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The Meaning Of Biblical Rest


There is much more to the process of creation than what we read in Genesis 1 and 2.  The first two chapters of our Bible were never penned to provide us with a twenty first century detailed scientific explanation of the origin of the material universe.  To be a good student of the Bible we must first attempt to understand Genesis in the way its original Jewish readers were meant to understand it.  That takes some serious study that goes far beyond an oversimplified Sunday school explanation of creation.  In light of this, Genesis 2:2 states that "by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."  Here is the question.  Was God so wiped out and tired from the work of creation that He needed a nap?      


I was raised in conservative Evangelical Christianity in the 1950's and 1960's.  Following God's example, or so we thought, Sunday was all about an afternoon nap sandwiched in between two church meetings and two meals.  As a child I could not watch television or go outside to play.  In my boredom with rest I would wonder if God ever got bored on His day of rest.   


Be assured, God does not get tired, wiped out, or bored, unless He gets bored with our stupidity, and that would be understandable.  Based on some measure of contextual, linguistic, and ancient Near Eastern culture in which Genesis was written, resting for God meant ending the process of creation in order to begin the process by which He would function in and with what He had created.  Rest for God was more about doing something and less about doing nothing.    


John 1:2 states that all things were created by Jesus and without Him nothing was created.  Since Jesus was the agent of creation He should know what the seventh day rest of  Genesis was all about.  I believe He alludes to this in Matthew 11:28 and 29.  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  Was this an invitation for us to spend our lives in relaxation?  According to what Jesus said next, I don't think so.  "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."  The word "yoke," as it would apply to an ox at work in those days, suggests work, not relaxation.  Besides, the rest Jesus spoke of was the rest of the soul, not rest of the body.  Rest in this instance was more about how we do something than not doing anything at all, which I believe reflects the way God rested on the seventh day.   


The writer of the book of Hebrews picks up on the theme of rest in Hebrews 4:1 through 11.  "Since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it ... Now we who have believed enter that rest ... And yet His works have been finished since the creation of the world.  For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: 'On the seventh day God rested from all his works' ... Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it 'Today.'  This He did when a long time later He spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts ... There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for anyone who enters Godís rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His.  Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest."


Like many Bible passages, Hebrews 4:1 through 11 takes time and effort to think through.  Among many things we learn here is that there is a present rest for those who obey and trust their lives with God.  This rest, according to the text, is rooted in God's rest in Genesis 2:2.  There, God completed or rested from His work of creation so He could function alongside of His creation in enacting His purpose in the universe.  Hebrews 4 tells us to follow God's example by ceasing from our humanistic efforts to enact His will.  Rest is about the divine ability for us to function alongside of God in accomplishing His will in creation.     


The Apostle Paul spoke to this issue in Ephesians 2:10.  "For we are Godís handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  God's plan for us has always involved productive work. 


While being raised in Christian Evangelicalism we attempted to follow God's example and do as little as possible on a Sunday.  If we really wanted to follow God's example we would have paid attention to what Jesus said in John 5:17.  "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working."  That's our example. 


From Genesis 2:2, Matthew 11:28 and 29, and Hebrews 4:1 through 11 we learn that entering God's rest has nothing to do with bodily relaxation,  sleeping every Sunday afternoon, or doing nothing.  Biblical rest is all about how we work and less about doing little to nothing.  It is the process by which we share in God's divine ability to function alongside of Him to accomplish His will in His creation.  


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