November 2, 2020 on 4:40 pm | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on THE LOST MEANING OF THE SEVENTH DAY


An intriguing book title recently caught my eye: The Lost Meaning of the 7th Day, by Norwegian author, Sigve Tonstad. The word “lost” immediately conjures up my innate curiosity about lost things or people. It’s my nature to wonder where they are and how they can be found. Down through the millennia, entire cities, cultures, animals and people groups have been lost forever to the irrevocable march of time. The meanings of words and phrases have dramatically changed or gone obsolete. But a day and its meaning—lost? Does it matter to me or anyone else? I had to find out.

So, I picked the book up, read it, and am reading it again. It not only echoes my foundational belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture, but it has piqued my interest and challenged me with several undeniably fresh insights. In short, it uncovers benefits and blessings of the seventh-day instituted by a divine Creator that have been obscured over the centuries. As a result, Tonstad suggests, mankind has missed a vital connection with the Creator that can only be regained through rediscovering and reconnecting with the original purpose of the seventh day.

Tonstad’s theme is rooted in Scripture and the biblical seventh day Sabbath introduced during the Creation week narrative of Genesis. After describing the first six days of Creation, the account in Genesis 2:1-3 says, “Thus the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended the work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Of course, this all makes sense only if you believe, as I do, that the Bible contains an accurate, even if incomplete, record of this world’s history. It is a worldview that includes an all-powerful God who rallied the elements of the universe to create the critical components of life as we know it—air, water, food and more.

Indeed, the thesis of Tonstad’s book presents a direct challenge to some scholars who claim the first 11 chapters of the Bible are just allegorical myth. After all, the Genesis 2 account is affirmed later in Scripture in words attributed directly to God. In fact, the passage quoted in Exodus 20:8-11 is nearly identical to the Creation narrative. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” God says. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God….for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it.” According to the writer of Exodus, God not only spoke these words, but inscribed them in stone tablets with His own finger. To me, that’s a clear corroboration of the Genesis story and God’s unique “7th Day.” And, when given the opportunity to believe God’s word or that of some scholars, my choice is clear.

But even if we can agree on the historical validity of the Creator’s establishment of a seventh-day Sabbath, Tonstad suggests that something much more, far deeper is at the core of what has been lost. His search for this lost meaning goes to the root of why God would prepare a special day in which to remember and celebrate the Creator. It delves into the reason why a seven-day cycle, which has no other foundational purpose in the universe, was part of His plan for the human race. After all, our earth year is based on our world’s annual orbit around the sun. The month is associated with scientific lunar cycles, and the day is connected to the span of time in which our world makes one entire revolution. But there is no celestial reason for the seven-day weekly cycle, other than that established within the original Creation account. The nitty gritty of the seventh-day, designed by God as a Sabbath, is set, Tonstad says, as the “climax of creation, enshrining God’s presence at the center of human experience.” Further, he observes, “it is designed to convey God’s presence when the sense of God’s absence is most keenly felt.” This is the crux of what Tonstad’s title describes as “The Lost Meaning of the 7th Day.” Indeed, a sense of God’s absence is what confronts so many today in our increasingly dangerous and divisive world.

When Scripture says that God “rested” on the seventh-day after Creation, it’s hard to imagine that it was because of exhaustion. So, when He encouraged humanity to follow this regular pause in their weekly work, what was His real purpose? Why this cathedral in time?

Perhaps a clue lies in something God said after the Ten Commandments were given to Israel on Mt. Sinai. “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” We can follow this concept through Scripture. But the thread of His purpose was far more than building temples. The prophet Isaiah foresaw a time for Immanuel to come—a word that means literally “God with us.” That theme burst forth in reality, as John 1:14 reveals that Immanuel had come. “The Word was made flesh,” he exclaimed, “and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” This thread of continuity runs throughout the New Testament, through Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, ascension to heaven and beyond, when the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, was sent to empower the new Christian believers. The apostle John records Jesus’ personal promise: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). The book of Revelation confirms God will make a new heaven and new earth and then states “the tabernacle of God is with men and He will dwell with them and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3) This time it will last for eternity, as He originally intended. What a blessing that will be!

God’s desire to be with people means He’s not content with just a ceremonial visit or “photo-op.” When Jesus came to dwell on earth in the first century A.D., it was without pomp or circumstance. He didn’t just clinically observe it from a distance, He actually experienced all the pain and prejudice that real life brings. He grew up in a village with a reputation–“Can anything good thing come out of Nazarath?” No one would be able to say, “You don’t know what it’s like to live in a sin-cursed world.” And even though the biblical record says that “He came unto His own and His own received Him not,” He came because God and people, the Creator and His creation, are inextricably linked. God desires a relationship with His creation, and that is central to His purpose for a seventh-day Sabbath.

Jesus entered a world dramatically changed from the ideal of Creation. Along with so many of God’s original and wonderful purposes, His own creatures had twisted the Sabbath into something He never intended. God desired to have regular contact with His people so they could fellowship together, learn His ways and the values of His kingdom. But they began to add their own rules for Sabbath “observance” that obscured what God had planned. In doing so, they increasingly lost sight of the divine/human relationship intended by their Creator.

