Entering God’s Rest

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” —Hebrews 4:9

THE keeping of a Sabbath, of entering into rest, was one of many laws given to the nation of Israel after they had been liberated from the bonds of slavery in Egypt. One might say that a Gospel message, or good news, was preached to them, and the exodus showed they accepted that message. If you did not know the story, you might think that after marching between two walls of water, and following the cloud which led the way, the people would have been overjoyed to enter into the promised rest God had planned for them. But such was not the case. Just a few weeks after the exodus, Moses assembled twelve men to spy out the land and bring back a report. This is what they said:

“We came unto the land and surely it floweth with milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land and the cities are walled and very great. And Caleb said, Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness! And they said one to another, Let us make a captain and let us return into Egypt.” (Num. 13:27,28,30; 14:2,4) After hundreds of years of slavery, and with absolute proof of God’s power exercised on their behalf, the people wanted to go back to slavery. This decision was to cost them their lives. “The Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them?” (Num. 14:11) The promise of entering into God’s rest was going unfulfilled. As a group they were doubtful, they tempted God, they grumbled, were disobedient and rebellious. This certainly was not rest.

Into the Promised Land

After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, all who had been twenty years old or older when they left Egypt were dead, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. Now the nation thought they were ready to enter the land and receive the rest that was promised. Eventually they did settle in the land. But instead of resting from their own cares and concerns and relying on the providences of God, they soon found themselves in the same state as their fathers. As a whole, they were not faithful.

“The incense that ye burned in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, ye, and your fathers, your kings and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them, and came it not into his mind? So that the Lord could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land a desolation and an astonishment and a curse, without an inhabitant as at this day. Because ye have burned incense and because ye have sinned against the Lord and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord nor walked in his Law nor in his statutes nor in his testimonies.” (Jer. 44:21-23)

Later, the time came when the Prophet David wrote, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart as in the provocation and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation and said, It is a people that do err in their heart and they have not known my ways: unto whom I swore in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.”—Ps. 95:7-11

David could not have been referring to the promise of receiving the land, because Israel was already in the land. He was talking about an opportunity to enter God’s rest in a way they had not yet experienced. But it was no use; they did not avail themselves of that opportunity. They continued to forsake God, and eventually were carried off as slaves to Babylon.

Christ Arrives

Time passed and eventually, as prophesied, Israel’s Messiah arrived, and with him a promise of rest: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) What was Jesus talking about? What kind of rest was this? We can best answer by looking at his life and particularly the relationship he had with his Father. “Then said Jesus … I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28) Speaking of his followers, Jesus said, “I have given them thy Word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do.”—John 17:3,4,14

There was no doubting, tempting, grumbling, disobedience, or rebelliousness exhibited in Jesus’ life. He had complete rest in doing the will of the Father. And what is most marvelous, this same rest is available to those who come unto Jesus today: “The peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 4:7

But merely entering into the way of the Lord is not enough. Israel entered the right way when they left Egypt in the exodus. At a later time they entered the right way again when they crossed Jordan into the Promised Land. But they did not stay in the right way, and therefore they failed to receive the promised rest. “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. … But with many of them God was not pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; … neither let us tempt Christ, … neither murmur ye. … Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [types]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he stand take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10:1-12) These experiences happened to Israel as examples for us, today, who are in a similar position of being offered the promise of God’s rest.

Hebrews, Chapter Four

Paul’s letter to Jewish Christians assumed they knew about the history of their nation. He began by contrasting their state with that of their forefathers: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord.” (Heb. 2:1-3) This word spoken by angels was a reference to the giving of the Law. The martyr, Stephen, said Israel had “received the Law by the disposition of angels and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:53) “The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”—Heb. 4:2

As we near the end of the third chapter of Hebrews, Paul shows that because of unbelief, the people of Israel were not able to enter into God’s rest. As the people of God of this age, we must not let that happen to us. “Let us therefore fear lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the Gospel preached as well as unto them.” (Heb. 4:1) The Gospel, or good news, preached to Israel was that their days of servitude were over. And that is the good news being preached now to the church—our days of servitude to sin and death are over when we accept Christ.

Joshua and Caleb had the faith to claim God’s promise of the land. But no one else shared that faith. The Jerusalem Bible says, “They did not share the faith of those who listened.” (Heb. 4:2) The, wanted to turn back to Egypt and slavery.

“We which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spoke in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, if they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief. Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David [in Psalm 95], Today, after so long a time, as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Heb. 4:3-7) As we have noted, the Israelites of the exodus did not receive God’s rest, so, Paul argues, that rest must be ready and waiting for others. Psalm 95 implies, if the hearers would not harden their hearts, they would attain this rest.

But they failed also. “If Jesus [Margin: Joshua] had given them rest, then would he [meaning God speaking through David] not afterward have spoken of another day. There remaineth a rest [Margin: keeping of a Sabbath] to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works as God did from his. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Heb. 4:8-11) This rest is available to us now, just as promised rest was available to the people of the exodus—all they needed was faith. But because of unbelief, they were doubtful, they tempted God, they grumbled, they were disobedient and rebellious. Are we? If so, we have not learned from their example. We are suffering from unbelief and are in danger of dying in the wilderness, just as they did.

There is a beautiful scripture in Isaiah which shows how God will bless us if we refrain from pursuing our own business, and rest in him, as pictured by the Sabbath: “If thou turn away thy foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing thy business on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of the Lord honorable; and shalt honor it, not doing thy wonted ways nor pursuing thy business, nor speaking thereof; then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord, and I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isa. 58:13,14, Jewish Publication Society/Masoretic text) Remember the Master: he demonstrated in his consecrated walk what God’s rest was all about. He rested from the works of this earthly nature, and never grumbled or rebelled against the will of his Father. We should copy that example, and do nothing of or for ourselves. We are not part of the world with its earthly hopes, aims, and ambitions. We should dedicate ourselves to finishing the work God has given to each of us, individually.


The experiences of Israel are types and pictures which stand as an example to us. In particular, we see how Israel lost their faith in the God who brought them out of slavery, and baptized them in the sea and in the cloud. Their experience illustrates that merely to begin a new and living way is not enough. We must continue in that way.

Faithful Christians enter God’s rest today, just as Jesus entered that rest during his consecrated walk here on earth. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”—Heb. 4:9

The sin which doth so easily beset us is the sin of unbelief. May the Lord grant us the strength to stamp out this great sin and faithfully make our calling and our election sure. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that Is set before us.”—Heb. 12:1

Dawn Bible Students Association
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