God’s Promise of Rest – Part 1

Jer 6:16 – This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (NIV)

  • God promises rest to His people. This is the promise we will focus our attention on this month. God’s intention is described in the image of rest. What does that mean to you? Do you ever yearn for a period of rest? Jeremiah’s words depict a traveler who has lost his way, and is told to ask those who know where the old paths are… follow the good way and you will find rest.
  • The human experience is an ongoing need for rest. Not just physically, although that is a significant ongoing need, but for emotional and spiritual rest as well. The image and meaning of rest in the bible is rich.

I. Rest in the Creation: The story of the rest God promises begins with creation. “By the seventh day God completed His work which he had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Gen.2:2-3)

A. God’s rest on the seventh day of the creation week is no incidental part of that narrative. The completion of creation in 2:1 leads naturally to God’s rest in 2:2, which in turn naturally leads to the sanctification of the seventh day in 2:3. It is clear, then, that Moses intended to show that the origin of the Sabbath Day law of Exodus lay in God’s rest at the end of the creation week. It was an integral part of the original order of things.

1. God did not rest because He was exhausted. “the Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired” ( 40:28).

2. Nor just because He was completely finished working. Jesus plainly said that God has been working since the creation, including on the Sabbath day ( 5:16-17). Even the Mosaic Sabbath was not a complete cessation of all activity. Rest then, is something more.

B. The last thing God did before He rested was He “created man in His own image (1:27). Man was the conclusion of creation as only man was endowed with a spirit capable of fellowship with God who Himself is spirit.

C. Note also that immediately after the statement about God resting on the seventh day (Gen. 2:3) comes the more detailed description of the garden and God’s conditions for man’s sustenance and fellowship with Him. They just needed to trust in God to continue in this rest. God’s intention to provide of man’s fellowship with Him is the foundation of the Sabbath rest. God’s rest must be understood in light of this sequence.

D. When God entered into His rest after creating the (world, it was with the intention of enjoying fellowship with the man. In such an environment God had made it possible for man to live without giving all his time, energy, and thought to staying alive. Given their circumstances, it should have been relatively easy for them to trust and rely upon God.

II. Rest for Israel: The fellowship God wished to have with man did not materialize. Adam and Eve were deceived into a distrust of God, sinned, and were expelled from Eden. No mention of the Sabbath rest until the time of the Exodus. After Israel crossed the Red Sea and entered into the wilderness, God began to lead them to Sinai where He would enter into a covenant with them, a covenant that created (and had provisions to maintain) a fellowship between them and God.

A. Israel’s Rest in the wilderness: Exodus 16 – On the way to Sinai God began to feed them with manna, and with the coming of the manna came the first mention of a Sabbath rest since the creation. The command to do no work at all did not come at this time, but it certainly is foreshadowed here. God said that on the seventh day no manna would come), thus making the work of gathering manna impossible.

• Exodus 16:4-5 – 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.5 And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.”

• Ex 16:21-2621 So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted. 22 And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. 23 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.'” 24 So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. 25 Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.”

1. On the sixth day the Israelites were to gather twice as much as they normally needed. Only on the sixth day would the manna not rot on the next day (16:5, 19f 24). So the Israelites gathered no manna on the seventh day (for there was none to gather), and Moses records “so the people rested on the seventh day” ( 16:30).

2. There are two important things to notice from this account.

a. The Sabbath rest was a time when the Israelites were relatively free from the concerns of their physical existence. It was the day they lived by God’s hand and not their own. This echoes scene in the garden of Gen. 2.

b. The manna was provided so they might not be distracted with their survival and devote their attention to God. The Sabbath was a day in which they were called upon to demonstrate faith and trust in God. This was an opportunity for Israel to live by faith in God, which was the very thing that God had desired from man since the creation.

B. Israel’s Rest in worship: The Law revealed at Sinai made the connection between Sabbath and fellowship with God more explicit. While there is much about the Mosaic Sabbath regulations to notice, we will have to content ourselves with a few key considerations.

1. The Sabbath regulations in Exodus 31 come immediately after the instructions for building the tabernacle in chapters 25-30. The Sabbath was about worship, just as the tabernacle was about worship.

2. The worship character of the Sabbath is seen in the fact that the Law required additional sacrifices for the Sabbath day (Num. 28:9-10). In other words, there was “more” worship on the Sabbath day than on the other six days – Man and God enjoying each other’s fellowship.

a. The opportunity to enjoy what Adam rejected was now being given to Israel. God was still seeking to enter into His rest, His fellowship with man. God was providing the means by which Israel could enter into God’s rest.

