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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #7

God's Care!


                          Dr. Samuele Bacciocchi

                                THE SABBATH

                          GOOD NEWS OF GOD'S CARE

     "You don't really care for me! If you did, you would show it
by taking time to be with me and to remember me with a card or
some flowers." Such a complaint, often expressed among lovers,
reflects the human need to be constantly reassured that others
care. Reassurance is sought not only from relatives but also from
employer, teacher, doctor, government and manufacturer. Is it not
true that even goods bought without a warranty are valued less?
Manufacturers, well aware of this human need, market their
products with various types of warranties. "What I like about my
auto," a person will often remark, "is the excellent service my
dealer provides."
     The search for reassurance of personal interest and care is
not limited to the horizontal level of human relations, but
extends also to the vertical human-divine relationship. A basic
human concern is, "Does God really care for me?" "How can I know
that God is really interested in me. The general loss of
reassurance that God really cares for this world and for
individual lives may be viewed as a fundamental crisis in modern
Christianity. The slogan "God is dead," which has found resonance
in some Christian circles, exemplifies the sense of
disillusionment experienced by many. Their feeling is that if God
really exists He is at best an "absentee landlord." 
     The untold suffering and the loss of millions of lives which
mankind has experienced in our century as a result of two world
wars, countless local conflicts, the holocaust, and many natural
disasters, represent some of the reasons for the prevailing
skepticism concerning the existence of a benevolent God. In
addition, the ability of modern science to solve what past
generations regarded as unsolvable problems has led many to put
their faith in human resources rather than in divine providence.
Any attempt to examine these and other significant reasons for
the prevailing disbelief in God's concern for human affairs,
would lead far beyond the limits of this study. Our attention
will be focused on what role the Sabbath can play in restoring
confidence in God's concern for humanity.

     The previous chapter showed that the Sabbath reassures the
believer that God is his perfect Creator. This reassurance
represents per se a revelation of the Creator's concern for His
creatures. What greater satisfaction than to know one is a
creation of a perfect Creator! However, the knowledge alone of
being the product of a divine creation does not necessarily
satisfy the immediate concern for the assurance of God's care
for me now. Why? Mainly because creation is a divine act
accomplished in the remote past, and consequently it does not
necessarily speak to the present - to the immediate need for
assurance of divine concern. But, the message of a perfect
creation, hardly exhausts the scope of the Sabbath. Further glad
tidings are proclaimed by the Sabbath which, if accepted,
contribute more directly to overcome the sense of God's absence
from the world and from human lives. Three of these messages will
be considered in this chapter under the following headings (1)
the blessing of the Sabbath; (2) the sanctification of the
Sabbath; (3) the pattern of work and rest. Other aspects of God's
care signified by the Sabbath will be considered in later



     The divine act of blessing and hallowing the Sabbath
exemplifies God's love and concern for humanity. Seven times in
the creation story God proclaimed His creation "good" (Gen.
1:3,10,12,17,20,25,31) and three times He "blessed" it. The
threefold blessing is given in an ascending order. First, the
creatures of the water and the air are blessed with physical
fertility (Gen.1:22). Second, the man and the woman are blessed
with physical fecundity and dominion (Gen.1:28-30). Lastly, the
seventh day is blessed and imbued with sanctity (Gen.2:3; Ex.20:
11). Being the final recipient of God's blessing, the Sabbath
expresses and guarantees God's ultimate and total blessing over
all His creation and creatures.

1. The Meaning of the Sabbath Blessing

     What is the significance of the blessings bestowed by God
upon the Sabbath and how do they express divine concern for
mankind? Are they just a good wish like human blessings? In the
Scripture God's blessings represent not merely a good wish, but
rather a concrete assurance of fertility, prosperity, happiness -
in sum, a full and abundant life. For example, God blessed the
first couple saying, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28; cf.
9:1; 49:22-26). Similarly we read in the Aaronic benediction:
"The Lord bless you and keep you" (Num.6:24). The blessing of God
results, then, in the reservation and assurance of abundant life.
This meaning is expressed explicitly the Psalmist when he writes:
"....the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore" (Ps.
133:3). Applying this meaning to the Sabbath, it would mean that
God by blessing the day was not doing wishful thinking, but gave
to mankind a permanent assurance of full and abundant life. It
must be said, however, that the meaning of both the blessing and
sanctification of the Sabbath is not spelled out in Genesis 2:3.
     This is puzzling because in most instances God's benediction
is accompanied by an explanation of its content. For example,
"God blessed them [animals], saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply
and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the
earth'" (Gen.1:22). Similarly, God said to Abraham regarding his
wife, Sarah: "I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of
nations; kings of peoples shall come from her" (Gen.17:16; cf. 
9:1; 17:20). Yet with regard to the blessing of the Sabbath,
nothing is said as to what such a blessing entails. One wonders
why. Nicola Negretti offers an explanation which appears very
convincing. He explains that the inner sense of the holiness and
blessing of the Sabbath "remains sealed" in Genesis. When are the
seals removed? In the unfolding of the history of salvation.

