The First Covenant: The Covenant of Creation
Genesis 1 and 2 record interactions between the Creator God and humanity that I and others have come to see as indicating a covenant being made. God makes the world and tells the land and seas to produce life in abundance. He also makes two human beings and tells them also to multiply in abundance. The humans are also to rule the world on God’s behalf.
According to O. Palmer Robertson there are three ordinances embedded in the creation’s structure” that must be observed if human beings are to be obedient to God’s creational orderings:
Sabbath – “By sanctifying the Sabbath, God has indicated that he expects men regularly to bring themselves as well as the fruit of their labor to be consecrated before him.” (p.69)
This Sabbath principle has been applied in various ways in various ways among God’s people, including yearly Sabbaths and Sabbath years.
It also plays out in the idea of God bringing “rest” to Israel in the Promised Land. God denies this rest to Israel because of sin (Ps. 95:11), establishing a “Sabbath” that yet remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:8-9). Israel’s 70 years of captivity are described in Sabbath terms as and enforcement of disregarded Sabbath years for Israel (2 Chron. 36:21). Daniel’s 70 sevens are a prophetic-style reinforcement of the Sabbath principle that looks forward to the promised “rest.”
Palmer suggests that the seventh day of creation’s Sabbath looked forward to redemption, so Christians must understand Sabbath in a fresh way when looking back on its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. This justifies its moving from the seventh to the first day of the week in recognition of the fact that the new creation begins with a salvation already accomplished, into which the Christian is already made alive again.
I agree with his first three points, but have difficulty with the fourth. While I see the logic of seeing newness of life as the starting point of Christian perception of Sabbath, I wonder if he has truly captured the creational perspective of the seventh-day Sabbath with a shift to the first day for Christians.
1) The original creation came into being largely before God created humanity. Human interaction with the creation began toward the end of the sixth day. The Sabbath had to be revealed to a creature that had neither experienced the five preceding days nor most of the sixth day. Human beings hadn’t done any work yet. Why did they need to rest?
2) The seventh day celebrated a completed work of creation. Jesus has inaugurated the New Creation, but has not yet completed the restoration of all things nor the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18-27 – note the future tense). This is a weak justification for changing the day of rest to the first day.
3) The prophet Zechariah foresees a time when all the nations that have been at war with Jerusalem “will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zech. 14:16). It seems strange for all nations to observe an annual Israelite Sabbath, yet Christians must shift the weekly Sabbath to the first day of the week. Something does not compute.
4) The Sabbath is not formally required of any group in the Scriptures until it is presented to His priestly kingdom of Israel in the wilderness during their Exodus from Egypt. This comes after a salvation He graciously granted them. [That would have been a perfect opportunity to shift the weekly Sabbath too.] What it suggests instead is that God gave a Sabbath that was His alone to a people who would function as priests on His behalf. For Christians it is fair to argue that it has been spiritualized into a restoration of relationship with God through Christ. It is not fair to argue that it remains binding physically on a different day of the week.
The next post will cover the other two creation ordinances as well as the specific test of the first human beings.