The thing I find most strange about the creation account in Genesis is the 7th day. Have you ever really stopped and thought about it? It doesn’t really have to be there. Surely the story of creation would be equally complete if there were only 6 days. I mean, God doesn’t actually do anything except rest. Why is it included?
While some people look at the creation account and debate whether or not it is literal, I am sidetracked by a small detail. I’m often like this. I get drawn to a detail and find myself wondering what it is all about. Sometimes it is pointless and wastes a whole lot of time (it’s just my form of procrastinating). Other times it helps me to see things more clearly.
The 7th day of creation plays an important role in the Old Testament. It is the basis of the Sabbath. The 4th Commandment in Exodus cites God’s rest in creation as justification for Sabbath practice. Without the 7th day there would be no Sabbath.
But why did God rest? Was he tired from all his work? One of the core beliefs about God is that he is all sufficient. This means he doesn’t get tired. His energy never runs out. He is never exhausted nor needing of rest. If this is true, what is the 7th day all about?
I’ve heard it claimed that God’s rest on the 7th day is an example for us. He knows that our energy runs out. We get tired. Sleep is one of the essential things of life. Tiredness diminishes your ability to perform well. This view basically sees God’s rest as setting a healthy practice for us. It is God’s way of saying that a healthy lifestyle requires you to intentionally take time out to rest.
I’m not sure this is what is going on in Genesis. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that rest is vital. But I’m not convinced this is the principle the 7th day is making. So what is the point of God resting?
What is the point of God’s rest?
Perhaps a better question is what did God do during his rest? There isn’t a definite answer but there is a clue. God had already declared his creation ‘good’ and humans ‘very good’. God rested for 2 reasons.
First, creation was complete.
And second, he wanted to enjoy it. I picture him walking through his creation with his people. Isn’t this the impression in Genesis 3 where it says God ‘was walking in the garden in the cool of the day’? It is a picture of a perfect world with perfect people who dwell with God in perfect relationship. This is an image of relationships in perfect harmony.
Shalom is a rich word in the Bible. It is hard to adequately translate – most translations go with ‘peace’. But I like how theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff describes it. He writes:
“The peace which is shalom is not merely the absence of hostility, not merely being in right relationship. Shalom at its highest is the enjoyment in one’s relationships… To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy living with oneself.”
I think this describes what God is up to on the 7th day. Tiredness doesn’t make God rest. Instead he is ‘shalom-ing’ with everything he has made.
God’s resting is the basis of the Sabbath. Traditionally followers of Jesus have practised Sabbath by going to church, not working, not shopping, etc. Is this what I see God doing on the 7th day? What would happen if we placed the emphasis on shalom? What would it look like if the Sabbath meant we intentionally looked to establish and enjoy right relationships?