The Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:8-11 in the light of the first creation account
Haynes, Matthew Brian
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This study is an attempt to define more clearly the Sabbath institution as it is presented in Exodus 20:8-11. It begins by describing the big-picture contours of the Sabbath institution as it has been depicted by various scholars during the last century. Many of these studies focus on delineating what proper Sabbath observance entails or describing how Sabbath rest mirrors God’s rest on the seventh day of creation. However, little investigation has been conducted into the relationship between the fourth commandment in Exodus 20 and the shape of humanity’s task and relationship with God on the seventh day. The study then examines the nature of God’s rest in the first creation account, describing what “rest” entailed for God, and the work from which he rested. It suggests that this “rest” is from the creational activity of the first six days and that it continues on into the present. It also discusses the relationship between the concept of rest offered by the first creation account and the concept of rest in the understanding of the Ancient Near East and Israel. Humanity’s role in the created order is also examined. While humans share some qualities with other creatures, such as an embodied existence, they are also distinct from the rest of creation. Only humans are created in the image of God. As such, they are given tasks unique to their status: subduing the earth, exercising dominion over the creatures of the earth, and expanding the borders of the garden as they multiply and fill the earth. These form the heart of their God-given task that they will carry out as God enjoys his seventh-day rest. Next, the study investigates the particulars of Exodus 20:8-11 and suggests a reading of these particulars against the backdrop of the seventh day as it is described in chapters 3-4. While the rationale for the Sabbath commandment is grounded in the events of the first creation account, the commandment itself also needs to be understood in the context of the Decalogue and, in turn, in the context of the law’s reception at Sinai. The law, and hence the fourth commandment, are central to the calling and purpose of Israel. As Israel fulfils its mandate to be a light to the nations, it will reflect the ideals of the seventh day as they are encapsulated in the law. Far from simply mirroring God’s rest, the fourth commandment reflects the relationship between God and humanity and humanity’s role on the seventh day of creation. The study concludes by drawing together various pieces of the argument and makes suggestions for further research.
- Theology