God’s Rest as Prescriptive

man sitting

Last time I looked at evidences for the Sabbath rest rooted in creation. But does the fact that God rested mean that Adam, and all humanity, should keep the Sabbath? Not all think so.[1] Frame offers four compelling arguments, of increasing persuasiveness, for man to imitate God by resting on the Sabbath: (1) man as God’s image, (2) the work/rest pattern, (3) Mosaic authorship of Genesis, and (4) the fourth commandment itself.[2]

God's Rest as Prescriptive 1
God creating man in His own image means that man should usually imitate his Maker. There are times when this is obviously not the case (e.g., killing the firstborn of Egypt), but “there does not seem to be any metaphysical, ethical, or historical reason why we should not imitate God’s cycle of work or rest.”[3]

Secondly, the cycle of 6 days of work followed by 1 day of rest would be difficult to understand if God had not made it for the benefit of his creatures. Because God never needs rest Himself, why would God take a day off if not to set a pattern for His people? Third, Frame points out that Moses was the primary author of Genesis. The Jews were already out of Egypt and under the Covenant. “A Jewish reader of Genesis during the wilderness period would see Genesis 2:2-3 as the beginning of the Sabbath observance, the background of the fourth commandment…The Jewish reader would see that, as in the fourth commandment, God in Genesis 2 institutes a day of rest, which he blesses and makes holy.”[4]

And finally, the most compelling argument for the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is the fourth commandment itself: Israel should keep the Sabbath because, “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy” (Ex 20:11). God rested,

“From his creative labors and rested on the seventh day, which he hallowed and blessed, he also hallowed and blessed a human Sabbath, a Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). In other words, when God blessed his own Sabbath rest in Genesis 2:3, he blessed it as a model for human imitation. So Israel is to keep the Sabbath, because…God hallowed and blessed man’s Sabbath as well as his own.”[5]

Would not the claim of our Lord, that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” be applicable to Adam preeminently? He was the only man present when the Sabbath was made! The Sabbath was a gift given to man at the end of the creative week.[6] This gift, a gift that sinners like to forsake, was meant to be a perpetual reminder of God’s masterful work in creation. Because man is made in God’s image and should therefore imitate Him, because of the pattern of 6 work days and 1 day of rest, because of Mosaic authorship, and because of the fourth commandment itself, the Sabbath is established as a prescriptive creation ordinance along with work and marriage.

Additionally, Chantry argues that because Exodus grounds the command primarily in creation[7], the Sabbath is not then “rooted in anything unique to the Jewish experience;”[8] Rather, Sabbath is a creation reality (See Ex. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:4, 10). Furthermore, if the Sabbath is not a particularly Jewish reality, it is not then limited to the Jewish Covenant (Old Covenant). In this sense then, the Sabbath command is ‘above’ Mosaic Covenant because it was set in place prior to Sinai, even though it was part of the Mosaic commands.

That the Sabbath is a creation reality is also clear because unlike the other commandments, the fourth begins with “remember.” The command to remember is telling for two reasons: (1) this is not a new command, and (2) some were already guilty of not keeping the Sabbath, as is the sinful tendency of all mankind. As William Perkins wrote: “This clause doth insinuate, that in times past there was great neglect in the observation of the Sabbath.” [9] The call to remember raises another question: to whom or what are the Jews pointed when being reminded to remember? It was not to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. It was to the very beginning; specifically, the Lord’s rest at the end of His creative week. The Jews would already be aware of the pattern of work and rest that God has built into creation.[10]While the Mosaic Law would bring peculiarly Jewish ceremonial and civil laws built off of the Sabbath commandment, the core of the moral law was derivative off of God’s example in creation.


Jon English Lee

[1] E.g., see DA Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
[2] Doctrine of the Christian Life, 531ff.
[3] Ibid.
[4]Ibid., 532.
[5]Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 532.
[6]Richard Barcellos states that it would be ‘clumsy’ to separate the creation of man from the creation of the Sabbath by thousands of years (Eden and Sinai). He argues, “Since we know that man was created…in the Garden of Eden, Christ would have us to conclude that the Sabbath…was made at the same time and place. This corresponds to what we saw in Exod. 20:11.” The Old Testament Theology of the Sabbath in RBTR, Vol 3, No 2. July 2006.
[7] I say ‘primarily’ because the Deuteronomic recount of the commands recalls the Israelite deliverance from Egypt as a reason for Sabbath (Dt. 5:15). The Sabbath, as will be argued below, is not merely retrospective, but prospective: retrospective by looking back to creation and redemption; prospective by looking forward to Christ’s work and to the Promised Land (and ultimately the New Creation). The different motives for Sabbath obedience are not competing; nor does the second (redemption) nullify the first (creation). Regarding the different motives given for the Israelites to obey the 4th commandment, Frame explains, “Creation and redemption are not antagonistic. Redemption is the work of the Creator. Creation and redemption do not generate two different ethics, but rather the same one” (Doctrine of the Christian Life, 514).
[8]Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 24.
[9]William Perkins. A Golden Chain: or, the description of theologie : containing the order of the causes of salvation and damnation, according to Gods word, Printed by John Legate (Cambridge, 1600), 61. Found at http://archive.org/stream/goldenchaineorde00perk#page/n1/mode/2up(Accessed May 2, 2013).
[10] Chantry cites Cain and Abel bringing their sacrifices ‘at the end of days,’ which he takes to mean they understood one day a week was devoted to worship. He also mentions that, “Noah gave great attention to the seven day cycle of time,” and that the Jews in the wilderness were to respect the Sabbath when the manna was given. Call the Sabbath a Delight, 26.

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