- On the first page of the Bible there is an additional statement about the six ‘days’; it is that each of them is divided by an ‘evening and a morning’. Therefore an interpretation which would make these days other than ordinary twenty-four-hour days seems impossible, and must be set aside. To an ordinary reader of modern days, as to those of ancient times, these days, each with their evenings and mornings, imply six days of ordinary length.
- What did God do on those six days? and why did He cease on the seventh?
- I submit that the answers hitherto given to these questions have not been very convincing. This is all the more remarkable, seeing that it is possible to give an entirely satisfactory answer to the second question without any hesitation whatever, because our Lord Himself ANSWERED IT. He declared that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:271). He was the Lord of the Sabbath (v. 28) and claimed to be the one who from creation exercised authority over the seventh day and therefore could authoritatively state both its purpose and origin. He is referring here to the introduction of the Sabbath at the beginning for mankind generally, not to the Sinai laws.
- It is clear therefore that the seventh day was originally introduced by God in order that MAN could rest for a day and not in order that GOD could rest for a day. The Creator did not need a seventh day’s rest; its introduction, said our Lord, was for man’s benefit, not God’s. That this is abundantly clear may be seen from every reference in the Fourth Commandment to the purpose of the seventh day. It was to be a day’s rest after six days of work or business and it extended even to the trained cattle which had worked for six days. Our Lord’s attitude to the Sabbath is illuminating; everything He said about it was to the effect that should there be anything in keeping the Sabbath day inconsistent with man’s true welfare in relation to the Creator, He was prepared in that respect to have it broken. As Bengel says, “The origin and end of things must be kept in view; the blessing of the Sabbath in Genesis 2:3 has regard to man.”
- Every commentator has realized the difficulty created by the assumption that the seventh day was instituted by God for His own rest. They have all seen that it is necessary to ‘explain’ such a remarkable idea which has been thoughtlessly assumed and the usual ‘explanation’ is that God did not really rest, or cease, on the seventh day, but that He has rested or ceased from creation ever since. Is such an idea true either to Scripture or science?
- Had our Lord’s statement been borne in mind, we should never have got into the rut of thinking that this seventh day’s rest was instituted by God as being necessary for Himself. Such a conception is clearly contrary, not only to our Lord’s explicit statement but to the rest of Scripture. In that great creation chapter (Isa. 60), we read, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not neither is weary.”
- So the answer to our second question why did God cease on the seventh day? is quite simple and unquestionable, He ceased for man’s sake in order that man might rest2.
- This answer assists us in answering the first question, what did God do on the six days? As the seventh day was undoubtedly introduced for man’s benefit, then it is only reasonable to suppose that what was done on the ‘six days’ also had to do with man; and if with man, then obviously on the six days God was not creating the earth and all life, because man was not in the world when these were being created. Fortunately it is not necessary to rely on ‘reasonable suppositions’ and ‘assumptions’, for we are expressly told that each of the six days was divided by ‘an evening and a morning’. Why these six ‘evenings and mornings’? Why were they introduced? For God’s sake or for man? It never seems to have occurred to commentators to ask this simple question. If they had, there could have been no possible doubt about the answer. Endless difficulties have been created in thinking that Almighty God, the Creator, ceased His work of creating the world as the evening drew on and recommenced it as morning light appeared. An instance of the difficulty caused by this false assumption may be seen when that capable writer on this subject, Sir Robert Anderson, wrote in his Bible and Modern Criticism, “The problem may be stated thus. As man is to God so his day of four and twenty hours is to the Divine day of creation, and here I would suggest that the ‘evening and the morning’ represent the interval of cessation from work which succeeds and completes the day. The words are, ‘and there was evening and there was morning, one day’. The symbolism is maintained throughout. As man’s working day is brought to a close by evening, which ushers in a period of repose, lasting till morning calls him back to his daily toil, so the great Artificer is represented as turning aside from His work at the end of each ‘day’ of creation and again resuming it when another morning dawned.” Because he assumed that during those six days God was creating the universe, he found it necessary to explain the six evenings and mornings as symbolic nights on which God rested and not man. That they are rightly regarded as nightly periods of rest may be seen by the comment made nineteen hundred years ago by Josephus (who, in this matter, represents the Jewish opinion of that time) that “these evenings and mornings were times of rest”.
