This editorial comes close to being part two of the August edition. There is so much that we all need to learn, and it is hard to pass by such wonderful information. In this edition, we’ll look at the New Testament Sabbath and God's rest.
It is a well rehearsed argument throughout Christendom about the Sabbath being changed from the seventh to the first day of the week coming in at the time of Christ. But the first day is mentioned only eight times in the New Testament, none refering to the sacredness being changed from the seventh to the first day. The Sabbath is recorded more than sixty times, each of these texts being a mighty argument in favour of the perpetuity of the law of the Sabbath. Hebrews chapters three and four set the matter fairly straight as to the rest on the Sabbath.
Several times God tested His people on the Sabbath question. To back-up somewhat, the record of these tests is found in Ezekiel, chapter 20 and it is to these experiences that the writer of Hebrews calls attention. In this chapter of Ezekiel, God is recalling His experience with Israel in bringing them out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Certain of the elders of Israel had come to ask counsel of the Lord. The Lord refused to be inquired of by them and told Ezekiel to recount to them His experience with their fathers.–Eze. 20:1-4.
When God chose Israel in Egypt, intending to take them to the land flowing with milk and honey, He asked them to cast aside their idols and not to defile themselves. “But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me...then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.” –Eze 20:8. God did not do this however, “But I wrought for my names sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen.”–Eze 20:9.
Israel in the Wilderness
God brought Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness. There He proclaimed to them His law, His statutes, and His judgments. “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.”–Eze 20:12. But as they had rebelled in Egypt, so they rebelled in the wilderness. “They walked not in my statutes...and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness to consume them.”–Eze 20:13.
But God took mercy upon them and did not consume them. However, He decided that though He would not consume them, neither would He take them into the Promised Land. They had been obstinate. They have been faithless, so God said, I will, “not bring them into the land which I have given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their hearts went after their idols.”–Eze 20:15,16. The reason why Israel was not permitted to enter the Promised Land was, “they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths.”
As a result of their disobedience the fathers died in the wilderness. The journey that could have been finished in a few months took forty years. “Your carcases, they shall fall in this worldliness, and your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.”–Num 14:32,33.
And after the fathers were all dead, God said to the children: “Walk in my statutes and keep my judgments and do them; and hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.”—Eze 20:19-20.
The Children Rebelled
But “the children rebelled against me.” “They polluted my sabbaths,” as the fathers had done. –Eze 20:21. “Then I (God) said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness.” But God again showed them mercy, not for their sake, but for His own “names sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight” He “brought them forth.” —Eze 20:22. He also stated, “I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me... and they shall not enter into the land of Israel.”–Eze 20:38.
It is evident from the foregoing that God had great difficulty with Israel in the wilderness, both with the fathers and with the children. They did not walk in His statutes and judgments, and they polluted His Sabbaths. For this reason God did not take the fathers into the Promised Land. They died in the wilderness. When He admonished the children, sadly they did not do any better. They also rebelled against Him, they did not do His will but despised His statutes and judgments and polluted His Sabbaths. So God said that He would do to them as He had done to the fathers. All the rebels He would “purge out,” and “they shall not enter into the land of Israel.” –Eze 20:38. These rebels were those who despised God's judgments and polluted His Sabbaths. –Eze 20:13,21.
The writer of Hebrews uses these experiences to point out a lesson. “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” —Heb 3:8-12.
He then asks the question, and also answers it: “But with whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”–Heb 3:17-19.
Then comes the lesson. “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: But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” -Heb 4:1,2.
The author of Hebrews then brings in the subject of Sabbath-keeping. “For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”–Heb 4:4.There is no question here as to which day is spoken of. It is “the seventh day” Sabbath. Israel had polluted it, and for this reason they were not permitted to enter Canaan. We are now about to enter the heavenly Canaan. “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.”–Heb 4:1.
God did not cast away all Israel. He purged out the rebels who would not do His will, but had polluted His Sabbaths. As He had given the children a chance after the fathers failed, so He gave their children another chance. The children's children were given their choice. “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, To day after so long a time; as it is said. To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heats. For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”–Heb 4:6-8.
“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”–Heb 4:9.The word rest is the Greek sabbatismos, meaning “Sabbath rest.” The King James Version has in the margin, “keeping of a Sabbath.” Israel failed to observe the Sabbath. They were rejected. The Sabbath still remains for the people of God. Israel failed, let us be careful lest we also fail.
“He that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”–Heb 4:10 It has just been noted that the word rest in verse nine means Sabbath rest. In the other versus in the chapter in which the word rest occurs, it is a different word in the Greek, katapausis, that simply means a place of rest and does not give the idea of Sabbath rest. It may be profitable to study this a little further.
