Geerhardus Vos on the Eschatology of the Sabbath

“The principle underlying the Sabbath is formulated in the Decalogue itself. It consists in this, that man must copy God in his course of life. The divine creative work complete itself in six days, whereupon the seventh followed as a day of rest for God. In connection with God, ‘rest’ cannot, of course, mean mere cessation from labour, far less recovery from fatigue. Such a meaning is by no means required by the Old Testament usage of the word. ‘Rest’ resembles the word ‘peace’ in this respect, that it has in Scripture in fact to the Shemetic mind generally, a positive rather than a negative import. It stands for consummation of a work accomplished and the joy and satisfaction attendant upon this. Such was its prototype in God. Mankind must copy this, and that not only in the sequence of daily existence as regards individuals; but in its collective capacity through a large historical movement. For mankind, too, a great task waits to be accomplished, and at its close beckons a rest of joy and satisfaction that shall copy the rest of God.

“Before all other important things, therefore, the Sabbath is an expression of the eschatological principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed. There is to be to the world-process a finale, as there was an overture, and these two belong inseparably together. To give up the one means to give up the other, and to give up either means to abandon the fundamental scheme of Biblical history. Even among Jewish teachers this profound meaning of the Sabbath was not entirely unknown. One of them, being asked what the world to come would be like, answered that it would resemble the Sabbath. In the law, it is true, this thought is not developed further than is done in the primordial statement of God’s resting on the seventh day and the hallowing it. For the rest, the institution, after having been re-enforced in the Decalogue, is left to speak for itself, as is the case with most institutions of the law. The Epistle to the Hebrews has given us a philosophy of the Sabbath on the largest of scales, partly in dependence on Psa. 95 [Heb. 3,4].

“The Sabbath brings this principle of the eschatological structure of history to bear upon the mind of man after a symbolical and a typical fashion. It teaches its lesson through the rhythmical succession of six days of labour and one ensuing day of rest in each successive week. Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless existence, that a goal lies beyond. This was true before, and apart from, redemption. The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the soteric. The so-called ‘Covenant of Works’ was nothing but an embodiment of the Sabbatical principle. Had its probation been successful, then the sacramental Sabbath would have passed over into the reality it typified, and the entire subsequent course of the history of the race would have been radically different. What now is to be expected at the end of this world would have formed the beginning of the world-course instead.”

– Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, pg. 139-140

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