The Liturgy of Creation, Michael LeFebvre, foreword by C. John Collins. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.
Summary: An argument that Genesis 1:1-2:3 should be understood in light of the calendars in the Pentateuch, particularly as instruction for our work and sabbath, rather than for science.
This book examines an area I’ve never studied before: the significance of the calendars of the Pentateuch, and the importance of reading Genesis 1:1-2:3 within this context. Michael LeFebvre is a scholar-pastor who noticed how calendar references run through the Pentateuch, studied these, and became convinced that they offer an important clue to understanding the beginning of Genesis.
The first part of the book looks at Israel’s calendars, and how they are shaped by day, month (lunar) and year. He notes the significance of cycles of seven. Days in the week are fairly obvious. Less obvious but striking for me is that all Israel’s major festivals fall in the first seven months. There are also cycles of seven years, and the seven times seven of Jubilee.
He then studies the different festivals and one of the most significant discussions here is between dates of occurrence and dates of observance (we have this in our own calendar with the observance of Washington’s birthday on President’s Day, which never falls on the day of his actual birthday, February 22. Often, difficulties of chronology arise because of failure to observe this distinction. It also means that because a date of observance may differ from a date of occurrence, this does not mean the occurrence did not happen.
Finally, he argues that the creation week is a calendar narrative. The struggles, for example, to explain evening and morning before the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day is not a problem if we understand this narrative as a calendar narrative having a liturgical purpose rather than describing an actual chronology. LeFebvre admits that this may be frustrating for those who have worked out apologetic systems to reconcile the narrative with known science, but his contention is that science was not the point but rather the worship of the God who works six days and rests, establishing a model for his creatures to follow in their work and rest as the fourth commandment indicates. He contends this makes good sense in reading Genesis as part of the Pentateuch, where sabbath is a weekly feast observance, a break of rest and celebration in the people’s rhythm of work. It is consonant with the rest of Pentateuch, and evident to any reader of the text without extensive theological and ancient cultural background, or apologetic expertise. As a corollary to this, he contends for the removal of this text for use in controversy in science and that it be used as Paul commends in 2 Timothy 3:16 for training in righteousness–in this case the proper rhythm of work and rest modeled after the first great worker–God.
No doubt, those who have made an intellectual, or even a remunerative occupation of defending a particular position with regard to Genesis 1 and scientific accounts of origins, LeFebvre’s account is inadequate. LeFebvre does distinguish between idolatrous naturalism, and the carefully delimited practice of science, which may be done by both believers and non-believers apart from philosophical or theological commitments. He remains somewhat agnostic about scientific accounts of origins, while affirming the important of scientific engagements in the study of evolution and cosmology so long as the conclusions affirmed are physical and not metaphysical. He just doesn’t believe Genesis is intended to give an account of origins reconcilable with science. That is not what it’s for. Thus, he does not incline here toward any of the apologetic models of origins on offer. None, he thinks, read the text literally enough.
LeFebvre’s book is important for understanding the calendar of Israel, the significance of festival observance dates, and so forth. His charts of all this are very helpful. Most of all, to pay close attention to the sanctity of work, a creation made to be fruitful and to foster the flourishing of God’s creatures, and the vital practice of sabbath and rhythms of work and rest–all of this offers much for Christians in their worship, practice, and rhythms of daily life. With so much of worth, why press these texts to answer and teach things they were not intended to teach?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.