last night’s sermon was the best I’ve ever heard on the subject of the Sabbath. as some of you know, it’s a subject I have wrestled with as I’ve tried to understand (1) what God originally intended by giving that commandment to my people, and (2) how I should apply it to my own life now as a Jewish person who is under the New Covenant. But I’d never thought about the stage before that, where God establishes the Sabbath immediately after creation.
our pastor is doing a series of sermons taking us through Genesis and last night we were looking at Genesis 2:1-15, which starts with that bit that’s very familiar to me from Jewish tradition, the bit that is normally read as part of our Sabbath customs, saying how God had finished making the heavens and the earth and all that’s in them and then he stopped work – and the root of the verb used there (which I translated here as “stopped” and peeking in my NASB I see it’s translated there as “rested”) is the root of the word Shabbat – or Sabbath in English.
But I digress. I was going to just jot down some of the points my pastor made in his sermon because it was a real eye-opener for me, about what’s going on there in that bit of Genesis and what the Sabbath concept was originally about – long before God chose my people and gave us a bunch of rules to follow, long long before that… even before the Fall.
I think we often forget that there was a pre-Fall stage and that life as we know it is actually not the way God intended life to be. So it was helpful to be reminded last night, to pause and look at what life was like in the Garden of Eden and how different that is from life once we were thrown out of there: the Garden of Eden being a place full of good trees bearing good fruit which God himself had planted for us (v.8)! And not only had God himself done all the planting, he sorted out the watering too – there was a river watering the garden (v.10)! (no rain yet – see v.5)
Yes, there’s the bit there about God placing Adam there and it says something that’s sometimes translated as “to work it and keep it” or “to cultivate it and look after it” etc – the assumption being that the object of those verbs is the garden, but as a Hebrew speaker I look at the text and it doesn’t seem all that clear, so my pastor’s suggestion rings true to me, that this is actually speaking of serving God and keeping his commands. (Note: the first verb there is the one used in Hebrew for “work” but also for “worship”.)
But how does the Sabbath connect to all this, you ask? Here’s the thing that was such a total eye-opener for me in this sermon: the Sabbath wasn’t intended to be just one day a week, it was intended to be continuous. I’d never noticed this: for each of the six days of creation we’re told “there was evening and there was morning” – there’s a clear limitation of time there; but the seventh day isn’t the same as the first six, there’s no mention of evening and morning, no mention of an ending to that rest. The feeling I get as I look at this now is: for six days God was working, he was setting the scene, creating the space for us to live in, then creating us, and he saw that it was all good and…. that’s it, he was ready to (metaphorically) put his feet up, look contentedly at this lovely world and watch us as we enjoy it, watch us thrive. (but not just watch from a distance – we also know he was in the habit of taking a walk in the garden and chatting with us!) He had planted a wonderful garden and placed Adam there and life was meant to continue like that!
But we broke it. We broke God’s commands and got thrown out of the garden and it’s after the Fall we’re told we’re going to have to work hard just in order to eat and live, and also we now experience death – the whole foreverness is gone, the continuous Sabbath is gone, we have to work hard for a living, but then when God chose my people and set us apart with a bunch of rules to follow, one of those was about having a Sabbath once a week, pausing from our daily toil and resting, as a taste of how life was really meant to be! and a foretaste of what we can expect if we listen to God and repent of our sinful ways and follow him to heaven. (Interesting bit of word trivia: the Hebrew term for “heaven” is exactly the same phrase used in Genesis 2 and translated as “garden of Eden”. I guess we’ve retained that concept, that the place we’re hoping to get to is like the one we were banished from.)
This really helps me understand what Jesus meant when he said that the Sabbath was made for man and not vice versa – the Sabbath was originally intended to be a continuous state of being for us, we were meant to enjoy that life forever but we broke it; so God gave us a weekly Sabbath for our own good, a taste of what life is supposed to be like, and a foretaste of heaven. It’s for us to enjoy, not to be slaves to.