God’s Rest

 

The Creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis is probably familiar to most people who have at any point come into contact with the Scriptures.  Genesis, or origins, is foundational for understanding how and why we were created and gives purpose to life these thousands of years later.  While Adam and Eve often garner the majority of the focus in these opening chapters, it’s clear that Scripture places the primary attention upon God from the very opening words, “In the beginning God”.  From there, it’s not man who is the main actor, but God.  We are introduced to the God who sovereignly creates, orders, and sustains, not merely an accumulation of particles that randomly formed the universe, but a purposeful creation by a detail oriented God intent on creating man in His image for His own glory.

After the introduction of creation in chapter 1, and before providing a more detailed focus upon the creation of man in chapter 2, we are given the following description of this all-powerful, creating God

“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.”

At the outset, this might generate a few questions concerning the nature of the God who was just introduced to us in chapter 1 of Genesis, namely, if He is all-powerful and certainly the Creator, why is it that He needs to rest?  Did the 6-day creative process tire Him out?  Or perhaps is He a father-time figure that wound creation up and now must minimize energy by simply observing His work from a high or distant perch?

These questions, while they may seem simplistic and perhaps even juvenile, are nonetheless legitimate given the sentence, 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.”

In answering these, we must first start with God as Creator and more specifically how God created, namely by divine fiat or decree.  God literally spoke creation into existence, from nothing, i.e. ex nihilo.  In Genesis 1, we encounter the statement, “God said”  ten times.  Seven of these were declarations bringing various creations into existence while the 8th was an intra-Trinitarian statement and the last two uses were commands to man.  Would God need to rest on the seventh day after “simply” speaking creation into existence?

Hardly.

We may conclude that God did not need to rest, as though He were exhausted from His creative work.  As God has progressively revealed Himself throughout the Scriptures, we are informed elsewhere that rest is not a necessity for God.  For example, Isaiah 40:28

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.

And Psalm 121:4

“Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.”

The Second observation is that while man was created on Day 6 and rest occurred on Day 7, we are informed that it was God’s rest.  Similarly, we have no indication of which calendar day this rest may have occurred, because, well, calendars had not yet been developed.  We simply know at this point that it was the Seventh Day of creation.  This is a crucial point because frequently this passage concerning God’s rest in Genesis has been used as a proof text to argue for the existence of 1. A perpetual day of Sabbath rest (Saturday) or 2. The transference of the Sabbath day to the Lord’s Day (Sunday).  Despite these interpretive efforts, there is simply no indication nor command for man to observe a particular Sabbath day in this passage.  All we have thus far in God’s revelation is that He rested from His work on the seventh day.  While this occurrence in Genesis 2 certainly informs and provides a framework for the later institution of a Sabbath Day commandment given at Sinai, there is not one single passage that prescribes or describes any person from Adam to Exodus 16 commanded to set aside a particular day for rest.

Third, this rest came at the conclusion of creation.  In other words, God’s rest was the consummation of creation.  It’s at this point that the action of God as Creator becomes the action of God as Sustainer.  The preparation for this role is particularly evident in the creation accounts and in the passages that immediately follow Genesis 2:2.  For further biblical evidence, we may draw upon Colossians 1:16-17, John 1:3, and Hebrews 1:3.

Fourth, God blesses or sanctifies this Sabbath Day to make it holy, literally He sets it apart from the other days.  This function of sanctifying a particular day speaks to God’s authority and also towards a priestly role. Related, some have concluded that this rest of God speaks less of actual rest or ceasing from effort, as we concluded earlier, and more of a Sabbath-Enthronement.¹  Several passages throughout Scripture speak to God’s enthronement over His creation and the earth as His footstool, Isaiah 66:1; 2 Chronicles 6:18, 41; Acts 7:49.

Similarly, there is compelling evidence that the creation of the earth in general and the garden in particular as God’s place of habitation or dwelling, i.e. His temple.  In Genesis 3:8 we read, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day….”  Some commentators have pointed out that this same Hebrew verbal root stem occurs elsewhere in relation to God’s presence in the tabernacle, see Lev. 26:12, Deut. 23:14, 2 Samuel 7:6-7.² Further we may consider the geographic layout of this early scene from Genesis with the earth, Eden, and the garden as a parallel to the tabernacle layout of the Outer Court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies.  This theme will be further drawn out when we consider Adam’s rest in a future post.

