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Saturday, January 2, 2016

God and Rest

The God of the Judeo-Christian Bible is very concerned with the subject of REST. In fact, the author of the book of Genesis tells us "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." (Genesis 2:2-3, http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-Chapter-2/, here and throughout this post) A little later, in the book of Exodus, God makes rest part of "His" great law - what we refer to as the Ten Commandments: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it." (Exodus 20:8-11)

Interestingly, the Bible almost always associates Divinely sanctioned rests with an emotional or physical withdrawal from ones normal routine or place of habitation. The Hebrew patriarchs are often depicted as being in an isolated place or sleeping alone when they receive visions or otherwise communicate with their God. Moses faces God alone in the wilderness and is depicted as walking up into the mountain alone to receive God's laws and instructions. Likewise, the prophets are often depicted in similar circumstances when they are interacting with God or receiving "His" messages. Moreover, this phenomenon is not confined to the Old Testament.

The New Testament is also preoccupied with the subject. There are several references within the gospels to the fact that Jesus Christ was in the habit of observing the weekly Sabbath, and that he also often withdrew from the public to recharge his spiritual battery. In the Gospel of Mark, we read: "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he [Christ] went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." (Mark 1:35) We read in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus "withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed." (Luke 5:16) After his disciples returned from the preaching missions which he had assigned to them (Mark 6:7-12), we are told that Christ ordered them to withdraw from the hubbub and get some rest. We read: "And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat." (Mark 6:31)

Just before his arrest, trial and death, we are told that Christ withdrew with a few of his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to prepare for the ordeal ahead of him. (Matthew 26:36-46) In this account, Christ is pictured as going on ahead of his disciples to be alone, collect his thoughts and pray. In doing so, Christ reinforced the notion that Divine rest involved a withdrawal from the normal company, routine and place. He underscored the fact that man needs time apart - time to rest, recuperate and recharge his battery. Jesus even told the religious leaders of his day that "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27) According to the Gospel of Matthew, Christ's offer to mankind was "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)

In this connection, I think that it is very interesting that modern scientific research into human physiology and psychology has reinforced the fact that humans need periods of rest. In fact, this research has underscored just how essential rest is to normal functioning (physical work, bodily functions, thinking, emotional coping).

Finally, the author of the book of Hebrews has a great deal to say about the subject of rest and connects it to the original commandment to keep the Sabbath. In the third chapter of that book, God's rest is equated with the Israelites entrance into the Promised Land. In other words, the Promised Land was pictured as a type of Sabbath rest. Although history informs us that most Christians had ceased to observe the Sabbath day by the time the book of Hebrews was written, the author concludes his discussion of the subject with this interesting statement: "There remaineth therefore a rest 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 labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." (Hebrews 4:9-11) This seems to echo Christ's words to his own disciples and the principles laid down so long ago in the Old Testament: We must stop doing our own work and occasionally withdraw from this world (place, routine and people) and seek to focus our minds/energy on the things of God - to find our rest in God.

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