Most uses of the noun and verb in the Bible are nontheological. However, the verb and noun take on theological and/or spiritual meaning in relation to God, to the people of both the old and new covenants, and to individual believers under both covenants. The most significant theological use in the Bible is found in Hebrews 3:7-4:11.
The Old Testament. Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, rested from the act of creating on the seventh day. "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work of creation he had done" ( Gen 2:2 ). God contemplated his own work, knowing that it was good.
The people of Yahweh were also given the blessing of rest a whole day out of each week in which to rejoice in and contemplate God's works and words. The seventh day was the day of complete rest, the Sabbath, and sacred to the Lord ( Exod 16 ; 23 ; 25 ). It was a day on which everyone, whatever his or her status, had to rest from daily labors; it was a festival for al to keep in honor of the Lord God, who himself rested ( Exod 20:10 ; 23:12 ; 31:15 ).
The tribes of Israel also enjoyed God's gift of rest when they settled in the promised land, which flowed with milk and honey (see Joshua 1:13-15 ; 23:1 ). Canaan is actually called "the resting place [Heb. menuha] the Lord your God is giving you" ( Deut 12:9 ). They also knew such rest when they were delivered from their enemies ( Joshua 14:15 ; 21:44 ; Judges 3:11 Judges 3:30 ). This rest of peaceful living was granted by God as the people looked to him alone and sought to keep his covenant.
With respect to the covenant relation of Yahweh to his people, we read that his fury rested on them in judgment ( Ezek 5:13 ; 16:42 ; 21:7 ) and that his hand and Spirit rested on them in blessing ( Isa 11:2 ; 25:10 ; Jer 6:16 ).
In the Gospels the theology of rest is most clearly articulated in the words of Jesus: "come to me and I will give you rest and you will find rest for your souls" ( Matt 11:28-30 ). The rest he promises is certainly for the world to come, but it is also for this world. It is the sense of security and peace that flows from a right relation with God, the Father, through obedience to his Son, the Messiah, and membership in his kingdom.
In Hebrews 3-4 the verb katapauo [katapauvw] occurs three times and the noun, katapausis, eight times. Also, the Greek text of Psalm 95:11 ("they shall never enter my rest") is cited eight times. Joshua was given the task by Yahweh of leading the tribes of Israel into the promised land, into the rest promised them by their God. This task was fulfilled in an earthly sense by Joshua, as the Book of Joshua describes. However, the fuller meaning of the everlasting rest of God promised to his people and related to the gift of rest of the seventh day was not achieved by Joshua and the tribes under the old covenant. Jesus the Christ, the greater Joshua, was sent by the Father to bring into being the true nature and fullness of the gift of rest for the people of God.
The rest is rightly called a "sabbath rest" because it is a participation in God's own rest. When God completed his work of creation, he rested; likewise when his people complete their service to him on earth, they will enter into God's prepared rest. Now, in this age, the rest is before them as their heritage and by faith they live in the light of it in this world. How this is done is wonderfully illustrated with the wealth of biographical detail in Hebrews 11. Here the rest is also portrayed as a city prepared for God's faithful people a city whose builder is God himself. Whatever this rest consists of it is not a state of complete inactivity, such as the rest of the wicked ( Job 3:17-19 ).
In Revelation 14:13-14 the heavenly voice speaks of the blessedness of those who die in the Lord and the Spirit replies: "They will rest from their labor for their deeds will follow them." Here a different dimension of the meaning of rest is being pointed to a rest that is not inactivity but is certainly free of the burdens of the flesh and of the present, evil age.
Finally, we note that as the Spirit of the Lord rests on the Messiah ( Isa 11:2 ), so in the new covenant, "If you [Christian believers] are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" ( 1 Peter 4:14 ).Peter Toon
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Rest'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".