Genesis 2:2-3 — Sabbath and the Creation of Sacred Time


2And on the 7th day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the 7th day from all his work which he had made. 3And God blessed the 7th day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all his work which God created to be made.

On the 7th and last day of this creation account, our author not only presents the deity resting from his creative work, but more significantly consecrating and blessing the 7th day as holy. That is to say, the creator god creates and proclaims the last day of creation as a holy day of rest, a Sabbath—distinct from the previous six non-sacred or common days.

This is a significant point which is largely neglected, misunderstood, and/or interpreted away by so-called modern day Creationists and fundamentalists who, despite their claims, do not believe in the creation of the world as presented here in Genesis. This is not some subjective or baseless claim that I am making, but one that the text itself, with its ancient worldview and culturally-formed beliefs, is making against the ignorantly and hypocritically drawn claims of Creationists. For they, as do all of us, perceive and live in a world which is radically at odds to that envisioned in this text and believed by its author, and by extension its god. We do not believe nor perceive the world to be inherently, essentially, and categorically divided up into sacred dates set by the lunar calendar, and a weekly occurring sacred day (our Saturday), which were created as sacred and holy by God himself when he created the earth and the skies. This is what our author believed. This was his worldview—not ours!

Thus, as we saw with the creation of the luminaries for the purpose of being able to observe and thus keep Yahweh’s holy festivals (Genesis 1:14-19), the same applies here: the Sabbath is to be observed precisely because the god of creation created the 7th day as a holy, sacred day when he created the world. This is our author’s point. And it explains why the punishment for non-observance was so severe.

From the perspective of our author and his priestly guild, to blatantly neglect and not keep that which the god of the world created at creation as a sacred, distinct, holy day was blasphemous pure and simply. The punishment? Swift and inviolable death!

And Yahweh said… “And you shall observe the Sabbath because it is a holy thing to you. Anyone who desecrates it shall be put to death!… Six days work shall be done, and in the 7th day is a Sabbath, a ceasing, a holy thing to Yahweh. Anyone who does work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. And the children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath through their generations, an eternal covenant!” (Ex 31:12-16)

These are the things that Yahweh commanded to do them: “Six days work shall be done, and in the 7th day you shall have a holy thing, a Sabbath, a ceasing to Yahweh. Anyone who does work in it shall be put to death!” (Ex 35:1-2)

And the children of Israel were in the wilderness, and they found a man collecting wood on the Sabbath day… And Yahweh said to Moses: “The man shall be put to death! All the congregation is to batter him with stones outside the camp! (Num 15:32-35)

All of these passage were written by the same author who wrote Genesis 1:1-2:3—an elite Aaronid priest (see Priestly writer).

Again, our task is not to judge the beliefs of this author and by extension his god, or to judge whether the punishment of death for any and all violations of this “eternal” divinely-decreed law is just, nor is it our task to harmonize or interpret away this author’s belief system so that it meshes with our own modern beliefs and worldview, or to ignorantly and hypocritically claim that his beliefs and worldview, and by extension those of his god, are our beliefs and worldview. These types of practices are all negligent of and disingenuous toward this ancient text, its author, and its beliefs—and by extension those of its god!

Rather our goal is to understand the text. To understand his beliefs and see them as a product of his worldview. To understand why this author felt so strongly about violations against the observance of the Sabbath that he evidently placed this belief as an “eternal law” on the lips of his god, Yahweh. In short, what could possibly have been seen as the appropriate punishment for profaning that part of the created world which god Yahweh made and created as holy at creation but death? This was the worldview of our ancient elite priest and his guild.

Thus according to the elite priestly guild that penned Genesis 1:1-2:3, the creator god not only created the things of the visible world as seen through the perspective of our ancient Israelite scribe—daylight, skies to hold back the waters above, dry habitable land with tamed seas, the luminaries to distinguish between day and night and to function as signs indicating the fixed dates of Yahweh’s festivals, the animals of the earth after their kind, and man in his own image—but additionally he created specific lunar dates and intervals of time as sacred! These were embedded into his creation; they are as much a part of the created world as earth’s animals or the skies above.

