Old Testament Rest
Exodus 20.8-11; Deuteronomy 5.12-15
Introduction: Why a Series on Rest?
Some of you might be asking, “why a series on rest when it is Christmas time? Is this just some pretentious hipster thing?” As I was planning this series I really wrestled with that. I would give you two main reasons for this series. First, this whole series is a deeper exploration of one phrase from Luke 2.14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” We are exploring one aspect of what it means to have peace on earth as those with whom God is pleased. Second, as people with whom God is pleased in a western culture we need to think through what it means to distinctly strive for “peace on earth.” One of those things we need to think through is, “what does it mean to rest as God’s people?”
Concerning that second question, when we slow down, and really critique our western American culture we can see true biblical rest is a struggle for our entire culture. Western American culture fantasize what Adam Mabry calls a “frenzied, rushed life” (p. 16). Mabry goes on to say this is for two reasons, “First, we don’t want to believe that we truly need rest; and second, we wish to outdo the other doers” (p. 17). We resist the idea of “REST” because we see it as a strict “RULE.” But I truly believe if we examine and develop a robust biblical theology of rest we can begin to really grasp God’s desire for “REST.” If we can grasp God’s desire for “REST” then it will become more of an art than a rigid rule.
Our series will break up into two main parts. First, what does the Bible say about rest and why it is important? Second, what does it look like to rest? What we are going to do today is explore what the OT says about REST. I think we can summarize what the OT says about REST in this way…
Theme: OT rest is about a regular rhythm of remembrance.
1. Remember Creation —Exodus 20.8-11.
There are two key text is beginning to understand God’s purpose for rest in the OT. The first of those passages is Exodus 20.8-11. Therefore, let’s read it together—READ Exodus 20.8-11. The author of this text is Moses, and He wrote it to a specific people during a specific dealing with specific experiences. Therefore, in order to understand this instruction we need to understand whom Moses’ is writing to.
The story of these people Moses’ is writing to goes all the way back to Genesis. Toward the end of the book of Genesis there was a family of 70 people called Israelites, and they needed to move to Egypt because there was a regional famine. They became immigrants in a foreign land. They moved their because one family member became a very affluent politician in Egypt. But after he died the next generation of political leaders decided these immigrants were a danger to their society, so they enslaved them. The Israelites were enslaved for 400 years. They were treated with extreme cruelty. In fact when Moses was born the government decided to commit a mass genocide of all male Israelite infants. By the grace of God Moses was able to escape this genocide. God eventually used Moses’ leadership to lead rescue mission to set the Israelites free from their oppressors.
The Israelites leave Egypt and head to a land that God promised their ancestor Abraham. They go to a mountain to worship and wait for God’s divine instruction for this new distinct holy nation He is forming. The instruction Moses’ wrote here is written to those people. These are people who knew what it meant to live under a government that oppresses its people. They knew what it is like to not have enough resources to accomplish the expectations their society asked of them. Therefore, when God has Moses write His desires for their nation He wants something symbolic and practical that will allow Israel and their neighbors to see the value of living under His rule and reign. This is why God has Moses writes this command on “Sabbath rest.” The Sabbath was meant to be a regular weekly rhythm that would allow God’s people to REST from their work. God wanted them to see the value of rest.
It is important to note what Moses roots this idea in—READ Exodus 20.11. Moses roots the command of Sabbatical rest in Creation. Moses wants us to remember two things. First, God provided everything humanity would need to flourish in the world. God made a habitual world for us to live and flourish in. Second, God rested after His work was done. Clearly this does not mean God got tired or drained from working. So, what does this mean? I believe we can see what it means from this first word at the beginning of these instructions, “REMEMBER.” God took time to remember, reflect, enjoy, or celebrate what He had done. God wants Israel to spend time every week to remember, reflect, enjoy, and celebrate what He has done for them, through them, with them. Exodus 20 is about God’s REMEMBERING God has provided a world and instructions that allow us to thrive. God wants us to remember the meaning and value of God’s CREATED ORDER. God wants us to remember He is CREATOR. God is the One who is sustaining our lives. The world will continue thriving without us. But this is the only reason in the OT God instructs His people to practice Sabbath rest.
2. Remember Redemption—Deuteronomy 5.12-15.
The second key text for an OT study on REST is Deuteronomy 5.12-15. So, let’s go ahead and read that text together—READ Deuteronomy 5.12-15. When it comes to this passage we must remember the same interruptive principles we learned from our examination of Exodus 20. Almost the entire context from the Exodus 20 is the same except this group of people are the children of the Israelites who were rescued from Egypt. The adults who were rescued from Egypt are all dead, so Moses is giving updated instructions to a new generation who are about to enter the Promised Land.
Upon close examination the instruction is almost identical, but there is one major difference—READ Deuteronomy 5.15. The instructions Moses gives in Exodus is rooted in God’s Creation, but these instructions are rooted in God’s REDEMPTION. Notice how the beginning of this verse opens similar to how Exodus 20 opens, “You shall REMEMBER.” God longs for this generation of God’s people to also remember, reflect, enjoy, and celebrate, but He adds something else—redemption. This generation did not experience the rescuing power of God at the same intimate level, so Moses wants to make sure they don’t forget they serve a redeeming God. In verse 12 Moses opens this section with the word, “Observe.” When we explore its broader scope of meaning we learn it can also mean “Guard, Preserve, or Oversee.” God longs for this new generation to guard this practice of Sabbatical rest in order to remember, reflect, enjoy, and celebrate they are a “REDEEMED” nation.
3. What Now?
If any of you are like me you may be asking, “What do I do with that info?” We are going to explore that more throughout this series, especially in the second part. But for now I would say it is important to remember our countries Christmas season is regular rhythm of rest. Therefore, we want to ask, “What does it mean to rest as God’s distinct people?”
As I prepared the past few months for this series one of the main themes I noticed about Sabbatical rest is it was a means of “RESISTANCE.” As we “remember” the story of God’s people in Exodus and Deuteronomy we cannot divorce it from these people were literally living in an oppressive culture. They were slaves in Egypt. Those ruling over them were exploiting them to advance their own agendas. Power can be used to benefit people, but through effects of sin in the world it quickly becomes a means of exploitation. As God is forming Israel into a distinct nation among other nations He wants them to demonstrate what it looks live under God’s power. Therefore, the rhythm of regular “Sabbatical Rest” becomes a means of RESISTING the power of the world and embracing the beneficial power of God. The Church, Christians, are a new and better people than Israel. I think this does not mean we abandon this idea, but have the power to fulfill this concept even more than Israel.
As we remember the birth of Jesus during this season we must not forget He was born into VERY similar circumstances as Israel. Another government was ready to commit a massive genocide of all Israelite male infants because they believed Jesus Christ was a threat to their exploitative power. They were right to be afraid because Jesus Christ did enter the world to put an end to those who abuse power. If you have been born again, why do you think Jesus has left you here? One reason is to help embody to the rest of the world what living under God’s restful rule. This will look different for many of us. But there are two things we should dealing with. First, help all people more toward victory over sin. Second, resist cultural oppressive structures and work toward a restful beneficial culture in which all people can flourish. Prayerfully consider throughout this series where God is currently calling you to fulfill those two ideas.