In our journey through Scripture’s development of a Theology of Rest, we have seen that rest means much more than simply sitting around on the couch or going to sleep at night. It punctuated God’s creative acts, was integral with God’s relationship with Adam, as He “put” or rested him in the garden, a rest ultimately broken by the first man’s sin. Rest then arises again through not only Noah’s name – meaning rest – as well as his ark coming to rest, but it is interwoven into the commandments given to Israel. Having already considered the nature of sabbath rest in our survey of the Theology of Rest
, we return now to Sinai, specifically to the conclusion of the covenant institution and administration of God’s Law.
As we read in our third part of the series on Sabbath Rest, Exodus 31 plays a prominent role in developing this particular aspect of rest. Essentially, this passage concludes the episode at Sinai and summarizes the Sabbath requirement, though here with added restrictions and punishments attached, “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.15 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. “ Ex. 31:14-15
When we arrive at chapter 32, the scene shifts to the base of Sinai and the familiar episode of the golden calf. Here, we also find the wrath of God stirred against His people and the intercession of Moses on their behalf. As Moses descends the mountain, he reflects God’s own anger by shattering the tablets of stone, which we might presume is symbolic for Israel’s own breaking of the covenant in the midst of its institution. Moses then returns up the mountain in the hopes of “making atonement” for the sins of the people,
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold.32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” 33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”
35 Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made.Exodus 32:30-34
This punishment of the people was followed by the command to leave Sinai and proceed to the land which God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 33:1-4). We ought to pause here and recognize the mercy and condescension of God towards His people as well as His covenant faithfulness to the promises made to the patriarchs. In spite of this, there is one small problem, God refuses to go with His people because of their sinfulness.
3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
So here’s the scene: Moses went up to Sinai as a representative of the people to receive the law of God and to subsequently mediate God’s covenant to the people. At the conclusion of this, the people were swept away into idolatry, under the leadership of Aaron no less, which resulted in the punishment meted out by God. Upon his return to converse with God, Moses finds that God is still moving forward with His promise to complete the Israelite deliverance from Egypt by giving them the land that was promised to their fathers, with one small caveat, they can go alone, without Him. But for Moses, this simply will not do. Again he intercedes for the people and appeals to God on their behalf. This time, he goes to God “outside the camp” by setting up the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11).
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
Despite God’s promise to give Israel the land, which He had previously promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses wants nothing of it if God will not go with them and dwell among them. In fact, he says DON’T bring us out of here to the land you promised. How more faithful would it be to live by this governing principle that if God is not with us, if He is not going before us, then we are not going. God’s dwelling in and among His people made them distinct from the surrounding nations. They were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6) an impossibility apart from the presence of God. Moses realizes these promises and knows that to go on without God is meaningless. Certainly recognizing the faith and boldness that Moses was exhibiting, God confirms that He will go with them by issuing a promise of rest (vs. 14). Intertwined with God’s assurance to Moses that His presence would indeed go with him is the little phrase, “and I will give you rest.”
Here, we need to decide whether the promise of rest is personal and uniquely applied to Moses, or whether the promise is collectively to be applied to the nation of Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. As we know, because of his sin, Moses was not allowed to enter into the land, nor was the original Wilderness Generation, rather their children, accompanied by Joshua and Caleb. As we will see, and as Hebrews 4 informs us, that generation was not allowed to enter God’s rest, because of unbelief. Furthermore, neither was Moses, however, God’s promise did not fail. He did deliver Israel into rest, yet we must not overlook a future rest that must have been implied in the promise to Moses, a rest that still remains. Without question, the leader of Israel was granted the eschatological promise of rest, a rest that he even now enjoys.
With this promise of rest, and the anticipation of its fulfillment (at least partially) we have the introduction of our next topic of rest, Israel’s rest.