That the 7th day was created and proclaimed as a consecrated holy day to be distinguished and observed on a weekly basis from the previous six non-sacred or common days was as much of an inviolable fact inherit in the created world for our author as the skies above! Any violation of this created order, what God himself created, was meet with a swift and inflexible death! You cannot break an inherit and god-created essential part of the cosmos. That is what the priestly writers and their god were getting at. Profaning a day, sacred time, that was created and consecrated as holy and pure by God at creation was an act that was not tolerated by this sect, nor its god. Doing profane or common work on the Sabbath not only blasphemed the very day that the creator god created in its essence and nature as holy, but it also blasphemed the creator god himself who deemed and declared it holy, to himself and to his people!—a blasphemous act repeated today on a weekly bases for any individual hypocritically claiming that he/she believes in this text! For I assure you, nay the text itself does, that they do not believe in this text, its worldview, and its beliefs! Their hypocrisy is born from their ignorance about the text, its author, its beliefs, its historical and literary contexts, etc.

This, then, is to understand, and even appreciate, an ancient text on its own terms and as a product of its unique historical context—here an elite priestly guild’s worldview and belief system. It is my hope that we as evolved human species of the 21st century can start to be honest to these ancient texts and their beliefs—recognizing that they are not our beliefs!—and by extension start being honest to ourselves.

Read more about the Sabbath and its author’s worldview in contradiction #245: Is the Sabbath an eternal covenant decreed by Yahweh that must be kept under penalty of death OR not?

12 thoughts on “Genesis 2:2-3 — Sabbath and the Creation of Sacred Time

  1. Hi, I was wondering if you are planning on compiling all of your posts into a book for the lay reader? I think if you worked with an editor and organized it all, a book for the average person would spread some of these really potent ideas. If you need money to start it up, how about a crowd-funding site like kickstarter or indiegogo? In any case, thanks for the continual posts!

  2. Ryan,

    Nice to hear from you. Yes, in fact I’m working on a couple of projects right now. Maybe it’d be good to introduce my readers to some of them.

    1) Does the Bible Support the Claims of Creationists? This is my current project and has all my attention now. It is a small work of 3 chapters that will be done in the next couple of months — thus my recent posts on Genesis 1 & 2. I hope to quickly find a publisher for this.

    2) Understanding Bible Contradictions: Why They’re There and What They Tell Us about the Bible and the Men Who Wrote It is a condensed and much smaller version of what I’ve been doing here, intended for a lay readership. It is quite different in its presentation and organization. Instead of enumerating contradictions chronologically, this book’s organizational layout follows the chronology of the Torah’s sources. So chapter 1—Stories from the North and South—looks at contradictory stories between the Yahwist and Elohist sources, our 2 oldest sources. Chapter 2—Using Moses to Rewrite History—looks at how and why the 7th c. BCE Deuteronomist rewrote, modified, and contradicted the earlier traditions of the Elohist and Yahwist now preserved in parts of Exodus and Numbers. Chapter 3 does the same with the 6th c. BCE Priestly writer’s rewriting of the Yahwist tradition. Chapter 4 looks at the competing religious beliefs and ideologies between D & P. And chapter 5 discusses how and why these competing and contradictory traditions were assembled together as the Torah of Moses in the 5th c. BCE. I very much like this book’s presentation since the reader gets a clearer picture of what each author was doing (often difficult to see here) and particularly why later writers, the Deuteronomist and Priestly writer, rewrote, altered, and contradicted the traditions, indeed “history,” they inherited. 3 of 5 chapters are done. I’m waiting for a larger press to notice me with this one. It deserves a large dissemination and coverage.

