When the LORD gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the LORD your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.
My high school English taught that a story has three key elements: a problem, a struggle, and a resolution. So too the Exodus story: an Egypt, a Wilderness, and a Promised Land. Throughout the Bible the Promised Land is portrayed as rest: rest from the brutal slavery of Egypt, rest from the weary wanderings in the Wilderness, and rest from enemies who threaten. While “milk and honey” speaks of the abundant material blessings that will be theirs, rest will be their way of life in the Promised Land. Moses beautifully paints “the beloved of the LORD” as one who “rests in safety – the High God surrounds him all day long – the beloved rests between his shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12). As an infant rests securely on a parent so God’s people can rest securely on Him in the Promised Land.
This promised rest for God’s people becomes a key theme in the Bible as the Lord gives rest to those who are weary. In fact, rest is a one-word summary of all the blessings God delights to give. Once the Israelites settle into the Promised Land their rest is described:
And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:44-45).
But rest is far from any blissful idleness; rather, rest is unhindered fruitful activity in safety and security. This promised rest is more than just a place on the map; it is a state of being, a way of life. It is to live in peace from anything that would trouble or harm them, as they live reliantly on God. Rest is ultimately “a relinquishing of human self-assertion and a trust in God” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman). This is the rest God intended for His people to begin experiencing in the Wilderness as He guided, guarded, and provided for them. Restlessness always begins when we take our eyes off the One who carries us on His shoulders.
- In St. Augustine’s spiritual autobiography he prays to God: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. What do you think Augustine meant?
- Do you feel restful or restless? Explain.
- The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery speaks of “rest” as “a relinquishing of human self-assertion and a trust in God”. Do you agree or disagree?