Entering God’s Rest.
Ezra 7-8, Hebrews 4
So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. – Hebrews 4:11 NLT
Ezra would lead a remnant of Israelites on a 900-mile journey from the land of Babylon to Jerusalem that would take four long months. He clearly knew that God was behind this endeavor because he had seen God bring it all about. King Artaxerxes had decreed that Ezra would lead a group of Jews back to the land of promise and had provided funding for the trip. Ezra’s response was, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the kings mighty officers” (Ezra 7:27-28 ESV). Ezra was encouraged by what he had seen his God do. He knew the hand of God was one him, so he would gather the people together and plan for the trip that God had ordained. It would be hard. It would be long. It would be dangerous. So he called the people to fast and pray, seeking God’s divine protection and “a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21 ESV). And God heard their prayers and He answered. Four months after having left Babylon, they would arrive in Jerusalem, tired, but thankful to God for His hand in making their trip possible. “The hand of our God was one us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (Ezra 8:31-32 ESV).
But not everyone made the trip. Not every Jew was willing to leave the safety of Babylon to make the long, arduous trip back to Jerusalem. Many had grown comfortable with their lifestyle in captivity. A great many of the Jews had been born in Babylon and had never set foot in the land of Judah. So they were reluctant to make the trip. Ezra even had a difficult time finding enough Levites to return with him. This was the tribe God had appointed to serve in the Temple. They were the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel, and yet when Ezra gathered all the people to prepare for the trip to Jerusalem, he said, “I found there none of the sons of Levi” (Ezra 8:15 ESV). Not everyone shared Ezra’s enthusiasm and optimism for returning to the land, even though it was in direct fulfillment of God’s promises.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God was orchestrating all the events in such a way that His divine will was being fulfilled just as He had planned. Once again, He would use a pagan king to accomplish His will. He would use King Artaxerxes’ fear of divine retribution to motivate him to send the people of God back to the land. Artaxerxes would write, “Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons” (Ezra 7:23 ESV). This great and powerful king feared God. His actions were motivated by self-protection. We don’t know how God communicated His divine will to Artaxerxes, but it is clear that this man was not willing to anger God by disobeying His will. And yet, there would be countless Jews who would refuse to return to the land. They would choose remain in captivity, even though God was providing them with a miraculous opportunity to return to the land He had given them many years earlier. God was faithfully keeping His promise to return them to the land, but many of them would refuse to go. The people of God would reject the offer of God for His divine protection, provision and peace. After 70 years in captivity, He was offering them the chance to experience His rest and peace once again. But they would refuse.
What does this passage reveal about man?
And yet Ezra and his small band of faithful followers would make the trip. They would take God up on His offer and walk the 900 miles back to Jerusalem. They were willing to suffer the dangers and difficulties all along the way, with their kids in tow, the treasures given to them by King Artaxerxes hidden among them, and their sights set on their final destination. The writer of Hebrews addresses another group of God’s people, the believing Jews who were living out their faith during difficult days, surrounded by all kinds of opposition and enemies. These Christian Jews were finding it difficult to remain faithful to God’s call on their lives. They were being tempted to give up and give in to the pressures to compromise their faith. So the writer reminded the, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:1-2 ESV). He uses the history of their own people to remind them of the need to remain true to their calling. Their ancestors, who had made the trip from Egypt to the land of promise under the direction of Moses, had failed to enter the land the first time. When they had arrived at the edge of the land, they discovered it was filled with “giants.” So rather than trust God and enter, they gave in to their fears and turned away. That entire generation of Jews would die off in the wilderness as they wandered for the next 40 years. The author uses this historic event was a warning. “ Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 4:6-7 ESV). He strongly encourages them to remain obedient and faithful, and to “strive to enter tha rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 11:11 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
The rest spoken of in this passage is a future rest. It has to do with the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises of eternal life. He is speaking of our final inheritance, set aside for us by God, and made available to us by our relationship with Jesus Christ. Peter reminds us of the nature of this inheritance. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT). In this life, we are to live with our hopes set on what is to come. This world is not our home. The things of this earth are a mere shadow of what is to come. Our expectations of greater things to come should motivate us to remain faithful in this life – regardless of the difficulties we may face along the way. Peter goes on to say, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT). Keep you eye in the prize. One day you will enter that rest. But in the meantime, stay focused. Stay faithful. Keep walking. Keep trusting.
Father, help me to never lose sight of what really matters. Don’t let me make this world my home. I don’t want to be like those Jews who were willing to stay in captivity when they had been given the chance to experience Your power, provision and peace. They were unwilling to step out in faith and suffer the pains of the journey, but they missed out on Your rest. While I know I can’t lose my salvation or do anything to cause You to disinherit me, I don’t want to be unfaithful or ungrateful for all that You have done and are going to do for me in the future. I want to remain true. I want to walk in faith. I want to trust You through it all until You accomplish it all, just as You have planned and promised. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men