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Feb 9, 2022

Why Was the Earth Created in 7 Days?

Jeff Cavins

Reading the creation story can be confusing. 

We’ve all read how God created the earth in seven days. He created the waters, the earth, the sky, and the animals and called it good. The story was steeped into our childhood. 

But why seven days? The choice seems so arbitrary. 

Are the seven days literal? Or is there a deeper meaning behind the same story you can recite along with your nursery rhymes?

Join me as we dive into the creation story, revealing the biblical context of the first week of creation. You will approach the first couple chapters of Genesis with renewed clarity and have a new understanding of our amazing, intentional God. 

The Creation Story

Like any good story, creation begins in Genesis 1:2 with its own conflict—the earth is without form and void. In response, the first three days of creation solve the problem of formlessness: God gives form to his creation by separating light from darkness, sky from ocean, and land from waters. 

The next three days parallel the first three and solve the problem of emptiness or the void: God fills the forms he has given. The fourth day fills the first day: day and night are filled with the sun, moon, and stars. The fifth day fills the second day: the sky and ocean are filled with birds and fish. Finally, the sixth day fills the land with animals, plants, man, and woman. The temple structure of creation is built in the first three days and then furnished in the second three days. 

The one day that stands apart is the seventh day. The first six days have their evening and morning and, thus, a clear ending, but the seventh day breaks from this six-fold pattern of repetition. The seventh day knows no end—it is wholly different and of a different order than the six days of work. The seventh day is holy and represents divine rest. 

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But Why Seven Days? Insight from Abraham

This still begs the question, why seven days? 

Midway through Genesis, a story from Abraham’s life illuminates the importance of seven and its importance in the creation story. In Genesis 21, Abraham complains to the Gentile Abimelech about a disputed well (see Genesis 21:25–34). To arrive at a legal settlement about the ownership of the well, the two men make a covenant. 

Abraham brings seven ewe lambs to their meeting, and Abimelech asks what the meaning of those seven lambs is—much like us asking the meaning of the seven days. 

Abraham responds that they are a witness to the oath sworn and the covenant made between them that day. The location of that oath was called Beersheba. In Hebrew, beer means “well,” which was the reason for their meeting; sheba can mean both “seven” or the “oath” of a covenant. Thus the seven (sheba) lambs were a sign of the covenant oath (sheba) that Abraham and Abimelech swore regarding the disputed well. 

The Significance of Covenant

In the ancient Near East, many people grew up and lived their whole lives among extended family with whom they shared a bond of trust. Outside the family, foreigners were suspect. As in Abraham’s conflict with the foreigner Abimelech, a well that provided water in the midst of the desert was a matter of life and death; its use required a trust and honesty typically only found among family members. 

In such situations, where a family bond did not exist but was needed, a covenant was made by swearing an oath (sheba) that joined those swearing the oath into a trusting family bond. Thus, covenants made kinship bonds where they did not previously exist. 

Back to the Creation Story

With this background, we can unpack the significance of the number seven in the creation story. God’s creation of the world in seven days signifies that he is making a covenant with his creation. 

Thus, God’s creation of the heavens and the earth in seven days, as recounted in Genesis 1, communicates the resplendent theological truth of how, at the foundation and beginning of the story, God seeks to enter into a covenant with his creation, making man and woman not simply his creatures, but sons and daughters. 

The continuing narrative of Genesis reflects that there is a new covenant relationship between God and man after the seventh day of creation. In Genesis 1, before the covenant of the seventh day of creation, God is referred to simply as “God” (in Hebrew El, a generic name for divinity). But, in Genesis 2, after the covenant on day seven of creation, God is referred to as the “Lord God” (Yahweh El in Hebrew, using the personal name that God will reveal to Moses in Exodus).

The seven days show that, from the beginning, God wanted an intimate relationship with us. 

Deepen your faith by understanding the story of your salvation.

The Bible Timeline® study program will teach you how to read and understand the entire Bible and introduce you to the wonderful narrative of Scripture in a way that will transform your life. 

Sign up for a free preview!

Jeff Cavins is passionate about helping people understand Scripture and become disciples of Jesus Christ. Though he was born Catholic, Jeff went to Bible school and served as a Protestant minister for twelve years before reverting to the Catholic Faith. He then quickly became a leading Catholic evangelist and author. Jeff is best known for creating The Great Adventure Bible study programs published by Ascension, which have been used by hundreds of thousands of people to engage in Scripture in a life-changing way. Some of his recent projects include The Activated DiscipleThe Jeff Cavins Show (his podcast), and the Great Adventure Bible studiesEphesians: Discover Your Inheritance, and Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life.

Julia Amting is passionate about using modern communication channels to share the gospel and God’s beauty. A senior at Central Michigan University completing a Bachelor’s degree in Integrative Public Relations, Julia manages a small painting business and loves writing, hiking, trying new things, and adventures of all forms.

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  • Seven days also mark each phase of the moon: new, half, full, half…. For six days we can be busy at work striving to provide for ourselves and our families. On the seventh day, God shows us that we should rest to remember to enjoy the fruits of our labor, but more importantly to give thanks for God’s gifts that allow us to work and provide.

    Without giving thanks, we will lose our relationship with God and consider our efforts only and eventually demand the gratitude of others. We may also choose to not work for six out of seven days and demand that others provide for and serve us. From the beginning, Our Lord provides us with the example of how to balance and center our lives and enjoy His gifts with a grateful heart.

  • Often there is the question of whether or not the Genesis 1 story is factual history, or instead, some kind of symbolic explanation of the meaning of creation. I understand that centuries ago, the Vatican took up the search for understanding of the stars (ie, astronomy), and implicitly, the idea of the universe being ancient, and somehow, the role of evolution, which is pretty much accepted now. But it can be viewed that these ideas are in direct opposition to Genesis if we accept the literal history idea. Your discussion avoids this issue, which I was hoping would be dealt with. Can you provide other insights to these contradictions? Thank you!

  • There may be multiple rsons why Almighty God used 6-day Creation and a 7-day Creation Week. We may not know them all. Affirmation of the days is built into the Ten Commandments (part of the Covenant relationship between Almighty God and mankind). The 7 day week was part of establishing the blessing of the 7 day week and the Lord’s Day / Sabbath Day.

    8 Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day.
    9 Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works.
    10 But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.
    11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.

    The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), Ex 20:8–11.

  • The two stories of creation are not sequential in time. (In fact, they dont really occur ‘in time’ – they are considered pre-history.) Stating that the name for God in one story has affected the name for God in the next might be misleading to some. The names for God represent the differences between the Priestly and Yahwist traditions.

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