The term “Cosmos” refers to an orderly universe, and modern scientific advancements have greatly contributed to our understanding of its enormity and the Earth’s unique position within it. However, the perception of the cosmos has changed dramatically over time, even within our recent history.
When it comes to interpreting ancient cosmology from the Bible, scholars suggest understanding it within its ancient Near Eastern cultural context. On episode 73 of the Rethinking Scripture Podcast, we explore how ancient cosmology impacts our experience of sabbath rest.
John H. Walton, an Old Testament scholar, has extensively studied ancient Near Eastern cosmology, specifically the cosmology of the Israelites in the biblical era. He argues that their understanding of the cosmos was vastly different from modern scientific cosmology and should not be interpreted as such.
In ancient cultures, including the Israelites, the cosmos was seen as a functional and ordered system rather than a material one. Ancient cosmology focused on the functions and roles of various elements in the cosmos, rather than their physical composition.
According to Walton, the biblical creation account in Genesis 1 can be understood in light of this ancient cosmology. It is important not to read modern scientific concepts into ancient cosmology, but rather to understand it on its own terms.
Similarly, divine rest is a concept deeply rooted in ancient Near Eastern culture. Genesis 2:2-3 describes divine rest not as God taking a break or being exhausted after creating the world. In ancient Near Eastern culture, the building of a temple was seen as an act of creation, and once the temple was completed, the deity would take up residence in it.
When the Bible speaks of God resting on the seventh day, it suggests that God has taken up his residence in the cosmic temple he has just created. Furthermore, the Hebrew word used for “rest” in Genesis 2:2-3 is “shabat,” related to the word “sabbath.” This suggests that the concept of divine rest is closely linked to the idea of the sabbath, a day of physical rest and worship in ancient Israelite culture.