Divine Rest for Human Restlessness

Four of the eight chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:

The Sabbath: Good News of Perfect Creation

The Sabbath: Good News of Belonging

The Sabbath: Good News of Redemption

The Sabbath: Good News of Service

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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness: 
A Theological Study of the Good News of the Sabbath for Today
Chapter 2



Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

The value of an object is often determined by its origin. The original Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan is valued far more than the thousands of similar productions, even though they usually show fewer cracks and more color. Why? Because da Vinci’s original, in spite of its poor state of preservation, represents unsurpassed artistry. 

Similarly the value of our world and of our lives is to be found not merely in their present state of disorder and decay but rather in their original perfection and in their ultimate restoration. The Sabbath serves to remind us of both. This chapter focuses on the former: The Sabbath, Good News of Perfect Creation.

In the preceding chapter we found that the Sabbath is rooted in the creation event, marking its completion and inaugurating human history. But, what does the creation Sabbath tell us about the character of the Creator, the quality of His creation, and the relationship between the Creator and His creatures? These questions will be examir.ed in this and subsequent chapters.


1. The Scope of the Creation Sabbath

Before considering the glad tidings of the creation Sabbath, it may be helpful to take a quick preliminary look at some of its roles within the Scriptures. In four different places the Sabbath is explicitly related to creation. The first occurrence is found in Genesis 2 :2-3 where the seventh day is presented as the majestic conclusion of the creation event: "And the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation."

The other three references (Ex. 20:11; Ex. 31:17; Heb. 4:4) depend upon this first account of the creation Sabbath, but fulfill different functions. In Exodus 20 :11 the creation Sabbath is presented as the theological basis for the Sabbath commandment which ordains work during six days and rest on the seventh: "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day, therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it."

In Exodus 31:17 the creation Sabbath is given as the ground not only of its unceasing obligation ("throughout your generations"—vv. 13-15) but also of a "perpetual covenant" relationship: "It is a sign for ever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed" (v. 17). Finally, in Hebrews 4:4, part of Genesis 2:2 is quoted ("And God rested on the seventh day from all his works") to establish the universality of the Sabbath rest which includes all the blessings of salvation to be found by entering personally into "God’s rest" (Heb. 4:1, 3, 5).1 

The fact that an appeal is made to the creation Sabbath to justify the importance of the work-rest commandment, the seriousness of the covenant, and the universality of the blessing of salvation, all of these indicate what vast significance the Bible attributes to the creation Sabbath. Why has the creation Sabbath played such a vital role in the course of salvation-history? To begin answering this question consideration will first be given to the meaning of the Sabbath in the story of creation, and to its implications for a divine-human relationship.

2. Good News of Perfect Creation

An obvious function of the seventh day in the creation account is to conclude God’s creation by proclaiming it absolutely complete and perfect. This meaning is expressed especially through the septenary structure of the narrative, the terms used and the function of God’s rest. Let us therefore examine each of these three elements in the order mentioned.

Septenary structure. The story of creation (Gen. 1:1 to 2:3) reveals an amazing symmetry built around the number seven (and multiples) which is used both to structure the narrative and to relate many of its details. For example, in Hebrew Genesis 1:1 has seven words, and the second verse fourteen— twice seven. The three nouns that occur in the first verse, namely God (‘Elohim), heavens (shamayim), earth (heres) are repeated in the story as follows: God thirty-five times, that is, five times seven; earth twenty-one times, that is, three times seven; similarly heavens (or firmament~raqia’), twenty-one times, that is, three times seven. 

There are also seven referencesto light (hor) in the account of the fourth day (Gen. 1 :14-18) and seven times the expression it was good occurs (note the seventh time is very good—[Gen. 1:31]).2 It is particularly significant that the seventh and last section (Gen. 2 :2-3) which deals with the seventh day has in Hebrew "three consecutive sentences (three for emphasis), each of which consists of seven words and contains in the middle the expression the seventh day": 3

1. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done (v. 2a—seven words in Hebrew).

2. And he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. (v. 2b—seven words in Hebrew).

3.So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it (v. 3a—seven words in Hebrew).