    3) The book: Volume 1: the Torah. Recently I decided to publish (maybe as a self-publish project) the contents of this website—that is a list of enumerated contradictions as presented here. This will be a massive book; its Introduction combines various different aspects from some of the preliminary posts here and is already a book of its own! Then it will just be a list of contradictions, 1-400 (?). This is taking more time than I intended because I have been adding a good number of contradictions between the Torah and the New Testament to the list which I missed when I started this back in 2013. So basically I’ve been busy writing up these new contradictions, revising what I already have, and then soon finishing those for Numbers—the book of Deuteronomy already done.

    I would like to see all of these out by 2015, and for the Creationist book end of this year!

  3. Wow awesome! Looking forward to reading these projects. A Kindle version would be very nice for me, since I live in South Korea. Please let us know when the books become available. I can’t believe the information here is not more widely available; thanks for changing that.

  4. An interesting verse is Exodus 31:17, which states that Yahweh not only ceased work on the Sabbath but was “refreshed,” which means that he “took breath.” The Hebrew is the verbal form of nephesh, which as you’ve already discussed, “connotes a life-breathing being, the life force or life in abstract terms—anything that has the breath of life in it, a living-breathing being: animals, humans, creatures.” Apologists have tried in vain to explain why an all-powerful deity (at least as conceived by later authors; see Isaiah 40:28, for example) needed to catch his breath, to use a modern term. “It was a figure of speech” or “It just means he was satisfied,” they say. However, I see this passage as consistent with the author’s beliefs, for if one believed that Yahweh had conquered the watery chaos (perhaps with echoes of the earlier taming of a chaos monster), separated these waters from land, formed the heavenly objects, created man and animals, etc., it’s understandable that Yahweh would need to refresh himself, just as humans have this need after performing less-spectacular chores on a much smaller scale. Yahweh set the example by not only ceasing from work but by reviving after it.

  5. Good luck on those projects, Dr. DiMattei! I’m liking those book titles in comparison to previous drafts of those titles I’ve seen before :-)

    I have a question on this Bible passage which came to me suddenly while reading your article. Did the writer believe that he was still living in God’s 7th day, the day of rest? This is puzzling for me because my upbringing was not as a young-earth creationist, but as old-earth. According to this view, the Earth is indeed billions of years old, because each day was an indefinite length. Therefore the 7th day began after Adam and Eve were made and has continued to our present time, only to end after Jesus’ Thousand Year Reign.

    But as I am learning to read the account without any eisegesis getting in the way, and trying to understand the writer’s intentions, I see that he must have really meant that each day was 24 hours, right? Doesn’t that mean that the day after Adam and Eve were created was the seventh day the writer was referring to — the sabbath of the first week of the world’s existence — and that it ended 24 hours later?

  6. To answer your question directly—Did the writer believe that he was still living in God’s 7th day, the day of rest?—No. Or perhaps N/A is the appropriate response. The author would have responded with a swift, “huh?” or perhaps stoned the questioner to death for such blasphemy and lack of understanding!

    As you’ve correctly inferred, this is a later and “abusive” interpretive framework imposed onto this text. I have refrained from responding to apologists’ interpretive claims and other similar modern impositions, and have tried just to stick to the text in its own historical context. So without really addressing the modern fictitious debate about whether 1 day is implied here or figuratively an indefinite time period, the text makes it clear that the author is certainly referring to 1 day. This is most apparent through: the refrains “there was evening and there was morning”; the fact that “day” is the first thing created thus providing the structural and temporal framework for the rest of the creation account; the mention of “fixed days” and a lunar calendar system (Gen 1:14) which again highlights the importance of individual days and dates: new moons, Yahweh’s holy days; and lastly the Sabbath, a specific day, which was extremely important to this author and his priestly guild! Contextually this is reenforced when we recognize that our Aaronid priestly author is adamant about keeping Sabbath observance (it is one of P’s covenants), and thus his creation account clearly indicates on which day man should “rest”; about keeping Yahweh’s holy dates/festivals (Lev 23; Num 28-29), etc. The idea that yom signified an indefinite time period is a forced exterior interpretive agenda and would have been a foreign idea to this author.

