Why did God rest on the original Sabbath day?
Was God tired? What does it mean for God to rest? How does this apply to you and me? Is there something we need to know about the original Sabbath day, that helps us find a Biblical rest and what it really means to obey the Fourth Commandment?
This week, I have a conversation with Gregory Hall. Below is a transcript of this episode.
James Early: Hey there, and welcome again to another episode of The Bible Speaks to You Podcast. I’m really fortunate today to have my friend Greg Hall. We’re going to have a conversation today about the Sabbath and finding the rest that’s talked about in the Bible. Greg, welcome to The Bible Speaks to You Podcast.
Greg Hall: Thank you so much. I am so excited to be here. And I’m excited about our conversation.
James Great. I’m so glad you’re too. Let me tell you a little bit about Greg.
Greg lives with his wife, who was his high school sweetheart, in the Pacific Northwest. And they have two sons. Greg is the host of the Rethinking Scripture podcast. And he has a website with that same name rethinkingscripture.com. He likes to challenge his listeners and his readers to rethink what they thought they already knew about the Bible.
I really like that approach. Because I try to do that too, a little bit. He has been a host of things in his life. He’s been a college athlete, a public school teacher, a real estate broker, a triathlete, a small business owner, a pastor, and he has led tours to Israel. And he has been a university professor.
He has his Master’s in theological studies, and he has a Doctorate of Ministry and Biblical Preaching and Teaching. He really has it as his goal to among other things, to bring a fresh, biblical perspective to some of life’s important themes. And that’s one of the things we’re going to talk about today, this idea of the Sabbath, and what it means to rest, really finding a deep spiritual rest in a Biblical sense.
He has just published his first book, as of January 2023. So it’s hot off the press. It’s called Rethinking Rest, Why Our Approach to Sabbath Isn’t Working*. And we’re going to talk about that in just a little bit. We just recently got acquainted, you had listened to a podcast episode of mine that came out last November, called, Why Does the Sabbath Still Matter Today? That was episode 160.
Greg found that episode and reached out to me and we had this wonderful conversation about the deeper meaning of what the Sabbath is and can be. And also in a broader sense, we talked about this idea of biblical rest and how important that is in our lives and what that really means.
And I loved his ideas so much that I wanted him to come and share that with you guys, because I was so inspired by our conversation. So Greg, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d appreciate if you would share why after you listened to my episode about the Sabbath, what was it that caught your ear and caused you to reach out and start this ball rolling? I’m so glad to get to know you, by the way.
Finding the original Sabbath
Greg Yeah, so obviously, I just wrote a book and it came out. So I’ve got Sabbath on the mind and rest, biblical rest, is on my mind. And so I’ve been looking at a lot of what other people are producing on the topic. And most often when I bring up the topic of biblical rest, like when I’m speaking to a group, or I’m introducing myself to another podcaster, like in this case with you, most of the time when I say biblical rest, what comes to mind, people kind of gravitate toward some variation of that Fourth Commandment that we find in Exodus, Chapter 20, the Sabbath day commandment, the seventh day Sabbath. That’s where a lot of the conversation in our evangelical world today is taking place, it’s gravitating toward that one commandment. What I try and do in my book, is talk about a biblical theology of rest was just means…
James Wait, wait, wait, a biblical theology of rest. That’s a really interesting phrase. What do you mean by that?
Greg Yeah. So by biblical theology, that just means you’re taking a look at what the entirety of the Bible has to say, on a particular topic. So people have biblical theologies on several different topics. But when I tried to write my book, I went at it from a biblical theology standpoint.
In other words, I’m not just trying to figure out what Exodus chapter 20, that Fourth Commandment is trying to say, and how that might apply to us today. I’m looking at the topic of rest, from a bigger, broader perspective, starting in Genesis going all the way through to the book of Revelation at the end, and what does the entirety of the Bible have to say about rest.
Finding biblical rest
And what I found was that when we back away from that Fourth Commandment idea, only the Bible has a lot more to say about rest than just that one commandment that we tend to gravitate toward. In fact, the Fourth Commandment is just a small sliver of a bigger picture of what rest is to God, and maybe what it is, or could be to us as well, as believers.
James That’s really interesting. I think all too often we’re probably all guilty, this picking out one or two little Scriptures and basing a whole theology on that. What I hear you saying is, you’ve got to see the bigger picture.
And I love that approach, too, because it gives you a much fuller sense of what everything the Bible says about a particular topic. So you’ve done that with this idea of rest and Sabbath. What got you first interested in this whole idea?
Greg Yeah, so it really started back in my Master’s program. I got a Master’s in Theology. And as part of that program, I was taking some just regular Bible survey courses. So they send you through the whole Bible and study each of the books. And when I got to the book of Hebrews, I noticed that in Chapters 3, and 4, specifically, the author of Hebrews spent a lot of time talking about rest.
