Leading Question: How important are “rhythm” and “rhythmic habits” to our religious experience?
This week and next week our lessons focus on the Sabbath. And for this first lesson we will think about the Sabbath as part of a rhythmic pattern that God has given us to help order our lives.
But let’s back up one step and talk about rhythmic patterns in life in general. Are some people more committed to habit than others? Could we perhaps contrast the structured person with the spontaneous one?
Question: What is it about Sabbath that separates it from the rest of creation week?
Comment: The Sabbath is a kind “glue” between the “spoken” events of the first six days and the “hands on” events of the creation story in Genesis 2. The comment in the official study guide is to the point:
After all of this active creating, God turned His attention to something else. At first glance, it did not seem as spectacular as leaping whales or dazzling feather displays. God simply made a day, the seventh day, and then He made it special. Even before humanity would dash off on our self-imposed stressful lives, God set a marker as a living memory aid. God wanted this day to be a time for us to stop and deliberately enjoy life—a day to be and not do, to celebrate the gift of grass, air, wildlife, water, people, and most of all, the Creator of every good gift.
This invitation would continue even after the first couple was exiled from Eden. God wanted to make sure that the invitation could stand the test of time, and so, right from the beginning, He knit it into the very fabric of time itself.
During this week, we will study God’s wonderful invitation to enter into a dynamic rest, again and again, every seventh day.
Question: The Greek’s assessment of the material world was that it bad. For them only the immaterial and spiritual was good. So how does the Bible value the created, material world. Does it say that it was good, bad, or indifferent?
Comment: Most Christians do not realize the vast difference between the biblical view of the material world and the Greek view. One of the first modern scholars to highlight that difference was the French New Testament scholar Oscar Cullmann. His little book, first published in English in 1964 with the title, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? was originally published in French in 1956.
Cullmann’s thesis is that resurrection is firmly rooted in the biblical teaching of creation. The human body was created by God and is worth resurrecting. By contrast, the Greeks saw the material world as tainted. Thus they looked forward to the liberation of the soul from its prison of flesh. Cullmann has a number of significant publications. But this is what he says about the reaction to this book. It is included in the Wipf & Stock edition of the book:
No other publication of mine has provoked such enthusiasm or such violent hostility. The editors of the periodicals concerned have been good enough to send me some of the letters of protest which they have received from their readers. One of the letter – writers was prompted by my article to reflect bitterly that ‘the French people, dying for lack of the Bread of Life, have been offered instead of bread, stones, if not serpents’ Another writer takes me for a kind of monster who delights in causing spiritual distress. ‘Has M. Cullmann,’ he writes, ‘a stone instead of a heart?’ For a third, my study has been ‘the cause of astonishment, sorrow, and deep distress.’ Friends who have followed my previous work with interest and approval have indicated to me the pain which this study has caused them. In others I have detected a malaise which they have tried to conceal by an eloquent silence.
My critics belong to the most varied camps. The contrast, which out of concern for the truth I have found it necessary to draw between the courageous and joyful primitive Christian hope of the resurrection of the dead and the serene philosophic expectation of the survival of the immortal soul, has displeased not only many sincere Christians in all Communions and of all theological outlooks, but also those whose convictions, while not outwardly alienated from Christianity, are more strongly moulded by philosophical considerations. So far, no critic of either kind has attempted to refute me by exegesis, that being the basis of our study.
Question: How does the creation of the “man” in Genesis 1 differ from God’s method as described in Genesis 2?
Comment: The creation of “man” in Genesis 1 is by the spoken word. Only in Genesis 2 does God get his hands dirty, so to speak, and form man from the dust of the earth. The challenge in the telling of the story of Creation is that God wants to tell two great truths that stand in a certain tension with each other. Pagan creation accounts depict creation as emerging from a battle of the chaos monsters. God wants to counter that view. That’s the hands-off account in Genesis 1.
But such a view leaves a very sterile and distant God. So the inspired writer tells another story that brings the personal touch to center stage: God forms man with his own hands, brings the animals to Adam for him to name, and shapes a woman from man’s rib. This is the personal Yahweh God who looms so large throughout Scripture. If, in our day, we try to merge the accounts, we take the shine off both pictures.
Remembering the Sabbath
Six times in Genesis 1 God declares that the creation is “good” – once for Day 1, twice for Day 3 – making up for Day 2 – and once each for Days 4 and 5. And after the creation of Man, Scripture states: “God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Not just good, but very good!
Here is the capstone as Scripture reports it:
Genesis 1: 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
In short, God built the rhythm of time into the very fabric of human life and told his community to “remember” what he had done.
But sin takes its toll and human beings forget.
Question: How did the miracle of the manna (Exodus 16) serve to rejuvenate human memory?
Comment: Every week-end there were two distinct miracles woven into the fabric of the greater miracle of the manna itself: Twice as much manna on Friday, no manna on Sabbath. So by the time Israel got to Sinai, they were ready to hear the command: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
Question: What dramatic change marks the stated “motive” in the 4th command when Moses gives the law the second time in Deuteronomy 5?
Comment: Even though Scripture declares that God wrote the law on the stone tablets with his own with his own finger, we don’t know exactly what he wrote when he came to the Sabbath command, for the key verb and the driving motive are different. Instead of admonishing Israel to “remember” the Sabbath because God was their Creator, he asks them to “keep/observe” the Sabbath. The “remember” comes a few lines later when he asks them to remember that they were slaves:
Deut. 5:15: Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
Thus the 4th command in Exodus celebrates Creation, while in Deuteronomy it celebrates redemption – and declares that the “rest” was a gift to their slaves as well:
Deut. 5:14: But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.
Comment: In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, the message is loud and clear that Jesus is both Creator and Redeemer, bringing the message of the Sabbath home, both in its Exodus version (creation) and in its Deuteronomy edition (redemption).
Reflection Question: What has been your experience in “keeping” the Sabbath? What has been the influence of the Bible in your keeping of the Sabbath? Has it been a joy or a burden?