READ GENESIS 1:29–2:3
The crowning moment in the creation week is reached when the sovereign God and King of all makes man in His image. On the sixth day God creates man, blessing him in such a way that he will be able to be fruitful and fill the earth. Thus mankind will be able to serve God by ruling over everything that God had made. Man is created to serve God in terms of his office as king, priest, and prophet—all of this under the sovereign God Himself.
Food for the body…and for thought
But the creation of the land animals and man is not all that pertains to the sixth day. God has more to say about the arrangements and the relationships within the kingdom that He has made. Verse 29 tells us that God gives to man food to eat from every plant bearing seed and from every tree that has fruit yielding seed. Then verse 30 adds that the beasts and the birds are also given the provision of food from “every green plant.”
There are several things to notice here. First of all, this provision of food is described as a gift in the reference to mankind. The verb “to give” is certainly implied in verse 30 (notice the italics in most Bible versions). but it is explicitly stated in verse 29. In addition, both plants and trees are mentioned in regard to man’s provisions, but only plants are mentioned with regard to the beasts and the birds. Is this perhaps an anticipation of man’s test with regard to a particular tree in Genesis 2–3? Maybe this should not be pressed too hard.
In any case, what is so striking here is the revelation that we have of the King we serve. This account in Genesis chapter one stands in stark contrast to the pagan myths current in Moses’ day in certain parts of the ancient Near East. Among the Mesopotamian peoples was the myth that man was created when the blood of an evil god spilled on the ground. The Bible says that man was created good, in the image of the Triune God. The pagans believed that the duty of mankind was to provide food for the gods so that they might be satisfied. But here it is the true God who sets out His creation’s plants and trees to provide a buffet table. a veritable smorgasbord, for mankind to enjoy. He is concerned that man, being body and soul, has the means whereby he might be able to sustain himself. In other words, God feeds us and all creatures with the elements of the world He made. Man is made to rule as a king under God, but even earthly kings need to eat and be refreshed.
Though man’s diet is here declared explicitly to be vegetarian, one should not necessarily conclude that man’s body is created to be exclusively vegetarian. Later on in Genesis 9:3, following the flood, man is openly given permission to eat meat that has been drained of its blood. We may thus assume that from the beginning man’s body was able to accommodate meat, though it was not given to him for food in the beginning.
In addition, the animals and man (created on the same day) are to eat from the same “creational table,” and both of them are prevented from shedding blood. Without sin, there is no death in the form of the shedding of blood on the part of the animals or of man. Though man rules and has dominion over all creatures, this does not allow man to kill the animals of the pre-fallen world. But, then again, there would have been no reason to kill any animal at all (ef. Isaiah 11:7; 65:25). Before the fall into sin, the earth was truly a peaceable kingdom.
We noted above that some pagans believed that mankind had the duty of feeding the gods and goddesses. Scripture, on the other hand, teaches us that service to God does not include feeding Him at all. Later in the history of redemption, God prescribes the entire sacrificial system as the ceremonial means of atonement and restoring fellowship between Himself and His people. The altar of sacrifice was a kind of table where the food of God was placed. Yet it was so easy for Israel to assume that she could feed God and in this way earn His favor. But God, the LORD, says in Psalm 50:12–14, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High.” We are saved to serve with thanks. We do not serve God in order to be saved.
The function of food
To us food exists in abundant supply. For most of us food markets are close enough to be able to satisfy our every pang of hunger and craving of the palate. This is not true for many millions of people on the earth, and therefore the significance of food and eating may be lost on us in North America. Genesis one already portrays man as dependent upon the food that God has made available in the world. Human beings need love, but they cannot “live on love” alone. Nutrients from outside of us must come into us and then be assimilated by our bodies in order to nourish us. Unless you eat, you will soon have no life in you.