It is noteworthy that the number seven not only is a recurring motif in the story of creation, but it also provides the actual frame for the structure of the whole narrative. After the introductory statement (Gen. 1:1), the story is arranged in seven sections, each corresponding to one of the seven days of creation. The recurring sentence "and there was evening and there was morning, one day . . . a second day . . . a third day ... etc.," marks the logical division of the story that reaches its climatic moment in the seventh day. The latter is repeated three times, undoubtedly to emphasize its function as the goal, conclusion and perfection of the whole creation. The following diagram may help one to appreciate the function of the septenary structure:


Literary Structure of the Creation Story — Genesis 1:1-2:3

And there was evening
and there was morning ..................one day (1:5)

And there was evening 
and there was morning...................a second day (1:8)

And there was evening 
and there was morning...................a third day (1:13)

And there was evening 
and there was morning...................a fourth day (1:19)

And there was evening 
and there was morning...................a fifth day (1:23)

And there was evening 
and there was morning ..................a sixth day (1:31)

And God finished his work ...........on the seventh day (2 :2a) and He rested .................................on the seventh day (2 :2b)
So God blessed ..............................the seventh day (2 :3a) 

This organization of the story in six days which reach their culmination in the seventh day (which is repeated thrice for added emphasis) shows, as Nicola Negretti persuasively demonstrates in his comprehensive structural analysis of this section, that the purpose of the septenary structure is to finalize into the seventh day the accomplishments of the six intermediate days.4 The seventh day, as Negretti points out, "concludes, brings to perfection and overcomes the preceding six days." 5

Why are the structure and many of the details of the creation story based upon the number seven? The reason is to be found in the symbolic meaning which this number had both for the Israelites and for the Gentiles. Recent studies on the usage of the number seven reveal that this number was used both in Biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature to express the meaning of completion and perfection.6 How did the number seven come to acquire such a meaning? Most probably as a result of its association with the seventh day of creation.7 In other words, the completion and perfection denoted by the seventh day of creation could easily have been extended to the geneial use of the number seven.

Various examples have been found in the Sumero-Akkadian and Ugaritic epic literature where the number seven is used in different schematic arrangements to bring any given action to its climax and completion.8 An Ugaritic tablet, for instance, provides an example of an antithetic structure (sequence of six days contrasted with the final, resolutive action of the seventh day) somewhat similar to the story of creation: "March a day and a second: A third, a fourth day; A fifth, a sixth day—Lo! At the sunrise on the seventh: Thou arrivest at Udum the Great, Even at Udum the Grand." 9

This passage reminds us of the story of the taking of Jericho, when armed men followed by seven priests with seven trumpets marched around the city for seven days. "On the seventh day they rose early at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times: it was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, . . . the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. . . . and the wall fell down flat" (Jos. 6 :15, 16, 20; emphasis supplied). 

The conclusive function of the septenary structure is obvious. Walking around the city walls on the first six days serves as prelude to the dramatic conclusion experienced on the seventh day. The completion of the operation is emphasized not only by means of contrast between the action of the six days and that of the seventh, but also by the sevenfold circuiting of the city walls on the seventh day. The act is repeated seven times on the seventh day, undoubtedly to summarize and conclude the activity of the previous six days. This is indicated by the fact that it is "at the seventh time . . . [that] the people shouted, the trumpets were blown. . . . and the wall fell down" (Jos. 6:16, 20).

Numerous other Biblical examples could be cited where the number seven is used to express totality, completion and perfection.10 Peter, for instance, expected to be commended by Christ for proposing to extend forgiveness to his brother up to seven times, that is, as far as the number of perfection. Christ replied utilizing the same number, but admonishing Peter to multiply it "seventy times" (Matt. 18 :21-23). The lesson is obvious: perfect forgiveness knows no numerical limitations.

This brief excursus into the symbology of the number seven should suffice to explain why this number forms the recurring motif and the frame of the story of creation. Being the symbol of completion and perfection, its frequent recurrence is designed to heighten the function of the seventh day as the herald of the perfection of God’s original creation.

Words. This message of the Sabbath is further enhanced by the terms employed to describe the celebration of the first Sabbath (Gen. 2:2-3). For the sake of clarity, the frequency of the words used will be listed in the following diagram.


