (John 7:19-24; Mark 2:27-28; Matt. 12:11). So may each of you come with open hearts to study this topic.
1. Does the statement that God finished His work and rested mean that God is not working today?
At the end of verse one, God declared that He had finished His specific work of creation. In verse two, God again declared that He ended His work which He had done, which again, refers only to creation. The words finished and ended are the same Hebrew word, just translated a bit differently. These statements bring up a natural question in people’s minds, “Is God at work at all in the affairs of men today?” This misconception of God’s Sabbath rest gave rise to the belief of deism in the 16th century during the Enlightenment. What is deism?
The term deism does not refer to a particular religion, but to a specific belief system concerning the nature of God. Deists did believe in one God, but believed that once He created all things He retreated from the world and did not intervene in the affairs of men any longer. Deists believe that God did not reveal Himself through miracles, or other revelatory acts. They held to the belief that once God had set the universe in order, He wanted men to use their own reason and logic to make decisions for their own lives. Deism rejected the idea that God wanted a personal relationship with men. Is this what the Bible teaches concerning God? Absolutely not!
The answer to this question as to whether or not God is still working today in the affairs of men, can only be answered by comparing these beliefs with the Word of God. Consider the words of Jesus on this topic. Jesus said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Jesus declared here that He had been given a task to accomplish by the Father, and He was going to finish His work. Even the fact that the Father sent His Son into the world reveals the fact that He wanted to intervene in the affairs of men, and to bring about our salvation. In John 9:4 Jesus said again, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” Jesus made it very clear that He is continuing to do the Father’s work. Again, John records, “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working’” (John 5:16-17). The word working in this verse is in the present tense, which means that the Father and Jesus have been continually working from the beginning of creation, even on the Sabbath. This is why Jesus healed people on the Sabbath day in the gospel accounts. In addition, in Hebrews 13:21 the apostle prays for all believers that God would, “Make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” It is quite evident that God was still working through Jesus and His ministry, and wants to continue to work inside every believer today. What work is He doing inside of you this week, or this past year? God’s Sabbath rest has nothing to do with Him not working anymore; it only refers to His ending the work of creation. If you read the context of these verses, it is stated plainly that this rest was only from His creative works. Note in verse 3 it plainly teaches, “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Gen. 2:3).
2. Does the fact that God rested, mean that He was tired?
Others believe that because God rested it meant that He was somehow tired. I believe that this concept is one of the most ridiculous ideas that could ever be considered. Concepts like this only result from not knowing the God of heaven, and from not reading His Word. Why do I say this? Let me give you several reasons. First, the word rested is a Hebrew word that literally means to cease an activity. To rest then simply means that God stopped His creative work; that’s all. Second, the Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the Lord does not get tired. In fact, He is never tired or weary. In Isaiah 40:28-31, God declared, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” In addition, in Psalm 121:4 God declares, “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” God doesn’t need to go to sleep so He can rest. I must sleep because I get weary and tired, but He does not. He is always on the job watching over you and me. What a comforting thought!
3. Why did God institute the Sabbath for men?
The word Sabbath does not occur at all in Scripture for approximately 2500 years after God rested and sanctified this day. The next time the topic comes up in Scripture is in Exodus 16 after God gave the people manna and quail for food. Then Moses records, “And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, this is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning’” (Ex. 16:22-23). This was commanded after the Children of Israel had complained against the Lord in the Wilderness of Sin a month and a half after coming out of Egypt. Then in Exodus 20:8-11 God commands the people in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Because God rested on the seventh day, He wanted His people to do the same thing, rest versus work. God did not want His people to be working twenty-four-seven. He wanted them to find the same rest that He experienced. God wanted His people to look forward to the Sabbath as a time of rest to be sought after and enjoyed. God sanctified it and set it apart for the people as a special time for them to commune with Him and with family.
However, there was another very important purpose for the Sabbath day revealed to us later in Exodus. There God declared that keeping the Sabbath was to be a special sign and covenant between God and the nation Israel. In Exodus 31:12-13 it declares, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying, ‘Surely my Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.’” In a few verses further on in this chapter God continues, “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed’” (Exodus 31:16-17). Notice that God is very clear that the Sabbath was to be a sign and covenant between “Me and the children of Israel forever.” The Sabbath was not to be a sign between Himself and the church. The Hebrew word for sign means a standard or emblem that makes the Jewish people stand apart from everyone else. The Sabbath was to be a Jewish institution, not an ordinance for gentiles or for the church. This is a very important distinction to make as you study the topic of the Sabbath. Therefore, if anyone pressures you about keeping the Sabbath, you need to take them to these passages of Scripture. The Sabbath was to be a sign of the holy covenant between God and His people the Jews.
