Why the Sabbath was made for man

The more familiar explanation of resting on the Sabbath is because God rested on the seventh day of creation. Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

But there is another explanation given for taking a break every seven days. Exodus 23:12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. It was (as far as I know) the worlds first labour law protecting workers.

So, are there two reasons of the Sabbath: commemorating a six-day creation and workers rights?

Here is where it gets odd. We are not just told God rested, we are also told he was refreshed after his rest on the seventh day of creation. Exodus 31:16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

It is bad enough talking about God resting after creating the world, but saying he was refreshed after his rest contradicts the theology in the rest of the bible about God being Almighty and neither slumbering or sleeping (Psalm 121:4). Especially when ‘refreshed’ literally describes someone exhausted stopping and catching their breath (see 2Samuel 16:14 where David flees for his life from Absolom, stopping to refresh himself when they got to the Jordan river).

There is another possibility, that one of the reasons creation was described as God’s six-day work schedule was specifically to protect workers, teaching a nation of former slaves to rest every week, and commanding rich landowner in years to come not to oppress their workers like Egyptian taskmasters.

The ancient Israelites weren’t very sophisticated scientifically but they were a rich oral culture, very good at metaphors and parables. In the creation accounts in Proverbs 8 and Job 38, God is described as a builder laying the foundations of a house even using architectural instruments. We also see God creating humans described with a potter metaphor, forming not just Adam, but everyone from clay, Job 33:6, Isaiah 64:8. (The word used in Genesis for God ‘forming’ Adam from moistened dust, yatsar, is the same word as ‘potter’.) Scientifically sophisticated or not, the Israelites understood where babies came from and would not have taken God forming them from clay literally.

The picture of God being refreshed by his rest just like a servant girl or migrant worker fits another theme we see throughout the Bible, God’s identification with the poor and downtrodden.

When the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5:12–14 the reference to creation is missing and the entire explanation is about giving workers (and livestock) a much-needed rest.

As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath“, Mark 2:27.


Is the bible the only basis for morality?

It is a popular argument in evangelism: without an absolute moral standard handed down from God, all we ever have is an ‘anything goes’ moral relativism. ‘Good’ is simply whatever seems right to each individual. People’s idea of what is right and wrong may be exact opposites. Here is an example of this sort of argument.

While it may sound like a great argument (it’s not1) it simply isn’t what the bible teaches. It’s also pretty insulting to non-Christians too, especially with American Christians voting in such large numbers for a racist, sexual predator like Trump, an irony that isn’t lost on non-Christians.

But the bible is much more positive about other people’s moral understanding. Paul tells us that even without the Mosaic Law, Gentiles who don’t know the bible, show they have God’s law written on their hearts Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires… 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

More importantly, the bible doesn’t teach the commandments as the absolute basis of morality written in stone… well maybe written in stone, but not the absolute basis.


Paul describes the Old Testament Law as a child’s tutor Gal 3:24. There is a deeper moral principle the commandments themselves are founded on, a deeper magic as Aslan put it. Rom 13:9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Jesus himself said all of the Old Testament commandments are based on two great commandments, to love God and love your neighbour. Matt 22:37 NLT Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’e 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”.

Since we seem to find ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ so difficult to understand, Jesus explained it another way. Matt 7:12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them… Again Jesus tells us this principle sums up all of the commandments in the Old Testament …for this is the law and the prophets. But this principle, the Golden rule, or ‘do as you would be done by’ is found in one form or another throughout the world’s major religions and in a lot of our philosophies.

Does it somehow take from Christianity that ‘do unto others…’ is found in other religions?

It shouldn’t. We are all created in God’s image, remember how Paul tells us even Gentiles without the OT Law have God’s law written on their hearts.
Jesus didn’t have a problem with it either. When a Jewish theologian asked Jesus what loving you neighbour meant, Jesus picked an example from outside Judaism, a Samaritan, motivated not by the Jewish Law, but by the gut-wrenching empathy that he felt towards the man bleeding dying on the road to Jericho.

