Rest

Jesus’ target audience was what we might refer to today as the working class. The segment of the population that was overburdened by taxes and what must have seemed like a never ending daily requirements for more and more of their limited resources. Speaking to a mixed multitude of interested spectators, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). What Jesus was describing was a partnership in which the toils and hardships of life were shared between him and his followers. The yoke, a wooden crosspiece that was fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to a plow or cart that they were to pull, was symbolic of joint labor. Jesus wasn’t asking his followers to go it alone; he was assuring them that he would be by their side, handling life’s challenges along with them.

One of the things that Jesus was trying to clarify was God’s expectations for his children. Jesus didn’t tell his followers that they would have a life of ease, but promised them that life would be easier with his help. Jesus’ statement, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” referred to being used by God. A believer’s burden is the responsible he has for his own moral behavior and his accountability to God for making spiritual progress throughout his life (Galatians 6:4). The purpose of a yoke was to balance out the load so that a larger burden could be handled. The Greek term translated yoke, zophos means “a coupling” (2218). If you think of a couple as being complementary partners, you could say that as a partner, Jesus can provide anything that might be lacking in an individual’s spiritual capabilities.  In order to do God’s will, Jesus was saying that he could supply everything that was necessary to complete the spiritual work that each individual needed to accomplish.

The rest that Jesus invited his followers to take part in was not a vacation from work, but a type of recreation that made work less burdensome. “Christ’s rest is not a rest from work, but in work; not the rest of inactivity but of the harmonious working of all the faculties and affections – of will, heart, imagination, conscience ‘ because each had found in God the ideal sphere for its satisfaction and development” (372). Another way of describing the kind of rest that Jesus wanted his followers to experience would be collaboration. The Apostle Paul depicted collaboration as a “building fitly framed together” (Ephesians 2:21), and also said we are all “members” (Ephesians 5:30) of Christ’s body. In other words, everyone has a part to play in the work of God’s kingdom. When we all join together and do what each of us has been specifically designed by God to do best, our work seems easier and the “burden” (Matthew 11:30) of it much lighter. Therefore, doing God’s will becomes a type of rest or recreation that we want to do more often.

Rest

God designed the world to operate in a state of perpetual motion. The fact that the earth rotates at an approximate speed of 1000 miles per hour on a continual basis demonstrates that humans are wired for activity, but there is also an innate need for us to rest. The example God gave us in his work of creation was six days of activity followed by one day of rest. It says in Genesis 2:3, “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The Hebrew word translated rest, shabath (shaw – bath´) is where the word Sabbath or the concept of a day of rest comes from (7673). God intended rest to be a part of our lives, but very few people understand why it is important.

God did not need to rest after he created the world. The purpose of his rest was to acknowledge the completion of his work, to see that it was finished. The process of ending is important because it shows us that it is possible to complete something from a standpoint of perfection. In fact, the Hebrew word translated perfect, tamiym means complete (8589). When Abraham was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). In other words, God was saying he wanted to bring Abraham to a place of rest or his life to a point of completion. Closely related to the idea of completion is purpose or destiny. When we walk before the LORD, we arrive at the destination he has predetermined to be our place of rest, our perfect ending.

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God wanted them to enter into his rest, which means he wanted them to end up at the same place he was. You could say that God’s temple was his house or his place of residence, but it was really just a marker for the entrance of his Messiah into the world. In order to ensure that his birth would occur and not be overlooked by his chosen people, God designated a specific location for his Messiah to be born. In a sense, you could say that location was God’s place of rest,  but technically it was Jesus birth, and subsequent death, that marked completion of God’s work of salvation. When Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

There was really only one requirement for the Israelites’ Messiah to be born. God’s people had to occupy the territory he had designated for an inheritance to Abraham and his descendants. The problem was that the Promised Land was inhabited by other people and the Israelites couldn’t get rid of them. The ongoing battle between Israel and its surrounding neighbors continued until the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. After they were released from captivity, the Israelites were reluctant to return to their homeland because they feared being overtaken again. The Jews were dispersed throughout the Persian Empire when Esther became queen. After Haman the Agagite’s plot to kill all of God’s people was uncovered and stopped, it says in Esther 9:16 that the Jews had rest from their enemies.

The defeat of Haman brought rest or completion to the Jews because his death fulfilled the last Old Testament commandment as well as prophecy related to the Israelites’ occupation of the Promised Land before the Messiah’s birth. It says in Deuteronomy 25:17-19, “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.”

Rest

Five years ago, when my dad died, I reached a point in my life where I felt it was time for me to settle down. The decade before that had been a restless one. I had moved eight times between three different states, changed jobs as many times, and battled all the demons of my past until I became free from the guilt and shame of a lifetime of mistakes. My dad had a strong influence on me when I was growing up and he was the person most responsible for my way of thinking about things. His death was fairly sudden and unexpected, so it took awhile for me to realize that my dad was really gone, but when I did, I was relieved. It was as if the dark cloud that had been hanging over my life finally disappeared and I was able to hope for the first time that my life could be different.

Prior to Solomon beginning construction on the Temple of God, a certain condition had to exist in the land of Israel. It says in 1 Kings 5:4, “But now the LORD my God hath given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent.” The word translated adversary, sâtân (saw – tawn´) means an opponent. In some cases it stands for Satan, “the arch-enemy of good” (7854), but in this case, satan is referring to the people surrounding Israel that fought against them to try and keep the Israelites from dwelling in the Promised Land. An evil occurrent could be a random act of violence or attack that drew the Israelites into battle. This happened continually during king David’s reign. What Solomon was probably saying was that the Israelites had no more need to fight. They were safe and secure in the land of Israel.

I believe a part of being in the will of God has to do with where we live. In order for certain things to happen, I think we have to be in the place where God has planned for them to happen. When I moved into my current residence, I felt it was the place where God wanted me to be. Knowing that I was where God wanted me to be made me feel safe and secure. I was able to settle down because I had found my place in the world and felt I belonged there.

Entering a time of rest

“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1). The word translated provoked in this verse is the same word translated moved in 2 Samuel 24:1 where it says, “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.”

It would appear that both the LORD and Satan caused David to number or take a census of Israel’s army. The Hebrew word cuwth (sooth) means to prick or stimulate and by implication to seduce (5496).

After David instructed Joab to number the people, Joab asked him, “why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?” (2 Samuel 24:3). The word translated delight, chaphets (chaw – fates´) indicates the prompting of the heart to take a certain course of action (2654), so you could say the LORD put it on David’s heart to number the people.

“Satan is an adversary or plotter, one who devises means for opposition” (7854). As in the situation with Job, Satan directly attacked David, but he did it through a completely different means. Satan used David to bring judgement on Israel. It is possible that God was behind Satan’s attack because it says in 2 Samuel 24:1 that he was angry with Israel. “God took direct action to test David to help him learn a vital lesson. God tests believers to help them make the right choices and not depend on their own human strength” (7854).

God was preparing Israel for a time a of rest. He wanted them to settle down and cease from military activity. (2 Samuel 22:9). As David’s death approached, a transition was taking place so that his son Solomon could establish a temple, “to build a house for the LORD God of Israel” (1 Chronicles 22:6).

David also commanded all the princes of Israel to help Solomon his son, saying, Is not the LORD your God with you? and hath he not given you rest on every side” for he hath given the inhabitants of the land into mine hand; and the land is subdued before the LORD, and before his people. (1 Chronicles 22:17-18)

The word translated rest, yether implies superiority or preeminence (3499). The Israelites had tread down or subdued their enemies to the point where they no longer needed to worry about the size of their army. It was a time for them to focus on worshipping the LORD and tending to their homes and families.

David concluded his final command to the princes of Israel with these words, “Now set your heart and soul to seek the LORD your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19). In essence, what David was instructing the people to do was give their hearts to God. The idea being that they would immerse themselves in his word and learn how to do things his way. They were to discover the will of God and do it.

Harden not your heart

It is natural for us to want our own way. Everyone has likes and dislikes, preferences that guide our behavior. God’s preferences are established through election, a divine selection process that results in one person being favored over another (1589) such as with Jacob and Esau. “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13).

God’s ways are likened to a road that represents a course of life or mode of action (1870). When Jesus walked on the earth, he followed a particular pathway that he referred to as the will of his Father. Jesus said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:39). The Greek word translated will, thelema (thel´ – ay – mah) means choice, “what one wishes or has determined shall be done” (2307).

In Psalm 95, God is referred to as our Maker. It says in verses 6 – 7, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” The act of kneeling or bowing down before the LORD is an act of submission. It shows that we are willing to honor his preferences above our own.

In Psalm 95, we are instructed, “To day if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:7-8). In order to hear God’s voice, we must give him our undivided attention (8085). The word translated harden, qâshâh (kaw – shaw´) means to be dense. It conveys the idea of not being able to get through to someone. “This word marks the restlessness, impatience, petulance, and irritability with which Pharaoh’s course of action was characterized while he was resisting the urgent appeals of both Moses and his own people” (7185).