To Rest In God
Rest as used in the book of Hebrews, except in Heb 4:9, is that rest into which the believer enters where he gives up his own struggling and accepts Christ as his Saviour. The entering of Israel into Canaan was a symbol of this. Israel had been in the wilderness forty years. Now God promises to bring them into the land that flowed with milk and honey. It can be easily believed that as they wandered year after year in the desert, the one thing they longed for was to get to the Promised Land. They had no home, no place of rest, nothing they could call their home. All the old men died, hardly any were left who had grown up when Israel left Egypt. Would they ever get to Canaan? Would they ever get to a place where they were sure they could stay a few years and again have real homes? Their longings, their prayers, were all for a place of rest.
God used this longing to point them to something higher. The real rest for the people of God was something higher and better than Canaan. There was a heavenly Canaan where the deep longings of the soul would find ultimate satisfaction. In the world they might have tribulation even after they entered the Promised Land. But there was a country of pure delight; there was a city whose builder and maker is God. That would be their inheritance if they were accounted worthy. That was the real rest of which every thing earthly was only a shadow.
“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” This rest had been proclaimed to Israel of old. Abraham knew of it, Moses had announced it, as had also Joshua and David. But the rest had not been appropriated, it still remained. True, Israel had entered Palestine, but they had not found the true rest. For this reason God made another call “in David,” saying, “To day, after so long a time, as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. For if Jesus, (Joshua; margin) had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” —Heb 4:7,8. Joshua had brought them into the Promised Land, but that was not the true rest. The true rest is a personal experience, which might perhaps best be illustrated by simply calling it conversion.
Israel entered Canaan, but they were not converted and so God issued call after call, saying. “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” Thus they were given “another day” of grace. But even then they did not appropriate to themselves the rest of God. That rest still remains. The call is still open, we are given another day to turn to God. Let us be careful lest we reject it.
The rest into which the soul enters who gives himself to God, is better and sweeter than even the rest that came to Israel after their forty years of wandering. The sinner struggles and labours. He is at war with God, with himself and often with his fellow men. His conscience accuses him, his shortcomings plague him, he seems unable to do what he knows is right. He is in misery and cries out in despair, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”–Rom 7:24.Then suddenly peace comes to his soul. The battle is over, he surrenders; peace, wonderful peace is his. There is no more fighting within or without. God has complete control, he has found true rest, he has found God.
Of this rest, the Sabbath is symbolic. “He that is entered into his rest” – he that is converted and has peace with God – “he also hath ceased from his own works.” Note, “ceased from his own works, as God did from his.”–Heb 4:10. Paraphrasing, we would read, “He that has become a Christian has ceased from his own works, and rests as God rested.” How did God rest; “God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”–Heb 4:4.
Paraphrasing again, we may say, “He who has become a Christian has ceased from all his own works and rests on the seventh day, as God did.” There remains “the keeping of the Sabbath” to the people of God.
A Bit of Heaven
The Sabbath is a little bit of heaven left on earth. It originates from the time when God was with His people in Eden. It is a day when God especially meets with His own. It is symbolic of the rest that shall be His people's in the world to come. It is a holy day made for a holy people. It is a sign of sanctification. In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, God calls His own aside, meets with them, and blesses them. In creation it was the sign of a finished work, a sign of perfection. It is still the sign of the sanctification of the world – the sign that God is our God; the call to enter into this rest, and all it signifies, given from generation to generation. But it has not as yet been fully appropriated. It still sounds: “To day if ye will hear his voice, hard not your hearts...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.”–Heb 4:7,1.
How vital is the admonition: “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” —Heb 4:11. We have studied the history of Israel and why they never made it into the Promised Land. They did not serve God, and were careless of the Sabbath. They polluted it. God was wrath with them, and they were not permitted to enter the Land. Now, it’s up to us, this present generation. Let us labour to enter into that rest. Let us be careful lest we fall after the same manner of unbelief – of disobedience.
The lesson of the fourth chapter of Hebrews should not be lost upon us. Let’s take a lesson from old Israel. When they failed to honour God's holy day fully, He sharply rebuked them; and they were not permitted to enter into Canaan because of disobedience. One of the chief matters in which they failed was the observance of the Sabbath of the Lord. The writer of Hebrews recounts all this that we who read today, may not fail after the same example of unbelief. He specifically mentions the seventh day on which God rested, coupling it with the rest that remains to the people of God.
God expects His people of today to profit by the history and experience of His people in the past. He who today deliberately and knowingly breaks any of the commandments of God is guilty before God, as was Israel of old. They entered not because of disobedience. Let us see to it that we do not follow their example.
Based on ‘The Faith of Jesus’ p. 396-403, by M L Andreason