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Why is Gen. 1 divided into 7 days? Why God rests on the 7th day? by Fr. Gabriel Wissa

March 5, 2020

 

In our last video, we discussed the real meaning of Genesis 1, and we saw how the text is part of an introduction that leads to Abrahamthe father of the Jews. And that the main purpose of the text was to discuss the creation of the world but with the purpose of  demythologizing, or dethroning, the fake pagan gods of the time. In that video, which you can find the link to in the description below, we covered the meaning of the first five days of Genesis 1In this video, we will discuss the last 2 days of this first chapter as well as briefly look into the creation’s seven-day structure.  

 

So, on the sixth day, God created the earthly animals and humans. The text distinctly stresses a special status given to humanity—humans were created in the image of God. Humanity is special. Humanity is the crown of the creation. But what does that mean? When we read Scripture, there are often two meanings to the text: the literal meaning and the mystical one. The mystical meaning, here, is man’s noetic faculty, or, in other words, his intellect—his mindParallel to this is the literal-historical meaning which can only be truly discovered when reading Scripture in its context. In the ancient nations’ understandingan image or a statue of a god, acquired some sort of divine power from its god. Therefore, the deity performed its work through its associated image. Secondly, that image played another vital role which is to make this god present amongst them. In their understanding, the presence of the pagan god was manifest through his statue. In that light, we can comprehend God’s request to destroy the pagan images in Israel throughout the Old Testament, as well as the pagan kings’ insistence on establishing statues of themselves—as they themselves were considered gods or images of gods. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect the first two commandments given in the Old Testament Law to emphasize God’s sole reign and the forbidding of making carved images.   

 

Based on this information, one can now comprehend the literal-historical meaning of humanity being in God’s image. Again, the pagan images were wrongly claimed to make that pagan god present and to hold some of his power; but, the true living God creates a humanity and truly puts in it the image of His Son as well as His Holy Spirit, so God is present on the earth through them, and shares with humanity His Divine attributesThen, He asks them to rule and to have dominion on the earth on His behalf. This is exemplified by Adam naming the animals in Genesis 2Like God named things into being and demonstrated His authority over them, that same authority has now been given to Adam to ruleUnlike the pagan gods who are dead and have dead images representing themthe Living God has an alive human image representing Him. So, in contrast with the pagan storiesthe Genesis account is giving a revolutionary role to humanity. Rather than being the servants of pagan gods created to feed them and to maintain their temple homes, humanity is declared to be rulers appointed by God. Humanity’s true role is to enjoy God’s authority, an attribute God shares with us, and to lovingly and justly rule the earth. This ultimate objective would be accomplished through humanity’s continual encounter with God, and thus, maintaining His image, as we shall see. 

 

Prior to moving on to day 7, we have to first understand the structure of Genesis 1. Why is the world created in seven days? As we have seen, the world, at the time, was very much polytheistic. Their belief in many gods was the general ruleAnd, these fake gods, had several different stories pertaining to the creation of their respective templesFor instance, in Ugaritic mythology, Baal builds his temple over a seven-day period and during the new year festival a procession is made that lasts seven days. In Sumerian writings as well, the temple dedication lasts seven days. Similarly, the Israelites dedication to Solomon’s temple lasted seven days (and seven more days). Remember, the people of the time lived with a common cultural background. It is not about who copied whom or who wrote a text first. This thinking process misses the point. People lived a life, and that life involved a cultural background, then wrote some specifics of that lifeWe should expect the nations living in common area to have similar background. This is natural. But the message is that, even with common background, Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, dethrones the pagan gods. Israel’s God is the One True God. In other words, Scripture uses the ancient reader’s familiar context to lead her to a new revelation about the One True God 

 

But so far, I have been comparing God’s creation of the cosmos with the different creation of temples. The underlined message, here, is that the cosmos is God’s temple. That cosmos was created in 7 steps, one step per day. Notice, how the construction of the tabernacle at the time of Moses, in Exodus 40, verses 19 to 32, was also completed in 7 steps, each one finishing with the words: “as the Lord had commanded Moses. All of the other pagan gods had a small temple where they resided. But, the One Almighty God does not reside only in a temple. He resides in the entire world. In other words, the presence of God that is found in the Jewish temple ought to be spread to the entire cosmos. The entire world should be filled with God’s presenceOn this, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus writes: “every one of these objects [in the temple] is intended to recall and represent the universe, as [the reader] will find if he will but consent to examine them without prejudice and with understanding.” Therefore, the Israelite’s temple is an icon of the world. What takes place in the temple should be extended to the entire cosmos. In the same way, the Egyptian pagan statues fell to the ground at the mere presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in Egypt, the profanity of the pagan gods should cease to exist and holiness should abound in the world through humanity 

  

 

Now, moving on to day seven. The text says that God finished creating the heavens and the earth. Then, He rested, blessed and sanctified the seventh day. In their ancient understanding, the pagan deity’s rest is achieved in its temple. In many pagan stories, this rest takes place after a seven-day period. These fake pagan gods needed rest in their temple after their alleged act of creation. Evidently, the God of Israel does not need real rest! But, something else is underlined here. As we know, this seventh day is associated with the Jewish Sabbath. In Exodus 20, it says: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work So, the purpose of the Jewish Sabbath is to encounter God in His temple and to find rest in Him. Humanity ought to rule the world as God would rule it since we are created in His image and have been given His Spirit. And through this image, we ought also to find rest and holiness ourselves in God’s temple through our encounter with Him. And, in turn, this rest and holiness is to be extended to the rest of the cosmos. This was Israel’s calling and, it remains today’s liturgical Christian calling: encountering God in the Eucharist and sharing His light with the creation. The bulk of the message of the first five days of creation is to recognize who is God. Day 6 is mainly about who is a human being. However, in day seven, the why is made manifest. Why did God create humans? For us to encounter Him and find rest in HimAnd He, enjoys or “rests” in His creation. Throughout the remainder of Scripture, the Holy Spirit guided the writers to develop the details of this Divine-human encounter. 

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