    Besides, such interpretive agendas are suspicious on the grounds that they attempt to manipulate and force this ancient text to agree with, indeed legitimate, the beliefs of readers living centuries after these texts were written. This has been one of my reoccurring pleas throughout many of my posts: being honest to these ancient texts, their authors, and their beliefs—not ours. I realize the importance and role of beliefs in various modern faith-communities and how sensitive and “real” this issue is, and on a psychological level perhaps even the “necessity” to legitimate those belief systems, and specifically by having recourse to an ancient collection of texts that has become, for better or for worse, authoritative. But in legitimating a modern belief or belief system by manipulating and distorting the beliefs of authors who lived 2,000-3,000 years ago, and without any real knowledge about them, what they believed and why, under what historical circumstances they write and to whom, etc… This is all just a dangerous and disingenuous charade, and on an intellectual and spiritual level it reeks of immaturity.

    I would like to see the human species as a whole be able to first acknowledge honestly what these ancient texts are and are not (this has been the gist of my projects), and then come to terms with the fact that our beliefs are different from those represented in this collection of ancient texts. Indeed these 70+ different ancient texts bear witness to different and opposing beliefs and ideologies. The task for humanity (Christians) then becomes to bravely face what might indeed be the case: perhaps there is no way to legitimate our modern beliefs, a community’s belief system. Perhaps we create them out of some psychological and/or religious necessity. The psychological need to justify one’s belief system at any costs, especially when that belief system informs that individual’s reality, is a real concern; I understand that. But these are the issues and questions we should be discussing on a public scale, rather than childishly and abashedly manipulating an ancient collection of authoritative texts in order to legitimate our very modern beliefs, values, worldview, etc. This sort of practice not only does disservice to the many authors of these texts, disservice to history and historical understanding in general, but it does disservice to the human species as a whole, since apparently we have not the courage nor intellectual and I would add spiritual maturity to face the questions of our own existence, belief systems, narratives that inform our realities, etc. on our own.

    I realize that you recognize these issues, KW. And I enjoy our conversations because they remind me of the real and difficult issues that are to some extent the aims of this and other of my projects. If Christians or the more fundamentalist persuasions can come to terms with what this collection of ancient texts are and are not, if our culture as a whole can promote biblical education, not indoctrination, then we as a broader group of human species might be able to enter into a conversation about belief, about the origin of gods and God, about man’s “necessity” to create religions, create religious narratives, or create any narrative that in the end informs, provides meaning for, and even creates our realities. This is a conversation to which I do not have the answers; it pushes us past the biblical literature into the realms of religion in general, psychology, science, neuro-psychology, literature, linguistics, philosophy, etc. It is a broader public and intellectual conversation. But to get there, we as a culture first need to be honest to these ancient texts and their beliefs, worldviews, etc. and acknowledge that they, of course, do not re-present ours. 21st century religious man must stand proud and admit this is the fact, and then ask: “OK, where do we go from here? What does this mean? So what if we create our religious narratives and belief systems. What does this mean in the end, about us, about how we interact with the world, with others, about the human species as a whole?

  7. Thanks for the response. For someone with a more secular background, the answer to my question must seem obvious, yet it’s actually startling for me to realize that this 7th day ended a long time ago, according to the text. It’s a basic belief of some Christian sects that this Day of Rest continues today, and will last until the “new creation” commences. Even though I don’t believe this any longer, it’s still like a little slap to the face every time I realize that I didn’t know my Bible like I thought I did.

    I have a couple responses to the issue you raised, of why many (most?) people are inclined to ‘justify their belief system at any costs’. It would make more sense for something more palpable, wouldn’t it? Like if someone refused to believe that they were responsible for an accident that took the life of a loved one — we could see the clear value in a defense mechanism that prevents that person from being crushed by guilt. It’s odd to think that someone in the modern U.S.A. might get emotional over what a long-dead Middle Eastern man meant 3,000 years ago when he wrote the word “yohm”.