Already here in Genesis one, God is laying down the basic principle that belongs to one of the Christian sacraments, namely, Holy Communion. Jesus Christ made this most pointedly clear in His conversation with the Jews in John 6. Five thousand Jews had been fed by the Lord near the time of the Passover (John 6:4). After He had crossed the Sea of Galilee, the Jews came to Him again, but now He addresses their basic motivations. They were looking for more (miraculous) bread when they should have been seeking Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus tells us, “I am the Bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35; d.6:41, 48, 50, 51). Then our Lord becomes even more graphic when He tells the arguing Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53, 54).
Food is God’s gift for us in order to live. But the greatest gift of God to His people is His only-begotten Son, in whom we must believe in order to have everlasting life (see John 3:16, 17). He must be taken in by grace through faith, become “part of us,” so that the life we live, we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (see Galatians 2:20).
God’s final verdict on His work: outstanding!
In earlier verses of Genesis one we read about God’s evaluation of the particular things He created (see verses 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Each particular object is declared to be good in God’s eyes. But when the entire kingdom project is completed, it is as if God stands back to admire the totality. He rejoices in all that He has made. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, so that God can say concerning His handiwork, “That’s it! It is very good, absolutely perfect!” The creation is merely a reflection of the nature of the Builder and Creator Himself: a good and perfect God makes everything according to His will, which alone is good and perfect (see Belgic Confession, Articles 1 & 2).
The word for good here can also be translated as beautiful. Functionally, aesthetically, morally—all the Lord’s work is of the finest quality. This is Paradise: a realm under God that is exquisite in goodness and beauty, entrusted to mankind for its governance, its well-being, and its development.
The seventh day: God’s rest
Genesis 2:1 recalls the words of Genesis 1:1. The totality of God’s creation-kingdom is now complete. The sixth day brings God’s creative activity to an end. His tasks are finished. This is the pattern for mankind as the fourth commandment reminds us when we are told that six days are given to us for labor, six days of every week in which we are to toil and do all our work. How few of us can get everything that needs to be done, actually finished within the six days of the working week! Yet this is the divine pattern that God enjoins upon His covenant people for their own human pattern of activity (Exodus 20:8–11).
By revealing here that God rested or ceased activity, the Scriptures mean that God rested in terms of the activity under discussion, namely that of creating. This does not mean that God ceased doing other things. He continued to uphold everything. His Word continued to sustain and maintain everything in the universe. Without God’s Word keeping the heavens and the earth together, everything would dissolve into chaos, even into nothing. Resting means He stopped creating the new particulars that make up the whole of His kingdom. God enters this rest on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). This does not mean that God becomes inactive in an absolute sense. Jesus reminds us of the following: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17).
Some have observed that this seventh day does not have the “evening and morning” formula that marks the description of the other six days. It is then said that because the seventh day has no ending but is a long period of time, therefore the other six days are long periods of time. But such is not the case. God enters His own rest on the seventh day: He ceases from making any new elements in His creation. That divine rest is on-going and everlasting. But the normal weekly pattern of days is in place, as Exodus 20:8–11 makes clear for us. The “greater light” (the sun). created on the fourth day, was now in place to rule the daytime. If the seventh day of the first creation week were not a normal earth day, then when did it become so? There is nothing in the text here that requires us to see the seventh day of Genesis 2:2–3 as anything other than one like the first six days, days defined as periods of “evening and morning” in orderly sequence.
The Sabbath sanctified
The seventh day is set apart, “made holy” or perhaps “declared holy,” because on this last day of the week God rested. The Hebrew word from which we get the word Sabbath means “to rest, to cease activity, to stop doing what one has been doing.” Exodus 31:12–17 recalls the establishment of the Sabbaths when the LORD through Moses tells Israel that observing the Sabbath is a perpetual sign and covenant. God’s people thus are marked before her neighbors as people who copy or model (image) the pattern of the LORD Himself. In “six days the LORD made the heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17, NASB). The NIV here says that God “rested,” but “refreshed” is more accurate. God never tires (Isaiah 40:28), of course, but when He finished His work, He stood back to observe and admire what He made, and He rejoiced. The joy of the LORD is the strength of our life. If God could be “refreshed” by sabbath rest, how much more we can be refreshed if we by faith keep covenant with God in our sabbath rest and worship!