In addition, in Psalm 147:19-20 God reveals, “He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the LORD!” Note that God declared His laws and statutes to Jacob, who was the father of the Jewish people. Then He stated that “He has not dealt thus with any nation.” The word nation is the Hebrew word goy, which is the root word for goyim, which is the word used in Scripture for the gentile nations or foreigners. So, God’s laws and statues were instituted for the Jewish people, and not for the Gentile nations. These verses make it abundantly clear that the Sabbath was instituted for the Jews alone.
How did Jesus see the Sabbath?
Jesus explained to the religious leaders of His day the real meaning of the Sabbath. In Mark’s gospel he records, “Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’ But He said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?’ And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:23-28). Jesus made it so clear in this exchange with the Pharisees, that the divine intent of the Sabbath was always intended to be for the benefit of His people, and not their harm. In addition, the Sabbath was never intended to be taken by men and turned into a religious ritual or work that someone could practice so they could feel righteous. No! It was to be a time where men could stop their work and reflect on the God who created all things, and to consider His power and greatness. So, when Jesus broke the Pharisees traditions concerning the Sabbath, they wanted to kill Him. How ironic! They took what God intended to be a blessing for men, and turned it into a way to condemn others, including Jesus. But God wanted to bring men to a place of rest from their labors, just as He had rested from His own.
What did Paul teach concerning the Sabbath in the New Testament?
It is essential to realize when the topic of the Sabbath comes up that the New Testament teaching on this subject must take precedence over the Old Testament. Why? The apostle of the book of Hebrews explains this imperative when he states that the term “old” covenant spoke of necessity of a new covenant to come. This meant that the Old Covenant would one day become obsolete. This is why under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Scripture declares, “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). By God speaking of a new covenant, “He” has made clear that the old covenant was to vanish away. Warren Wiersbe said it this way, “The Sabbath belongs to the shadows of the law, not the full light of grace.” I like this statement, because the full light of grace and understanding in the New Testament reveal the biblical intent of the Sabbath.
One of the most important passages on how a Christian should view the Sabbath is found in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. He writes in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival, or a new moon, or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Now what does Paul mean by a shadow of things to come? The word shadow is a Greek word that literally means to foreshadow something to come. Therefore, all sabbaths, new moons, and all of the festivals that the Jews celebrated were to be a picture of something yet to come. Each foreshadowed a particular spiritual truth that would be fulfilled in the New Testament. The festival of the Passover, where a lamb would be slain, foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, for the sins of the world (1 Cor. 5:7). This is also why on the feast of Pentecost, or the feast of Firstfruits, the first-fruits of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church (Acts 2:1; Rom. 8:23). The feast of ingathering, or the feast of Tabernacles, foreshadows the ingathering of all the saints at the Second Coming of Christ. What a harvest of souls that will be!
But what did the Sabbath foreshadow? The Sabbath was to do two things. It was first to remind the Jews of what God did at creation, and second, it was to foreshadow the final work of God that would bring rest to the souls of men. This future work of God was the death and resurrection of Jesus. This work of God would bring to men the ultimate rest for their souls. Let’s look at these two purposes for the Sabbath.
First, God blessed the seventh day as a time to remember that He created all things that we see. It was also to be a time to encourage His people to rest as God did from His labors. In Exodus 31:15, God called the seventh day, “The Sabbath of rest,” and, “Holy to the LORD.” So, the Sabbath was to constantly remind His people that He was the Creator. They needed to remember that He created the heavens and the earth in six days. Why is it important to take a day to rest and remember that God is your Creator? When you stop to remember Him and His great power that created all things, this enables you to rest in faith over all your trials and struggles. Why? Whenever you compare God and His power relative to your problems, they look pretty small. When you make this daily comparison, you will be filled with faith to go forward to what is before you in the future. He is able to do all things, and nothing is impossible for Him (Luke 1:17)!
The second reason for the Sabbath, was to foreshadow the future rest that would result from the finished work of Christ on the cross. In Hebrews 4:1-11 it declares, “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works’; and again in this place: ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, ‘Today,’ after such a long time, as it has been said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” This entire passage reveals that God’s rest from His labors on the seventh day was to foreshadow a rest for the people of God. The apostle writes, “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). This rest can only be entered into by faith. Again, he declares, “For we who have believed do enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3). But faith in what and who? The context of the entire book of Hebrews reveals the answer. To experience this rest, you must put your faith in the finished work of Christ, as the one sacrifice for the sins of Mankind (Heb. 10:12). God has left each of us this promise of entering His rest, if we will just hear His voice. It requires that we cease from our own labors of trying to justify ourselves by our own good works. This is exactly what the Jews were doing at the time Hebrews was written. Many were leaving their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and returning to the sacrificial system (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-29). This is why the apostle warns them that if they will not hear God’s voice then they will miss the entire point of the day of rest.
