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The resting place

A temple, Sabbath, a Psalm all invite us to live in the presence of God.

Rabbis point out that creation’s seventh day had no end, no “evening and morning.” It is the context for life, the whole story to come. Key words in Biblical passages help us make connections. The parallel words and days in Genesis 1 show the construction and populating of God’s creation temple. We miss out because we do not think in temple categories.

The Biblical scholar John Walton points out how creation culminates on day seven. God resting from his work has the sense of the completion of the temple but also its final purposeful actualization. That God rested means that he moved in. He became present in his earthly temple. Much like The Message translates John 1:14, where the Word “moved into the neighborhood.”

God’s rest is his presence with us.

The Sabbath & the temple

This is not just the origin of the Sabbath. It is its fundamental meaning. The word “rest” in Hebrew is “Sabbath.” The Sabbath got lost in Jewish tradition and in mine in the rules and regulations meant to keep it holy. The emphasis fell on “cease” more than “sense,” stop doing more than start living in the presence of God.

As the Sabbath represented God’s resting in time, the temple represented it in space. Chronicles, which tells Israel’s history to give hope for returning home to the presence of God after the Exile, has David speak of the planned temple “as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God” (1 Chron. 28:2). Psalm 132 sings, “Let us go to his dwelling place, let us worship at his footstool, saying, ‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place.’”

Isaiah looks back to the creation rest, beyond the temple, and to the restoration. The Lord says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?” (66:1)

Psalm 95

Hebrews 3:7-4:11 reflects on the meaning of the creational Sabbath, as God’s rest, bringing together Genesis 2, Israel’s wilderness rebellion in Numbers 14, Psalm 95 and Jesus’ priestly work in Rabbinic fashion. Psalm 95 is a beautiful call to worship. I have used it many times, but I do what many do and stop midway through verse 7. The opening lines call us to come, sing for joy, give thanks, worship and bow down to the LORD our God, the creator and caretaker. Then it changes abruptly, warning not to follow the wilderness generation. It ends with God saying, “So I declare on oath in my anger. ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Psalm 95 uses the Numbers 14 story of Israel’s rebellious lack of trust as a call to truly, and maybe fearfully, listen. This was a Temple Psalm and in later Jewish tradition a synagogue call to worship. Here the land, the temple and worship are all seen as places of God’s rest.

Hebrews

Hebrews calls and warns with this Psalm and Numbers story. The repeated line (9 times in some form) is “enter into his rest.” This rest is the presence of God. This rest has been there from the beginning, but we are restless. This rest is heard in worship, but we are too often hard of hearing. The rest is symbolized in the Sabbath, the land, and the temple, but we make rules about these symbols and miss the signified. The rest remains. Jesus has led our humanity into God’s rest (Heb.4-5) and will bring God’s rest finally fully back to his creation (Rev.21-22).

Jesus, the great rabbi, calls, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28).

Author

  • Tom Wolthuis

    Dr. Thomas Wolthuis is a CRC pastor serving as the English pastor of the Chinese Church of Iowa City. He has been a campus minister, institute president, professor, pastor, and church planter. His Biblical Studies podcasts are at www.geneva-ui.org.

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