The Day Of Rest The creation of mankind is not the climax of creation. Creation moves towards something beyond itself – to the day of rest. The purpose of creation is not in itself, but is intended to glorify God. The climax of creation is not in the process of creating. The end towards which creation moves is the day of rest in which creation enjoys God. After being occupied for six days on the “work of creating,” God rested from “all His work” (Gen. 2:1-2 NIV). This demonstrates that God is truly sovereign – not only is He capable of creating, He is also capable of not creating. He creates because He chooses to, not because He’s compelled to. The creation account foreshadows the gospel’s core. God does all the work in our creation; but we are created just in time to enjoy the rest. God works all week before He has a day off; but our week starts with rest. Our work is in the context of having already rested in God’s work. The Old Covenant Christians tend to have a low opinion of the Jewish rules and regulations about Sabbath-keeping, because the Sabbath was the major point of conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, and this has colored our judgment about the Sabbath itself. We forget that Jesus didn’t condemn the Sabbath, only the legalisms that had obscured its purpose. But if we ignore rabbinic teaching about the Sabbath and concentrate on the Scriptures themselves, we can see God’s purposes for the day of rest.
Day For Worship: What did the Old Testament mean by worship? Was it merely a ritual, a formality, and the Sabbath rest just an enforced idleness? Psalm 92 shows that the Sabbath was: a time of joy; a time to give thanks to God; a time to enjoy the work of His hands, rather than relying on the work of their own hands; a time to think about God’s plan, rather than making plans of their own; a time to declare God’s righteousness, and remind themselves that there was no other rock on which to build their lives.
Day For Imitating God: God rested on the seventh day. Those created in God’s image were to do as He did. The seventh day was a reminder not to be so pre-occupied with things of this world that they forgot their heavenly role model (Ex. 20: 8-11).
Sign Of God’s Grace: Notice that the benefit of the rest is extended to foreigners and animals. These foreigners did not necessarily trust in God, and the animals didn’t even understand the concept. Yet they were to enjoy the benefit of God’s covenant too. God’s grace was extended to all, even those who did not merit it.
Restoration, Forgiveness And Release: Every seventh year was a year of rest for the land and every fiftieth year was a Jubilee when slaves were set free (Lev. 25). Those called to live out God’s image were to forgive and release as God did (Dt. 15:1-2,12,15).
But the release provisions went even further. These provisions were of great benefit to individuals; but what of the farmer who had to sell his land to pay debts? In an agrarian society, once you lost land, your family would be forever landless, generation after generation.
The land represented God’s rest. No one is ever to be utterly cut off from the rest (Lev. 25:8-28). No matter how poor, how indebted, how enslaved, how disinherited; all of God’s people could look forward to a full and complete restoration of their birthright among their brethren.
Fulfillment Of Promises: Joshua said to the Israelites that settled east of the Jordan, “The Lord your God is giving you rest, and is giving you this land” (Josh. 1:13). This verse links rest with the promises given Abraham.
Sign Of Membership: The covenant with God was not just a matter of individual piety, but a statement of being part of God’s people: “Whoever does work on the Sabbath day shall be cut off from his people” (Ex. 31:14).
The Law generally, and the Sabbath specifically, also governed relationships between the powerful and the dependent in the community. The commandment itself insisted that a slave, even an ox, must be given rest. The rights of the powerful were limited by the rights of the dependent, and not the other way round.
Sign Of The Whole Covenant: Look at all the different aspects of the covenant that were bound up, in one way or another, with the concept of the Sabbath rest! God Himself explained the Sabbath as the sign of the covenant as a whole. To observe the Sabbath was to observe the covenant; to neglect the Sabbath was to neglect the covenant of which the Sabbath was a sign (Ex. 31:13-17). It is also easy to see why Jesus aroused so much rage when He brushed aside the Pharisees’ legalisms, built up to “protect” the Sabbath from unintentional transgression.
God’s Craving: God had chosen Zion for His own rest (Ps. 132:13-14). Unfortunately, Israel was not righteous, and God could not abide unrighteousness. As long as God’s people were unrighteous, they could not enter God’s rest. But as long as God was their God, He would not leave them. Thus God was considered to be wandering in the wilderness no less than the Israelites; God was in exile in Babylon no less than His people. God craved rest no less than His people – this God who suffers with His people for righteousness’ sake.
Isaiah prophesied that there was coming an Israelite who would be righteous, upon whom God could rest (Isa. 11:2-12). The rabbis used this passage and others to teach that when God found His rest, He would be bound by His own justice to give rest to His people. This was one of the reasons for the minute legalisms in their teachings; they were trying to bring forward God’s rest by their own righteousness.
