“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
“And 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.” – Genesis 2:1-3
The creation story, with which our Bible begins, treats by correspondence of the spiritual development of the individual man and of the human race. In the “six days,” which represent states, is pictured the process of development from the first state of darkness and ignorance to that state in which man became a new creature, the image – in his finite measure – of his Creator.
But this did not complete the purpose of the Divine love, which was to make man not only into His image but after His likeness. This is the work of the seventh day. That the work was not completed in six days is evident from the words “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made.”
The work described as done during the six days goes on with everyone who is regenerating. The six days of labor are the days in which we fight against our evils, until we come into a state of peace and rest – not rest from the activities of a useful life, but rest from the internal warfare through which we have been passing.
And because it is God who fights for man and enables him to overcome, it is said that God rested from all his work, and blessed, hallowed, and sanctified the seventh day. The sabbath is the state of willing and loving obedience to the Divine will and providence, which the Lord creates and blesses.
Because man in the process of regeneration passes through six states of combat or spiritual labor before he reaches the highest state in which he conquers and all conflict ceases, and because this completes the work and makes him into the likeness of God, therefore the number six in the Word means combat, and seven what is full and perfect and also what is holy. We know that all numbers in the Word have a spiritual signification wherever they occur. It was because of this that the ancient people divided time into weeks of seven days, in which men engaged in natural labor for six days to represent the state of combat, and rested on the sabbath to represent the peace and tranquillity of the regenerate state. For it is well known that the sabbath was not an institution original with Moses, although it was enjoined upon the Jews by him.
Because the number six means combats, multiples of a number merely intensifying or emphasizing its meaning, Noah is said to have been six hundred years old when he entered the ark. He could not come into the ark and be safe until he had lived six hundred years: until he had passed through the combats signified by the number six, and through all of them, as signified by six hundred. The story of Noah, we well know, is not the story of an individual man but the story of the Ancient Church, called Noah just as the Most Ancient Church was called Adam and a subsequent one was called Israel.
Again for the same reason it is recorded by Matthew that at the crucifixion there was darkness over all the earth from the sixth to the ninth hour, which means that the Lord’s combat with evil was complete and final.
And that the number seven signifies what is perfect and holy is evident from many passages throughout the Word, from our text in Genesis to the close of Revelation. We read in Matthew 18: “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” This means that state of regeneration which brings us into the likeness of God, who is love and forgiveness itself.
A consideration of the various reasons given in the Word for the institution of the sabbath, or seventh day, as a day of rest will show what is meant. In our text the seventh day is said to be blessed and sanctified because that in it God ended all His work and rested. But certainly we know that God was not fatigued by manual labor and needed rest from that, as man does. Existence is perpetual creation; it requires the same power to preserve and sustain that it does to create. The true meaning of the expression “God ended his work” and “rested” on the seventh day is to be found in the states of man.
So important is the work of the six days and the sabbath that this part of Genesis is incorporated in the commandments given from Sinai, as recorded both in Exodus and in Deuteronomy. In Exodus the reason assigned is “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it:” But in Deuteronomy a different reason is given: “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” In the letter these seem to be conflicting statements, but there is no conflict in the spiritual sense. The six days of creation signify the combats through which man passes in the process of regeneration, and the seventh the state of rest when he has overcome and conflict ceases. And the bondage of Israel in Egypt means the same thing: The Lord brought the Israelites from a state of labor and oppression to a land of freedom in which they were delivered from their servitude. Deliverance from Egypt symbolizes deliverance from bondage to the natural.
The commandment to keep the sabbath should be obeyed. Some who believe in God and in His Word think only that they should keep the sabbath because God commands it, though they see nothing in it but an arbitrary command. Keeping it even for this reason will have a spiritual and elevating effect upon the mind. And the other reason assigned – namely, that the Lord with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm brought the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and therefore commanded them to keep the sabbath – might lead us to a better understanding of Israel’s history, but would not in itself really sanctify the day.
But there is another statement in Exodus: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths shall ye keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.” When we see that it is a sign throughout all generations that it is the Lord who sanctifies and regenerates his people, when it is seen that all men in all times and countries must pass through a period of labor and bondage before the rest and freedom of the regenerate state can be enjoyed, the institution of the sabbath comes home to us with a personal application. It is no longer the record of an historical fact but the expression of a universal law, which must be kept to prevent mental and spiritual stagnation. Without the observance of the sabbath day spiritual progress would be difficult if not impossible, and mankind would settle back into a state of mere sensualism if not into barbarism itself. This is the burden of Jeremiah’s warning: “But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”
And Jeremiah gives us the positive promise also: “And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein: Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes… and this city shall remain forever.”
It is significant that Christians have chosen Sunday instead of Saturday for their sabbath because of the Lord’s resurrection on the first day of the week. For on that day He arose triumphant, having conquered all the powers of evil, forever beyond the assaults of the hells, our Prince of Peace, Lord of the Sabbath.