The Golden Rule isn’t based on divine revelation, it flows from our human capacity for empathy. It is how we are made, how we evolved, how God created us. We see someone being suffering or being mistreated, the empathy centres in our brain signal to us how we would feel in the other person’s place. And it’s not just a mental response in our brain. The sensations of deep emotion are sent down the vagus nerve telling our heart to beat faster, our stomach to tighten and our intestines to feel as though they were being tied up in a knot. The way we are built, seeing the pain of a fellow human resonates through our body.

We talk of our heart going out to someone, it may be a metaphor but it is based on the human physiological response when we empathise. The word Jesus used for the Samaritan’s compassion (the tongue twister splagchnizomai) comes from the Greek word for intestines. The Samaritan felt compassion for dying man deep in his very guts.

This is how we know we should treat others as we would have them treat us, to love the as we love ourselves. When we see their suffering, we feel it deep in our gut as though we were suffering it ourselves. We know in our hearts they are a person just like us with feelings like ours to be valued as we value our own life.

Which is why a compassionate humanist or atheist can have a much deeper, much more mature moral understanding than a Christian whose moral framework simply rule based. And as a friend pointed out to me when we were discussing this, that was Jesus’ point in the parable of the Good Samaritan talking about the religious people, the priest and the Levite, who walked by, while the Samaritan was the one who stopped and helped his fellow man.

Our understanding of justice and human rights is based on this. We recognise injustice because we wouldn’t want to be treated that way. We know treatment that is fair and just when we see it, and we recognise treatment we would cry out against ourselves. This understanding of justice and injustice is shared across all cultures by every religion and none. The only limit to our concept of justice and human rights is the limit of our empathy. For more on the limits of empathy and how it is manipulated by certain politicians to spread hate, see my blog Listening to right wing politicians can turn you psychopathic.

Another moral basis Christians use

This one is closer to the empathy-based loving your neighbour as yourself. We love and value our fellow man because they are made in God’s image. Martin Luther King used this as an argument for human rights. In fact, it is used in the bible to prod religious people who are less than perfect in the way they treat others. Prov 17:5 Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker. James 3:9 With (our tongues) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. This is a pretty good basis for treating people decently, far better than simply following rules because God said so. But like rule following, this moral basis is limited to people who believe in God and believe he created and loves us.

But God wants us to go further than rule following, or loving people because God loves them. God wants us to love others as we love ourselves, because we recognise them as people like us, who have feelings like we do, and we feel it ourselves when they hurt or suffer injustice.

Is there anything that sets the bible and Christianity morality apart?

The Christian version of the Golden Rule is one of higher versions, teaching the positive side of ‘do unto others’. Most other versions only teach the negative side, don’t do what you wouldn’t like done to you. Basically, the higher version of the Golden rules say “help your neighbour when he falls because that what you’d want yourself” the lower version says “don’t kick him when he’s down, you wouldn’t like that yourself”. While the lower version is most common, the higher version can be found also in religions and philosophies like Taoism, Jainism and Islam.

One thing that sets Christianity apart is that God not only calls us to treat our neighbour with love and compassion, but he also demonstrated this love and compassion himself, by becoming human and laying down his life for us in the greatest act of sacrificial love and compassion.

Which of course leads into the biggest difference about Christianity, that our whole relationship with God is based what Christ has done, rather than our own, frankly terrible, efforts at doing the right thing. For a Christian learning to love others better and use our God-given empathy and compassion flows out of that as we walk in relationship with Jesus and are transformed by his Word and his Holy Spirit within us.

And lastly

For those who don’t believe in God the evolution of morality and a sense of justice raises the disturbing suggestion that our material universe comes prewired for it. It is not just humans who evolved it either. Empathy and an understanding fairness keep emerging in social species once they develop sufficient brain capacity. We see it in animals as distantly related as birds, dogs and capuchin monkeys.