    But it’s part of a sort of Jenga tower, an interpretive framework built on all these little blocks. Even though it wouldn’t have actually made a difference to their life if they’d been raised to believe in a slightly different Jenga tower, I think people have the tendency to think in black and white: if they can’t hold onto their particular beliefs, then they have to let them *all* go! They’d have to become an amoral atheist! It’s all or nothing! This is probably an aspect of what we call “tribalism”.

    Another reason is that many of us were raised with the overbearing expectations of our parents resting heavily upon us. True, some children have this burden even in non-religious ways, like the expectation of becoming a doctor or taking on the family business. But especially when raised in a cloistered environment, to give up one’s religion is to give up everything in one’s life and have to start over without any support network, as one’s friends are all a part of that religion as well, and the relationships are conditional on sharing their beliefs.

    So it doesn’t even matter if the Jenga tower makes sense in that situation; you either refuse to contemplate losing faith (and overcompensate by defending it even harder), or you let the blocks collapse into utter ruin as everyone you know disowns you, and hope that you can rebuild your life from square one. For those raised in a less “intense”, more mainstream religion, there’s still the fear of a measure of parental disapproval, which sometimes comes with financial ramifications.

    There’s another factor in the increasingly defensive world of the marginalized fundamentalist religions, which has to do with high existential anxiety and the fear of death, so it’s deeply rooted stuff in our psyche, but I won’t pontificate on that subject.

    Unfortunately I know of children right now who are being raised in a suffocating atmosphere of high anxiety, home-schooled so that they won’t be intellectually and morally infected by non-believing classmates, and being taught a filtered curriculum which ignores any information that contradicts their parents’ reading of the Bible. Thus they’re handicapped by their very upbringing, and the cycle perpetuates itself. Sadly, there’s no clear solution to this problem. Maybe the Information Age will be our savior; it’s certainly helped many people out of oppressive belief systems in the last 15+ years.

  8. KW I have personal experience with a lot of what you wrote about. Even touching upon one of the “Jenga blocks” can be tricky business. That’s one reason I’m hoping these posts can be condensed and spread through other means, such as books and e-books. It can be simpler to present such research and ask for the other person’s opinion, rather than getting into an argument that brings in unrelated subjects.

  9. Just came across your website today and I am finding it very interesting. I’ve been reading a lot on historical criticism and some of the books written by Bart Ehrman. He mostly is focused on NT work so I’m happy to find your OT analysis. Sounds like I have an experience much like KW above, thanks for sharing your conversation!

  10. Isn’t the assertion that God rested a polemical jab at the gods of the Ancient Near East who accidentally produced creation through a titanic struggle in which the gods were exhausted after seven days of warfare? Isn’t the biblical text poking fun at them by saying ironically that God rested–as if speaking the world by the mere WORD of his mouth could have been made God tired?

  11. I would say no. I realize that many critics attempt to identify polemical jabs in Genesis 1, such as tehom (v. 2) as an oblique reference to Tiamat, or that the sun and moon are created on day 4, etc. I feel stronger however that for this author, God’s shabath (rest) must be more properly understood in the context of this writer’s own religious beliefs and agenda, and that entailed grounding the 7th-day Sabbath in the created order of the world, as I explain above. So I see this as an expression of this author’s own theology and worldview. Certainly, as you suggest, God’s creation through his word here in Genesis may be a taunt aimed at other Near Eastern creation deities that created through a cosmic battle of some sort (see #2).

  12. i think that god talk /spoke so much that he had to catch his breath. my interpretation seems to be supported by what john said :

    “which states that Yahweh not only ceased work on the Sabbath but was “refreshed,” which means that he “took breath.” The Hebrew is the verbal form of nephesh, which as you’ve already discussed, “connotes a life-breathing being, the life force or life in abstract terms—anything that has the breath of life in it, a living-breathing being: animals, humans, creatures.”

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