So I swore in My wrath,`They shall not enter My rest’” (Psa 95:11).
Please read Hebrews 4:1-10
It was a tragic story with which every Hebrew was familiar; how, at the brink of Canaan, the Israelites refused to go in. “Our enemies are too big,” they said, implying their God was too small. They wept, whimpered, and faithlessly wished, “If only we had died in this wilderness” (Numbers 14:2).
Furious at their constant rebellion, God granted their request. Instead of marching into Canaan, they spent forty years dying in the wilderness. Worse still, those of the Exodus Generation who rejected God not only forfeited the Promised Land; they also forfeited God’s promised rest. “So, I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’” (Psalm 95:11—a psalm quoted seven times in Hebrews Chapters 3 and 4).
In Hebrews 3:7-19, the inspired writer first warned his readers, “This is what happened to the unbelieving Israelites.” In Hebrews 4:1-10 he exhorted them, “Don’t let this happen to you.” “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it” (Hebrews 4:1).
But what, exactly, is God’s rest? Canaan was certainly a resting place for the Israelites, but the land itself was not God’s rest. God’s rest existed long before Canaan and Canaanites and Israelites—in fact, has existed since day seven of creation. Even after the Israelites entered Canaan, they found no true rest in their land or from their leader Joshua. “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day” (Hebrews 4:8).
God alone is the source of true rest. The word rest is used ten times in chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews, but it is never associated with an earthly person, place, or thing—only God. It is called “My rest” in Hebrews 3:11; 4:3,5; and “His rest” in Hebrews 3:18; 4:1,10. Consequently, when the Israelites rejected God, they rejected His promised rest and His Promised Land. Unbelief prevented them from entering both. “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).
God “rested” on the seventh day of creation, not because He was tired, but because He was done creating. The “works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3). In His unsearchable wisdom and immeasurable power, God had created all we needed for life, fulfillment, and purpose. Nothing was missing. Everything was perfect. So God stopped creating.
To enter God’s rest means that we also cease from our works, as God did from His (Hebrews 4:10); that is, that we trust God to provide everything from daily bread to eternal life. God’s rest is not entered by doing, but by believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and relying upon his Word. “For we who have believed enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3).
Each “today” that we hear the Gospel—the Gospel that declares how God alone has done all the work of redemption, and we do all the unmerited receiving—we are being called to God’s rest. The Gospel declares how Christ is not only the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, but also the once-and-for-all guarantee that God will withhold no good and perfect blessing from our lives. To know and believe this is to rest in God—and to rest better in bed. “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
The best commentary on Hebrews 4:1-10 is found in Matthew 11:28-29, where Jesus said: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Mark Weis is pastor of the Church of the Lutheran Confession in North Port, Florida.