Thoughts from Genesis on Death and the Sabbath

Personal Study 2007

The Warning to Adam In Genesis 2:16-17 


Adam stands as the head of the human race and is warned: 

“And Jehovah [Yahweh] Elohim commanded Adam, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou shalt freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest of it thou shalt certainly die.”
Here we see the covenant God (Yahweh) who is also creator God (Elohim) both commanding and warning Adam. These were given before the creation of Eve (2:22) yet the command and punishment apply to her (3:2-3). She was in effect “in Adam” just as we were “in Adam” (I Cor 15:22). However, when she disobeyed, sin did not pass unto all men (although she was still held accountable for her individual act – Gen 3:16). She was beguiled and was first in the transgression (cp. 1 Tim 2:13-14), but it was Adam’s sin that placed the curse of death upon all men (Rom 5:12). 

Note in Genesis 2 that Adam is only warned that he would die. Eve recounts this warning to the serpent in Genesis 3. There is no other warning; no fiery torment, no bodiless torture. The clay that was a dead soul and which “became a living soul” (i.e. Adam was a non-living soul made of dust before God breathed in him) was warned that he would be subject to death (and return to dust) if he transgressed the Law of the garden. 

Paul’s recounting of this event in Romans 5 is significant in that it too only mentions death (“by one man sin entered into the world and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…”). Paul’s oft-quoted pronouncement in Romans 6:23 sums up the argument this way “the wages of sin is death…” and death alone. The idea of “spiritual death” is human tradition. Adam’s fate was to return to dust (decay; see corruption).


The Law in the Garden (and the Sabbath)



In Paul’s Acts ministry and in his prison ministry he refers to destruction and death in regard to the end of sinners. This is wholly consistent with Genesis. Paul never expands on the doctrine of “sin = death” (he merely confirms it), but he does expand on the Law in the garden. Obviously, no one but Adam and Eve have ever been subject to the law concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The consequence of sinning in that day, however, is the same in all days. “The soul that sinneth, [he] shall die” (Ezek 18:4,20). It is concluded that all men, long after the Garden was sealed, are guilty of sin. 

“For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
We have never sinned in the same way Adam sinned (nor could we). We have never been subject to the Law of the Garden (nor could we). We are all under the curse of death because of Adam’s sin (we were in him) and because of our own sin (for all have sinned). 


But what about the Sabbath?


Sabbath-Keepers make a big deal about the Sabbath being given to man in Genesis 2. In some respects they are correct. The Creator did set aside the seventh day and He did declare it holy. However, Adam was never warned about violating the Sabbath. There was no punishment attached to it nor were there instructions given for its observance. 

The Sabbath (day 7) was truly created for man (day 6) not man for the Sabbath. Trees and Fruit (Day 3); Man (Day 6); Sabbath (Day 7). In Genesis 2 there was no sin in the Garden. Man had not yet been cursed with sweaty work (Gen 3:17). The Sabbath was given to an innocent man in the same manner as he was given abundant fruit to eat and access to the Tree of Life. In the pronouncement of the curse, the Creator God and Covenant God (Yahweh Elohim) only lists the sin of disobedience to the Law regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
“Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed be the ground on thy account; with toil shalt thou eat [of] it all the days of thy life…”
There is no mention of a violation of the Sabbath in the charge against Adam. In Genesis 2 the Creator God (Elohim) not the God of covenant (Yahweh) sanctified the seventh day. In the Garden there was no altar, no sacrifice and no provision for violation of the Sabbath. In the Garden there was only one command and it came from God as both Creator and Covenant-keeper, thus this covenant had a consequence (death). But we must note again that the covenant of the Age of the Garden made no mention of the Sabbath for the Sabbath was created (day 7) and sanctified for man not man (day 6) for the Sabbath. 


The penalty of death is attached to the Sabbath in a very specific manner in the Law of Moses. There the penalty is attached to “the Sabbath of Yahweh” (God in covenant). The Laws regarding the Sabbath are given and expanded upon by Moses in Exodus 20 and beyond. 