They could try to dismiss morality and justice as random side effect of evolution, instincts that are beneficial for group survival but of no intrinsic meaning. But to do that they would have to abandon the fundamental importance of compassion, justice and human rights that from the very centre of their being3 their own empathy and compassion is telling them is real.

Either that live with the cognitive dissonance that the basis for justice, morality and the rights of others seem to be written into the fabric of the materialistic universe as deeply as the laws of mathematics, just waiting for organisms sufficiently developed to recognise them.


1 A major problem with the argument for an absolute morality is, (as any well informed atheist will tell a Christian who tried to use it), it had a massive hole punched in it way back in the time of Plato. It is called the Euthyphro dilemma, where Plato pushed the problem of arbitrary morality one step further back. “Is goodness (piety) loved by the gods because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by the gods?” If God really liked when we tortured kittens, would that make torturing kittens moral? Which spins off into further philosophical questions, but it is enough to show that this popular evangelistic argument doesn’t work.

How to pronounce splagchnizomai

3 Via the vagus nerve.

Don’t look down

We had the pleasure of having Keith Warrington teaching us in church this weekend. One of the questions he asked was “how does the bible teach us about God” and passed around bunches of postcards we could use as illustrations. I picked:

empire state of mind article-2206050-0059AA091000044C-332_964x756

As Keith showed the card around the room there were groans, intakes of breath, groans and exclamations of “I feel sick”.

A simple photo looking down on New York rooftops would not have done that. But because there were people sitting out on the girder high above the streets below, we put ourselves in their place and felt the deep emotional response, what we felt about being in their situation ourselves.* It isn’t just a response in our heads. This reaction was signalled by our brain down through our body along the vagus nerve until we felt the reaction in our very guts.

That is why we associate intense emotions like being in love with our heart. You heart goes pitter-pat, skips a beat (there is medicine for that now), you suffer heart ache. Deeper  emotions can be felt as butterflies in your stomach, being love sick, having your stomach in knots. These aren’t just metaphors (though the butterflies aren’t real), your brain is using your whole body as a sounding board to express your emotions. If the emotional turmoil is strong enough you can end up having to rush to the loo.

With empathy and compassion we feel the same responses, only for other people’s suffering. We react the way we’d feel about being in that situation ourselves. This was how the Good Samaritan reacted to the man he found beaten up and dying on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The Levite and the priest had more important things to do and just passed by, not the Samaritan. But he didn’t just think, “that’s terrible I must do something”. He felt the compassion for the man deep down in his guts. That is what the Greek means, it’s the verb splagchnizomai from splagchnon intestines. This is what loving neighbour means. Jesus told the parable to illustrate loving our neighbour and who qualifies as neighbour Luke 10:25-37. This is the compassion and empathy we are called to throughout the bible. Exodus 23:9 Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. Deut 10:19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Quotes from the NIV) The very phrase ‘love you neighbour as yourself’ calls us to put ourselves in the other person’s position and feel things from another persons perspective.

This kind of love should grow in our lives as a fruit of being filled with the Holy Spirit.* It is one of God’s highest priorities, if not the highest priority, as he begins to transform our lives into the image of Jesus Christ. Paul lists love first when tells us the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22,23. It is at the end of his list in Colossians but described as ‘above all’. Col 3:14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

How does this help us know  God better? As we learn more about love we begin to understand the love God has for us, and for others. It resonates more deeply with us when we read about the deep compassion Jesus had for people in the Gospels, especially the outcasts and marginalised. But more than that, what we read about God and about Jesus simply makes more sense as we begin to understand it through eyes of love.

I like to think of empathy as a superpower   🙂  Unlike invisibility or bending space and time, it has the advantage of being real. But a real superpower comes with limitations. It isn’t mind reading. We don’t feel a disturbance in the Force as if millions of voices are silenced. We are simply imagining how we would feel in someone else’s situation. It is often pretty accurate, or at least enough to tell us the other person is in desperate need. But if you look at those men sitting on the girder having lunch, they aren’t bothered by it at all. They don’t feel the way we would about such a precarious perch. Which is why, when we have the opportunity, instead of simply rushing in with all our good intentions, we should listen to people too. Often that is the thing they need most.

