Author: Ron Graham
A Rest For God’s People
—The Christian sabbath
The writer to the Hebrews compares the statement "God rested on the seventh day from all his work" with the passage where God says of the unfaithful, "I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter my rest".
After God created the world, he rested, indicating that beyond our life in this world we can look forward to a rest with God in heaven. One people rejected that rest, and God swore in his wrath that they would not enter it. Yet he had made it clear that some people would enter it.
So a rest remains for the people of God. It is our Sabbath, and the Day of entering it is coming. We have this hope as an anchor of the soul.
The Hebrew writer places side by side, three passages of scripture to do with God’s rest.
1 The symbolic rest of God
Hebrews 4:4, Genesis 2:2
After he created the earth "God rested on the seventh day from all his work" (Hebrews 4:4, Genesis 2:2).
This occurred right back at the beginning of creation. God created the world in six days. His rest on the seventh day was not because he was weary, but rather to indicate that this world is not all there is to life.
There’s a rest, a peaceful and abundant land, beyond life in this world. God invites all to enter his rest if they will hear his voice and not harden their hearts in rebellion against him.
2 The symbolic promised land of Canaan
Hebrews 4:5, Psalms 95:11
Further down the ages, we come to the story of "the promised land". The people entered Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.
The record says that by the time of Joshua’s death "the Lord gave rest to Israel on every side" (Joshua 21:43-44). This rest, however, was very short-lived.
After generations of slavery in Egypt, God’s people had hoped to enter the land of Canaan, and have rest. They'd hoped to settle in peace and prosperity in their sabbath land. However a whole generation was denied this, they wandered and died in the wilderness because of their disobedience.
When the next generation entered into Canaan, they did not achieve satisfaction, nor did they retain their land. The Hebrew writer points out that Joshua did not really lead the people into any true and lasting rest.
So he concludes, "There remains therefore a rest to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:8-9).
3 Another day beyond these rests
Hebrews 4:7, Psalms 95:7-8
After another long time, God spoke of another day, "Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews 3:7-19, Psalms 95:6-11).
In this "today" the Hebrew writer finds great hope and assurance; because he sees in it the promise remaining of a rest for the people of God.
It's as though God were saying, "They did not enter into my rest, but you can some day, if you will hear my voice today, and you do not provoke me as they did."
A Heavenly Rest
This rest that "remains" is a heavenly one, according to the Hebrew writer. He points out that even the faithful of old, from Abraham onward, were looking for a sabbath rest beyond this world. He says, "They desire a better country, that is a heavenly one"(Hebrews 11:13-16).
These faithful men and women embraced the promises of God as pilgrims on the earth. They were not thinking of the promised land on earth when they believed the promises, but of a homeland a city in heaven.
Even those Israelites who entered the promised land had "no lasting city" (Hebrews 13:14) as the history of Jerusalem testifies.
The Hebrew writer says that here on earth we have no continuing place of rest either, but only in heaven. That is where our sabbath will be. There is an echo here of Isaiah’s words, "and his resting place shall be glorious" (Isaiah 11:10).