  • There was no command (or penalty) given Adam regarding the Sabbath. 
  • There was no command or penalty given Noah regarding the Passover. 
  • There was no command or penalty given to Abraham regarding the Holy of Holies. 

Yet all these had covenant with God. We must keep God’s covenants in their context and according to His declarations (what, where, when, why and with whom).

Not all God’s covenants are the same. In the case of Adam’s covenant in the Garden and the covenant God made with the children of Israel at Sinai, the covenants were conditional (two-sided). In the case of Abraham (land), Noah (no more floods) and David (throne), the covenants were unconditional (one-sided) because faith had sanctified the recipients.

The Sabbath at Sinai


Clearly from Exodus 19 we can see that God made a very specific two-sided covenant with a very specific people. The Law of Sinai was given to no one but to Israel and both the promises and penalties contained in that law were given only to Israel. 

“And now, if ye will hearken to my voice indeed and keep my covenant, then shall ye be my own possession out of all the peoples -- for all the earth is mine -- and ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak to the children of Israel.”

Part of that covenant was in regard to Sabbaths (plural). The sanctifying of the seventh day was intended for a people who were to serve as priests for the nations. The covenant and penalties pertained only to that select group under than specific covenant. The covenant here is referred to by Yahweh as “my covenant” and the Sabbaths in the next verse are referred to as “my Sabbaths.” (Note: in Mark 2 the Lord Jesus states that he is “Lord also of the Sabbath” for he is “Kurios” or “owner” of the Sabbath. He could say that it is “My Sabbath” for he is God Almighty, Lord of the Sabbath.)

“And Jehovah [Yahweh, God of covenant] spoke to Moses, saying, And thou, speak thou unto the children of Israel, saying, Surely my sabbaths shall ye keep; for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that ye may know that it is I, Jehovah [Yahweh], who do hallow you.”

Note that God speaks only to Israel and that he hallows not only the Sabbath (as he did in Genesis) but also that people. The keeping of the Sabbath Law was a sign of that Old Covenant, a covenant that dealt with the promise of a priesthood (“ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation“) not a promise of resurrection life. 


“Keep the sabbath, therefore; for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall certainly be put to death: yea, whoever doeth work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his peoples.” 


The penalty for violating the Sabbath Law was death for profaning it; being “cut off” for working on that day (compare the warning to gentile believers in Rom 11: 13-22). As a nation, the violation of the Sabbaths (plural) also meant failure to keep the covenant as they promised in Exodus 19:8 (“And all the people answered together, and said, All that Jehovah[Yahweh] has spoken will we do!”). With that assurance, God called Moses to Sanai to deliver the covenant conditions.

To be clear, the God of covenant spoke these very specific words: “I am Jehovah [Yahweh] thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

This was a covenant with a very specific group (and their generations – Ex 31:13). That covenant dealt with not only the Sabbath of Genesis 2:9 (the seventh day) it also dealt with the Sabbaths of years and other “high” Sabbaths. The warnings and promises given through the prophets concerning the Sabbath were rather specific as well.

Jeremiah: “Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.”

Isaiah: “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”

Compare that with the silence of the Apostle Paul on the subject (with the exception the warning of Col 2:16 against judging based on Sabbath-Keeping). The earthly house of this tabernacle conferred upon us by Adam should rest. The principle of the Sabbath still applies. There is a time to rest this earthly tabernacle and a time to concentrate on the Lord and the things of God. But to do so out of fear of a law (either that of the Garden or that of Sinai) is to function outside our calling, expecting blessings which are not ours to gain.

NOTE: The Sabbath-Keepers also spend a lot of time accusing non-observers of making "Sun-day" the Sabbath. Seems they are ready to attack on that point. Well, no argument here. Sunday is not the Sabbath. The Sabbath was created on what we call Saturday. But I hold that, even to that point, the day begins with sundown in “the land” (Israel). And in any regard (noting the points made in this study) no Sabbath observance is required in this age, no matter where it falls.

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 
-Col 2:16-17

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