Words in Genesis 2:2-3 — Frequency

God (‘Elohim).................................three times 

Seventh day (yom hashebii)........three times 

His work (mela’kto)........................three times 

Done (hasah)..................................three times 

Rested (yishbot) .............................two times 

Finished (yekal)..............................one time 

Blessed (yebarek) ..........................one time 

Hallowed (yeqaddesh) ...................one time 

Created (barah) ................................one time 

The diagram shows that the first four words, namely God, seventh day, work, and done, have the highest frequency, each occurring three times. Why did the writer repeat these four terms thrice? Obviously because they are central to the message of the passage. Threefold repetition is used in the Bible to emphasize the importance of an action. The Aaronic benediction, for instance, contains threefold blessings to emphasize their fullness (Num. 6 :23-26). 

In this case the threefold emphasis is on "God" and on what He did on "the seventh day" with reference to "his work" of the previous six days. What is said about God’s view of "his work" on the seventh day? Three verbs characterize God’s assessment of His creation on the seventh day as being fully "done" (repeated thrice), "finished," "created." Another three verbs describe how God celebrated His magnificent accomplishments: "He rested . .. blessed . . . and hallowed" the seventh day. The significance of these latter verbs will be considered subsequently. For the present, notice that the verbs emphasize that on and through the seventh day God proclaimed the good news that His creation was "finished" and fully "done."

The rest of God. To dramatize the importance of such glad tidings, the passage tells us that God did something special on the seventh day. What did He do? Twice it says in Genesis 2 :2-3 that God "rested." In the Near Eastern creation myths, the divine rest (technically called otiositas), which usually implies the establishment of a secure world order, is generally achieved either by eliminating noisy, disturbing gods or by creating mankind. 11 For example, in the Babylonian creation epic Enuma elish the god Marduk says, "Verily, savage-man I will create. He shall be charged with the service of the gods, that they might be at ease!" 12 

In the creation Sabbath, however, the divine rest is secured not by subordinating or destroying competitors, nor by exploiting the labor of mankind, but rather by the completion of a perfect creation. God rested on the seventh day, not to conclude His work of creation, but rather because His work was "finished . . . done" (Gen. 2 :2-3). As stated by Niels-Erik Andreasen, "it is not the rest (cessation from work) which concludes creation, but it is the concluded creation which occasions both rest and the Sabbath." 13

Any responsible craftsman works on his product until he has brought it up to his ideal and then he stops working on it. In an infinitely higher sense, God, having completed the creation of this world with all its creatures, desisted from creating on the seventh day. This is essentially the meaning of the Hebrew verb shabat which is twice translated "rested." Its more accurate rendering is "to stop, to desist, to cease from doing." 

To express rest from physical exhaustion the Hebrew employs a different verb, namely nuah, which is also generally translated in English "to rest." The latter, in fact, occurs in Exodus 20:11 where God’s pattern of work-rest in creation is given as the basis for the commandment to work six days and to rest on the seventh. In Genesis 2, however, the verb shabat is used because the function of God’s rest is ditferent. It fulfills a cosmological rather than an anthropological function. In other words, it serves to explain not why man should rest but rather how God felt about His creation: He regarded it as complete and perfect, and to acknowledge it—God stopped.

This function of God’s rest has been recognized by numerous scholars. Karl Barth, for example, remarks: "We read in Genesis 2:2 that on the seventh day God, the Creator, completed His work by ‘resting.’ This simply means that He did not go on with the work of creation as such. He set both Himself and His creation a limit. He was content to be the Creator of this particular creation, to glory, as the Creator, in this particular work. He had no occasion to proceed to further creations. He needed no further creations. And He had found what he created very good’ (Gen. 1:31)." 14 " When creation ended with man, having found its climax and meaning in the actualization of man, God rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. It was to this that He looked in the recognition that everything was very good and therefore did not need to be extended or supplemented." 15

Dietrich Bonhoeffer similarly explains that "in the Bible ‘rest’ really means more than ‘having a rest.’ It means rest after the work is accomplished, it means completion, it means the perfection and peace in which the world rests." 16 We might say that by confronting His creation with His cessation-rest, God proclaimed the Good News that there was no need to put additional finishing touches on what He had created, since He regarded all of it "very good" (Gen. 1:31).

Did ‘God spend the seventh day merely standing motionless before His marvelous and active creation? It is hard to believe that a dynamic God would spend a day in a static posture. The next chapter will show that God’s cessation from doing expresses His desire for being with His creation, for giving to His creatures not only things but Himself. 

