It is Finished

You know what I do when I finish mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, or eating leftovers?  I step back to view a job well done.[1] What did God do when He finished creation?  He celebrated—twice—the meaning of the word “rest” in Genesis 2:3.[2] Humans are imprinted with our Creator’s image to work, relishing our labor’s results.

“It is finished”[3] Genesis 2:1-2 adds.  The Sabbath begins by ending.  The Hebrew word demands we quit!  Stop!  Break the routine!  Order is given to the week by ceasing our labor.  Significance to the first six days is given importance by the seventh—there is a freedom from production, acquisition, and “getting.”  Genesis 1:31 declares enjoyment in what has been made by contemplating the beauty in the enterprise (2:9).  Exodus 31:17 repeats the process of creation for “refreshment,” literally “to take a breath” by taking delight in what is witnessed.

Let’s dispel the wrong notion: God did not rest because He was tired after work.  Instead, God set a precedent, establishing a life principle.  Hawaiians say pau—God stopped because He was finished not fatigued.  Five times in three verses “the seventh day” appears.  Sabbath sets a rhythm, pattern, refrain, or cadence[4], giving significance to every other day, for creation to operate in a certain way.

Once God completed His task, there is a repetition-escalation in the text: it looks like this in Hebrew: “God finished

the work[5] He had done

from all the work He had done

from all the creation work He had done” (Genesis 2:2-3)

These phrases which build on each other explain what “God finished” means.  (1) There is no longer a physical creation going on. (2) Rest is the end of creation, an anticipation of something yet to come.  (3) There is a marker of the world to come, namely, eternity is the goal; people are made for eternity.  Notice that the normal end phrase to the first six days is not repeated here; “the evening and morning” formula is absent.  Hebrews 4:9-10 summarizes: God’s intention of rest is the anticipation of His people.

In 1987 I preached my first sermon on Sabbath[6].  I wrote a rudimentary poem to remind myself of what rest means for everyone:

God gave a special day

Because all people are made of clay;

So that believers could pray

And all people could play.

“Worry. Don’t Be Happy!” is the eye-grabbing title from Marc Gellman rightly exploding the myth that happiness is our highest human goal.[7] Another view from ancient times believed leisure was for the wealthy and ruling classes, never for anyone else.  There are no parallels from near eastern cultures for a day of rest-celebration.  In fact, the Greeks thought the Jews were lazy for taking the day “off”!  On the contrary, Isaiah 58:9 declares delight should be a bi-product of celebrating a holiday—a seventh, set-apart day.  Ecclesiastes, my favorite Bible book, sings the chorus of Sabbath enjoyment: life is a gift of God so enjoy it!

Jesus reemphasizes the significance of Sabbath by infusing Sabbath rest into people.  Mark 2:23-28 and 3:1-6 establish Jesus’ point of view.  The Sabbath is made for humanity; it is beneficial.  The Sabbath is for restoration; a pointer to perfection in eternity.  The Sabbath is for peace; the Man of Sorrows, takes our sorrows.  But it is Matthew 11:28 where Sabbath bursts into daily living:

“Come to me and I will rest (Sabbath) you, you will find rest (Sabbath) for your souls.

Augustine’s famous line is no better understood than here: “You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no rest until the rest in you.”  It is the person of Jesus who sanctified the seventh day in Genesis and declared us holy-rested through His sanctification.

When I finished this article, I read it again, any number of times.  I find delight in the placement of words, creation of sentences, construction of paragraphs, and building of essays.  Normally people return again and again to museums, marveling at the works of art.  All of us return to our work, in one way or another, to witness a job well done.  Why not?  We image His image, we work His works, we celebrate His celebration.

Celebrating work and rest, Mark teaches Old Testament at Crossroads Bible College.


[1] Some might wonder how “eating leftovers” is included alongside household chores.  Economics (literally, stewardship) necessitates a wise use of all things.  If I cannot adequately manage the contents of my own refrigerator, how can I advocate propriety when it comes to anything else?!  So, honestly, I have a strange sense of satisfaction when a leftover container is placed in the dishwasher from another day’s meal.

[2] Genesis 2:3 uses the word “rest” meaning the state or condition for cessation, completion, and ultimately, celebration.  Victor P. Hamilton. shabat. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): II: 902-03.

[3] The word means to bring a process to completion, to carry out a task in full, to perfection. Paul R. Gilchrist. 1980. yakol.  Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): I:377-78.  I still ponder the connection between “it is finished” in Genesis and Jesus’ declaration on the cross.

[4] I am indebted to Eugene Peterson’s phrase “creation cadence” from Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Eerdmans, 2005): 114.

[5] The word indicates skilled workmanship relating to one’s business, habits, or skills as seen in Exodus 20:9-10; 31:3; 39:43; Leviticus 16:29.  Andrew Bowling. 1980. melaka. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): I:465.

[6] Born of my delight in the book of Leviticus, I still have the notes from my earliest message: Leviticus 23:3, 22 February 1987, “Beware of Becoming Hollow People.”  As a reminder, Sabbath does NOT equal Sunday.  Sunday was the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1), the day of resurrection, the reason for Christian worship.  Sabbath is the seventh day, the last day of the week.

[7] http://www.newsweek.com/id/45228/

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