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Entering God’s Rest

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.” Psalm 95.7-11.

The rest of God began on the seventh day of creation. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2.2). It is a Sabbath rest and it has never yet come to an end. Today, it is still the Sabbath with God … and the rest that he enjoys is the rest that he wants me and all his people to enter into and share. It was always so. God calls the promised land “the resting place” (Deuteronomy 12.9) and it was his intention that those whom he had brought out of Egypt should enter his rest there. As they moved into it in faith at his command they would find they were entering an inheritance of peace and plenty with all opposition giving way before them. But it was not to be. As the children of Israel heard reports of what that opposition looked like, their faith evaporated and, in disobedience and fear, they turned their backs on the land … and thus forfeited the rest that God was waiting to share with them (Numbers 14).

Under Joshua, of course, the descendants of those disobedient Israelites did enter the land and possess it; and there did come a time when it could be said that “the LORD had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them” (Joshua 23.1). But it was not the rest of God that had once been promised. Today’s reading is a psalm of David and belongs to a time four hundred years after the settlement of Canaan, yet there the rest of God is still being talked of by the psalmist as something that still waits to be entered and enjoyed. As the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, referring to this psalm, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4.8-9).

And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews believes that I can enter that rest and urges me to do so. “Anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his,” he says. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4.10-11). Entering the rest of God is not something that “just happens” when we give our lives to Christ. Just as the children of Israel were called to both trust and obey in order to enter the resting place that was Canaan, so am I. Entering God’s rest involves surrender of all I am and have to him. It means hearing his voice and not hardening my heart and going my own way but being obedient to his word. It means coming to Jesus as the place where “all our strivings cease”. It means abiding in Jesus. For only when I live my life in him will I find that I have entered the Sabbath rest of God. He is my resting place and there is no other.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one lay down,
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn and sad;
I found in him my resting place,
and he has made me glad.

Horatius Bonar

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