So just how powerful is this ‘superpower’ of ours? The Good Samaritan’s empathy saved a life. Compassion can pull someone out of the depths of despair or transform a whole society. But for our compassion to move and change others, it has to move and change us first. His compassion moved the Samaritan to kneel down and begin cleaning and binding the man’s wounds…


updated June 6 2016

*We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking because love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that this kind of compassion is limited to Christians. Remember Jesus used the example of a Samaritan, whom the Jews would have regarded as heretics, to show what compassion and loving our neighbour means.


Into the Heart of God

In an earlier blog The heart of God I looked at the relationship in God between the Father and Son, not the quiet serenity I expected, but sheer exuberant joy and delight. In Prov 8:30 we get a picture of Christ before the creation of the world, saying of the Father: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.

What I realised after I wrote that is astounding. This is the very relationship God welcomes us into through Jesus. John 17:21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

I’d understood since I was a young Christian that I was accepted in God through Christ. I knew that I was loved and welcomed. And this was very important to me as I struggled with Chronic Fatigue, to realise again that my relationship with God didn’t depend on anything I was able, or rather unable to do. I was a child of God through Christ’s death on the cross, nothing of my own efforts or achievements would add or take away from that. Now as children of God, his Spirit is working in us, transforming us to be more like Jesus, but our acceptance as his children is total and complete.

But God the Father doesn’t just welcome and accept us, he delights in us with the same wild exuberant joy he delights in Christ. Of course it was there in the bible all along, I’d sung the chorus enough times: Zeph 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.


And yet thinking about all this, I had to ask, how can God rejoice over us as he looks on the mess, the pain and sin of our daily lives and relationships?

Our relationship with God is founded on Christ’s death on the cross, we keep having to keep going back there. Jesus didn’t just bear our sins there he bore our sorrows and pains too. Isaiah 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. When we are struggling with hurt and pain with circumstances we cannot bear, we go back to the cross to find Christ bearing it all for us, and with us. God can rejoice over us with pure delight because he has met us in Christ at the cross to bear all our sins and grief.

Moses and Ancient Israel’s Social Welfare System

Modern Christianity tends to be very individualistic. Many think the only biblical obligation we have to the poor is personal charity, giving to the poor themselves or giving to charities to distribute it. Some Christians even think it is wrong to have a social welfare system with laws and taxes to fund it. But God expects nations and rulers to look after their poor too, and condemns nation who don’t. Israel was meant to be an example to nations around them, and the Old Testament Law established the nation of Israel with a comprehensive social welfare system to take care of the poor.

Tithes: Levites weren’t given an inheritance of land in Israel, they were meant to look after the Israelites spiritual needs not spend their time farming and herding flocks. As such they were among the poor in the land. They were to be provided for through the tithe,10% of all produce and herds going to 8% (1 in 12) of the tribes. So a generous provision for the poorest tribe. However the tithe was not just for Levites, they were also a provision for other poor people, for widows and orphans, and for immigrants especially those living in cities. Deut 14:27-29, 26:12&13. Unlike the misery of modern tax returns paying your tithe was mean to be a great big party for you all you household too Deut 22:14-27.

Gleaning: The poor living in the countryside were also supported through gleaning. Land owners were not allowed harvest all their crop, only allowed for example to beat their olive trees once, they could not go over them a second time as more olives ripened. The same applied to grapevines and all the grain and sheaves that had fallen to the ground in those pre-combine harvester days. These gleanings were for the poor and immigrants Deut 24:19-21.

Fallow Ground: Every seven years, the Sabbath Year, fields were to be left fallow. But wheat would still grow in wheat fields, olive tree and vines would still produce their fruit. Again this was for the poor and for immigrants. Also included were wild animals, so a very green social policy, Exodus 23:11, Lev 25:2-7. This was a social welfare contribution of up to 14% of harvests on top of the 10% tithe. The Sabbath year of the land should have been an abundant source of provision if the wealthy landowners didn’t cheat on their obligations. Proverbs 13:23 The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.