Many times when God speaks to us, we don’t pay attention because we are too busy or have already decided what we think will work best for us. It took the Israelites 40 years to get to the point where they were willing to give God’s way a chance. They vacillated between going forward to the Promised Land and heading back to Egypt where they had been slaves for hundreds of years. The bottom line was they didn’t understand God’s ways and were unwilling to step out in faith (Psalm 95:10).

A cry of distress

God, the creator of the universe, has made it possible for everyone to know him and to have access to his strength. All that one has to do is call upon his name and the LORD answers. Even babies with very little intellectual capability are able to access God’s power and defeat their enemies.

David said, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). The word translated still, shabâth (shaw – bath´) means to repose or desist from exertion (7673). In other words, stillness is the opposite of work, the effort to accomplish a task.

It may be hard to imagine that a baby has enemies, but from the day a person is born, there is a battle going on in the spiritual realm for the soul of that person. In the most basic form of communication, a baby is able to call on the name of the LORD and receive God’s protection. The baby that cries out in distress is not only heard by her mother, but by her heavenly father, the one who created her.

I’ve got to stop this

When the Israelites reached the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for 40 years, an alliance was formed between the tribes of Rueben and Gad and half of the descendants of Joseph that were born to his oldest son Manasseh. Each of these men, Rueben, Gad, and Manasseh, were first born children that had lost or not received the blessing that typically went to the first male child in a family. These tribes did not dwell in the Promised Land, but chose to occupy territory outside the borders on the other side of the Jordan River.

Even though they did not cross over the Jordan River with their brethren to occupy the land that they had inherited, they overcame the inhabitants of the territory they requested from Moses and were able to control the land until they were taken int captivity by the Assyrians. The difference between the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and Manasseh and the rest of the Israelites is that they did not return to their homes after their captivity.

The Israelites were taken into captivity because they did not observe the Sabbath as God had commanded them to. The law about the Sabbath recorded in Exodus 23:10-11 said, “And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: But the seventh year thou shalt let is rest and be still.” Although God is perfect, he is not a perfectionist. When he created our world, he limited himself to six days of word, then he ceased from his activity. God commanded man to follow his example because he knew that we would not want to stop producing of our own free will.

Man by nature is greedy and selfish. His drive to accomplish things and be successful makes it very difficult to stop working once he gets started. The main reason God stopped working after he created the world was so that he could do something else, go on the next thing so to speak. God is not sitting idle in heaven. He is working, a different kind of work than creating the universe.

The Sabbath was designed to be a transition point, a continual shifting of gears so that progress could be made. Instead of doing the same thing over and over, a person could stop one activity and start another. The Sabbath was intended to be like a period at the end of a sentence. Without the period, the sentence keeps going and eventually becomes confusing and illogical. Many people reach the end of their work life and wonder about their careers, why did I do that for so long; why didn’t I stop 20 years ago?

The captivity of Israel was a forced rest in which the people had to leave their homes and possessions and live in the territory of their captors. The purpose of their captivity was to refocus the Israelites attention on what really mattered, their relationship with God. During their captivity, the Israelites were no longer free to worship God and could not make sacrifices to him as they had in the Promised Land. They witnessed pagan rituals and were restricted from warfare.

It is not known why no organized return took place from the Assyrian captivity, but it may have been because the tribes of Rueben, Gad, and Manasseh never regained their focus. Without God’s blessing, these people lacked purpose and had no vision for their future. It is possible that once their work was interrupted by captivity, they could not start over and did not know how to do anything other than what they were told to in Assyria.

Although the Ruebenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh never returned, their land was repopulated by a mixed race of people that became known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans were despised by the Israelites and travel through their land was avoided at all costs, but during one of his trips to Galilee, Jesus passed through the land and stopped to talk to a woman that had come to draw water from Jacob’s well. During their conversation, “Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life: (John 4:13-14).

The Samaritan woman Jesus spoke to was stuck in the past. Jacob’s well had existed for hundreds of years and was a symbol of the prosperity he and his family enjoyed before the famine that drove them into Egypt for survival. Since then, Moses had delivered the Israelites from bondage and brought them to the Promised Land, and yet, the woman was still living a meager existence, struggling to survive. Jesus later revealed himself as the Messiah and let the woman know that her focus on the past had caused her to miss the most important event on God’s calendar.

Paul talks about entering into a permanent rest in Hebrews Chapter 4. “For we which have believed do enter into rest” (Hebrews 4:3). The rest that Paul is speaking of is not a result of our own effort, but Christ’s completed work on the cross. “God’s rest is entered when the believer is confidently assured within and outwardly lives peaceably in the assurance of God’s daily provision” (2663). This rest is prompted by a realization that we cannot reach perfection, that our own works will fall short and the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10).