Fifth, while the other six days have the concluding statement, “and the evening and the morning were the ______ day”, the seventh day deviates from this pattern suggesting that it is open ended.  In other words, that it was, or perhaps even still is, on going.

The pinnacle of the creation narrative is not the creation of Adam and Eve, rather it is the rest of God.  Simply observing the structure of Genesis 1 and 2 and this becomes evident.  As we’ve seen, God did not require rest, rather it was pointing towards greater significance.  From our passage in Genesis 2, we may summarize the 3 specific actions words that serve as links in a chain.  God finished.  God rested.  God blessed.  As we will see in future posts, God’s rest is both anticipatory and archetypal of future fulfillment.

 

 

Notes:

  1. Kline, Meredith G. Kingdom Prologue.
  2. Alexander, Desmond T., From Paradise to the Promised Land. G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.

To Let Go and Let God or Strive to Enter

 

Several years ago, I was introduced to the popular phrase, “Let go and Let God.”  It’s popularity with the influence of social media has only increased in the last decade because it fits easily into posts, tweets, memes, or whatever the latest medium pithy quotes might fit best (t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc.).  In these uses, and in a wide variety of others, you’ll often find this saying used in reference to struggling through daily life issues independent of whether or not they are spiritual.  For instance, it could be work/employment, financial, family/relationships all which might require the individual to simply, “Let go and Let God.”

Summarizing the origins of this phrase in his helpful overview, No Quick Fix, Andy Naselli, notes its roots may be found in the theology of Hannah Whitall Smith’s The  Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, in which she provides the basis for this phrase as “entire surrender”, i.e. letting go, and “absolute faith”, i.e. letting God.  Since then, circa 1885, the concept has evolved through the teachings of the Higher Life movement and Keswick theology proponents, including more recently by dispensationalism, which was heavily influenced by these aforementioned teachings.  While this phrase, Let go and Let God, may sound like good advice or even a proper exercise of spiritual maturity, it is in fact wrong, misleading, and potentially dangerous.

In Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 we are introduced to the wilderness generation, i.e. those who were delivered out of Egyptian captivity by God through the leadership of Moses up to the doorstep of the Promised Land.  This group is held up as an example of unfaithfulness and disobedience in their rebellion against God and His subsequent punishment of prohibition from entering the Promised Land.  For more, see this post on Hebrews 3 The Builder of the House.

This is the context upon which the Author draws support for his exhortation for believers not to be like the Wilderness Generation, which fell at the hand of God’s wrath, but instead we are to strive to enter His rest

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11

The word translated in the ESV as strive, spoudazo, carries the idea of exertion or diligent effort.  It’s root is also used in Hebrews 6:11, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end “

The word of exhortation in Hebrews 4:11 is for believers to exert themselves by faith and obedience, with a constant, diligent effort until they reach the finish line and enter God’s rest.  It is an effort that is led by the Spirit, fueled by grace looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who has secured our victory and will bring us to the completion of our race.  Nevertheless, it is an active Christian life, not a passive one.  It is a Spirit-led life in which we are clothed with the armor of God and equipped to wield the sword of the Spirit with the expectation of battle.

Letting go and Letting God tells us to, “lie quietly before [God].  Open all the avenues of our being, and let Him come in and take possession of every chamber.  Especially give Him your heart – the very seat of your desires, the throne of your affections. ” (Naselli, pg. 39-40)  However the book of Hebrews presents a drastically different, less passive approach to our pursuit of holiness, which culminates in the finality of reaching God’s eschatological* rest.

It calls us to strive.  To earnestly pursue.  To diligently make it our business.  There is not a letting go, there is a holding on, yet in our Christian duty to pursue Christ with a passion and mortify the deeds of the flesh we may become faint and weary, as did the Wilderness Generation.  We may encounter opposition from within and persecution from without.  Yet it is especially in these moments that we are exhorted to keep on believing and keep on obeying, persevering to the end.  It is here that we may realize that the holding on was through no efforts of our own, but by the preserving hand of Almighty God who has held on to us every step of the way.

 

 

*eschatological – final; ultimate end.

