Each of the six creation days closed with this repeating text, “And there was evening, and there was morning.”2 By describing the days in that way, God pictures the human workday, and sets the example of work and rest as patterns for humans to follow. After one works, it is evening, and then comes morning again, and the cycle continues. Not only does the statement, “And there was evening, and there was morning,” create a model for the human workday, it also officially signals the completion of each of the first six days.3
Then, suddenly, something new happens,
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2–3).
Note that the phrase “And there was evening and there was morning” is not repeated for the seventh day, because the seventh day never ended. Its closing is still a future event.4
The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews understood that the seventh day continues on when he wrote:
And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: On the seventh day God rested from all his works. And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest” (Hebrews 4:3b-5).
In the context of affirming that God’s day of rest continues, he told the story of the ancient Israelites who were led out of Egyptian slavery by Moses in about 1300 BC. They traveled through the desert and came to the border of the land that God wanted to give to them. They sent out twelve spies, and ten returned with a fearful report that the land was occupied by a fierce people whom they felt were undefeatable. Only two of the spies had faith, Joshua and Caleb, who said that God would help the Israelites to take the land.
However, the people sided with the bad report. Due to their lack of faith, God told them that their generation would never enter the land. Instead, they were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty more years. When those years were completed and that generation died, Joshua and Caleb led the next generation into their promised land.
The author of Hebrews 3:7–4:13 wrote about this ancient story during a difficult time for the church. Under persecution, some of the Christians were becoming discouraged and were backing away from meeting with one another. The writer warned them to not be like the unbelieving Israelites who were poised on the edge of the Promised Land but who never entered it. He encouraged the church to believe in God’s promises and trust Him, because their reward would be the promised kingdom of God.
It would have been scary and difficult for the Israelites to go to war for their land against such a fierce people. Likewise, it was scary and difficult for the early church under persecution. In both cases, they could enter into God’s rest by faith and be assured that He would take care of them. They did not need to worry or try to handle these difficulties on their own. They could have peace knowing that God had things under control. The writer encouraged them,
For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his (Hebrews 4:10).
By not trusting God, one generation of the Israelites missed out. The writer of Hebrews was saying to the church, “Persevere! Stay faithful! Don’t miss out on what is ahead.”
It must have been common knowledge to the author that God is still resting. Of course, that would mean that the seventh day has never ended. In fact, it would mean that the seventh day has lasted over the full expanse of human history.
2 Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31.
3 Personal communication with Martin Poenie, Ph. D. University of Texas at Austin, 2015.
4 Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998) 64.
Excerpt from Incredibly Human: Community in the First Creation
Copyright© 2015 D. A. Combs
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.