Why Did God Rest On the Seventh Day? [Genesis Explained]


The seven-day creation account in the first chapter of Genesis is the foundation of the Bible. Not only does God stretch out the sky, put the sun and moon in their place, and fashion animals and people, but he reveals himself in the process (Rom. 1:20). The climax of the creation account is the sixth day, but its conclusion occurs on the seventh.

God rested from his work on the seventh day of creation. He blessed it and designated the day as holy, setting it apart from the first six days. God’s rest wasn’t the result of physical exertion. He also instituted a weekly Sabbath for people modeled after his rest on the seventh day.

Why did God “rest” if he wasn’t tired? Why did God call the seventh day holy? What is the significance of God calling the seventh day holy? What is the Sabbath? Did Jesus observe it? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

creation account
Did God rest because he was tired? See below

God observed a sabbath because his creative work was finished

Though the description of the seventh day of creation opens the second chapter of Genesis (2:1-4), it’s a continuation of a story already underway. As readers will learn below, the seventh day is closely related to the other six days as its the conclusion of the creation record. Yet, the seventh day is also unique from the other six days, which may account for the traditional chapter break in modern Bibles.

A lack of creative activity marks the seventh day as light, water, land, celestial bodies, vegetation, animals, and people are fully functional on the earth. In this way, the seventh day partly resembles when the Spirit of God hovered over the world (Gen. 1:2) prior to the activity that occurred on the first day of creation (Gen. 1:3-5).

Genesis scholar Victor Hamilton writes, “Silence and stillness once again enter the atmosphere. The mood of the prologue now resurfaces in this epilogue. There is no activity, no noise, no speaking. All that God has willed and designed for his canvas of the universe is now in its place.” [1]

God rests

The first time readers encounter the phrase “heavens and the earth” is in Genesis 1:1. The second time it appears is in Genesis 2:1, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (ESV). The common phrase may serve the purpose of providing “bookends” to God’s creative work. If this is the case, Genesis 1:1 anticipates the six days of creation, and Genesis 2:1 summarizes it.

Genesis 2:1 adds a phrase that’s not included in Genesis 1:1, concluding with “and all the host of them.” Some scholars believe the reference is to celestial bodies, while others think it’s referring to angels. [2] The NIV’s translation, “their vast array,” alludes to celestial bodies. Other translations leave the description open to interpretation, e.g. “host” or “hosts” (ESV, KJV, NKJV, NASB) and “everything in them” (NLT).

The word “work” appears twice in verse two. There are multiple words for “work” in Hebrew. The one used in verse two describes the labor of a skilled craftsman. Because God’s work was “finished” (v. 1), he “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” (v. 2). (For more about the Hebrew word translated “rested” — shabath — please see below.)

Was God tired from creating the heavens and earth?

God’s work during the first six days didn’t exhaust him like people get physically tired from a hard week of intense labor. Genesis scholar Allen Ross explains that the word “rest” has a different connotation. “It is not a word that refers to remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work. Rather, it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion.” [3]

Isaiah 40:28 supports Ross’ explanation as it teaches that God never physically tires. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (ESV). Other translations say that God doesn’t grow “tired” or weary (e.g. NIV, NASB).

Why did God call the seventh day holy?

Genesis 2:3 reads, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” While God already blessed other aspects of the creation account (Gen. 1:22, 28), this is the first time he designates anything “holy.” The Hebrew word translated “holy” (from qadash) means “set apart,” which implies that the seventh day is distinct from the other six days.

This distinction is illustrated, in part, in the description of the seventh day, which is different from the others because God didn’t perform any creative acts. Common phrases that readers find in descriptions of the first six days are absent in the passage about the seventh, including “and God said,” “there was evening and there was morning,” “and it was so,” and “God saw that it was good.”

Genesis scholar Kenneth Mathews explains, “When God sanctified the day, he declared that the day was especially devoted to him… The ‘seventh day’ was subsequently called a holy Sabbath unto the Lord when no work was to be done by humans or animal (e.g. Exod. 31:15; 35:2).” [4]

heavens and earth
What is the “Sabbath rest” in Hebrews? See below

What is the Sabbath?

The word translated “rested” in Genesis 2:2 is where English gets the word “Sabbath.” The Sabbath “is the seventh day, on which God rested, and which he then consecrated for his people’s benefit. The Sabbath was a day for Israel to cease its normal work, patterned after divine creation and rest and in remembrance of the exodus.” [5]

Hebrew wordshabath (שָׁבַת); origin of the English word “Sabbath”
English translationAll major English translations render the word “rested”
Pronunciationshaw-bath’
Part of speechverb
General definitionto cease, desist, rest

God patterned the rest he required of the Israelites after his lack of activity on the seventh day of creation. Exodus 20:11 reads, “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.”

Did Jesus observe the Sabbath?

Many Christian scholars believe that Jesus observed the Sabbath but liberated it from legalism. [6] The Gospels portray Jesus as active on Sabbath days. For example, Luke 4:16 reads, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read” (ESV).

Christians don’t always agree on how to observe a weekly Sabbath or whether or not to observe it at all. Some believe it’s an Old Testament law that still applies to believers today. Others think it’s an outdated practice and even legalistic.

A Sabbath rest for God’s people

The author of Hebrews describes salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as a “Sabbath rest” because believers are liberated from working to attain righteousness through merit.

Hebrew 4:9-11 reads, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (ESV).

“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus in Luke 6:5

The Creation Account: Table of Contents

Readers are welcome to read follow the links below to learn more about the seven-day creation account in Genesis. For convenience, this table of contents is found at the conclusion of each article in the series.

7 Days of Creation
God created light on the first day
God created the sea and sky on the second day
God created land and vegetation on the third day
God created the sun and moon on the fourth day
God created birds and fish on the fifth day
God created animals and people on the sixth day
God rested on the seventh day (see above)

Kevin DeYoung writes, “God gives us Sabbath as a gift; it’s an island of get-to in a sea of have-to. He also offers us Sabbath as a test; it’s an opportunity to trust God’s work more than our own.”

He continues, “When I go weeks without taking adequate time off, I may or may not be disobeying the fourth commandment, but I’m certainly too convinced of my own importance and more than a little foolish. If my goal is God-glorifying productivity over a lifetime of hard work, there are few things I need more than a regular rhythm of rest.” [6]

References:
[1] The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 by Victor Hamilton. p. 141
[2] Hamilton. p. 141.
[3] Creation and Blessing by Allen Ross. p. 113-114.
[4] Genesis 1-11:26 by Kenneth Mathews. p. 179.
[5] The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms by Gregg Allison. p. 185-186.
[6] Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. p. 91-92.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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