Strengthened by Grace

 

In the 13th and final chapter of Hebrews, we’ve already noted the series of exhortations, which upon first glance appeared to be disjointed and isolated.  However, now having dug into them deeper we see that they are integral to the overall scope and purpose of the Author in exhorting the recipients of this letter to persevere in the faith, which was delivered to them through the Word of God by faithful leaders, and to deny the appeal to return to Judaism or to syncretize it with their Christianity.

A critical passage that perhaps gives us additional insight into the temptations they were facing as well as the false teachings they had been exposed to comes in verse 9 of this final chapter.  Note well the passage below

“Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.” Hebrews 13:9

Upon re-reading this passage a awhile ago, I was struck with just how profound and relevant it is for today, and for me personally as I continually seek to refine my understanding of how God desires to be worshiped and more specifically how it is that He orders and regulates His ekklesia.

This verse, in context, flows out of the commands for the struggling Christian community to remember their leaders.  Recall that verse 7 formed the opening bracket of the inclusio that contains our subject passage.  Next came the extraordinary statement on the eternal, preexistent, and immutable Christ.  Here we arrive at what could be a disjointed warning, Do not be lead away by diverse and strange teachings, but a good bible student knows well that this perfectly fits with what has been communicated in Hebrews thus far.

This particular phrase is striking because of the opening commendation of leaders who had taught the gospel faithfully.  It is a clear and present reminder that not all supposed leaders are doctrinally faithful, therefore we must exercise discernment and wisdom, holding fast to the Word of God as our source of truth and Christ as our eternally present, immutable Anchor.  Keep this in mind as you approach verse 17.

Next we see a positive statement juxtaposed with this warning, ” for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods.”  While we aren’t specifically told what the errant teachings were, we may be able to deduce from the overall tenor of the letter and this passage in particular that it had something to do with attaching spiritual significance to ceremonial foods, particularly as they pertained to the Old Covenant.

Commentator George Guthrie offers helpful historical and cultural insight in this regard that’s worth citing at length

“These teachings evidently promised spiritual strengthening through ceremonial foods and apart from God’s grace found in Christ.  In first-century Judaism participants celebrated special cultic meals, particularly the fellowship meal, as a means of communicating the grace of God.  These meals involved the blessing of God, thanks for his grace, and prayers of request.  More broadly, Jewish meals were understood to give spiritual strength-strength for the heart-through the joy experienced at the table (he cites Ps. 104:14-15 here).  Every meal offered faithful Jews the opportunity to reflect on God’s goodness and thus be nourished spiritually.  It reminded them that the ultimate expression of thanks to God for redemption must be made via the thank offering and the fellowship meal at the altar in Jerusalem.  Some Jews of Diaspora Judaism, moreover, celebrated special fellowship meals in an attempt to imitate the cultic meals of the temple.” pg. 439-440

The first century situation was such that some Jews were partaking in ceremonial meals and assigning spiritual significance, essentially a practice referred to as sacramentalism.  There’s no Old Testament command or indication that these practices were from God, but of course we know that by-in-large first century Judaism was corrupted and syncretized with paganism.  This puts the warning into context and prepares us for the argument that follows in Hebrews 13:10-16.

This warning is not limited to first century Jews.  It’s likewise certainly a profound warning for us today.  Sacramentalism became a formal dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in 1439, though its early seeds are certainly present in the first couple of centuries after Christ.  The parallels between first century Judaism and Roman Catholicism are striking, not the least of which is the participation in ceremonial “meals” with the expectation of spiritual strengthening or the impartation of grace through them, i.e. the Eucharist, Mass, or Lord’s Supper.

When baptists use the language of sacrament, they need to understand this historical baggage that gets carried over from Roman Catholicism by their use of the term.  Additionally, the language of sacrament and oft-accompanying phrase “means of grace” can misleading as well, if not clearly defined.  Perhaps more on this in a future post.

If participation in the Lord’s Supper was an opportunity to be strengthened by the grace that it conveys, the Author of Hebrews had the perfect opportunity to assert as much in this chapter, especially given the context.  However, His contrast is between the false intentions of ceremonial meals with the sacrifice of Christ, not the celebration of His sacrifice, but His actual sacrifice.  That is the source of Christian grace.

 

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"