2. The Origin of the Sabbath

OUR Savior says, “The Sabbath was made for man.” Mark 2:27. The term man must here be used in its generic sense, comprehending the whole race. If the Sabbath, then, was made for mankind, it must have been made at the time when man himself was created; hence we must go back to the creation for the institution of the Sabbath.

The first part of Moses’ record of the creation (Genesis 1 and 2) is devoted to the origin of the weekly cycle and the Sabbath institution. Here God sets before us the result of each day’s work. He carefully distinguishes between the days, stating that each was composed of an “evening and a morning,”—a dark part and a light part, thus describing the twenty-four-hour day. After carefully enumerating the labor of six of these days, he declares that the work of creation is completed.

What he did on the next day, the seventh of this first week of time, is stated in Genesis 2:2, 3: “On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

Here we have the origin of the weekly cycle, the Sabbath institution, and the distinction between the days of the week. The Bible speaks of “the six working days” and the Sabbath day.” Ezekiel 46:1. That brief narrative in the very first record of the world’s history, makes this distinction plain. God himself employed six specific days of the first week in the labor of creating, and the seventh day of that week in resting. The word “Sabbath” means rest.

Why did God choose to work just six days and rest the seventh? He might have made the world in a moment, or he could have employed any other length of time in doing it. He did not, rest because he was weary, for he “faints not, neither is weary.” Isaiah 40:28. No other reason can be assigned than this: He was laying the foundation of that glorious institution which our Savior declares was made for the race of men, the Sabbath of the Lord.

But to bring out this point still more clearly, let us notice carefully the language we have quoted from Genesis 2:2, 3. The first act of God on the seventh day was to rest; it thus became God’s rest-day, or Sabbath. His second act was to place his blessing upon it: thus it became his “blessed rest-day.” His third act was to “sanctify” it. To sanctify signifies to “set apart to a holy or religious use.” (Webster.) By this appointment, the seventh day of the week became the day of holy rest and religious observance for those for whom it was designed, until such appointment should be revoked.

Notice how definite is the language: “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The blessing and sanctification of the seventh day were not therefore bestowed upon it until that particular day on which he rested was in the past. The blessing bestowed pertained to its future recurrence, as it returned in the weekly cycle. Every time it returned after this blessing was placed upon it, those who reverenced God were to understand that it was his blessed day, and must not be treated as the other six days were treated. It was also “sanctified,” that is, it was now the day appointed for religious uses. While it was proper to use the other six days for secular work and ordinary business, the seventh day of the week was to be used only for religious purposes. All this occurred, according to the inspired record, at the close of creation week.

It is sometimes objected that we have no command for the observance of the seventh day Sabbath till the giving of the law to Israel on Mount Sinai. Such objectors fail to comprehend the record in Genesis 2:1-3. When God sanctified the seventh day, thus appointing it to a sacred use, he must have made known this fact to Adam and Eve, for whose benefit it was instituted. They stood as the representatives of the race, through whom the instructions from God were to be given. We cannot conceive how God could appoint this day to this special purpose in any other way than by informing them of it.

The Hebrew word kadash, here rendered sanctified, is defined by Gesenius, “To pronounce holy, to sanctify . . . to institute any holy thing, to appoint.” This word in the Old Testament commonly implies a public appointment by proclamation. When the cities of refuge were set apart for that particular purpose, the record states (Joshua 20:7), “They appointed [Hebrew sanctified, margin] Kadesh in Galilee in Mount Naphtali, and Shechem in Mount Ephraim,” etc. Here we see that a public announcement was made of the fact to all Israel. In Joel 1:14 another instance is furnished: “Sanctify [i.e., appoint] you a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders.” This could not be done without a public notification of the fact. When King Jehu wished to entrap the worshipers of Baal and destroy them, he made this public announcement: “Proclaim [Hebrews sanctify, margin] a solemn assembly for Baal. And they proclaimed it.” II Kings 10:20. It would not have been possible to make this appointment otherwise than by making the people acquainted with the fact.

But the most remarkable instance of this use of the word is found in the record of the sanctification of Mount Sinai. Exodus 19:12, 23. When the Lord was about to speak the Ten Commandments, he sent Moses down to command the people not to touch the mount, lest they be destroyed. “And Moses said unto the Lord, The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. For thou charged us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.” Going back to verse 12, we learn how this was done. “And thou shall set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that you go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it.” Here we see that to sanctify, the mount was to tell the people that God would have then treat it as sacred to himself.

From these and many other instances of the use of the word sanctify in the Scriptures, we must understand that when God sanctified the seventh day at creation, he told Adam and Eve that it was sacred unto the Lord. The statement that “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it” positively proves that the Lord commanded our first parents to treat the seventh day as holy time. It is a record of that fact; for in no other way could it have been “appointed” to such a use. This fact that God gave a commandment at the creation of the world to the representative heads of the race, to keep holy the seventh day of the week—has an important bearing upon the Sabbath question for every succeeding age.

Index | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter