Embracing God's Rest

The following is taken from the introduction to Entering God's Rest by Ken Golden, a thorough-yet-accessible discussion of the Sabbath and its relevence for us today. You can purchase the book here (also available as an eBook and on Amazon Kindle). 

We live in a busy world. Our families face round-the-clock commitments and the daily rat race can leave us gasping for breath. All too often there’s no rest for the weary.

Why is this so? Many things fill up our schedules and compete for our attention. Chief among them is our daily work. And that’s by design, because God created work. He gave Adam the responsibility of working in the garden (Gen. 2:15). In man’s original state, work was a blessing.

But man didn’t remain in his original state. He fell into a condition of sin and misery (WSC 17). This turned the blessing of work into the curse of toil. The lesser creation would bristle under man’s dominion; crops would come by the sweat of his brow (Gen. 3:19). Beaten down by the common curse, Lamech named his son Noah, a name that means rest. He believed Noah would live up to his name and bring relief from “the painful toil of our hands” (Gen. 5:29). Noah did bring temporary relief—in the form of a flood—but toil remained the order of the day. Many centuries later, the sage Qoheleth would describe work as endless and repetitive toil (Eccl. 1:2–4).

Things haven’t changed that much. Work is still a necessary part of life that demands our time and energy. Even the most satisfying work can be exhausting. We need a break from the weekly cycle of labor. We echo Lamech’s cry for relief, but where will we find it?

Our relief comes in the form of rest. But this needs defining. Some associate rest with sleeping. Others view it as the freedom to engage in non-work-related activities. (The clichés of “working for the weekend” or “thank God it’s Friday” reflect this tendency.) Some even find recreational sports or gardening to be restful.

The world offers many definitions of rest, but Christians should consider God’s definition of rest. And just to be clear, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. There’s certainly an overlap, since God gives us physical rest (Prov. 3:24) and refreshment (Mk. 6:31). Yet the Bible goes much deeper than our shallow definitions. Scripture considers the spiritual, even cosmic, dimension of rest. God orients this deeper understanding in a concept that’s woven into the very fabric of His Word. And the word for that concept is Sabbath.

Perhaps you’ve stumbled across this term as you read the Bible, and don’t know what to do with it. Well, readers beware: The Sabbath isn’t a simple and straightforward concept. It appears in Genesis, develops in Exodus, multiplies in Leviticus, and deepens in Isaiah. In the New Testament, Jesus clarifies it in the gospels while Paul appears to abandon it in the epistles. Sabbath references span the periods of creation, Sinai, monarchy, exile, and New Testament. It receives lots of attention in the old covenant and lots of reflection in the new covenant. When we study these references and periods, we need to ask some important questions:

  • What continues and what doesn’t?
  • How do these continuities and discontinuities relate to time and observance?
  • Is there a difference between the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Lord’s Day? 

It’s also important to consider the Sabbath according to the traditional categories of biblical law. Ceremonial laws were given to Old Testament Israel as a system of types and shadows pointing to New Testament fulfillment (Acts 10; Heb. 10:1–10). Judicial laws supported the theocracy of the Old Testament that expired with the Israelite state (Ex. 21:1–23:19). Moral laws were rooted in creation, summarized in the Ten Commandments, and continue as an expression of gratitude for God’s people (Jas. 1:25; 2:8; 1 Jn. 2:3). I’ll address the historical flow and legal characteristics of the Sabbath in chapters 1–8.

Yet knowing what the Bible says about the Sabbath is only half the battle. Such knowledge must still be applied to life. This raises an important question: Is Sabbath observance a “one size fits all” practice, or is it informed by specific circumstances? The answer involves the exercise of biblical wisdom, a task I’ll take up in chapter 9.

At this point, it’s important to say what this book isn’t about. Entering God’s Rest isn’t a historical survey of Sabbath interpretation. Neither does it provide a list of “do’s and don’ts” for the reader. Instead, this book has a specific agenda. I wrote it for two reasons. First, as the title suggests, I sought to explain what it means to enter God’s rest. I did this by viewing the central theme through the ebb and flow of redemptive history. Second, I sought to apply this theme to the varied circumstances of our lives, working through the exercise of biblical wisdom and sensitivity to Christian liberty of conscience. This is especially important when the toil of living in a sin-cursed world can even carry over to our Sabbath-keeping! Entering God’s Rest is a call to embrace the rest that God has graciously given us. Discovering the purpose of the Sabbath means discovering what it means to rest in the Lord.

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