3. The Sabbath regulations reached their Old Testament climax, as it were, in the instructions for the Sabbath year (Lev. 25:3) and the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-28) The Sabbath year was every seventh year, and the Jubilee came after every seventh Sabbath year (or every fifty years).

a. In the Sabbath year (every 7th year) Israel was not to plant crops. In an agricultural society, this surely was a tremendous challenge! God’s promise was that the land would produce enough on its own to sustain them, and Israel was called upon to trust God and His promise (and live like it). That is, Israel was to practice for an entire year what they normally practiced for one day each week (especially as seen in the Sabbath regulation given when the manna came).

b. The Jubilee year (every 50th year) is specifically called a year of release (Lev. 25:10). Land that had been forfeited through debt was returned to the original clan that owned it, and people who had become slaves because of debt were freed from service. Also, like the Sabbath year, there was to be no planting or sowing.

c. Just as Eden provided Adam and Eve with all they needed, and just as God provided an abundance of manna on the sixth day to cover Israel’s needs on the Sabbath, so would it be on a larger scale in the Jubilee cycle. We should also note that the Jubilee cycle was observed on a smaller scale in the Feast of Weeks. The fiftieth day (that is, the day after seven Sabbath days) after the harvest of the firstfruits was a special day of worship on which no work was allowed and special sacrifices were offered (Lev. 23:10-21).

C. Israel’s Rest in the Promised Land. The promise of rest for Israel is also seen in the promise and reception of the land of Canaan. When God promised rest in the land, He was not promising a cessation of activity.

1. Rest in the Biblical sense does not mean a cessation of activity, but instead refers to “the ideal living condition in the promised land” (Robinson 42) where one’s activity is not burdensome but is blessed by God and productive. They would still have to work, but their labors would bring bountiful harvests (see Deut. 28:2-13).

a. The character of the land itself as fertile and productive, “flowing with milk and honey,” provided a measure of this rest to Israel, and God’s provisions for His people in the Sabbath and Jubilee years were extraordinary demonstrations of this very idea.

b. The word rest also indicated a “settling down” or permanent dwelling. This same word for rest (nuach) is used when God speaks of Zion as His resting-place. That is, Zion was the place where God settled among His people. This passage is especially instructive, because Zion was not just the place where God Himself rested, but was preeminently the place where God and Israel met in fellowship, and the erection of a permanent structure there for God’s dwelling-place indicated that God was settling down in the midst of Israel for a long-term relationship.

c. Living in a land where one could enjoy a continuing situation of freedom from oppressive labor specifically meant that time would be available for the worship of God. This is especially apparent from Deuteronomy 12:9-11, where Israel’s entering into rest means going to the land where God would be worshiped. The text says “for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you. When you cross the Jordan and live in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security, then it shall come about that the place in which the Lord your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution of your hand, and all your choice votive offerings which you will vow to the Lord.”

d. While the land and God’s rest are closely connected in the Old Testament, they are not equal terms. That is, God wanted Israel to rest in the land, and the land would be the place where the rest would be achieved, but one could live in the land without necessarily entering into God’s rest. As Oswalt says, “The land was a metaphor, God was the reality” (1135).

2. Rest, then, involves the ideas of

a. God’s provision of one’s needs,

b. a resulting freedom from constant attention to one’s physical needs

c. which produces both a condition of peace and time for fellowship with God

d. expressed especially in worship,

e. and enjoyment of these conditions over one’s lifetime.

3. All of these aspects of rest were to be found ultimately in God. Oswalt has said it well: “What is the Biblical understanding of rest? It is the rest of faith, a life of trust, belief, and obedience in God. In him who is eternal there is permanence; in him who has no rival there is security; in him who has made us in his own image there is freedom; in him who com bines complete power, complete holiness, and complete love there is tranquility” (1135).

Conclusion: The Sabbaths of the Mosaic code were observed only periodically (once every seven days or every seven years). and were therefore simply shadows and not the ultimate expression of God’s rest. God’s promise of rest for His people in the OT was central to His covenant with them. He earnestly desired to share His rest with them, but they would not keep the covenant. They missed out on the rest He had provided. Tonight we will consider the picture of rest in the words of the NT, particularly Hebrews 4. There yet remains a rest for the people of God. God has provided more through Christ.

Are you in Christ? Do you find rest in Him?