Our immediate concern, however, is to note the glad tidings that the Sabbath proclaims in the creation narrative by the use of the number seven, emphatic terms and the imagery of God’s rest. It is the reassuring Good News that this world and all its creatures came into existence, not in a deformed state by chance, but in a perfect way by a personal act of God.


How are we to celebrate on the Sabbath the Good News of God’s perfect creation? What is the significance of this celebration as far as our personal life and our relationship with God, with nature and with others is concerned? Various responses will be given to these questions in subsequent chapters. At this junction three suggestions will be made.

1. Resting as if All Work Were Done

A first way to celebrate the completion and perfection of God’s original creation is by resting on the Sabbath as if all our work were done. This may sound like an unrealistic suggestion, since we often find ourselves at the end of a working week frustrated over unfinished tasks. Does it not frequently happen that, in spite of our best efforts, we accomplish in the six days only part of what we set out to do? How then can we celebrate the Good News of the Sabbath by resting as if all our work were done? 

The answer is to be found in the very function of the Sabbath, which is to give a sense of "completeness" to our incomplete work and life. A rabbinical comment on Exodus 20:9 ("Six days you shall labor, and do all your work"), hints at this function of the Sabbath: "Is it possible for a human being to do all his work in six days? Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the verse means to convey is: Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done. Another interpretation: Rest even from the thought of labor." 17 

True, the Sabbath often seems to arrive earlier than expected. We may feel disappointed with ourselves because of unfinished tasks. Is this not a forceful reminder of our human finiteness and limitations? The Sabbath, however, by enabling us to detach ourselves from our daily tasks, gives a sense of completion to the work of the previous six days and to life itself. 

In some weeks the result of our labor seems greater than in others, but it is a fact that whether our best efforts have produced much or little, during each Sabbath God invites us to celebrate His creative and redemptive accomplishments on our behalf, by entering into His Sabbath rest. He invites us to interrupt our daily routine and rest as if all our work were done, in order that we may enter into the joys of His "finished" creation and salvation (Gen. 2:2; John 19:30). This emphasis is found in the Fourth Commandment where God’s completion of His six days’ creation work and His rest on the seventh are given as the basis for human beings to share in the same experience (Ex. 20:8-11).

It would be impossible on the Sabbath to praise God for His marvelous accomplishments while living under a deep sense of personal failure and frustration because of work that remains undone. Thus on and through the Sabbath, God invites us to view our work in the light of His accomplishments. He tells us, "whether your hard work has produced little or much, rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done, because My grace is sufficient for you." 

The sense of completeness that the celebration of the Sabbath brings to our life gives meaning and direction to what otherwise would be continuous, meaningless, and linear existence. Human beings cannot endure life as an unending stretch without breaks of some kind. As the student needs tests and examinations at regular intervals to discover where he stands, so the Christian needs the weekly Sabbath, to discover the joys, the direction and significance of his own existence.

Pacifico Massi acutely observes that "after man has detached himself from the things of life by ceasing to work, man can really assume the attitude of a priest of the creation, and the sacred day has been specifically made for this, so that man might be able to exercise this priesthood in expressing his praise and elevating it to God with intellectual light full of love."18 

What a challenging thought! The Sabbath not only provides a sense of completeness to our imperfect and unfinished work, but it raises us also to the level where we can function as ministers who celebrate the Good News of the Sabbath by offering to God admiration and praise for what He has done for us, in us and through us. This experience of offering to God on the Sabbath not only our praise, but also the accomplishments of our work, gives a sabbatic quality to the preceding work days.

2. Renewing Faith in a Perfect Creator

A basis for true worship. A second way to celebrate the perfection of God’s original creation is by renewing our faith in God as our perfect Creator. Faith in God as Creator is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. The first article of the "Apostles’ Creed" which most Christians recite and/or accept, states: "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth—creatorem caeli et terrae."19 Such a belief is implied in the opening declaration of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). To celebrate the Sabbath means to subscribe to this fundamental Biblical teaching by confessing, not merely with words but also with corresponding actions, belief in God as the perfect Creator. It means to recognize that the existence of this world itself is an absolute gift from God. 

