The Liturgy of Creation: Understanding the Calendars in Old Testament ContextWritten by Michael LeFebvre Reviewed By John F. Klem
Michael LeFebvre rigorously addresses the topics of worship and labor, creation and liturgy with pastoral insight in this book. LeFebvre reads the chronology of Genesis 1 through a textual study of the Torah’s calendar references to demonstrate a connection of dates to Israelite worship and work. Reading Genesis 1 as a calendar narrative instead of poetry, myth, or a literal scientific account reprioritizes the questions brought to the text and opens new vistas of practical application.
LeFebvre’s well-placed summary statements throughout The Liturgy of Creation facilitate comprehension of his three-part argument that the creation week is a guide for weekly labors and worship (p. 7). Part 1, chapters 1–3, provides the technical calendar details related to a day, the week, the lunar month of 30 days, and the solar year (pp. 16–18). The heavenly lights of day four (Gen 1:14–15) are the clock behind Israel’s calendar, which provided Israel the cadence to steward their land in harmony with the Lord’s provision of seasons and rain to make them fruitful in it (p. 36). Israel’s seven feasts fit within the agricultural program of the nation and align with the recorded dates of the flood and exodus accounts. The festivals brought the community together at key points around harvests and established a diversified economy as an ideal (p. 53).
Part 2, chapters 4–6, examines the twenty-one events given dates in the Pentateuch. These are the “engine” of LeFebvre’s argument (p. 6). They guide the reader to how the Pentateuch arranges calendar dates with Israel’s festival observances instead of the original occurrence date of the events. The dates link a historical memory for liturgical remembrance, not journalistic detail, to the specific festivals that later Israel observed (pp. 60–61). The dates associated with the flood, journey to Sinai, the Tabernacle installation, and journey from Hor to Nebo are scrutinized to demonstrate the writer’s transparent chronological intentions. Part 2 concludes with an investigation of the legal and literary techniques at work behind the methods of assigning the observance dates to the events. According to LeFebvre, Torah is law that contains narrative and not narrative that contains law (pp. 95–96).
Part 3, chapters 7–12, explores the creation week detailed in Genesis 1:1–2:3. LeFebvre’s conclusions sympathize with framework, analogical day, and literary day views of the creation text (p. 7). Accordingly, Genesis 1:1–2:3 is a calendar narrative that presents six ordinary days followed by one set apart as holy, a 6+1=7 pattern (p. 136). A secondary arrangement in which the six ordinary days are grouped into two panels of three for an overall structure of (3+3) +1=7 is proposed. In the first triad of days, תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (“formless and empty”) is reversed. The earth is given order and made fruitful. The second triad of days accommodates the residents of this fruitful world (p. 139). Day 7 is a Sabbath, a holy day, blessed and set aside for rest and anticipation of the world’s good telos (Heb 4:1–13) (p. 192). In summary, the creation week narrative, presented as a calendrical narrative “contains the history of God’s ordering of the world, mapped to Israel’s observance schedule for stewarding that order with labor and worship, without any concern to preserve the event’s original occurrence timing. The 24-hour days of God’s work guide Israel’s sabbath festival observance” (p. 116).
LeFebvre’s research and documentation are exceptional. His writing style is strong and clear. However, he does on occasion fall short of tying research to the targeted conclusion. For example, he deduces that blessing (Gen 1:22) is fundamentally an expression of relationship yet does not fully develop the relationship idea with the living creatures or the relationship involved in the blessing of the seventh day in Gen 2:3 (171–72, 188).
Another example that begs more attention is the connection of Genesis 2:4–25 to the account of 1:1–2:3. Other than brief comments in Part 3, LeFebvre refers to 2:4–9 as the next section of the creation story with need for, and expectation of, fruitfulness (p. 193). It is not clear if LeFebvre views 2:4–25 an additional perspective of the creation week or the next week.
A debatable position within the essentials of LeFebvre’s argument is the classification of the Torah as law, a technical kind of instruction, legal guidance in the rituals, institutions, and regulations that defined Israel as an ordered kingdom (p. 95–96). In chapter 6, LeFebvre acknowledges the use of Torah in contexts of teaching and guidance in addition to commands to be obeyed. However, he subsumes all of it under the genre of law. His appeal to the use of a speech act that declares the legal status of the observance dates fails to identify the authority that declares this new status (p. 105).
The Liturgy of Creation is also an apologetic for a non-scientific approach to Genesis 1:1–2:3. LeFebvre identifies names and organizations in an attempt to pull back Christians from misuse of a scientific approach (pp. 6, 144–45). In this context, LeFebvre also offers constructive commentary on the relationship between faith and science (pp. 208–11).
The Liturgy of Creation is a positive contribution to the creation conversation as well as issues of ancient chronology. Sorting through the calendar details presented by LeFebrve is tedious, but he engages the reader through discussions of vocabulary and dated record keeping. As a result, the reader better understands Israel’s calendar (p. 43). Additionally, his research offers insights into the social and economic aspects of Mosaic era Israel (pp. 41–42, 49).
The plot of the creation week presenting God as the Model Worker ordering creation, bringing fruitfulness and inhabiting it with residents facilitates easy recall for meditation and application. Although the final chapter is somewhat a “catch all” of the author’s closing thoughts, observations related to the rich theology of vocation and sabbath are timely and significant for spiritual formation.
John F. Klem
John F. Klem
Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA
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