Students of God’s Word have noted that the very first full day of man’s existence was the Sabbath day. His first full day of life was resting. To put it another way, man’s own week began with rest (although it was the seventh day of God’s week). Today Christians observe the beginning of their week with the sabbath rest. The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10) because Jesus arose from the dead on Easter Sunday. He also poured out His Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. The resurrection of Christ and the gift of His Spirit signal the dawn of the new creation. Thus Christians still observe the sabbath rest, but they do so in accordance with the new realities brought about by the new Man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. We begin the week with Christian rest in order to work in gratitude for the work He has accomplished on our behalf.
Calling the Sabbath a delight
Both Isaiah 56 and 58 speak of observing the Sabbath as holy to God. Isaiah 58:3–7 adds an address concerning the kind of fast that the LORD approves. Food was made for man’s life and enjoyment, but Israel thought that by going through the rituals of fasting she could earn God’s blessing. But the LORD seeks righteousness and justice, mercy and liberality. especially for those who are oppressed and destitute. God seeks our refreshment and our re-creation as the goal of the Sabbath rest. Thus God’s people must keep in mind the holiness of the day to the LORD. God’s intention is not to make all days profane, outside the concerns of His will, but rather to make the whole week holy by doing His will. Isaiah 58:13–14 exhorts us to reject our own will, call the Sabbath holy and a delight, and in this way let the “eternal Sabbath” begin in our hearts already now (see Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38). He promises then His blessing.
Jesus Christ: Lord of the Sabbath
Part of the blessing mentioned in Isaiah 58:14 is feasting. This lesson has focused on the two of the many things God has made and given to man: food and rest for our refreshment. The Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that the Sabbath (rest) was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:1–14 (d. Mark 2:23–3:6; Luke 6:1–5) there is the account of the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath in order to eat. This was not the work of harvesting! Food is God’s gift to the hungry.
Furthermore, in the Gospel passages mentioned above, our Lord healed on the Sabbath because He was the Lord of the Sabbath. He was not bound by the Pharisees’ traditions that had made the Sabbath a day of lifeless restrictions. God intended our refreshment, our re-creation, and our healing in His Sabbath. That’s why Christians long for the eternal Sabbath that still awaits the people of God (Hebrews 4:1–11). In the new heavens and the new earth the Church will some day feast with the Lamb of God during the joyful Sabbath that will never end. All this He will do. But already in the beginning He has made these for man—and His glory!
POINTS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS
1. God gave the plants and trees to man for food. In Genesis 9 man is permitted to eat meat. Why are some people vegetarians? Are there legitimate reasons for this practice?
2. Food is God’s gift, to be received in thankfulness. Yet in Leviticus 16:29, 31 it says that on the Day of Atonement the people were to deny (or humble) themselves, apparently meaning that they were to fast for that day (d. Ps. 35:13). It seems that this was the only prescribed fast of the Old Testament. Why do some Christians fast today?
3. Many of the ancient pagan religions treated sexuality as a kind of sacrament. This is why many pagan shrines and temples had cultic prostitutes. What is a sacrament? What is God’s wisdom in using water as the element in holy baptism and food (bread and wine) as the element in Holy Communion?
4. Does God continue to create today? What is the difference between creation and providence? How do creation and providence relate to each other? Is it important to believe that these are descriptive of two distinct activities of God? See Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10; Belgic Confession, Article 2; Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapters 4–5.
5. Is the fourth commandment a temporary ceremonial law that passed away with the coming of Jesus Christ. or is it an abiding moral commandment that Christians must observe in gratitude yet today? Is the Lord’s Day today the Christian Sabbath?
6. Read Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38. What does God require in the fourth commandment. according to this Catechism? Read Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 57–61 and the Larger Catechism, Q/A 115–121. How are the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms similar and how are they different (if at all) in both what they require and what they forbid in observance of the fourth commandment?
7. What can Christians positively do today to make the Lord’s Day a genuine “Sabbath delight,” both for ourselves and our families? How can we witness to our neighbors in the way we keep a Christian Sabbath?
Mark D. Vander Hart