Redistribution of wealth: The most politically radical of Moses laws were wealth redistribution through the cancellation of debt and return of land and houses. The debts of Israelites were cancelled in the Sabbath Year when the land was allowed lie fallow Deut 15:1.

Every 50 years this went even further in the Jubilee year: Land, the main source of wealth in an agrarian society was redistributed from the rich who had accumulated it over the previous 50 years and given back to the families and clans who owned it before. Houses in walled cities were not included in this, though the houses in cities belonging to Levites were returned. Outside cities, houses were returned in Jubilee years too Lev 25:10-55. All of this was meant to reset the economy every 50 years so the wealth that had been accumulated in the form of land and debts owed to the rich (read: banks) could be turned back to the more level playing field created by the Jubilee 50 years before.


How was Genesis 1 understood by the writers of the OT?

How was the creation account in Genesis 1 written? Was it meant as literal history to be understood as God’s timetable of creation, or was it a parable or poetic framework whose purpose was to teach truths other than a literal six day creation? While there is much to be learned by studying Ancient Near East (ANE) culture that the writers and audience shared, we have a closer perspective we can look at too, how other writers and other creation accounts in the bible interpreted Genesis.

Does Genesis 1 contradict Genesis 2?
If you look at Genesis 2, it presents a completely different sequence of creation events to Genesis 1.
In Genesis 1, God created plants first, then sea creatures and birds, the land animals, then finally man and woman.
Genesis 2 starts off with the creation of a man before there were any plants created, then land animals and birds created together, then finally creating a woman.

Creationists go to great lengths to try to avoid the plain straightforward meaning of the narrative, but it is there, both in the storyline, and in the use of the waw consecutive, a syntactical construction used in Hebrew to indicate consecutive events in a narrative. Genesis 2 portrays the creation as a series of event in a narrative, but it gives a different series of events to a literal reading of Genesis 1. We can try to make them fit if we change the meaning of Genesis 2 to fit what we think it should say, how can scripture ever challenge our view point so we can learn what it does say and how God is speaking to us though it?

It is worth pointing out that while the waw consecutive shows Genesis 2 is a narrative it does not mean it is a historical narrative as waw consecutives were also used in non literal narratives like Nathan’s parable of the lamb 1Samuel 12.

But if Genesis presents two contradictory sequences of Creation, does that mean the bible is wrong and contradicts itself in the very first pages? It is only contradictory if you read the two accounts of creation literally. Whatever your ideas of how Genesis was written and compiled, whether by one writer or were written by different people over time and compiled by an editor, the person who put these two stories together cannot have been concerned by the literal sequences of creation they present or they would not have put two contradictory timetables together. The point of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, at least when they were compiled together as the book of Genesis, was not as literal history, but the deeper lessons the stories taught.

The accommodation explanation assumes that both creation accounts were written and understood as literal history, but that contradictions between the creation accounts and science, and between the two accounts themselves don’t matter since it is the spiritual and theological teachings that are important part, what God was inspiring in Genesis accommodated to the Ancient Near East world views of the Israelites. But it is one thing to say the writers didn’t understand modern science and it wasn’t God’s intention to teach them, but I would think if the writers or editor put together two contradictory creation stories, they weren’t thinking of them as literal history to start with.

Did Moses interpret Genesis 1 literally?
There are plenty of creation accounts in the bible, Genesis 1:1-2:3, the rest of Genesis 2, Job 38, Psalm 104 and Proverbs 8. But only the first account in Genesis mentions the six day creation followed by God resting on the seventh day in Genesis 2:1-3. We find the reason for the seven day description in the Ten Commandments in Exodus where it is used to teach Sabbath observance. Exodus 20:9  Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Creationists often take this as proof Moses interpreted the six days literally. It is the Ten Commandments of course they are meant literally. But while the commands themselves were to be observed to the letter, the explanations of the commandments could use metaphors. Exodus 20:2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. Did the whole nation live in one big house? The house of slavery wasn’t a literal house, even if the command not to worship any other gods meant exactly what it said.

