“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” -Genesis 2:2-3
One of the fascinating theological perspectives I have experienced over the past few years is Dr John Walton’s explanation of Genesis 1.
In my Revelation: Revisited series I stated, “False expectations can lead to incorrect interpretations.” This has surely been the case with Genesis 1 through decades of modern biblical interpretation. Probably the biggest false expectation we have brought to Genesis 1 is reading this chapter as an account of the material creation of the world. Christians are then compelled to find some explanation that syncs what they perceive to be an account of the material creation with scientific discoveries regarding the age and processes of the cosmos as we currently understand them. This has led either to stretching the biblical text beyond its original intention or concocting some crazy scientific options.
However, John Walton rightly encourages us to read Genesis 1 from the worldview of an ancient Israelite. When we do, we discover significant clues that help us understand what the author was originally communicating.
The primary clue occurs in the verse mentioned above — God “rested” from all his work. For anyone in that time period and worldview, it meant one thing. This has been a description of the creation of God’s temple. In that ancient worldview, gods “rested” in temples because temples were built for the singular purpose for gods to “rest.”
In this context, “rest” doesn’t refer to relaxation and leisure. It refers to getting on with one’s real purpose now that the preparations are complete. So when God “rests” on the seventh day, it means he’s entering his temple to sit upon his throne and to begin reigning and ruling over the cosmos. Bottom-line, the temple is where God “rests” upon his throne, which means to rule.
I’m not going to lay out all the arguments here. If you’re interested in examining this perspective in detail, I would point you to John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis 1 or encourage you to search Youtube for any of Dr Walton’s lectures by the same title that summarizes his position.
Suffice it to say, this perspective of Genesis 1 is an exciting take on this text for a few reasons. First, it reads this chapter from the worldview of its original audience, which is the first step of proper biblical interpretation. Second, it navigates a thoughtful path through the treacherous landscape of debates between faith and science. And third, it adds a vibrant dimension to the ongoing saga of God’s work of bringing about his New Creation within this present creation as well as humanity’s role in this drama.
So Genesis 1, from an ancient Israel perspective, is not about the material creation of the world, but about how God is configuring the world to operate and function as his temple. From this perspective, physical temples were the place that connected to the heavenly temple. In other words, the temple is the place where heaven and earth merged. And within the physical temple where heaven and earth met, rested a statue that was the earthly, physical image of the heavenly god.
The author of Genesis 1 is providing a startling take. Israel’s God, the true God, has configured the entire world to function as his cosmic temple where the dimensions of heaven and earth merge. And within this cosmic temple he has created human beings to function as his living and breathing image. With his final greatest configuration of humans as his living image-bearers in his cosmic temple, God now “rests”, i.e. rules the cosmos. And he reigns over the cosmos through his living image-bearers.