“For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (vv. 10–11).
- Psalm 95
Typical of every portion of the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments are not only ends in themselves but rather point to a future in which their intent will find its fullest expression in the new heaven and earth. They anticipate an age when they will be followed in all their fullness as a part of the character of every redeemed person. For example, the first commandment, which prohibits the worship of other gods in the nation of Israel, looks forward to a day when, as a result of the witness and glory of Israel, all the nations will serve no other master but Yahweh, the one triune creator God and Lord of Israel (Isa. 11:9; 66:18–23).
Sabbath observance as defined in the fourth commandment is likewise not an end in itself, and today’s passage helps us see that this is the case. The Sabbath commandment is primarily concerned with the people of God imitating His own rest on the appropriate day of the week (the seventh day in the old covenant, the first day in the new), so any passage that deals with God’s description of His own rest helps us understand the purpose of the Sabbath commandment. Psalm 95 warns the covenant community that if its citizens do not praise the Lord but instead harden their hearts, they will not enter God’s rest. Reference is made to the generation the Lord redeemed from Egypt, whose refusal to believe at Meribah and Masah exemplified the wilderness community’s perpetual lack of faith and resulted in them not being allowed to enter the land of Canaan (Ps. 95:8–11; see Ex. 17:1–7; Num. 14).
Canaan was a picture of God’s rest; in that land, the Lord pledged to protect His faithful people from their enemies and give them rest from the weariness of trying to make their way in exile (Deut. 28). But the Promised Land was not the ultimate rest, because the covenant community was not yet perfected and therefore never enjoyed the full benefits that come with full obedience. The Sabbath was given to remind the old covenant Israelites of the promises of God and of the provisional nature of the rest He brought them when He called them out of Egypt. Because Sabbath rest was not their permanent experience but a once-a-week celebration, the community was supposed to see that a better rest was still ahead, one in which the people would enjoy pure holiness, the greatest benefit of sharing in God’s rest.
When we rest on the Lord’s Day, we are reminded that the world has not yet been transformed and that there is a better day coming when we will no longer have to deal with thorns and thistles or any of the other pain that is present in a world still suffering the effects of the curse. This Lord’s Day, as you are in worship and at home, take some time to meditate on the eternal rest to come to all who are in Christ Jesus.