Or look at the Sabbath command when we are given the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day Deuteronomy 5:15. This isn’t literal either, God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm is a another metaphor, an anthropomorphism describing God in human terms. Clearly Moses had no problem using metaphors in illustrations and explanation of the Ten Commandments. He had no problem describing history in metaphor either, we see this in Deuteronomy in the song of Jeshurun where the history of Israel is described in the metaphor of a small child the Lord finds in the wilderness. There is nothing in Moses’ use of a six day creation in Exodus 20 that say he interpreted the six day creation literally.

In fact is we look at the Sabbath pattern in the OT law, it wasn’t tied to a literal seven day week. Instead it is repeated on bigger and bigger scales, a weeks of weeks from the Passover to the feast of first fruits (Pentecost), every seventh year was a sabbatical year and a week of weeks of years was the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).

Psalm 90
In Psalm 90, we find highly allegorical interpretations of Genesis ascribed to Moses, the man of God verse 1. Psalm 90 is a meditation on the creation and Genesis. Unlike the literal six day interpretation of Young Earth Creationists, in Psalm 90 Moses throws us into God’s deep time, Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

In the context of a Psalm on the creation and Genesis we are warned against thinking God’s view of time is anything like our own verse 4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past [Lit: a day gone by], or as a watch in the night. We see time scale of evening and morning stretched out into human life span. Verse 5b they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

It is not just the timescale the writer doesn’t take literally. The Psalm is full of allusions to Genesis interpreted allegorically to apply to the human race. God’s judgement on Adam in Genesis 3:19 is spoken to all mankind. Psalm 90:3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” From God’s perspective of time, each generation is swept away by the flood. Verse 4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away as with a flood. With all this other imagery being taken from Genesis, it is possible the evening and morning imagery in verses 5&6 may also be drawn from the evening and mornings of Genesis 1. In trying to understand the Creation account in Genesis we should not underestimate the how comfortable and familiar biblical writers, and Moses himself, were with metaphor and allegory.

Did six day’s creating tire God out?
Coming back to Exodus and the Sabbath command, it is not just that God rested after the six days creating the world, Moses tells us he was refreshed after his rest. Exodus 31:17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed. Refreshed is a very strong word, used only three times in the OT. It literally means to get your breath back and was used of David and his men stopping at the Jordan to catch their breath after fleeing Absolom. 2Samuel 16:14 And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself. Was God exhausted by the effort of creating the universe in six days? Was the Israelites’ concept of God no better than the prophets of Ba’al whom Elijah mocked perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened 1Kings 18:27?

I said the word refreshed was used three times in the OT. The other time it is used is back in Exodus and it is also used discussing the Sabbath, only this time it is weary labourers in the field who can rest and be refreshed by the Sabbath. Exodus 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.

In Genesis 1 creation is described in terms of God as a labourer creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh to teach the Sabbath rest. We usually look no further than Exodus 23 to understand the Sabbath, it is holy because God made it holy. But as we read through Exodus, and look at the Sabbath command in Deuteronomy, we see the reason God set this day aside, it wasn’t because he needed the rest to catch his breath, there was a deeper reason than commemorating creation. God ordained the  Sabbath out of his compassion for weary workers, for child labourers and migrants out in the field under the hot sun. We know God does not grow weary. Psalm 121:4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Moses, who met the unchanging I AM in the burning bush and wrote in awe of the God of eternity in Psalm 90, would hardly think God was worn out by creation or would be refreshed after a day’s rest.

