What Do the First Three Chapters of Genesis Really Mean? — Part 8, the Sabbath
This is the latest in a series. It will make most sense if readers are familiar with what has preceded, especially parts 3, 4, 5 and 6. (For previous articles please see this list.)
I don’t suppose I’m alone in finding it strange that any deity considered omnipotent, omniscient, capable of creating and sustaining the universe, should feel tired and need to rest after ‘his’ endeavours. It somehow doesn’t feel right. Yet that is what modern English versions of Genesis lead us to believe.
Best, in his esoteric interpretation (BEI) agrees: “Vs. 2 and 3 reveal that the SUPREME and ABSOLUTE BEING is Eternal, Infinite and Omnipresent, though HE remains Unmanifest and Transcendent in His Ineffable and Divine Nature. There is no mention, however, in the original text of His ever ‘resting’, for HE tires not, nor does HE sleep… The GODHEAD is LIFE itself, and his Omnipresence makes all beings and things active and living; therefore HE can never rest inactive, despite the A.V. (Authorised Version) affirmation”.
What therefore does the original text of Genesis 2, v2–3 say? According to Best’s translation: “And AELOHIM completed in Light’s seventh manifestation the sovereign work which HE had planned, and HE returned to His Ineffable Nature, and so restored Himself to His Divine Being. And AELOHIM blessed the seventh phenomenal manifestation and sanctified the symbolical existence of it, because therein HE returned to the Perfect Peace of His Ineffable Self, from all the sovereign work which HE had ordained according to His efficient power”. (There are no significant differences in Redfield’s translation, or in d’Olivet’s.)
In his esoteric interpretation (BEI), Best comments: “the beginning of the 2nd chapter states how AELOHIM ‘returned to the perfect peace of His own unique Ineffable Self, after producing IHOAH, the Being-Who-Is-Was-and-Will-Be’. IHOAH is the proper name that Moses gives to the Manifest Deity, Who appears for the first time only after the Supreme Being had completed his Sovereign Act, and HE then re-established Himself in His Ineffable and Immutable Divine Nature”.
As discussed in the previous article, ‘God’ is therefore considered to exist in two aspects, one transcendent and unmanifest (Elohim), and another immanent and manifest (Ihoah/ Jehovah/Yahweh). The idea of resting is therefore a misunderstanding; what is being conveyed is that Elohim is returning to ‘his’ original state, having created a being who will execute his plans for the universe, as described in chapter 1 of Genesis.
It’s interesting that in mythology a turtle is a frequently found symbol of God. For example, there is a Babylonian cosmological myth, in which the Earth is flat and is held up by elephants standing on a giant sea-turtle. What does this mean and why is it appropriate? (I have discussed it in more detail in this earlier article, so I will be brief here.)
The myth describes various levels of a hierarchical universe. The flat Earth should not be interpreted as meaning that the ancients did not understand that the planet is (approximately) spherical, rather that the Earth symbolises the material universe, the lowest level of reality. This material level is held up by elephants, which I interpret as supported or sustained by elephants. This would be a level of gods and goddesses, or cosmic principles (archetypes). Even if the reason for the symbolism is not obvious, elephants do seem to represent the creative level of the gods. This is most obvious in Hinduism.
As I was discussing in the previous article, in some spiritual traditions there is an ultimate Ground of Being, conceived of as a self-contained emptiness or nothingness, complete in itself. Yet in another aspect, this emptiness is also the One, the creative source behind all that is. There are thus two aspects of the Divine, the first we might call introverted, and the second extroverted. What a perfect symbol for this is the turtle, which is equally capable of withdrawing its head inside its shell, or leaving it outside looking outwards into the world.
The withdrawing of its head into its shell seems to be the true meaning of the ‘resting’ found in Genesis.
I discussed this meaning of the turtle in this earlier article.
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