I built a fire pit a few weeks ago. It was a pretty big day of digging, carrying bricks and dragging around logs for seating.
A week later it was time to have a fire and enjoy the thing I had made. Having a fire was still work; it was stacking up sticks, getting the fire lit, stoking it, finding marshmallows to cook, helping our daughter lucy work out how to cook and eat them. This sort of work was pretty different though, and very restful.
Our growth groups were looking at Genesis 1:1-2:3 last week and a few asked about God’s seventh day rest. Is God’s rest meant to refer to him putting his feet up and doing nothing, or is more going on? This question was doing my head in a little as well but after doing a bit of reading and thinking this week my conclusion is that the seventh day rest was a bit like me sitting around and enjoying my fire.
There’s lots of technical ideas that people throw in about this. Many notice that the seventh day in Genesis 2 doesn’t seem to have an end, does this mean that God has been at rest ever since? This possibly conflicts with John 5 where Jesus says, “my father is always working”, but what if work and rest are not such opposites?
What helped me was thinking about how the original readers, the Israelites in the desert, would have taken the rest idea. For them it was connected to their new sabbath day, a day where they would visit the tabernacle and enjoy focusing on God.1 The rest idea was also a metaphor for what they would enjoy when they entered the promised land (Ex 33:14). I take it they weren’t expecting to go into the promise land and put their feet up but were expecting to go in and enjoy a life of peace, plenty and fulfillment.
I think the rest idea is a bit more, then, like the picture in Genesis 2 of perfect work. God’s garden had been planted, and now Adam and Eve were given the task of caring for it and enjoying it alongside God. I’m sure that meant some ‘work’, but there was also an absence of toil, and I’m sure there was plenty of time for naps and relaxing evening walks (See Gen 3:8). I think God, then, having created the world in Genesis 1, rested on the seventh by dwelling in and enjoying running his creation.
It’s good for us to think about how we rest. Do we make time for doing things we find fun, spending time with God, spending time with our loved ones and enjoying God’s creation? And as we rest, it’s good to think about the rest we can look forward to in the new creation – it won’t be doing nothing, but it’ll for sure be very restful.
Keep sending your Genesis questions through, I’m enjoying looking at this great book together.
Associate Pastor | Trinity Church Brighton
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1 It was hundreds of years later when ideas about not doing anything on the sabbath came into Jewish culture
* I was helped in my thinking by Kenneth Matthews’ New American Commentary on Genesis, as well as the Bible Project’s video on ‘sabbath’ (https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/sabbath-video/)