God is all about rest. He rests and wholeheartedly wants us to be able to rest as well. “But, Rest? Yeah, right. I’d love to but I just can’t”, “I’m trying but I don’t feel rested”, “I’m getting plenty of sleep, is that the rest He wants for us?”. God certainly wants us to have restful sleep and take a break to stop and smell the roses, but His idea of rest is so much bigger and beautiful than that. God gave us two main ideas for this, Shabbot (Sabbath) and Nuach, (related to Noah’s name): Shabbot is about ceasing or stopping from something. Shabbot is like when the whistle blows in a football game, or when a traffic light turns red. Nuach is like when you kick your shoes off at home and spend time with your friends and family. God has written these ideas into the very fabric of creation and is an intimate part of His plan for humanity.
In the beginning, God intended rest…literally. The first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, has seven words in the original Hebrew. Seven is critical to God’s symbolic pattern for creation and His plans. The story of creation is told through seven days, the seventh being God resting (Genesis 2:2-3). Seven pairs of clean animals for the ark; seven years of labor for Jacob for the hand of Leah and then again for Rachel; Seven years of abundance and then seven years of famine in Egypt during Joseph’s tenure as advisor to the Pharaoh. A complete list of times the Bible makes literary use of the number seven to highlight God’s providence and character are too many remark on here, but one particular use is crucial to understanding God’s rest.
Once the Hebrews became the nation of Israel, God intended for them to use every seventh day, every seventh year, and the year following ‘seven sevens’ (49 years) to enact a period of rest, release, and realignment (Exodus 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-55). See, God wanted the Israelites to be reminded of His grace, compassion and generosity towards them every time they thought about the number seven. It was to invoke the idea of God’s kingdom, the garden of Eden, the messiah…in all, the way God always intended the world to be. The 50th year following the ‘seven sevens’ of years was called the Jubilee. This year was to be a greater and grander version of the rest that occurred every seventh year. During the Jubilee there was no working the land, all property that had been sold was to be returned to the original familial owners, anyone who become poor was to be taken in and cared for as a foreign guest working in your land, not as a slave, and all debts would be cancelled (as also happened every seven years). God reminded them that they were all strangers on earth and that God would provide for them.
Another key theme we see with Israel regarding to rest is their promised land. The promised land is the literal geographic piece of land that occupies most of modern Israel plus a little more (Exodus 23:20-33; 32:13; Leviticus 20:24–26). God provided this land for the Israelites and made it abundant with everything they needed. Here Israel would find rest from their slavery from Egypt and other nations. In setting themselves apart from the nations and resting in God’s provision they were then supposed to bless the nations with God’s love and overabundance. For most Jews, both rest in this life and the next would be connected to the promised land of Israel. This theme of the promised land (sometimes with Jerusalem used representing it) carried on with Christians, especially as the first Christians were Jews (Hebrews 11:8-16). Today we envision heaven and the physical resurrection to come as the promised land where all of humanity faithful to Christ will finally find eternal rest and release from hard work, toil, pain, suffering, loneliness, and death (Revelation 21:1-4).
In the New Testament we see God move forward with His plan for humanity with the most pivotal and important act of His story. God came in the flesh as a child and grew into a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who would fulfill all that He had promised. God knew that we could not bring ourselves rest and that He would show and do for us what He had always intended. Jesus would bring humanity rest since all of the past Old Testament leaders, priests, and kings ultimately fell short in being able to fulfill that promise. Jesus, as God, is lord over the laws of Israel and could show Israel His love and how He would bring them rest (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:14-21). The sabbath, the seventh day of the week was a day for all of Israel to cease from their striving and rest in God’s overabundant provision and to spend time loving others. God’s people had forgotten its true purpose and as humans often do, they created unnecessary complications and rules that took away from God’s true purpose for the sabbath. Jesus intentionally went out of His way to publicly heal people on the Sabbath to do two main things: to show that He is God and the true lord of the Sabbath, and thus the one who reveals the true intent of the sabbath, and to show that He was inaugurating the kingdom of God, and the eternity that would follow. He healed and forgave others to show them the true meaning of rest and renewal that God wanted for Israel, and ultimately all of humanity (Luke 6:1-11).
God didn’t want His people to simply stop working and cease to do anything, especially things He called good. God calls love, healing, mercy, and forgiveness good things, and thus were not only allowed on the sabbath, but encouraged. Any act that brings rest, reconciliation, healing, and community is an act in the true spirit of the sabbath. Jesus gave them a taste of the eternal sabbath that He would return and bring to the world. Israel was always supposed to be His human partners on earth that would act as priests to the nations, bringing them blessings (Exodus 19:5-6). This mission is carried on by any person who follows after Christ and has dedicated their lives to continuing Jesus’ inauguration of His kingdom here on earth. Christians pray and work towards the expansion of the kingdom of God, bringing rest to all nations in joyful hope of the day when God makes all things new, and gives us rest. Christians should not only be agents of rest to the world, but receivers of rest. We should encourage and cultivate a release from past burdens and guilt. A rest from constant worry and anxious planning. An abandonment of self-reliance and worldly success. Our struggles and weariness don’t magically disappear when we start following Christ. As we continue to trust Christ and offer over our pain, struggles, weariness, anxiety, we will find rest in Him more and more. The more we find rest in Christ, the more we can help bring His rest to others.
WRITTEN BY PHIL COSELLI