Once upon a time in China, a family left their home to visit the next village.
While they were gone embers from a cooking stove caught the house on fire, burning it to the ground. Returning to the same day’s destruction the father found the pet pig roasted within the structure. Not wishing to waste any food, the animal was carved into multiple meals. From that time on, whenever someone wanted to have pork barbeque, they burned down their home. The Chinese moral to the story is clear: do not sacrifice what is important on the altar of insignificance.
Genesis establishes significance for humanity. The first five Bible books were written by Moses after the exodus from Egypt. In order to establish a written history of God’s world, Genesis is written as an apologetic, a defense of the Hebrew worldview. Genesis takes a stand against the polytheistic worlds of Egypt and now Canaan, the land God’s chosen were about to enter. The first eleven chapters of Scripture is a statement declaring the distinction between The Personal Eternal Triune Creator and unreal pagan idols. In the pagan mindset, creation gives order; in Israel’s thinking, God orders creation.
On the first parchment page of God’s revelation to humanity the declaration is clear: worship The One who creates creation. People of the day had seven day cycles as did Israel. However, the days were tied to moon phases and considered to be “bad luck.” Avoidance of pleasure or projects was important to discourage evil omens. Completely different, Israel was not tied to heavenly cycles but to Heaven. A day of refreshment and renewal was mimicking The Creator.
Genesis is in agreement with our daily lives. The world works in a certain way; we know we need rest. A creational ordinance or what I call “Genesis law” means that God established regularity and pattern within His world. For instance, on average, humans spend one-third of their lives asleep. Biologists tell us that prior to mitosis the matter within the cell “interfaces” or rests in anticipation of dividing itself. Many more examples could follow: sun and rain, seasonal changes, the day-night cycle. Clearly, rest is embedded within creation itself.
The creational ordinance of rest is a distinctive blessing given by The Personal Creator in the opening pages of His Book. God gave three blessings prior to human sin: reproduction (Genesis 1:22), rule (1:28), and rest (2:3). The word used for rest literally means to cease from one’s work for a time. Once begun, the pattern should continue. The importance of rest as a blessing cannot be overemphasized. In Ancient Near Eastern religions, people created holy places, holy men, and holy things. But for Israel, the first thing God made holy was a time for rest.
Egypt, Canaan, and all the nations of Israel’s day sanctified space, a place, a piece of creation. God’s first use of the word holy—distinctiveness, set-apart-ness—is to sanctify time. The first instance of the word holy in Scripture stipulated that God wants His people to be different by making time holy. The climax of creation is to construct one day out of seven as unique. Holiday—a day set apart—should mark our calendars rather than “vacation,” coming from the Latin meaning to evacuate or leave empty. When time is sanctified, our days are given meaning.
Ephesians 5:16 commands us to “redeem the time;” buying it back, making the most of every opportunity, giving time purpose. 2 Corinthians 6:2 admonishes humans not to take time for granted because “today is the day of salvation”: tomorrow has no guarantee. Psalm 31:15 makes The Lord, Lord of tomorrow saying, “My times are in His hand.” “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you don’t know what a day may bring” Proverbs 27:1 reminds us. James 4:14 calls life “a vapor.” Psalm 90:9-12 reminds everyone that time is short; so people should calculate, take stock of, or “number their days.” Every tick of the clock brings us one second closer to death—far from morbid, the statement does forbid nonchalance in life.
Time is precious. I rue the days when I was five that I did not take advantage of naptime—I wish I could take those naps now! My constant harangue to teenagers who couldn’t wait to get out of high school went something like this: “For most of you, this is probably the last time someone else will pay to put a roof over your head and food in your stomach! Don’t wish for time to go faster! Time goes fast enough!” We must not “waste time.” Time should not be “killed” (as in, “I’m just killing time”). Time is not money: time cannot be commercialized if it is a gift. Our culture places dollar signs on the clock. Unbelieving mindsets today are the same as those of the ancients. We worship creation instead of The Creator. We worship time instead of The Timekeeper.
The clock reminds every athletic contestant as it does every human there is only so much time to play the game. As in sports, so in life, we answer to an authority outside of ourselves. To worship The Creator is to remember He made an ordered universe for our benefit. A return to Genesis law in our thinking is to acknowledge His beneficence and to practice the blessing of shabbat, Sabbath, rest, retreat. The three blessings of Genesis 1:22, 28 and 2:3 are all commands: the first two are given directly, the third is only reported, its enactment altogether beyond human control. Retreat is not a luxury. Retreat is an expectation. Retreat is an act of worship. Retreat is the anticipation of eternity. Retreat is not something we work into our schedule, our schedule should work around retreat. To think that we can honor The Creator by carving out time for retreat is burning the house to barbeque a pig. We must not offer what is important on the altar of insignificance.
Mark thinks about death every day, the great motivator of life. Echoing Paul, “Behold, now is the favorable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Students hear this constantly in Mark’s classes. The first time Mark preached “rest” was in 1987 from Leviticus 25; a recurrent theme in Scripture and in his teaching.
 John H. Walton et al. 2000. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (IVP): 30.
 Victor P. Hamilton. 1980. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 2:902.
 Worship is to time what a temple is to space.
 The word holy is in the same grammatical construction as blessed. God pronounced a state of holiness within time that once begun would continue. Notice in creation God calls other things good while time was sanctified.
 The blessing of rest is a command that can only be given from The Creator to creation. Time itself was infused with eternal significance: the quality of heaven now asserts itself, woven within the earth.
 Read Hebrews 4:1-10.