The New Covenant
Let’s look at how the New Testament takes up this last point: God craving an Israel in whom He could rest. Matthew is the gospel most concerned with showing Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy. His readers would have known the rabbinic teaching. Here he tells of God’s Spirit resting on Jesus, and God’s being pleased (Mt. 3:16-17). The One righteous Israelite, the Messiah, had come! Surely the rest is on its way! Every meaning of that word through all history is now about to be fulfilled! Let’s work back through the previous points and see how Jesus does it all.
Sign Of The Whole Covenant: Jesus said many things that shocked the Jewish leaders, such as, “Take My yoke upon you, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29). A pious Jew would talk about “the yoke of the Law,” meaning the work God had set for them. The Council of Jerusalem also referred to Jewish requirements as “a yoke” (Acts 15:10). So here Jesus was saying, “Put yourself under Me, not the Law, and I will give you the rest that the Law promised.”
In other words, to come to Jesus is to enter a new covenant – Jesus is the new covenant. Immediately after saying this (Mt. 11:29), Jesus’ disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath, challenging the Sabbath rest of the old covenant. The contrast is deliberate: which yoke do you commit yourself to, which rest do you look for? Paul referred to this comparison when he wrote, “Let no one judge you regarding food, drink, or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).
Sign Of Membership: So if Jesus sums up in Himself everything that the old covenant promised, who are the new people of God? In Christ, Christians become God’s new people (1 Pet. 2:10). Paul says “You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). If you are not in Christ, you have no hope of tasting God’s rest.
Fulfillment Of The Promises: But what of the promises God made to His Old Testament people? Did He turn His back on them? Paul said, “That promise which was made to the fathers, God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33). The promise of the Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus, and through Him all of God’s promises will be fulfilled.
Restoration, Forgiveness And Release: Jesus’ first public proclamation in the synagogue at Nazareth was to “proclaim liberty to the captives, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk. 4:18-19). The “acceptable year” carried the meaning of the Jubilee year, which meant the freeing of slaves, forgiveness of debt, and restoration of birthright land. Jesus frees people from slavery to sin.
Sign Of God’s Grace: John wrote, “The Law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17). The old covenant was full of God’s grace, from beginning to end. But the grace that comes through Jesus is so much greater that in comparison the old covenant looks hollow.
Day For Imitating God: After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:15). Paul says to the Ephesians that they should be “imitators of God,” who gives gifts to His people so we, the body of Christ, will come to “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 5:1; 4:13).
But there is a big difference here. Whereas in the old covenant we were to imitate God at rest, in the new we are to imitate God’s creative and compassionate work, as we rest in God’s compassionate work of making us a new creation. So resting is the first step in a true imitation of God; once we have rested in Him, the second step is to become like Him. He is our example, who says, “the Son can do nothing of Himself; but what He sees the Father do, the Son does in like manner” (Jn. 5:19).
Day For Worship: And we close the circle – we come back to worship. The day of rest is still a day for worship. But how do we worship now? To David, worship was a time of joy. It still is for us. A time to give thanks to God for His love, His favor, His mercy. How could we not join with David in this? We see it so much better in Jesus than David could have imagined!
For us it is a time to enjoy the work of God’s hands in providing for our needs, rather than working with our own hands to get what we need. We see even better, now that Jesus’ work has gained us everything, while our own work can gain us nothing of eternal value!
For us it is a time to consider God’s plans, rather than making our own. And how much greater are God’s plans as revealed to us in Jesus. A time to declare God’s righteousness; and how much better is this shown in Jesus than in anything in David’s time!
Other Aspects Of Rest
Sign Of God’s Ownership: The Israelites were reminded in the year of Jubilee that they were God’s tenants of the land, while believers have been reminded by Paul that they have been bought at a high price – paid at the cross of Calvary (Lev. 25:23; 1 Cor. 6:20).
Sign Of Liberation: On the Sabbath the Israelites were not only to remember God’s rest in creation, but that He rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Likewise, God has promised to liberate creation from decay (Dt. 5:14-15; Rom. 8:19-21).
Sign Of Our Hope: The Israelites were promised an inheritance, while the Lord promises rest for those who suffer for His sake (Dt. 12:9; 2 Th. 1:7).
Demonstration Of Trust: God made special provision for the Israelites traveling across the desert by providing beforehand enough manna for them not to need to gather on the Sabbath day. And they were not to work on the Sabbath during the plowing season or during harvest. Believers are promised, “will He not also … graciously give us all things?” (Ex. 16:18-24; 34:21; Rom. 8:32). For us it is a demonstration that we are not slaves, but redeemed. The children of Israel were redeemed from slavery, while believers are adopted as sons into God’s family (Dt. 5:15; Rom. 8:15).
We have looked at 13 aspects of the day of rest in the Bible. From creation God has been offering rest to mankind. There is an eternal rest for the people of God – (Heb. 4:1-11). It is a day of rest that will never end.
Have you been diligent regarding that rest or careless, like the children of Israel, who died in the desert? Fortunately, the invitation is still open.
By Bob Springett
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org