If you want this rest, all you need to do is come in faith to Christ, and receive God’s forgiveness for your sins. Only by trusting in Christ’s finished work for you, can you ever enter into His rest. Only in salvation can His rest be found. Simply come to Him in faith and repentance and you will find rest for your souls. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 11:28-29 when He said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Even after you experience salvation in Christ, you can still come to Him anytime and find rest for your soul. In this world you will continually experience tribulation, but through prayer you can also have continual access to His perfect peace and rest (John 16:33). Don’t miss this great opportunity.
Don’t listen to those who condemn you concerning the Sabbath
Clear biblical understanding on the subject of the Sabbath, will be your greatest defense against those who may judge you for not keeping the Sabbath. This is why I quoted previously in this study Paul’s encouragement, where he declared, “Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths” (Col. 2:16). When people tell you that if you worship on Sunday, you have taken the mark of the beast, and you are going to hell, don’t listen to them. Why do I say this? Because this issue was settled almost two thousand years ago by the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:1-5. Paul declared, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” In other words, Paul explains that someone who judges others about which day they worship, or are a vegetarian, or an eater of meat; these individuals are actually weak in their faith and their understanding of the Scripture. Why? Because the day on which you worship has nothing to do with your faith in God, because there are others who worship every day. This is why Paul concludes with, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” This statement means that these decisions should be personal that each one must make for their own life.
4. Does God’s finished work prove a scientific truth?
There is another important truth to consider when thinking about God finishing His creative work and resting on the seventh day. This is a scientific truth, just as much as a spiritual one, and is one of the best reasons why you should not believe in evolution. Since God finished His work, this means that there is nothing new being created. The creative process is complete. This means that there are no new species being created, and no new laws of nature being set forth or repealed. This agrees with the First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but energy can only be changed from one form to another. This is how an electric light bulb transforms electric energy into light energy. Plants also convert the radiant energy of sunlight into chemical energy that enables plant-life to grow and reproduce.
In addition, the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of this energy is wasted. The Second Law teaches that the natural tendency of any isolated system is to degenerate into a more disordered state. This is why hot things always become cool, and why objects moving fast will always slow down.
However, evolution teaches the exact opposite of these two laws. Evolution teaches that men and animals are evolving into a more ordered state, something better, whereby completely new species are being created that have never existed. This contradicts the teachings of Scripture that God has finished His work of creation. Evolution also contradicts these two proven laws of science. I would encourage you to simply consider this evolutionary hypothesis of mankind, from what we can see in the last 6,000 years of recorded history. Have you observed any new species come into existence? No! We have seen variation within each species, but no new species have ever been created. Geneticists can breed different variations of dogs, but they have never made a dog into a new species of animal. This obvious fact, should reveal that evolution is a faulty hypothesis. This is why evolutionists need millions of years to try and convince people of the possibility that incremental changes could have occurred in past millennia that resulted in new species. But this is evolutionary speculation, versus observable fact. Be confident in the Bible and true science when it declares that God’s creative works were finished on the sixth day!
The history or the accounting of the creation of the heavens and the earth. Vs. 4a
The last thing I want to address is the ending of this section of the book of Genesis. For clarity’s sake I will repeat what I explained in our first study of Genesis. The book of Genesis is divided up into ten sections of information.
In Genesis 2:4, you read, after God finished His creative work, He declared, “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (Gen. 2:4). The word history in this passage means genealogy, or an account of descent, or origins of, or in other words, how it all happened. Then Genesis 2:5 begins to record more specific details of God’s creative work and information that Adam would have seen and known. In Genesis 5:1, it declares, “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Gen. 5:1). The Hebrew word used for genealogy is the same word used in Genesis 2:4 for history. What is recorded from Genesis 2:5 through Genesis 5:1 is the history, or what happened, which Adam would have written down on stone tablets for posterity. This is continued eight more times in Genesis, showing the written records of Noah (Genesis 6:9), the sons of Noah, which were Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 10:1), the specific history of Shem, because he was the father of Abram and the family linage of the Messiah (Gen. 11:10), the history of Terah, the father of Abram (Genesis 11:27), the history of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar (Gen. 25:12), the history of Isaac, Abraham’s promised son by Sarah (Genesis 25:19), the history of Esau, Isaac’s son (Genesis 36:1), and finally, the history of Jacob, also Isaac’s son (Genesis 37:2). All ten of these statements are like the signature of these individuals placed upon their histories. Most scholars believe that Moses just pieced together these 10 ancient histories that were on these stone tablets, which form the book of Genesis.
Therefore, in Genesis 1:1 through 2:4a, we have God’s personal account of what took place at the creation of the heavens and the earth. Most likely this information was communicated directly to Adam, and he recorded this information on a stone tablet for all his posterity, and ultimately for Moses to record for us. With the knowledge you have learned here, my hope is that you will never make the Sabbath into an external ritual, but you will daily experience God’s rest in your soul!