The other option is that the picture in Genesis of God working for six days and resting on the seventh is a metaphor, an anthropomorphism, to show God’s identification with humanity, especially the downtrodden weary labourers. Instead of showing us God’s work schedule, it show us God’s heart. We see the fulfilment of God’s identification with humanity in the incarnation, where God became man and shared our weakness, bearing our sin and suffering on the cross. If you really want to follow this picture the only time God rested and was refreshed, where God literally got his breath back, was when God the Son lay dead in the tomb and then rose from the dead. Interestingly, in the NT, God’s seventh day rest is interpreted not as a 24 hour rest at the end of creation, but as the rest we are commanded to enter into through the Gospel in Hebrews 3&4. It is a picture in shadows of the rest we will share in Christ in eternity Col 2:17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

God the builder in other creation accounts
This picture of God as a workman making the heavens and the earth is taken and expanded in other creation accounts in the bible. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is the master craftsman working alongside God, Proverbs 8:30 then I was beside him as a master craftsman (NET),
when he marked out the foundations of the earth (like a building site) verse 29, and
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep verse 27 (with a compass according to the AV).

In Psalm 104 God set the earth on foundations verse 4 and builds his own chambers by laying down beams (of timber elsewhere in scripture) on the waters Psalm 104:3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters.

In Job 38 God the master builder calculates the measurements for the earth and checks them with a measuring line. He lays a foundation for the earth, and builds it with a corner stone and bases (for the pillars of the earth) Job 38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5  Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,

All of these creation accounts take the Genesis description of God creating the earth in six days and resting on the seventh, the imagery God as a labourer, and they run with it. They show God as a builder building a house, His house, complete with tools and building material. But according to John Walton that is how ancient Hebrew would have understood Genesis 1, not as a six day work schedule but as a picture of God building temple, to rest and ruling from it.

Psalm 104 where lions work the night shift.
Psalm 104 is the nearest we have in scripture to a Framework Interpretation of Genesis 1. While the modern Framework Interpretation concentrate on the structural patterns Genesis 1, the Psalmist takes the structure of the days of Genesis and reads it as a meditation on God’s work of creation that he sees in the world around him. The psalmist does not interpret the days as a chronological timetable but as a framework to describe the different aspects of creation.

Look at the structure of Psalm 104 compared to order of the days in Genesis 1.
Verses 1-6 describe the creation of the heavens and the earth: Genesis 1 Days 1&2.
Verses 7-18 look at God separating dry land from seas and creating grass, plants and trees: Day 3.
Verses 19-23 God creates the sun and moon day and night: Day 4.
Verses 24-26 God makes all the swarming sea creatures and whales: Day 5.

But instead of the creation of man and animals on Day 6 we see animals and people throughout Days 3, 4 and 5. On Day 3 we see wild goats living in the mountains created, along with storks nesting in the fir trees, livestock eating grass, man growing plants and making wine. On Day 4 when the sun goes down young lions come out looking for the prey God provides. When the sun rises, the shift changes, lions go back to bed and man (or should the Hebrew adm be translated Adam?) comes out to work until evening. Day 6, and the whales and sea creatures aren’t alone in the sea, there are people in ships there too.

Instead of reading the days of creation in Genesis 1 as a chronological sequence of events before God created man, the Psalmist reads them as a framework to describe the wonders of creation he sees around him today.

Ancient New East worldviews
We do see God speaking through people in terms of their understanding of ancient cosmology, in Job 38:6 On what were its bases sunk?, the word base meant the plinth on which the a pillar stood. This is an ANE view of the world where the earth was supported on pillars. 1Sam 2:8 For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world. In Genesis we see the waters above the earth supported and separated form the sea water by a solid firmament. Genesis 1:7 RSV 6 And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.

But while there are aspect of Ancient New East in the biblical creation accounts, and I agree with the Accommodation view that God was speaking through his people in terms they understood teaching them deeper more important truths than ANE cosmology, I don’t think the writers intended to present a scientific description of creation, ANE or otherwise. These were people who knew and understood the richness of metaphor and parable. They described the truth of God’s amazing work of creation in a metaphor of God as a builder, a master workman constructing a temple where he would rule and be worshipped by his creation, where God identified in the deepest ways with the weariness, griefs and sorrows of the humblest and weakest of his people. Isn’t this the heart of God we see revealed through his Son? Matt 25:40 HCSB Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’