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.”

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).