George Elliott eloquently writes that "Against atheism, which denies the existence of a personal God; against materialism, which denies that this visible universe has its roots in the unseen; and against secularism, which denies the need to worship, the Sabbath is an eternal witness. It symbolically commemorates that creative power which spoke all things into being, the wisdom which ordered their adaptations and harmony, and the love which made, as well as pronounced, all ‘very good.’ It is set as the perpetual guardian of man against that spiritual infirmity which has everywhere led him to a denial of the God who made him, or to the degradation of that God into a creature made with his own hands."20

Why is the belief in God as perfect Creator vital for a meaningful relationship with Him? Why does such a belief constitute the first article of the Creed and the first statement of the Scripture? Basically it is because no one can truly worship God unless he first accepts Him as his perfect Creator. To worship means to acknowledge and praise the worthiness of God. Would God be worthy of praise if He had not originally created this world and all its creatures perfectly? Could a person find reasons to praise the company that produced and sold him a car full of mechanical defects? In the same way it would be hard to find reasons to praise God if His original workmanship had not been perfect or if He had not been directiy responsible for our existence. Moreover, as well stated by Barth, "if the confession of the work of creation is false and impotent and impossible, so too is that of reconciliation and redemption." 21

Renewing faith in the Creator. Why has the belief in God as our perfect Creator been challenged in so many different ways during much of mankind’s history? The reasons differ. Ancient polytheistic peoples, as some who are living today, preferred to worship that which can be seen or touched. Thus the sun, the moon, the wind and the lightning were viewed not as God’s creations but as gods in themselves. The question for them was not, "Is there a God?"—but rather, "Who is your God?" The struggle for supremacy among the many gods obscured the belief in the true Creator-God. In our time the reasons for disbelief in God as the Creator of an originally perfect world are largely of a different nature.

The triumph of scientific and rational thinking has resulted in the tendency to discard the whole concept of the existence of a supernatural God. A major contributory factor to this shift in human thinking from polytheism and/or monotheism to agnosticism and atheism has been the theory of evolution, and its influence on the natural sciences. The attempt to explain the origin of life and of this world on a natural and rational basis has led not only secular thinkers but also many professing Christians to reject the Biblical teaching of a Divine fiat (spoken) creation. The prominent contemporary question is no longer, Who is your God? but rather, Is there a God? For many "God is dead" or, if He is alive, He has no direct involvement in the origin or subsistence of this world.

Why is there such a prevailing skepticism about God being the Creator of an originally perfect world? Why do many persons today have greater faith in the theory of spontaneous generation than in an original divine and perfect creation? Is it possible that the widespread abandonment of the seventh-day Sabbath—the reminder of God’s perfect creation—has facilitated such prevailing skepticism? 

Ellen White provides an affirmative answer to this question when she writes: "Had the Sabbath been universally kept, . . . there would never have been an idolater, an atheist, or an infidel." 22 The statement needs some qualifications, since the mechanical observance of creation’s memorial day does not guarantee per se the acceptance of God as Creator. It is possible to go through the motions of the observance of a day without understanding of or commitment to what is being celebrated. Yet the fact remains that skepticism can be an outgrowth of forgetfulness. 

A. person who neglects the Sabbath, the memorial of creation, is liable to forget and become skeptical about the God of creation. Is this not similarly true in human relationships? I was engaged to be married for four years, which to me seemed like an eternity, because much of the time my fianc6e and I were separated by an ocean. During the prolonged separation I was tempted to forget and to doubt who my fiancde was and how much she loved me. How did I overcome my incipient skepticism? I would take time to read and reread her letters and to look at her pictures. That helped me to overcome any doubt and to renew my commitment to my fiancée. In a similar fashion the Sabbath provides a weekly opportunity to overcome any incipient skepticism by inviting us to "remember" and thus to reneW our faith in our perfect Creator.

During the week as we use and admire the many sophisticated man-made machines, we are tempted to place our trust in human achievements and resources. God was well aware of this very real danger that human beings may lose sight of their Creator and worship instead human creations. Therefore, in His divine concern and wisdom, He established the seventh-day Sabbath to safeguard His creatures from the disaster of self-worship. 