This is the essence of the lost meaning of the seventh-day, as Tonstad describes it. The seventh-day of Creation week was the only day God rested on and blessed—the only one He sanctified. No other day of the week was gifted with that divine touch. It was designed to grant mankind an oasis of time away from the common pursuits of life to reflect on their amazing Creator and His astounding creation. It would grant them a treasured opportunity to regularly nurture both divine and human relationships. Its very presence was to remind humanity that they had not been dropped on this earth to fend for themselves. Their God loved them intensely and wanted to be at the very center of their lives.

When Jesus came as the “Word made flesh” described in the first chapter of John, He brought practical meaning to seventh-day Sabbath observances then encumbered with layers of “do’s and don’ts.” When accused of ignoring the existing rules of Sabbath-keeping, He responded simply: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” With these words He underscored not only His authority to define the seventh-day Sabbath, but also the original divine intent for that day to be a relationship builder, not a test of human performance.

Many have taken God’s choice of a sanctified seventh-day lightly and created their own version of a sabbath. But without the uniquely divine blessing of Creation, they lose the intended meaning and risk stumbling over the very topic of Tonstad’s book. And even those who observe sacred worship on a seventh-day Sabbath, may easily miss God’s original intent. Old Testament prophets Amos and Isaiah echoed a divine distaste for mere religious rituals in contrast with practical godliness that touches real human need. “New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; … take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:13-17).

Those words provide a launching pad for Jesus ministry. As an exclamation point to the divine intentions for the seventh-day Sabbath, Jesus used those hours during His earthly sojourn to bring spiritual and physical healing. He was the original Creator of the world, the Lord of the Sabbath, and it takes a Creator’s power to forgive sin and mend broken bodies. The seventh-day Sabbath, with His example, serves as a constant reminder that our Creator can also be the Re-Creator our lives and our relationships.

Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Life puts it this way: “You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.” Henry Blackaby observed that humans were “created for fellowship with God.” And a century ago, visionary Christian writer Ellen White wrote, “Man, created by God, can only in such fellowship find his real life and development.” Relationships that last find strength in both good times and bad times. The most efficient path toward positive growth, mentally, physically and spiritually, often leads through challenge and pain. The divine/human relationship is no different. Isaiah reminds us that the Savior was indelibly connected to His people: “in all their afflictions He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). The apostle Paul acknowledged that he desired to participate with Christ’s sufferings and invited the Philippian believers to engage with the fellowship of His sufferings: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). This echoes Jesus’ own “heads up” and encouragement to His disciples: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The lost meaning of the seventh-day has impacted our world in significant ways. Without the intense relationship that God provided for in this special weekly time, humanity has largely forgotten its Creator. The challenges of our current world cultures, with rampant abuses of power, stem directly from willful ignorance of God’s original design. To use the words of Isaiah: “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). When we ignore regular fellowship with our Creator, we reap the brokenness so evident today in our families, in our communities, in our world.

During a Bible class I once taught regarding the importance of God’s seventh-day Sabbath, I turned to an elderly gentleman and said, “suppose your wife had 6 sisters.” At that point his wife chimed in, “I do in fact have six sisters.” “OK,” I said. Turning back to her husband, I asked, “We assume all seven are nice ladies, one as good as another. Does it matter which one you take home to bed with you tonight?” His response was “No.” That drew a sharp elbow jab from his wife! But I realized also that he was hard of hearing, so I repeated the question louder. He immediately exclaimed, “Yes.” “Why?” I responded. “Because we’re married!” he stated. “Why does that make any difference?” I continued. “It’s because there is a special relationship that exists between you and your wife which doesn’t exist between you and any of the others. God has blessed your union and sanctified it, for that relationship is part of the marriage commitment.” Likewise, there might not be any outward difference in the seven days of the week, but only one—the seventh day—was set aside by a special act of God.

There’s another key factor about God’s inclusion of a seventh-day of rest in our weekly cycle. It’s a divine reminder that a growing relationship with God isn’t about human performance. In my reading of Tonstad’s book, I find this paradox within the lost meaning of the seventh-day day. So much of our lives are built around personal achievement, financial success, job excellence and other areas all dependent on hard work. But in God’s plan for His creation, success is not based on strenuous effort but on spiritual rest. Without physical rest, our bodies eventually break down. We need restful interludes for physical and mental repair and rejuvenation. This is even more important in our spiritual life. The seventh day is to be a weekly reminder to stop in our headlong rush to seek God’s favor through rules and regulations. It’s a regular opportunity to remember that our eternal salvation comes only as His gift of grace and the work of His Spirit in our hearts. I believe it is noteworthy that the very first full day of existence for Adam and Eve, was a rest day. All the works later would flow out of their love for their divine creator.

It strikes me that God can be very selective at times, even particular. During Creation, two trees were unique in the Garden of Eden—the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam and Eve they were forbidden to eat of the latter. Their choice of disobedience destroyed the perfect balance of Creation. We’re still suffering the consequences of that fatal decision.

Could the lost meaning of the seventh-day described in Sigve Tonstad’s book be part of those consequences? Absolutely. Can that meaning be restored? Without a doubt. Jesus’ own words resonate with us in this endeavor: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). Our Creator is eager for us to respond so that His originally intended purpose of divine/human fellowship can be restored. This is the raison d’être of His seventh-day Sabbath and the key to creation once again laying hold on what has for so long been lost.

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