- We agree, but rest for whom? If the seventh day’s rest was introduced for man’s sake, are we to represent the six nightly periods of cessation as being introduced to meet God’s need of rest? He who did not need a seventh day’s rest, did He need a nightly one? Was it necessary for God to cease from His work of creation when darkness came on, and to wait till morning light dawned before He could resume? The idea needs only to be stated in this blunt fashion in order to enable us to see that the cessation for the six mornings and evenings was to meet man’s necessity for rest. God had no need of a nightly rest, “He fainteth not, neither is weary.” Our Lord said that the seventh day’s rest was instituted for man, so it is evident that, during these six days preceding it, God must have been doing something which also occupied the attention of man, and that on each of these six nights God ceased for man’s sake.
- How unworthy of God has been the idea that this record of creation was ever intended to teach that, at sunset, the Almighty God turned aside from creating the world and resumed it at sunrise! Evenings and mornings have to do with the inhabitants of this planet earth; God who dwelleth in light is not limited by periods of darkness on half of the earth, but man is. Is it legitimate to think of the God of Heaven, when creating, being unable to continue because of the turning of the earth upon its axis, or by its movements in relation to the sun? These things affect man’s time, not God’s. As the creation Psalm (139:12) says, “Darkness hideth not from Thee, but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and light are both alike to Thee,” but of man it says (Ps 104:23) “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.”
- It should have been obvious to us by the very mention of the ‘evening and morning’ in those six days, and of the cessation on the seventh day, that God was doing something with MAN during each of the six days. It is clear, therefore, that He was not creating the heavens and the earth. When He called light out of darkness, when He made the atmospheric firmament, when He caused the waters to recede and dry land to appear, man was not there to know anything about it; evenings and mornings were unknown, and man had then not been created. The activities of the days in the first chapter of Genesis cannot therefore refer to the period of time occupied by God in the creation of the world. Those six nightly periods of rest, as well as the seventh day’s rest were introduced after man had been created. Consequently the first page of the Bible must refer to six days during which God did something in relation to creation after man was on the earth.
- Thus far we have reached a partial answer to our first question. We know what God did not do for the six days; He was not creating the heavens and the earth; the narrative certainly does not teach that. Better, we have some positive information, He was doing something after man had been created and in which man was concerned.
- What did God do in the presence of man for six days? The record gives a very simple answer. God was saying something about creation. Each of those six days commences with “God said”, and it is a record of what God said to man as stated in verse 28, “And God said unto them”. The word is used in the present tense, “God saith”. It is therefore not only a statement of a command given by God in the past; it is more: it is a record of what He then said to man about creation. These two things have always been evident, there is the conjoint repetition of “God created” and “God said”. This double aspect has puzzled many; for instance Professor Skinner says, “The occurrence of the ‘so’ before the execution of the fiat produces a redundancy which may be concealed but is not removed by substituting ‘so’ for ‘and’ in the interpretation.” This representation has been called the two-fold conception of creation. I submit that it is an account of what ‘God said’ about the things ‘God made’; that, in other words, it is His revelation to men about His creative acts in time past.
- Consequently this narrative is a series of statements to man about what God had done in the ages past. It is a record of the six days occupied by God in revealing to man the story of creation. We are told what God said on the first day about the separation of light from darkness, then came the evening and the morning. The second day God said how He had made the atmosphere with its waters below and above it, and on the third day how He had caused the waters to recede so that dry land appeared. It is a narrative of what ‘God said’ to man, there is no suggestion that the acts or processes of God had occupied those six days. During the daylight hours of those six days God told man how in the ages past He had “commanded and it stood fast” and in such a simple way that man could understand how He had created the world and introduced life upon it.
- Another significant thing should be noticed. At the time ‘God said’ to man about creation, He gave names to the things He spoke about. On the first day He called the light ‘day’ and the darkness he called ‘night’; on the second day, when telling about the firmament, He called it ‘heaven’ and then we read how on the third day “God called the dry land earth and the gathering together of the waters called He seas”. Why did God give names to these things? A name to identify a thing is not necessary to God, but it is necessary for man. The supposition that God gave names to things before man had been created has been a great perplexity to all commentators. When we see that the names were given for man’s sake still another difficulty which has embarrassed many and stumbled not a few disappears.
