GOD’S OFFER OF REST
‘REST’ is a significant theological word in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, there is an emphasis on rest, the loss of rest, and rest given again by God. Rest is from God. Rest is tied to the Promised Land. Rest can also mean Heaven. The lack of rest is equated with the lack of God’s presence. Rest is a complicated word that has variations of meaning depending on the context. When we understand the theological roots of rest, we understand more about human life and the rest to which God calls all human beings.
Rest is a significant thought in Hebrews 3:7-4:13. This thick theological passage begs the believer in Jesus Christ to look back into the Old Testament through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to see the emphasis God the Father makes on ‘rest’ and how it relates to the People of God. The author of Hebrews says it related to the believers he was writing to and to the people who received the Old Testament. It applies to us now.
EXODUS: REST IN THE LAND
Rest was lost because of sin. God, the Creator of Rest, brings the idea of rest to the forefront with His people the Israelites. The Book of Exodus records for us that the People of Israel are enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years and literally and figuratively have no rest. In Exodus 5, as Moses is beginning the back and forth to free Israel, the Pharaoh refuses with these words: “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” (Exodus 5:5, ESV). Pharaoh ordered them back to their burdens. Moses’ mission from God was to lead the people from Egypt and those burdens to a Promised Land. Promised Land is rest from enslavement. In Exodus, the rest is in the land free of a king other than God Himself.
Israel is living out Genesis 3:17-19 under the yoke of slavery to work and work with no rest. Moses will lead them from this horrible situation to a land where God will give them rest. In God delivering Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, they were set free to pursue rest in the Promised Land by following the LORD. God promises Israel that if they follow Him and abide in Him that He would lead them to rest (Exodus 33:14. ESV): “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
In a related passage in Deuteronomy (some passages from Exodus are repeated in Deuteronomy), God promises that He will lead them out of the desert to a last of rest. Deuteronomy 12:10 (ESV): “But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when He gives yourest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety.” The LORD indeed led them from the emptiness of the desert wastes and the Children of Israel came to receive the Land. It is interesting to note that a generation that did not believe God died and did not enter His rest.
This generation of doubters from the exodus time period is the focus of the end of Hebrews chapter 3. Hebrews 3:7-11, 3:19, 4:3-5, and 4:7 all directly link back to the Exodus-Deuteronomic history and the events that shaped the People of God. What does that mean? We understand ‘rest’ better in Hebrews when we look backwards and understand the Old Testament roots of the passage.
QUESTIONS TO THINK ON
How does the idea of ‘rest’ relate to ‘the Promised Land?’
What is directly tied to ‘rest’ in Exodus 33:14 (mentioned above)?
Why did a generation of Israelites not enter rest with God?