Was the Sabbath a Divine Requirement from the Time of Creation?
“Does Genesis 2:2-3 establish the fact that the ‘Sabbath’ was ‘sanctified’ as a ‘holy day’ from the time of creation onward?”
Here is the text that is the focus of this question.
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made.”
Thus, in the Genesis record, in connection with earth’s first week, Moses recounts that God rested (i.e., ceased from his creation activity) on the seventh day.
Further, it is said that the Lord blessed and sanctified (hallowed; made holy) the seventh day in commemoration of the cessation of his activity. The text does not specify, however, precisely when the sabbath was “hallowed”; and to read such into the sacred record, especially in view of evidence to the contrary, is a misappropriation of scripture.
Many have assumed that the sabbath became a “holy day” for the whole of mankind from the seventh day of earth’s history onward. But this by no means follows. Consider the following facts.
(1) There is no record, for the first several thousand years of human history, that anyone kept the sabbath as a day of religious worship, as such was authorized under the Mosaic system. There is not a solitary passage in Genesis that mentions any of the patriarchs observing the Sabbath, as a holy day or otherwise.
(2) Subsequent biblical information reveals that the “holy day” sabbath was made known at Sinai. Concerning the Lord, a prophet says: “You came down also upon mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments, and made known unto them your holy sabbath, and commanded them commandments, and statutes, and a law, by Moses your servant” (Nehemiah 9:14; emp. added). It certainly would not have been necessary for the Lord to “make known” unto them what their ancestors had been practicing for centuries and thus already was well-known to the Hebrew people.
(3) Elsewhere Moses himself wrote: “Jehovah our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Jehovah made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day” (Deuteronomy 5:2-3; cf. v. 12). This is the divine “preamble” to the Deuteronomic version of the Ten Commandments.
Would this imply that murder, theft, etc., were never prohibited until the implementation of Moses’ law? Not at all, for there is ample testimony from the Patriarchal period that murder, etc., was wrong. The case of Cain’s murder of Abel is definitive proof of this. This was a moral principle fundamental to the very nature of man (Genesis 9:6). However, as noted above, there is not a scrap of evidence that the sabbath was observed prior to Israel’s practice of the holy day in the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus 16ff).
Regarding the “sabbath” imposed in Exodus 16, it was a preliminary test, prior to the actual presentation of the Decalogue from Sinai. It was specifically designated as a “proof” test (16:4) to prepare them for the subsequent implementation of the sabbath law.
(4)The sabbath obligation was a special “sign” between Jehovah and Israel.
“So I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my ordinances, which, if a man does, he shall live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah who sanctifies them” (Ezekiel 20:10-12).
The sabbath could hardly have been a unique “sign” between the Lord and Israel if all the nations had been practicing sabbath-keeping for centuries.
(5) The fact is, Moses wrote the Genesis account after the sabbath law was in place. When he recorded the narrative regarding God’s rest on the seventh day, therefore, he simply included the later information regarding its sanctification for the Hebrew nation. This reflects a common figure of speech known as prolepsis, i.e., the combining of two events due to their thematic relationship, though separated by time.
Sabbatarians who attempt to argue the case for modern-day sabbath-keeping have no evidence, based upon Genesis 2:2-3, to buttress their assertion that this holy day was sanctified as a command for the whole human family from the time of creation onward.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.