- During the daylight hours of each of the six successive days (each divided by an evening and a morning, when man rested) God revealed to him something new about creation, and during the first three days gave to man the names of the things He had revealed. When at the end of the six days God had finished talking with man He instituted the seventh day as a rest day for man’s sake. In six days God had revealed “the heavens and the earth and all that in them is”, and the six days occupied in this work were followed by a day of rest. As Dillmann says, “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, that is not later on, but just then on the seventh day.”
- It may be said that all this is very anthropomorphic. Of course it is; it is God giving names for the instruction of man and recognizing man’s need of rest. The whole of the Bible is frankly anthropomorphic. At one time it was used as an argument against this narrative of creation that it looks at everything from man’s point of view; that this planet earth is regarded as the thing of greatest consequence in creation.
- What else should we expect in the circumstances? It was this planet, and not the Sun, or Mars, or Jupiter that man was interested in. Besides, modern science has shown that human life as we know it exists only on this planet. “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers; the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained; what is man that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that Thou visitest him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:3-6). In past interpretations this anthropomorphism has been applied to God apart from man. It has been assumed that before man existed God gave things names, whereas it was, on the contrary, God explaining His works of creation to man.
- In the second narrative of Genesis we read how God talked with man, instructed him in language, and taught him to give names to created things, and in the choice between good and evil. The Bible account of the origin of man is that of a person who was made in the image and likeness of God, his Maker, with a capable mind. It is in this that he mostly differs from the animal creation. It is the conceptual qualities of his mind which enable him to use language, and gives him ideas of space and time. Man became possessed of this knowledge by what God said especially during those six days.
- It may be asked, why should God talk to man about creation? Just because it was the one subject about which man could know nothing with certainty except God revealed it to him. Other things he may be able to find out for himself, and his accumulated human experience and acquired knowledge could be handed down. But if man was to know anything trustworthy about the important subject of the origin of things around him, it was vitally necessary that God should tell it to him in such a simple way as would enable him to understand. This is just what the Genesis narrative does. We are often told that no part of the Bible was revealed in order to tell man what he could find out for himself. If that is true, then the first chapter of Genesis would need to be revealed by God, because it was not possible for a writer either in the eighth or any earlier century to discover by reflection or research the facts of creation as given in this narrative. The attitude of the Old Testament is that man knew about these things, because God had revealed them to him, and not because some man had the ability to think it out for himself. As Dr. Denney wrote, “To begin with, creation in Scripture constantly appears as an inspiration to worship. The contemplation of heaven and earth fills the mind with adoring thoughts of God. We see it in Psalms like the 8th, the 19th, the 24th, the 35th, and the 104th, and many more. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night teacheth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone in to all the earth and their words unto the ends of the world.’ The Psalmist did not mean that he came to know God by studying astronomy.”
- It has been assumed by some that God waited until the time of Moses, or even later, before revealing this account of creation. This assumption implies that God left men in the dark for a considerable period of time. When Moses lived there were in Egypt alone nearly two thousand gods, as well as hopeless ideas concerning creation. A long period of time elapsed between creation of man and Moses; had these ages no revelation of God as Creator?
- There are many reasons why God should not leave man in the early days to grope in the dark concerning the origin and significance of created things around him. Subsequent events teach us that it is just on this very subject - the otherwise unknown - that man speculated and went wrong; worshipping created things instead of the Creator. In New Testament words (Rom. 1:21-25), “Because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.” They “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator”. Early history is sufficient illustration of the way in which the facts about God as Creator and of His creation were changed into the worship of the Sun and the Moon, and how mixtured representations of man, animals and birds became endowed by man with the attributes of a god - a god made not merely in the image of man, but of beast and creeping things.
- So it is not at all difficult to understand why God should tell man about Himself and about creation in the earliest days. Even Dillman, who is critical of the Genesis account and rejects the possibility of a primitive narrative concerning creation (because he assumes that early man was not sufficiently intelligent to understand anything regarding creation), says, “There exists in the spirit of man as soon as he attains to a certain maturity an unavoidable necessity which compels the formation of opinions regarding religious themes on which experience throws no light. One of these themes concerns the beginning of things.” Where there is intelligence3, the question was bound to arise; even a child will ask who made the stars and other visible things.