Sabbath and the book of Hebrews
And I was surprised, he went back into the Old Testament several times to illustrate what he was talking about, or the points he was trying to make. And I was surprised that the author of Hebrews didn’t take us back to Exodus, Chapter 20, in his argument about what type of rest remains for the believer in God, after the cross, and the resurrection had happened.
That’s when Hebrews was written after those events. He talked a lot about rest, and tied it back to Old Testament concepts. But it was odd to me that the author, in his argument, was not taking us back to the Fourth Commandment. And that seems like where a lot of our conversations directly go A lot of the books on experiencing Sabbath today, assume that the Fourth Commandment is the end all it’s the crown jewel of rest. And I just wasn’t seeing that in the book of Hebrews argument. So that got me interested in the topic.
James Yeah, so what did you find when you went back to other Scriptures in the Old Testament?
Greg Yeah, so the author of Hebrews specifically takes us back to a couple of different pivot points. The first place is he takes us back to the original seventh day of arrest in the creation story that, you know, creation, Genesis, Chapter 1, the seventh day actually goes into Chapter 2, it’s in verses 1-4 is the end of that creation account, which never made sense to me. Kind of a side topic here, just how the chapter and verses were created in the Bible, just, that’s unfortunate that the seventh day ended up in Chapter 2, but I would have done it dramatically differently.
James Oh, yes. If we had been in charge…
Psalm 95 and the original Sabbath
Greg Yeah, I don’t want to be in charge of that either. So author of Hebrews says that a believer’s rest is similar to the type of rest that God experienced on the seventh day of creation. So I found that interesting. And then the other place that Hebrews takes us back to is Psalm 95, which was really off my radar at the time.
Psalm 95, is a Psalm of David. So it’s written well after the time of Moses. David came along well after that. And David is talking through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That’s, you know, the author of Hebrews makes that point as well, that David is talking about a type of rest in his day, that was yet still future.
And so the argument in Hebrews is, you know, if Joshua had brought that group of Israelites that came out of slavery and wandered around in the wilderness, and then the next generation entered the Promised Land through Joshua, that Promised Land is described as a land of rest.
And if Joshua’s bringing the people into a place of rest, if that was really what the concept was all about, David, hundreds of years later, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would not have spoken of another day after that. And so the argument goes in Hebrews, so there remains something else, something beyond just those Old Testament pictures of rest that were given.
The Fourth Commandment Sabbath
And I think, you know, the Fourth Commandment is a picture of rest, definitely. And it can bring clarity, if understood correctly, but I think we’ve just put too much emphasis… and we can’t agree what the Fourth Commandment even means. I don’t know if you’re familiar with all the different variations right?
James Oh, no. I’m not, is there a way to sort of synopsize it or…
Greg Totally, just quickly, you’ve got a faction within the evangelical realm that thinks we should be going back to the Old Testament understanding of the idea, which would be a Friday night to Saturday night observance, 24 hour period of time.
James Oh, right. I see what you mean. Yeah.
Greg And then there’s another contingency that thinks that the New Testament talks about worshiping on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as it’s called. A lot of people think that the New Testament idea is that the Sabbath is moved to Sunday.
And then Martin Luther came along in the 1500s, and suggested that you could piecemeal parts of days together throughout the week, but still trying to get to that 24 hour period of time, it could be another day of the week or something else.
And unfortunately, the bickering that we are experiencing about how to even define what the Fourth Commandment is, has led to just sort of this general ambivalence about the topic.
So what I’m finding is the next generation of believers have kind of abandoned the topic. But the author of Hebrews suggests that’s not really the option, there’s actually something with which we’re supposed to remain engaged.
Why is the Sabbath important?
James Why is this such an important topic, then? Maybe not so much on the mechanics of obeying the Fourth Commandment, but the spirit of it and the spirit of what you’re talking about, this deeper sense of rest. Why is it important for us to really understand that because there’s something much deeper going on that you’re talking about than just when you do it, obviously, or what you do on a particular day of the week? Isn’t there something much deeper spiritually that’s going on here?
Greg Yeah. And that’s why I was drawn to your podcast, because you kind of take the approach like, there is something deeper, there’s something maybe at a soul level, that I mean, we get that from Jesus’s statement and Matthew 11:28-30 (see below), where he’s inviting all those who are weary and heavy laden, and we tend to read that just initially, we think that’s talking about our physical condition. I’m weary physically, I’m heavy laden, and I’m tired.
And then when he says, and I will give you rest, we tend to think that that has something to do with our physical condition. It’s interesting, because if you follow his line of thought, his reasoning there on down to verse 30. He makes it clear that his offer is not a physical offer of rest. It’s a soul rest that he’s talking about. Which really is what you would expect from Jesus anyway. Right?