2. The Blessing of the Sabbath in the Manna Experience

     The mystery of the blessedness and sanctity of the Sabbath
begins to be unveiled in Exodus with the establishment of Israel
as God's covenant people. The day becomes now linked not merely
to a finished creation, but to the new nation which God has
miraculously brought into existence: "See! The Lord has given you
the Sabbath" (Ex.16:29). From being cosmological, a symbol of a
perfect world, the Sabbath has become a soteriological-historical
symbol of God's redemptive plan for His people. Thus the Sabbath
becomes now more intimately connected with the ups and downs of
the life of God's people. Some of the redemptive features and
function of the Sabbath will be studied in chapter V.

Physical Nourishment. 

     The manna story offers a starting point to understand the
nature of the original blessing of the Sabbath. Notice first of
all certain parallelisms between the creation and the manna
narrative. Both are divine acts accomplished according to the
seven-day structure. Both testify to the perfection of God's
activities: the daily creation was "good" and the daily portion
of the manna was satisfying (Ex.16:18). In both instances the
creative activity ceases on the Sabbath creation is "finished"
(Gen.2:2) and the manna ceased to fall (Ex.16:25). In both cases
God's blessings are bestowed upon the Sabbath: by proclamation at
creation (Gen.2:3) and by preservation in the manna (Ex.16:24).
     In the context of the aridity of the desert and of the
murmuring of the people caused by their inability to secure food,
the miracle of the  peservation of the manna throughout Sabbath
stands as a most conspicuous revelation of the nature of the
Sabbath blessings, namely, God's reassuring gift of physical
nourishment and life. 
     The literary structure of the manna narrative focuses on the
blessedness of the Sabbath. A crescendo is noticeable from the
opening announcement of the gift of the manna (Ex.16:4) to the
closing divine proclamation of the Sabbath (Ex.16:29). The
initial announcement is silent over the Sabbath. But the silence
is gradually broken first by means of the prescription of the
exact "omer" measure (Ex.16:16-17) and then by the account of the
spoiling and preservation of the manna (Ex.16:20-24). These
actions set the stage for the official proclamation of the
Sabbath first by Moses (Ex.16:23,25-26) and then by God (Ex.
16:28-29). Some of the details are especially significant. For
example, what is the reason for the specification of an omer per
person per day? Was it not to ensure the precise measurement of
the double portion to be gathered on the sixth day? Such
precision was necessary to guarantee the genuineness of the
miracle of the seventh day, when, contrary to the preceding days,
left-over portions would not spoil (Ex.16:24).
     The miracle in turn was to predispose the people to accept
and experience the blessing and the holiness of the Sabbath. Such
blessing consisted of the miraculous provision on the Sabbafh of
the physical nourishment of the corruptible manna and the
spiritual enrichment of the incorruptible heavenly manna, the
Word of God.

The Word of God. 

     What is the sigficance of the absence of any manna on the 
Sabbath? Apparently it was designed to predispose the people to
look upward and receive a greater blessing from above, that is,
not only nourishment for physical life but also enrichmentfor the
spritiual life. This important lesson is brought out in
Deuteronomy 8:3 where the Israelites are admonished not to forget
the blessings received through the manna experience: "And he
humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna.... that he
might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but
that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of
the Lord." 

     During six days God's blessings reached the Israelites
through the visible manna, but on the seventh day the blessings
were received through God's invisible voice. The Israelites were
asked not to go out on the Sabbath to seek more material
blessings, but to rest content within the confinements of those
already received, in order to hear without interference the Word
of God. Such an invitation acquired special significance in view
of the fact that at that historical juncture the Israelites had
their ears still more attuned to the sounds of Egypt than to the
voice of God. In His deep concern to rrstore broken relation-
ships, God through the Sabbath taught the Israelites to make
themselves available to receive the blessing of His word and
repsense. One might say that utimately the blessing of the
Sabbath is the presence of Christ Himself, "the living bread -
which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread,
he will live for ever" (John 6:51). By the blessings of the
Sabbath, as Gerhard von Rad remarks, "the way is prepared for an
exalted good, actually the final saving good." Chapter V will
trace further the relationship between the blessings of the
Sabbath and God's saving acts which culminate in Christ's
redemptive ministry. These preliminary observations may suf-
fice to illustrate how the blessing of the Sabbath express God's
loving concern for humankind and gives assurance of an enriched



     The divine blessing of the Sabbath is followed by another
extraordinary act, equally expressive of God's concern for His
creatures, namely, the sanctification of the Sabbath: "God
blessed the seventh day and hallowed it" (Gen.2:3). Other
possible renderings of the Hebrew verb (yeqaddes) are "made it
holy" or "sanctified it." The verbal form used (Piel) has both
a causative and a declarative sense. This means that God declared
the seventh day holy and caused it to be a means of holiness for
mankind. It is noteworthy that the word "holy" is used here for
the first time in the Bible with reference, not to an object such
as an altar, a tabernacle or a person, but with regard to time,
the seventh day.


To be continued

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