Hebrews 4:3-9 “Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, ‘So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest.’ And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.’ And again in the passage above he says, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;”
Israel didn’t miss the opportunity to enter God’s rest because it wasn’t available to them. The Lord genuinely wanted them to have it. That is why he was so angry he took this oath here. He had done so much for them, preached so much to them, yet they wouldn’t have it.
This was in spite of the fact that he had prepared his spiritual rest from the time he created the world. When God himself established a day of rest at the end of his week of creation, he was setting down a day that was more than a day free from work. It was a day for God to enjoy his creation, and for creation to enjoy its God. Though mankind fell into sin, God had established this relationship of peace and enjoyment of his presence on the seventh day. By the forgiveness of sins he continued to invite people back to him to rest in the love and friendship of God that marked the very first seventh day. Every Sabbath that followed was a special day for offering that invitation. The opportunity had been there for Israel at the time of Moses, and throughout their history. But many, if not most, let the opportunity pass and were lost.
There was another reason many in Israel failed to enter God’s rest. Some misunderstood what God’s rest was. They believed it was Joshua giving them rest from the hard life out in the wilderness when he led them into the promised land. But finding an easier life here on earth is not God’s rest. If that were so, the opportunity would have applied only to a time and circumstance long past. It would no longer apply to us today. Entering the Promised Land may have served as a picture of God’s spiritual rest, but the historical event was not the thing itself.
Is it hard to understand how many of God’s Old Testament people could misunderstand God’s promise of rest? People still try to satisfy their inner longing for peace and spiritual rest by looking in wrong places. It can’t be found in money, a lover’s arms, a favorite place to live, entertainment, a successful career, political power, or even a life of service and volunteerism.
And that’s a good thing, because if the promise is not attached to a specific time, place, or circumstance, the opportunity remains for us to enter God’s rest. Today we still hear God’s voice in the Gospel. Today he is still inviting us, still drawing us, to possess this rest for our souls, and live in it, and know its blessings.