- A Deistical outlook has developed in the mind of some in the present day. It seems to imagine that God, having given the world some sort of start in the immeasurably distant past and having placed within it an infinite potentiality, then left both the world and man in it to evolve without His supervision or care. Needless to say this is contrary to the Bible view. God has never ceased from His creation. “My Father worketh hitherto and I work” (John 5:17).
- Because the six days have been misunderstood as though they were periods occupied by God in His creative acts, instead of the time occupied by Him in revealing what He had created in the infinite past, the first page of the Bible has fallen into not a little reproach, and has become a stumbling-block to many. The misunderstanding may not have mattered gravely until this last century; now there is a serious conflict between the interpretations made by Christians of God’s words, and by scientist of His works. This should never have occurred, nor should those interminable ‘explanations’ as to how there could have been ‘days’ and ‘evenings and mornings’ before the sun and moon were functioning I n relation to the earth have been necessary; they are now seen to have been entirely irrelevant.
- The foregoing interpretation has not been adopted merely as a method of escape from the difficulties of the six days; it is rendered necessary both by the implicit statement made by our Lord about the origin of the seventh day of rest and by the repeated statements made about the ‘evenings and mornings’ in the Genesis narrative. The new interpretation explains all the statements - not by explaining them away, but by accepting them in the most literal manner, and in accordance with the general usage of the ancient words.
- A further question will naturally be asked - when and to whom was the revelation regarding creation made? What information there is concerning this will be included in the following chapters.
Footnote 2: Although the fact that the Sabbath was made for man is very generally accepted in a theoretical way, as may be seen from the following quotation from Dr. Griffith Thomas’s Commentary on Genesis, yet elsewhere in it there is the usual discussion as to the probability of the days being long geological periods, and that it is long geological periods which are referred to in the Fourth Commandment.
- “At the root of the Sabbath-law was the love of God for mankind, and not for Israel only. Cf. Ephrem; “the Sabbath was appointed, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of man” (Prof. Swete, Commentary on Mark).
- “One of the simplest and most obvious, but yet one of the deepest and most important, of the apophthegms of our Lord. The verb rendered was made (egeneto) means was brought into existence. The preposition somewhat barely rendered for means because of, or on account of. The idea is, that the reason or (occasioning) cause of the existence of the Sabbath is to be found in man, not vice versa. Man needs a Sabbath, man universal. The Sabbath is a means in order to some end or ends terminating in man.” (Morison in Commentary on Mark).
- We find here rather the most emphatic confirmation of the inviolably-continuing sabbaton in the all-expressive egeneto. Not, “Moses gave you the Sabbath’ - but, ‘the Sabbath was from the first, when all things came into being, when the world and man were created’. As already in the reception of this commandment into the decalogue, which contains only what is original and permanent law for all m en, not what was temporarily designed for Israel alone, so again does Christ, in the words dia ton anthropon, set forth the universal validity of the Sabbath as originating from the creation” (Steir, The Words of the Lord Jesus, Vol. II, p. 130).
- Dean Alford said, “Peculiar to Mark and highly important. The Sabbath was an ordinance for man; for man’s rest, both actually and typically as setting forth the rest which remains for God’s people (Heb 4:9).”
- “The Sabbath for Man (verses 1-3) - Strictly this section should be placed in close connection with chapter 1 as the crowning point of the record of the days of creation. As the Sabbath is mentioned here for the first time we are justified in inquiring as to its fundamental purpose and principles.
- “The Sabbath should first be considered in its primary meaning. In the light of God’s creative work the fundamental and primary idea of the Sabbath is twofold, cessation from work and satisfaction after work.
- “The Sabbath should then be noticed as a divine institution. The very familiar term ‘sanctify’ occurs first here, and we are enabled to see that its root idea is ‘separation’ or ‘consecration’. God separated - i.e. set apart - the Sabbath to be consecrated to a special purpose.
- “The Sabbath should be emphasized as of permanent obligation. The institution of the Sabbath is evidently grounded in creation and is therefore pre-Mosaic, and not at all to be limited to the Jews. It is noteworthy that the Fourth Commandment calls attention to the Sabbath as an already existing fact (‘Remember the Sabbath day,’ Ex 20:8). There are many indications in Genesis and in Babylonian records, that the Sabbath was part of the primeval revelation which received fresh sanction under Moses. Only in this way can the universality of the tradition and the precise working of the Fourth Commandment be explained.”
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