The Universal God

The modern world has lost touch with the text describing the beginning. This absence of context has caused the seventh day in many ways to become an ideological and theological orphan. What makes matters worse is that is over the last two centuries, the worldview of the Bible’s readers has dramatically shifted. Most have adopted the world view of Evolution as the source of our beginning. But Evolution speaks of chance, not purpose. It envisions a process without an agent that initiates, guides, and completes it. It reflects a view of reality in which no day, especially the seventh day, has no meaningful point of context.

That Genesis leads the Biblical narrative, not some other book, is as important as the unity of Genesis. “That the bible begins with Genesis, not Exodus, with creation, not redemption, is of immeasurable importance for understanding all that follows.” The Old Testament takes as its point of beginning human history, not the beginning of Israel. Israel figures prominently in the restoration of what was lost. Restoration is the overwhelming theme of the Old Testament. But the first eleven chapters of the Biblical narrative have the broadest conceivable scope. They give us the reason restoration needs to happen.

The scope of Genesis is universal, affirming the value of the earth and all, and I mean all, its inhabitants without regard for ethnicity or nationality (see Genesis 1:28-30). Thus, the biblical narrative is based upon universality. Any attempt at narrowing the Bible’s focus yields to a truncated view of the Bible. It moves the focus from universal centered to Israel centered.  Other-centered to self-centered.

Because of sin, God allowed the world to be deconstructed. To put it back together, he chose a geographical area to become the crossroads between three continents.  God then chose a family to become a nation to aid Him in the process of restoration, which plays out upon the rest of the Bible. This choosing of a family or nation does not mean the Bible is exclusive to them, their purpose was to aid God in the process of restoring the entire world to Him.

Suppose, just suppose Yahweh is not in principle before everything else.  Suppose He is not the God of all reality.  In that case, God cannot be the one and only God because then God is not universal. So Yahweh maybe Israel’s God in oneness and exclusivity, but if he is not Israel’s God because He is first of all the God of all reality and of all humanity, then He is a nationalistic deity or an individualistic idol, one among others, actually no god at all. Therefore Genesis establishes that God is universal, the God of all Creation and all humanity.

In The Beginning, There was Seven

It is hard to imagine a more auspicious beginning for the seventh day than the one put forward in the first book of the Bible. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because in it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1-3). In this passage, the seventh day makes a spectacular entry. But, once we look more closely at text and context, will our first impressions be sustained concerning the creation account of the seventh day.

First of all, the writer does not hang the seventh day upon nothing. Nor is the written content merely to anchor the seventh day to a great occasion in the maze of human history. Instead, Genesis inseparably ties the seventh day to the foundation event in human and creaturely existence, creation. The seventh day is a feature of creation, and it serves as the capstone of creation. It comes forth at the dawn of history as the first signifier of the character and meaning of creation.

Second, this creation must be understood as an achievement that is the exclusive prerogative of God. It features God’s sovereign action, engaged in a pursuit for which there is no corresponding human activity.

Third, the seventh day is not introduced accidentally or haphazardly. Instead, the seventh day is an immediate fact of creation, belonging to it and completing it, a day without which creation remains in limbo.

Notice Genesis 2:2 deliberately states its purpose and describes it in two pairs or sets of carefully worded pairs. First, it declares, “On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day.” The statement “finished the work he had done” serves as a report on the fact that God had now completed the work of creation.

In the second pair, Genesis announces that “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it” (Genesis 2:3).  This reports a specific act concerning the seventh day.  Here God marks out the occasion’s significance to take the matter of its interpretation into God’s own hands. If the first of these pairs is retrospective, the second looks forward as an indicator of its permanence. By the act of hallowing the seventh day, God drives the stake of His divine presence into the soil of human time.

Therefore being part of creation, God gave the seventh-day immense prestige from the very beginning. Both divine purpose and action are involved in a way that gives the seventh-day significance far beyond anything situational or temporary. The Creator’s action in the Genesis account brings a degree of distinction to the seventh day that presents a formidable deterrent to degrading it.

Jesus and a Pharisee

When we read the gospels, we often give Pharisees and bad rap. There were some excellent Pharisees that came to understand Jesus’s teachings. Gamaliel is one, Nicodemus another. Paul trained as a Pharisee under the guidance of Gamaliel.  Yet despite these noteworthy examples, our perception is Pharisee’s are self-righteous, exclusivist, and thoroughly confused about what is essential. 

In Matthew 22:35, 36, a Pharisee asks Jesus a crucial question. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” 

Often when Jesus spoke, He exaggerated a point to build a contrast between two essential elements.  We see this happen today with political cartoons, where the chin is longer, the eyebrows bushier, the nose longer to exaggerate a point. Jesus did the same thing using word pictures. 

A few verses later, in Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites. “You count out leaves of mint, dill, and cummin to tithe but fail to understand matters of more importance.”  The emphasis is on these small matters instead of the vital things of life, such as loving your neighbor, justice, and showing concern and mercy toward others.  These other items, justice, compassion, and love for others, these are the essential things, and fulfill the law.

Jesus in exaggerating the small and insignificant to emphasize the point he wanted them to understand. “You are more concerned about the law than treating those around you fairly, with love, justice, mercy and compassion.” 

Back to our Pharisee in Matthew 22:35, 36, who asked Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Mark, in his Gospel, states the question slightly differently, but the point remains, “Which commandment is the first of all” (Mark 12:28)?  Jesus reveals that this is not a question He takes lightly. His reply is, “The first is, Hear O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one; you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).  Jesus, in his response, is quoting two verses from Torah, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

Here is the exciting point we often miss. Mark’s Gospel points out that the Pharisee-Lawyer agrees with Jesus’s understanding of the law. “You are right Teacher; you have truly said that ‘He is one, and besides him, there are no others, and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:32-33). Jesus returns the compliment by saying to the Pharisee, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:32, 34).

Our words and actions, what do they say about us and how close we are to the kingdom. The Pharisee and Jesus were on the same page, they saw eye to eye in this matter. How do we see it?

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