Through the Sabbath, God invites His people week after week to hear and to celebrate the Good News of His perfect creation, by contemplating His handiwork and thus renewing their faith in the perfect Creator. Because this vital function of the Sabbath meets a continuing human need—greater today than ever before—no Sabbath discontinuance can ever be sanctioned nor ever be legitimately contemplated. Thus any human attempt to invest another day of the week with the symbolic-memorial function of the creation-Sabbath would mean to disregard the event for which the day stands.

3. Delighting in God’s Creation

A weekly interlude. A renewed faith in the Creator makes it possible to celebrate the Sabbath in a third way, namely, by taking delight in the beauty and perfection of God to be found in the worship experience, in our lives, in the lives of others and in the world around us. The Sabbath invites us not to prostitute the world but to delight in its beauty. It invites us to look above and beyond the cloud of sin and suffering that darkens our world and recapture in thought the astonishment, the joy and admiration, experienced by the first human pair.

Harvey Cox maintains that thousands of Westerners are today turning to Eastern meditation because "it provides a modern equivalent of what the observance of Sabbath once did but does no more."23 Why turn to Eastern meditation, which is based on strange and unBiblical world views, when the Sabbath affords both the setting and valid reasons for meditating, contemplating and rejoicing in the goodness of God’s creation? 

Oriental meditation often encourages a total way of life based on escaping the sad realities of this world. The Sabbath, on the other hand, encourages not a permanent escape from this troubled world, but only a one-day weekly interlude in order to catch a glimpse of the divine realm of order, purity and love. Such a renewed vision equips the believer with hope and faith to live in this present world, while looking forward by faith to the world to come, or we might say, to live in time while preparing for eternity.

A window of eternity. The Sabbath affords the means of recapturing some measure of Edenic delight. It offers the opportunity to look at the world through the window of eternity. In the Judeo-Christian tradition the Sabbath has been regarded as a day of joy and jubilation. Isaiah calls the Sabbath "a delight," and a day to "take delight in the Lord" (58 :13-14). To ensure the festive atmosphere of the Sabbath, the Jews prepared themselves for the event with special clothing, meals, and proper frame of mind. No fasting was permitted and even the seven-day mourning period was to be interrupted.24 

Similarly many Christians have experienced the Sabbath delight.25 Luke tells us that all the people who were blessed by the Sabbath ministry of Christ "rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him" (Luke 13:17). Ellen White urges parents to do all in their power to "make the Sabbath, . . . the most joyful day of the week.... [to] lead their children to regard it as a delight, the day of days, the holy of the Lord, honorable." 26

How difficult it is for the members of one church to understand the joys, the intimacies and paradoxes experienced by those of another! The sense of release, peace and tranquility that the Sabbath brings cannot be understood, unless one experiences them. Abraham Joshua Heschel perceptively interprets such an experience, when he says: "The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere. It is not a different state of consciousness but a different climate; it is as if the appearance of all things somehow changed. The primary awareness is one of our being within the Sabbath rather than of the Sabbath being within us. We may not know whether our understanding is correct, or whether our sentiments are noble, but the air of the day surrounds us like spring which spreads over the land without our aid or notice."27

Why is everything more beautiful and delightful on the Sabbath? Why does it seem, to use the words of Maltbie D. Babcock, that "all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres"? Why do the divine services seem richer, the people friendlier, the food more delicious, ladies, gentlemen and children more beautiful internally and externally? Basically, because the Sabbath offers not only the time but also the spiritual resources to perceptibly enjoy God, people and things. By renewing faith in a perfect Creator and Redeemer, the Sabbath enables the believer to view things not merely as they are, but as they must have been originally and as they will again be ultimately. 

It is like putting on for 24 hours a pair of spectacles that make flat pictures look three-dimensional. Those who do not find the Sabbath delightful but depressing are those who casually accept the Sabbath time but not its Good News. They fail to renew their faith in a perfect Creator and do not allow their Savior to bring His rest into their restless lives. Consequently they find the Sabbath a burden rather than a blessing, a day of gloom rather than of gladness, bad news of things that cannot be done rather than Good News of things to be enjoyed. 

