The Requirement of Rest

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3 ESV

With the opening of chapter two, Moses begins a more detailed synopsis of the seven days of creation with a special emphasis on the creation of the first man and woman. The first three verses provide a summary of all that was described in chapter one. In six days’ time, God had finalized His creation plan. He had made everything that He had planned to make. And with His work done, God rested. But God was not in need of rest because He was exhausted from His efforts. He had spoken the entire universe into existence.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. – Genesis 1:3 ESV

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters”…. And it was so. – Genesis 1:6, 7 ESV

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:9 ESV

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:11 ESV

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.”… And it was so. – Genesis 1:14, 15 ESV

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” – Genesis 1:20 ESV

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:24 ESV

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. – Genesis 1:26 ESV

God spoke, and what it was so. He sovereignly declared something to come into existence, and it happened just as He said. No effort was exhausted. No energy was expended. No rest was necessary. What God did on the seventh day was cease from any further act of creating. He had done all that He was going to do. His creation was complete and perfect. This divine pattern of work and rest was meant to set the standard for the first man and woman God created. Adam and Eve, made in the image of God, were to emulate His work ethic but also model His example of rest or cessation from work. God had given them a very clear mandate.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

And as chapter two will reveal, Adam and Eve were given very specific instructions concerning their “work” of managing God’s creation. According to verse 5, they were to “work the ground.” God had created a lush garden filled with fruit trees, which became the first couple’s home and the primary focus of their stewardship.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. – Genesis 1:15 ESV

Moses indicates that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:3 ESV). He purposefully set that day apart from the other six. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is קָדַשׁ (qāḏaš), and it means “to consecrate, to set apart, to regard as sacred.” By resting on the seventh day and then declaring it to be holy or set apart,  God was establishing His expectations for humanity. They would be expected to follow His pattern of work and rest. This explanation of the “genesis” of sabbath rest would have resonated with Moses’ original audience. He had repeatedly given the people of Israel God’s commands concerning the Sabbath.

“This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” – Exodus 16:23 ESV

You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. – Exodus 31:14-15 ESV

The real point of the Sabbath was to teach the people of Israel to rely upon God. They were not meant to live self-sufficient lives, depending solely upon their own resources or capabilities. By ceasing from work on the seventh day, they were demonstrating their complete dependence and reliance upon God. They were resting in His ability to provide for all their needs. God never intended mankind to be autonomous and self-reliant. While He gave them dominion over His creation and delegated to them the stewardship of all that He had made, He expected them to remain submissive to His will and subject to His gracious care. He could and would provide for them.

The entire creation had been designed with mankind in mind. The placement of the sun and moon to determine the times and seasons, the presence of life-giving oxygen in the atmosphere, the abundance of edible plants, and the provision of a day of rest, all point to God’s gracious care and concern for humanity, the pinnacle of His creation.

From the very beginning, God desired that His children would enjoy His rest. Their partnership with Him would be filled with responsibilities but marked by a constant supply of rest and restoration. Adam was made in the image of God, but he was not divine. He could emulate God’s work ethic but would require rest. He could steward God’s creation but would need constant sustenance to maintain his energy.

From day one, God has desired to provide His children with rest. But the book of Genesis provides a sad recounting of mankind’s refusal to remain in a state of rest and reliance upon God. The garden was meant to be a place of unbroken fellowship with God where every possible human need was graciously provided for. There would be no want. There would be no lack. There would be no need to seek sustenance from anywhere or from anyone else.

But mankind has repeatedly demonstrated a sad proclivity to seek rest and comfort from all the wrong places. Ever since the beginning, humanity has displayed a self-reliant tendency to stubbornly refuse God’s offer of rest. Rather than humbly relying upon God’s all-sufficient power to supply every need, mankind has chosen the path of autonomy and self-determination.

The author of Hebrews recounts a time when the people of Israel had stood on the brink of the land of Canaan but had refused to go in. God had promised to give them the land as their inheritance, but they would have to cross over the Jordan River and conquer the nations that occupied it. It was a land of abundance, flowing with milk and honey. But before they could enjoy the rest it offered, they would have to do the work God had called them to do. Yet, they refused. And the author of Hebrews warned the readers of his letter not to follow the example of the Israelites.

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
    when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’” – Hebrews 3:7-11 NLT

He goes on to use this Old Testament story as a lesson for his Christian audience. He reminds them that God has not reneged on His offer of rest.

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. – Hebrews 4:1-2 NLT

Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy the rest provided for them in Eden. The Israelites were to enjoy the rest made possible in the land of Canaan. But the first couple, just like the chosen people of God, refused to take God at His word. Yet, as God’s children, followers of Christ are extended the promise of God’s rest.

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. – Hebrews 4:6-7 NLT

God has offered a Sabbath rest, made possible through the work of His Son. Jesus obeyed the will of His Heavenly Father, faithfully completing the assignment He had been given. He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, satisfying the just demands of His Heavenly Father and providing the ultimate Sabbath rest for the wicked and weary.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Jesus offers an invitation to find rest in Him. He invites the weary to cease from their labors and rely upon His finished work on the cross. When Jesus had completed His redemptive work on the cross, He stated, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He had successfully completed His assignment and then entered His Father’s rest. And now, He offers sinful men and women the opportunity to enjoy the reward of never-ending rest through reliance upon the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that this rest is real and readily available to all who will believe.

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. 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 4:8-11 NLT

God has done it all. The only thing required of mankind is reliance upon and rest in the work that Christ has already done. It is finished.

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