Have You Entered Into God’s Rest?
“The man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works.”—HEBREWS 4:10.
1. Why is rest so desirable?
REST. What a sweet and lovely word! Living in today’s fast-paced and hectic world, most of us would agree that a little rest is most welcome. Young or old, married or single, we may feel hard-pressed and exhausted simply from day-to-day living. For those with physical limitations or infirmities, each day is a challenge. As the Scriptures say, “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:22) A person who is resting is not necessarily lazy. Rest is a human need that must be met.
2. Since when has Jehovah been resting?
2 Jehovah God himself has been resting. In the book of Genesis, we read: “The heavens and the earth and all their army came to their completion. And by the seventh day God came to the completion of his work that he had made, and he proceeded to rest on the seventh day from all his work that he had made.” Jehovah attached special significance to “the seventh day,” for the inspired record goes on to say: “God proceeded to bless the seventh day and make it sacred.”—Genesis 2:1-3.
God Rested From His Work
3. What could not be the reasons why God rested?
3 Why did God rest on “the seventh day”? Of course, he did not rest because he was tired. Jehovah enjoys an “abundance of dynamic energy” and “does not tire out or grow weary.” (Isaiah 40:26, 28) Nor did God proceed to rest because he needed a break or a change of pace, for Jesus told us: “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” (John 5:17) In any case, “God is a Spirit” and is not bound by the bodily cycles and needs of physical creatures.—John 4:24.
4. In what way was “the seventh day” different from the preceding six ‘days’?
4 How can we gain some insight into the reason why God rested on “the seventh day”? By noting that, although very pleased with what he had accomplished during the long period of the six preceding creative ‘days,’ God specifically blessed “the seventh day” and pronounced it “sacred.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “sacred” as “exclusively dedicated or appropriated (to a god or to some religious purpose).” Thus, Jehovah’s blessing “the seventh day” and pronouncing it sacred indicates that it and his “rest” must have some connection with his sacred will and purpose rather than with any needs on his part. What is that connection?
5. What did God put into motion during the first six creative ‘days’?
5 During the six preceding creative ‘days,’ God had made and set into motion all the cycles and laws governing the operations of the earth and everything around it. Scientists are now learning how wonderfully designed these are. Toward the close of the “sixth day,” God created the first human pair and placed them in “a garden in Eden, toward the east.” Finally, God pronounced his purpose regarding the human family and the earth in these prophetic words: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.”—Genesis 1:28, 31; 2:8.
6. (a) At the end of the “sixth day,” how did God feel about all that he had created? (b) In what sense is “the seventh day” sacred?
6 As the “sixth day” of creation came to a close, the account tells us: “God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) God was satisfied with everything he had made. He thus rested, or desisted, from further creative work with respect to the earth. As perfect and beautiful as the paradise garden then was, however, it covered only a small area, and there were just two human creatures on earth. It would take time for the earth and the human family to reach the state that God purposed. For this reason, he appointed a “seventh day” that would allow all that he had created in the preceding six ‘days’ to develop in harmony with his sacred will. (Compare Ephesians 1:11.) As “the seventh day” comes to its close, the earth will have become a global paradise inhabited eternally by a family of perfect humans. (Isaiah 45:18) “The seventh day” is set aside for, or dedicated to, the outworking and fulfilling of God’s will regarding the earth and humankind. In that sense it is “sacred.”
7. (a) In what respect did God rest on “the seventh day”? (b) How will everything turn out by the time that “the seventh day” comes to its end?
7 So God rested from his creative work on “the seventh day.” It is as though he stepped back and allowed what he set in motion to run its course. He has full confidence that by the end of “the seventh day,” everything will have turned out exactly as he has purposed. Even if there have been obstacles, they will have been overcome. All obedient mankind will benefit when God’s will becomes a full reality. Nothing will prevent this because God’s blessing is on “the seventh day,” and he made it “sacred.” What a glorious prospect for obedient mankind!
Israel Failed to Enter Into God’s Rest
8. When and how did the Israelites come to observe the Sabbath?
8 The nation of Israel benefited from Jehovah’s arrangement for work and rest. Even before giving the Israelites the Law at Mount Sinai, God told them through Moses: “Mark the fact that Jehovah has given you the sabbath. That is why he is giving you on the sixth day the bread of two days. Keep sitting each one in his own place. Let nobody go out from his locality on the seventh day.” The result was that “the people proceeded to observe the sabbath on the seventh day.”—Exodus 16:22-30.
9. Why was the Sabbath law no doubt a welcome change for the Israelites?
9 This arrangement was new for the Israelites, who had just been delivered from slavery in Egypt. Although the Egyptians and others measured time in periods of five to ten days, it is unlikely that the enslaved Israelites were permitted a rest day. (Compare Exodus 5:1-9.) It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the people of Israel welcomed this change. Instead of viewing the Sabbath requirement as a burden or restriction, they should have been glad to follow it. In fact, God later told them that the Sabbath was to serve as a reminder of their slavery in Egypt and of his deliverance of them.—Deuteronomy 5:15.
10, 11. (a) By being obedient, what could the Israelites have looked forward to enjoying? (b) Why did the Israelites fail to enter into God’s rest?
10 If the Israelites who came out of Egypt with Moses had been obedient, they would have had the privilege of entering into the promised “land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) There they would have enjoyed true rest, not just on the Sabbath but throughout their life. (Deuteronomy 12:9, 10) However, that did not prove to be the case. Regarding them, the apostle Paul wrote: “Who were they that heard and yet provoked to bitter anger? Did not, in fact, all do so who went out of Egypt under Moses? Moreover, with whom did God become disgusted for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? But to whom did he swear that they should not enter into his rest except to those who acted disobediently? So we see that they could not enter in because of lack of faith.”—Hebrews 3:16-19.
11 What a powerful lesson for us! Because of their lack of faith in Jehovah, that generation did not gain the rest that he had promised them. Instead, they perished in the wilderness. They failed to perceive that as Abraham’s descendants, they were closely associated with God’s will in providing blessings for all the nations of the earth. (Genesis 17:7, 8; 22:18) Rather than work in harmony with the divine will, they were completely distracted by their mundane and selfish desires. May we never fall into such a course!—1 Corinthians 10:6, 10.
A Resting Remains
12. What prospect still existed for first-century Christians, and how could they attain it?
12 After pointing out Israel’s failure to enter into God’s rest because of lack of faith, Paul turned his attention to his fellow believers. As noted at Hebrews 4:1-5, he reassured them that “a promise is left of entering into [God’s] rest.” Paul urged them to exercise faith in the “good news,” for “we who have exercised faith do enter into the rest.” Since the Law had already been taken out of the way by Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, Paul was not here referring to the physical rest provided by the Sabbath. (Colossians 2:13, 14) By quoting Genesis 2:2 and Psalm 95:11, Paul was urging the Hebrew Christians to enter into God’s rest.
13. In quoting Psalm 95, why did Paul call attention to the word “today”?
13 The possibility of entering into God’s rest should have been “good news” to the Hebrew Christians, just as the Sabbath rest should have been “good news” to the Israelites before them. Hence, Paul urged his fellow believers not to make the same mistake that Israel made in the wilderness. Citing what is now Psalm 95:7, 8, he called attention to the word “today,” though it had been so long since God had rested from creation. (Hebrews 4:6, 7) What was Paul’s point? It was that “the seventh day,” which God had set aside to allow his purpose regarding the earth and mankind to be fully accomplished, was still running its course. Therefore, it was urgent for his fellow Christians to work along with that purpose rather than be preoccupied with selfish pursuits. He once again sounded the warning: “Do not harden your hearts.”
14. How did Paul show that God’s “rest” still remained?
14 Additionally, Paul showed that the promised “rest” was not merely a matter of settling in the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. (Joshua 21:44) “For if Joshua had led them into a place of rest,” Paul argued, “God would not afterward have spoken of another day.” In view of that, Paul added: “There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:8, 9) What is that “sabbath resting”?
Enter Into God’s Rest
15, 16. (a) What is the significance of the term “sabbath resting”? (b) What does it mean ‘to rest from one’s own work’?
15 The expression “sabbath resting” is translated from a Greek word meaning “sabbathing.” (Kingdom Interlinear) Professor William Lane states: “The term received its particular nuance from the Sabbath instruction that developed in Judaism on the basis of Exod 20:8-10, where it was emphasized that rest and praise belong together . . . [It] stresses the special aspect of festivity and joy, expressed in the adoration and praise of God.” So, then, the promised rest is not simply a release from work. It is a change from tiresome, purposeless labor to joyful service that honors God.
16 This is borne out by Paul’s next words: “For the man that has entered into God’s rest has also himself rested from his own works, just as God did from his own.” (Hebrews 4:10) God did not rest on the seventh creative day because of being tired. Rather, he desisted from earthly creative work in order to let his handiwork develop and come into full glory, to his praise and honor. As part of God’s creation, we should also fit into that arrangement. We should ‘rest from our own works,’ that is, we should stop trying to justify ourselves before God in an attempt to gain salvation. Instead, we should have faith that our salvation depends on the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, through which all things will again be brought into harmony with God’s purpose.—Ephesians 1:8-14; Colossians 1:19, 20.
God’s Word Exerts Power
17. What course pursued by fleshly Israel must we avoid?
17 The Israelites failed to enter God’s promised rest because of their disobedience and lack of faith. Consequently, Paul urged the Hebrew Christians: “Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into that rest, for fear anyone should fall in the same pattern of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11) Most first-century Jews did not exercise faith in Jesus, and many of them suffered greatly when the Jewish system of things came to its end in 70 C.E. How critical it is that we have faith in God’s word of promise today!
18. (a) What reasons did Paul give for exercising faith in God’s word? (b) How is God’s word “sharper than any two-edged sword”?
18 We have sound reasons to exercise faith in Jehovah’s word. Paul wrote: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Yes, God’s word, or message, is “sharper than any two-edged sword.” The Hebrew Christians needed to remember what happened to their forefathers. Ignoring Jehovah’s judgment that they would perish in the wilderness, they tried to enter the Promised Land. But Moses warned them: “The Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you; and you are certain to fall by the sword.” When the Israelites stubbornly pushed ahead, “the Amalekites and the Canaanites who were dwelling in that mountain came on down and began striking them and went scattering them as far as Hormah.” (Numbers 14:39-45) Jehovah’s word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and anyone deliberately ignoring it is certain to reap the consequences.—Galatians 6:7-9.
19. How powerfully does God’s word ‘pierce,’ and why should we acknowledge our accountability to God?
19 How powerfully God’s word “pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow”! It penetrates the thoughts and motives of individuals, figuratively piercing clear to the marrow in the innermost part of the bones! Although the Israelites freed from Egyptian slavery had agreed to keep the Law, Jehovah knew that deep down they did not appreciate his provisions and requirements. (Psalm 95:7-11) Rather than doing his will, they were concerned with satisfying their fleshly desires. Hence, they did not enter into God’s promised rest but perished in the wilderness. We need to take that to heart, for “there is not a creation that is not manifest to [God’s] sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” (Hebrews 4:13) May we therefore fulfill our dedication to Jehovah and not “shrink back to destruction.”—Hebrews 10:39.
20. What lies ahead, and what must we now do to enter into God’s rest?
20 Though “the seventh day”—God’s rest day—is still in progress, he is alert to the outworking of his purpose regarding the earth and mankind. Very soon, the Messianic King, Jesus Christ, will take action to rid the earth of all opposers of God’s will, including Satan the Devil. During Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, Jesus and his 144,000 fellow rulers will bring earth and mankind to the state that God had purposed. (Revelation 14:1; 20:1-6) Now is the time for us to prove that our lives are centered around the will of Jehovah God. Instead of seeking to justify ourselves before God and advance our own interests, it is now time for us to ‘rest from our own works’ and wholeheartedly serve Kingdom interests. By doing that and by remaining faithful to our heavenly Father, Jehovah, we will have the privilege of enjoying the benefits of God’s rest now and forever.
Can You Explain?
□ For what purpose did God rest on “the seventh day”?
□ What rest could the Israelites have enjoyed, but why did they fail to enter into it?
□ What must we do to enter into God’s rest?
□ How is God’s word alive, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword?
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The Israelites kept the Sabbath, but they did not enter into God’s rest. Do you know why?