After years of what we refer to as “Bible study,” I’ve learned a couple of things about God. One is that when it comes to our spiritual development, God is never satisfied. He’s never content to leave us at whatever level of knowledge we think we’ve achieved. The other is that practicing ecclesiastical rituals and displaying familiarity with theological terms and religious traditions is never His objective. He wants us to achieve what Solomon referred to as understanding. Knowing what God said is, of course, the indispensable beginning point, but the knowledge He wants us to have goes beyond exposure to the words alone. God wants us to know what those words mean in a way that is tangible, deeply personal, and most effective in accomplishing what He intended.
Where Understanding Begins ~
God’s preferred teaching process is to take the words He spoke and weave their definition into the tapestry of our day-to-day life. As we make our way from one ordinary day to the next, God fashions our experiences into a potentially transformational matrix through which ideas and principles become visible behaviors and recognizable attitudes. God takes the words He spoke and thrusts them into the circumstances and situations that confront us in a way that can breathe life into them. The challenges we wrestle with every day become the context wherein God reveals most clearly what He meant by what He said. Here is where understanding begins.
I was reminded of that process recently after working my way through a series of post-surgical difficulties that included an unusual sense of weakness and fatigue. Like almost everyone, I knew what being physically exhausted felt like, but this was different. It wasn’t like the tiredness that comes from working really hard and needing some relaxation and a good night’s sleep. I felt worn out and totally depleted on the inside. The kind of rest that was normally rejuvenating had no effect, but oddly enough, the situation did contribute to reflecting on how much attention God gives to the amazing concept of “rest”.
An Unexpected Introduction ~
He chose to introduce it in the very beginning of human life on this planet. After six days of unleashing the most astounding exhibition of divine authority, creative genius, and omnipotent power that had ever been displayed, God did something that seemed totally out of context. As we all know, God culminated this spectacular string of cosmic events by calling a halt to everything and declaring that He was setting aside that seventh day and calling it a “day of rest”.
Ever since then, God has advocated, commanded, defended, and promoted the concept of rest. He offers it as a present benefit and promises it as part of our eternal inheritance. But like so many of His other incredible gifts, we haven’t handled it well. Over time, we have taken what was designed for our blessing and prosperity and misused it. Our history chronicles the many ways we have ignored it, taken it for granted, misunderstood it, abused it, used it to manipulate and control others, and made it a virtual religion. In spite of all the attention God devoted to it and all the admonitions related to it, the consensus in our hectic Western culture is that most of us don’t get enough of it.
An Ineffective Strategy ~
One of the reasons for that is that our efforts to incorporate rest into our schedules are generally governed by the degree of pressure we feel on any given day. The demands inserted into our days seem endless, and the cell phones we carry everywhere make escape seem impossible. We try to incorporate enough of what we call “rest” to enable us to function and get our work done, but that strategy falls woefully short of what God intended for us. So, it might be helpful to explore what God includes in the kind of rest He wants us to enjoy.
There’s a uniquely Hebrew idea that God associates with the rest He promises, and it seems to be missing in our current Western culture. It’s encapsulated in the term “shalom”. We Western Christians hear the word and immediately think something like, “Oh, yeah. That’s the Jewish word for peace.” It’s a reasonable response because the word “peace” is almost always presented as the English translation for the Hebrew “shalom” in our Bibles. The truth is, the Hebrew concept includes much more than freedom from conflict or contention.
More than Meets the Eye ~
To Jews from antiquity onward, shalom embraced more than our simple understanding of peace. In addition to the physical benefits, shalom included the emotional, mental, and spiritual realms as well. Shalom meant tranquility, security, prosperity, provision, contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, and acceptance. From the very beginning, the living God determined that having a relationship and ongoing fellowship with Him would afford access to those qualities even during our time on this sin-cursed earth. God wanted rest to be seen as more than an eventual inheritance. He wanted it to be seen as a precious commodity here and now. But perhaps the most wonderful part about it is that shalom isn’t something we have to earn. It isn’t a gold ring we have to jump high enough to grasp. It only comes from God, and we either position ourselves to receive it, or not.
An exchange between Moses and God unveils another priceless bit of truth that God slipped in for us. Scripture records that Moses was having trouble with the challenge of leading the multitude of former Jewish slaves in Egypt through the wilderness that awaited them. The conversation is fascinating, but we’d like to focus on what we might call the “rest” of the story:
Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:13–14 NKJV)
The way the words are arranged in the original language is positively wonderful. “Rest” reads like a verb, not a noun. God is saying that He will not only go with Moses, but that He will rest him. Moses doesn’t have to achieve it, or acquire it, or earn it. The task would be overwhelming, and the fatigue on every level would be unimaginable, but in spite of it all, God, the God who called him, would go with him and “He, Himself” would rest Moses.
For those of us facing trials, for those of us worn down in ways that sleep alone cannot fix, there’s good news. Jesus Christ wants to be your shalom. He will do for you what God did for Moses. He will go with you, and He will rest you.
A Final Thought ~
We can’t leave this issue without offering one final reminder. God’s promises and intentions are clear, but the devil hides his. Embracing the values of his corrupt and deceitful world system is guaranteed to produce the opposite of the rest God provides. Sin offers no sanctuary, no shelter, no salvation – no shalom, now or ever. Isaiah presents a brief but graphic picture of that reality:
But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.“There is no peace [no shalom]” says my God, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 57:20–21 NKJV)
Jesus made it clear to the Pharisees that God ordained rest as a means to bless us, not another demand to burden us. May God help us all to do a better job of regularly disentangling ourselves from the chaotic world and allowing “Him” to rest us. A little taste of true shalom now and then can be be energizing – and just what our living God longs to do for us.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “To Jews from antiquity onward, shalom meant tranquility, security, prosperity, provision, contentment, fulfillment & acceptance. From the beginning, God determined that relationship & ongoing fellowship with Him would afford that access.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Shalom isn’t something we have to earn. It isn’t a gold ring we have to jump high enough to grasp. It only comes from God, and we either position ourselves to receive it, or not.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The way the words, “I will give you rest” are arranged in the original language “rest” reads like a verb, not a noun. God is saying that He will not only go with Moses, but that He will rest him.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Embracing the values of Satan’s corrupt and deceitful world system is guaranteed to produce the opposite of the rest God provides. Sin offers no sanctuary, no shelter, no salvation–no shalom now or ever.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Jesus made it clear to the Pharisees that God ordained rest as a means to bless us, not another demand to burden us. May God help us all do a better job of regularly disentangling ourselves from the chaotic world and allowing Him to rest us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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