Early in my ministry, while confidently conducting a Bible study to prove that the Sabbath originated at Creation, I faced challenges that I had not previously encountered. The person I was studying with, having given thought to this topic, presented the following argument about what Genesis 2:2, 3 reveals about Sabbath origins.
First, he admitted that God rested on the seventh day, but then proposed that there is no command in the Creation account for anyone else (Adam and Eve) to rest. Yes, he said, God blessed the seventh day, but nothing in the Creation account specified that each subsequent seventh day was also blessed or sanctified. Add to this, he argued, the words Sabbath, law, or commandment do not appear in Genesis 2:2, 3. When I said that the idea of keeping the Sabbath was implied, if not specifically stated, he answered that silence is not a valid or acceptable exegetical principle.
What is the evidence found in the Scriptures regarding creation and the Sabbath? And if indeed the gift of a weekly Sabbath was given in Eden, how did our Creator intend for His creation to experience Sabbath?
Rest and fellowship in Eden
On the first seventh day on planet Earth, God was not tired from speaking our world and its inhabitants into existence. Likewise, Adam and Eve were probably not worn out after just hours of life. In harmony with the Creator’s plan, the first full day of life for Adam and Eve was a day of restful fellowship with their Creator and each other. It makes sense that when God set aside a special day by resting upon it, blessing it, and setting it apart for a holy use, He did so for the benefit of His created children and their descendants. Thus, keeping the Sabbath holy necessitates a connection with the Holy One and constitutes a regular reminder of God’s desire to fellowship with us.
Rest and fellowship at Sinai
Probably the most compelling passage where God refers to Creation Sabbath is Exodus 20:8–11. The Sabbath commandment is the longest commandment; the only one that begins with the word Remember; and a clear reference to the Genesis Creation account, the latter part being an almost direct quote from Genesis 2:3. The only difference is that in Genesis 2:3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, while in Exodus 20:11 God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. This connection between the Sabbath and creation is supported in that the Hebrew word translated “Sabbath” (Shabbat) and the Hebrew word translated “rest” (shabat) are cognates.
Perhaps another indication that the Sabbath’s origin was at creation is the fact that all of the verbs in Exodus 20:11 (made, rested, blessed) are in the past tense. Even the words “made it holy,” within this context, are in the past tense. This suggests that God’s resting on the Sabbath and His blessing of the Sabbath took place at the time when He made the Sabbath, that is, as the text says, when God created the heavens and the earth.
Rest and fellowship in Jesus’ day
In Mark 2:27, Jesus said, “ ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ ” (NIV) In response to the Pharisees’ accusations of Sabbath breaking, Jesus did not enter into arguments regarding Jewish Sabbath laws. Rather, He sought to impress them that the Sabbath was made to be a blessing to humankind in the sense that the Sabbath was a weekly opportunity to focus on rest and relationship and not on the numerous laws instituted to dictate acceptable or unacceptable Sabbath practices.
Instead, Jesus was referring back to the original creation itself. Man could not have been created for the Sabbath because, when humankind was created, the Sabbath was still some hours away. On the other hand, the Sabbath could be created for humankind because, when God created the Sabbath on the seventh day, people were already there and could enjoy the blessings of this special fellowship day. Jesus Himself puts together the creation of man, the institution of the Sabbath, and the time when things were made. He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) because He is the Creator (John 1:1–3, 14).
Rest and fellowship today
God is the One with whom the idea of Sabbath originated. It is He who set aside this special day. It is He who specified why we need a Sabbath day, and it is He who calls us into fellowship with Himself on this day. This relational emphasis is demonstrated through an apparent purposeful ordering of the first four commandments.
The first commandment forbids having any other gods. Now if we have other gods and put them first, they will be idols. So, the second commandment forbids idols and the worship of them. If we did worship idols, we would surely be misusing the name of God. Consequently, the third commandment tells us not to misuse His name. Now if we were misusing God’s name through the worship of idols, we would be giving time to false worship, so in the fourth commandment, God tells us to keep the Sabbath holy by spending time with Him.
Of course, if the Sabbath was given at creation, then the Sabbath was not just for the ancient Jewish nation but a gift for all humankind. God did not mistakenly insert a temporary Jewish law into a set of moral principles intended for all of humankind for all time. The Sabbath is a part of God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. Morality has to do with right and wrong, and the Sabbath is a part of God’s moral law as it relates to right and wrong in our relationship with Him.
Also important for us to understand is that the Sabbath is part of the good news about God. Not only has God provided the great plan of salvation, He also provided a special day on which to fellowship while the plan unfolds. And just as God is particular about this day, so His followers should be particular about this day.
How well we keep the Sabbath does not depend on how well we know the rules or how hard we try, or even on how often we rebuke others whom we consider to be Sabbath breakers, but on how well we know the Lord of the Sabbath and connect with Him, particularly on the Sabbath.
God wants our Sabbath rest to be a complete rest both physically and spiritually. That is what Jesus speaks about in Matthew 11:28 when He invites us to receive rest from our labors and rest for our souls. That complete rest, however, as Jesus points out, is conditional on our coming to Him.
If then, as we have seen, the Sabbath as a day of restful fellowship and worship originated at creation, and if, as we have also seen, the Sabbath is a day for connecting spiritually with God through worship in response to His love, we are in a better position to understand what happened on that very first Sabbath, the seventh day of Creation. And therefore, we are in a better position to enter and enjoy the Sabbath experience with God that He intended from the beginning.