To the Christian who loves the Lord of the Sabbath and who accepts its Good News, the Sabbath is a day of joyful celebration. It is a day to celebrate God’s marvelous accomplishments in the world and in his personal life. When Friday evening comes, he gratefully says: "Thank God it is Sabbath!" He rejoices at the thought that another Sabbath has come; a day to taste and know that the Lord is good; a day to thank God for the accomplishments of a week that is past; a day to renew one’s faith in and commitment to the perfect Creator and Savior; a day to sing the Psalmist’s Sabbath song, "Thou, O Lord, hast made me glad by thy work; at the works of thy hands I sing for joy. How great are thy works, 0 Lord!" (Ps. 92:4-5—A Song for the Sabbath); a day to celebrate the Good News of God’s Perfect Creation.


1. The meaning of the Sabbath in Hebrews 4 is examined at length in chapter V.

2. Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 24, 31.

3. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 1961, pp. 14-15. Cassuto provides an illuminating analysis of the use of the number seven in the creation story. See also his essay "La creazione del mondo nella Genesis," in Annuario di Studi Ebraici 1 (1934): 47-49.

4. Nicola Negretti, Il Settimo Giorno, Pontifical Biblical Institute Press, 1973, pp. 149-152.

5. Ibid., p. 152.

6. See above chapter 1, n. 36, 57.

7. See above p. 26.

8. Nicola Negretti (n. 4), pp. 31-62 offers a sampling of ancient Near Eastern texts where the septenary structure occurs in various literary forms.

9. James B. Pritchard, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 1950, (UT krt A 206-211), p. 145. A similar example is found in the Gilgamesh Epic:

"One day, a second day, Mount Nisir held the ship fast,

Allowing no motion.

A third day, a fourth day, Mount Nisir held the ship fast,

Allowing no motion.

A fifth, a sixth (day), Mount Nisir held the ship fast,

Allowing no motion.

When the seventh day arrived, I sent forth and set free a dove."

(Pritchard [n. 9], tablet XI, p. 94).

10. For example, Gen. 4:15, 24; 29:18-20; 41 :2-54; Lev. 12:2; 13:5, 21, 26;

26:18-21; Ruth 4:15; 1 Sam. 2:5; 2 Kings 5:10; Prov. 24:16; Dan. 3:19; Ps.

12:6; Is. 30:26; Rev. 1:4; 5:1.

11. R. Pettazzoni, "Myths of Beginning and Creation-Myths," in Essays on the History of Religion, trans. H. T. Rose, 1954, pp. 24-36. A brief but informative treatment is found in Niels-Erik A. Andreasen, The Old Testament Sabbath, SBL Dissertation Series 7, 1972, pp. 174-182. For examples of texts, see Pritchard (n. 9), pp. 5, 61, 69, 140.

12. Pritchard (n. 9), p. 68.

13. Andreasen (n. 11), p. 196. Similarly, Gerhard von Rad explains, "Rest . . . testifies negatively first of all, but that is important enough, that the world is no longer in process of being created. It was not and is not incomplete, but it has been ‘completed’ by God" (Genesis: A Commentary, 1961, p. 60). Elsewhere von Rad says, "the completion of God’s creation was the resting on the seventh day" (Old Testament Theology, 1962, p. 147).

14. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ET 1956, III, part 2, p. 51.

15. Ibid., part 1, p. 213.

16. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall. A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3, 1964, p. 40. Cf. Cassuto (n. 3), p. 62.

17. Quoted in Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, 1952, p. 32.

18. Pacifico Massi, La Domenica, 1967, p. 368.

19. A good treatment of the historical development of the Apostles’ Creed is found in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1959, II, pp. 528-537; idem, Creeds of Christendom, 1884, I, pp. 3-42; II, pp. 10-73.

20. George Elliot, The Abiding Sabbath, 1884, pp. 17-18.

21. Karl Barth (n. 14), III, part 1, p. 22.

22. Ellen White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, 1950, p. 438.

23. Harvey Cox, Turning East, 1977, p. 65.

24. For a description of the positive celebration of the Sabbath in the Jewish home, see Nathan Barack, A History of the Sabbath, 1965, pp. 89-105; Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays, 1951, pp. 454-470; Abraham E. Millgram, The Sabbath: The Day of Delight, 1944, pp. 23-333, 395-437.

25. The question of feasting or fasting on the Sabbath in early Christianity is discussed in Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday, 1977, pp. 185-198.

26. Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, 1948, VI, p. 359.

27. Abraham Joshua Heschel (n. 17), p. 21.

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