Out of the kindness of Wipf and Stock, I received a preview digital file in response to my interest in the topic of biblical rest. In this book, he provides insights into the varied themes of the Former Prophets, a study that follows his survey of the Pentateuch entitled, “Waiting for the Land” (2010).
The idea that “rest” is an organizational theme within the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings is one that I explored in The Sabbath Complete, published in 2011. Indeed, both “land” and “rest” occupy the minds of the authors of much of OT literature. Not surprisingly, the Lord instituted multiple ritual ordinances related to these significant eschatological themes. But Israel, having never realized in fullness the possession of the land and the resultant rest from enemies, must ponder how the Lord will ultimately accomplish His promises with such a notoriously disobedient people. These themes must also be considered by new covenant believers since they are reminded in Hebrews to be diligent to enter that rest (Heb 4:11).
In preparation for his insights into the Former Prophets, Leder reviews canonical considerations, hermeneutical views, and presuppositions that affect how one is to read and derive meaning from the books of the Bible. “Scripture speaks to its committed readers today as it did to those of old because the intended audience is that divinely shaped community which accepts this Scripture as God’s word and therefore authoritative and definitive for faith and conduct” (p. 9). Following this, Leder continues to prepare his readers with the backdrop of Genesis and the historical trajectories that set the stage for Joshua and beyond. These are worthwhile instructional chapters. The remaining chapters investigate the theme of rest in each book of the Former Prophets. I was intrigued with his discoveries of parallelism and repetition. If you decide to read this book, I suggest beginning with his appendix/word study on nuach and menuhah in Genesis.
As mentioned above, the theme of rest is of great importance to members of the NT church. The book title derives its name from Hebrews 4:9: “There remains therefore a rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God.” Hebrews 3:7-4:11 draws on passages in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Kings, and Psalms to provide relevant assurances, advice, and warnings to the people of God. The overall thrust of Leder’s book considers “rest” to be a redemptive and eschatological theme to be fulfilled in Christ. But If Christ indeed provides rest for the people of God, this necessarily invalidates the “divine instructions” to overthrow the enemies, to take possession of the land, and to physically rest at appointed times. Instead, these themes are reimagined as spiritual realities and experiences. Leder astutely observes that “fundamentally, completing the conquest was not a territorial matter but a profoundly spiritual battle against the powers and principalities that ruled Canaan” (p 86). This understanding, guided by the NT interpretation of the OT, pictures new covenant believers as also awaiting the promised land and its rest, while concurrently engaged in spiritual warfare.
Depending on one’s view of fulfillment and its affect on ceremonies of land and rest, Hebrews 4 may become a bit of an interpretive battleground. Hebrews 4:9 is used in Reformed literature to advocate the continuation of a weekly rest, à la the fourth commandment. However, Leder does not directly advocate “keeping the Sabbath” and mentions it but a few times. Once, he uses the Sabbath as a metaphor for the hope of peaceful rest with God (p. 171). His focus is on the relationship of the experience of daily rest from enemies and peaceful fellowship with God while in the land. The Sabbath is merely a weekly duty to rest from work, during which God expects “nothing less than rigorous keeping of the covenant vows” (p. 86). Also, Leder only adverts to Matt 11:28-29 a few times, where Christ promises rest to those who exchange their burdens for his easy yoke—presumably a daily experience of rest. But the sense of rest proposed in Leder’s studies is that our time awaiting the complete fulfillment of rest is our burden. “The burden of waiting for the rest that still remains is the waiting, the incompleteness, the brokenness, the temptation to surrender to the pain of bodily incoherence, and the never ending discerning the spirit behind the conflict (p. 182). There is no denying the hardships that challenge our sense of rest in Jesus Christ. “For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Cor 7:5-6). But at the same time, this idea of waiting for the rest that remains must take into account that “we who have believed do enter that rest” (Heb 4:3). Clarke wonderfully expressed the truth of this verse:
“The meaning appears to be this: We Jews, who have believed in Christ, do actually possess that rest-state of happiness in God, produced by peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit—which was typified by the happiness and comfort to be enjoyed by the believing Hebrews, in the possession of the promised land.”Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary, 6:710
The New Testament does not support the idea that Sabbath-keeping is a required law for Christians. Sabbatarians tend to maximize their attention on the idea of waiting for the rest that remains—the shared hope of faithful Israel—while minimizing the present possession of salvation rest of those who believe. Since the focus is on waiting, the church, they say, must continue to observe the Sabbath which sustains that future hope. Scripture does present a parallel between the Jews awaiting the (land) rest that remains and the Christian awaiting the (heavenly) rest that remains. We may admit this even though the concept of that rest is slightly different—the Jews expecting national occupation of the land promised to Abraham, and Christians expecting the inheritance of a new heavens and earth, also expected by Abraham (Heb 11:13-16). However, the parallel between the Jew’s occasional and temporary rest from enemies is profoundly different than the present and unshakeable redemptive rest that every Christian enjoys in covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. This truth obviates Sabbath-keeping because our soulical experience of complete rest in Jesus Christ is the down-payment and guarantee of our full inheritance in the promised eschaton. There is no wondering whether our perfect obedience is instrumental in securing or maintaining the present possession of rest. As Leder says, “Israel’s rest from its enemies all around is no longer dependent on its compliance with divine instruction as in the days of Joshua, but on the Lord’s covenant with David and his descendants” (p. 143). While our ultimate salvation is sure, not directly dependent on our obedience, we are still urged to be diligent to enter that rest lest any succumb to the disobedience of disbelief (Heb 4:11).