James Yeah. At least that and maybe both. If you find that deep spiritual sense of rest, it helps you experience more of a physical rest, literally too, I think.
Clues from ancient cultures
Greg I would agree. In my research, one thing that I found, because remember, Hebrews, the argument there took us back to the seventh day of creation in Genesis. And so I started doing research, and I was introduced to the work of a theologian, an Old Testament scholar from Wheaton College. His name is John Walton.
And he has written extensively on Ancient Near Eastern ideas. So what he does is he goes out into the Ancient Near Eastern, secular world that we have a lot of writing from. And he reads all of those things, as well as trying to relate them to the Bible, because the Bible was written into an ancient context.
James So you’re talking about he’s going back and finding anxious texts that were from the same period?
Greg And there’s been a ton of archaeological texts that have been unearthed in the last 100-150 years. And so we have a lot more material to look at today than somebody 100 years ago. And so he’s really spent his time looking at the secular world of the ancient Near East, which is interesting, because even in the secular world, we have stories of an ancient flood.
A lot of people know that there are extra biblical stories of the flood account. And not only that, but they have similarities to the way they’re written to the biblical text. And that might seem a little off-putting or threatening to some people that believe in the Bible to be the truth, you know, a unique truth in the world.
Part of his argument, and I think I kind of land here as well, is just because something shares some similarities with something outside the Bible doesn’t mean that we’re borrowing from that or that we have somehow said that there is truth other places. And so we’ve got to replicate that. It just means that it was written into a particular context, a culture.
It would make sense that if people understood things in a certain way within a culture and a period of time, that even the Bible was written into a particular culture. And they would have written the Bible in a way that the original recipients of that text would have best understood it.
Ancient ideas about rest
James So you’re talking about that’s even true of the sense of a rest or a Sabbath? Or is that what you’re where you’re going with this?
Greg Well, yeah, so it’s not just like ancient flood stories. There are ancient pagan stories of the creation of the cosmos. And they’re very different than the biblical texts, because there’s a pantheon of gods and they fight for the right to be the creator of this cosmos. And the Bible shares some of the characteristics of those stories, though, putting organization to the cosmos is similar.
But the Bible is dramatically different. And it would have spoken directly to the pantheon of gods because the biblical story only talks about one God. And He doesn’t have to fight for the right to do the creation, or the organization of the cosmos. And the interesting thing that John Walton found in looking at these extra biblical sources in some of them, at the end of the process, the pagan god will build a temple to place his image within the temple, usually a statue. And then it says that the pagan god rests.
And that’s really interesting, because that’s the same format that’s used in the biblical story, that God, at the end of the process, rests. And in the ancient Near East, what he found was, rest was not having to do with inactivity, taking a day off from work. Resting was the way that they described the beginning of their rule.
James Oh, wait, now expand on that, that’s really interesting.
Greg What he found was that these pagan gods in these stories would create an order, a function and order for the cosmos, how that particular pagan god thought the universe should work, very different from the biblical organization, right. But at the end, that pagan god would then begin ruling over the cosmos using the rules that were set up in, in the first part of the story.
And that rule, when he sat down on His throne, in other words, he began his rest. It was full of activity, because ruling is full of activity. But it’s described in an ancient Near Eastern context as rest.
A modern day example: for instance, let’s talk about the President of the United States. The President gets elected, builds a cabinet around that position, surrounds himself or herself with other people, that are going to help in the process. But then, Inauguration Day comes. And the ruling starts. He sits down in the Oval Office, in other words.
In an ancient Near Eastern context, that Inauguration Day and sitting down in the Oval Office and beginning the function of being a president ruling in that role, that could be described as resting, even though the President’s very busy.
Does God get tired?
James Interesting isn’t it? I mean, it gives it a different sense of the word rest. I’ve always kind of – I don’t have all this theological background that you do, but I’ve always kind of felt like, well, first of all, I couldn’t imagine God getting tired.
To me, the resting was a sense of when something rests, it’s it remains, it’s there. And it’s kind of a little bit, what you’re saying is, it was all complete. And that’s what the Bible says that all creation was complete. And I just felt like He was sort of rejoicing in it. But again, that’s the kind of the beginning of now, okay, it’s all set up. Now. Here we go.
Greg Yeah. And that’s a typical way, if you view that seventh day of creation, as God actually taking a day off from all work, then that’s the way you probably are understanding that concept, is that He is taking a day to just rejoice in the work that He had just done.
And in so doing, people say that He’s modeling for us what we should do in our Sabbath. We should take one day a week off and look back at what we’ve been able to do under God’s rule and authority, right, the other six days of the week that we rest in that way.
The problem is, that’s our understanding. That’s the way we’ve tried to fix it. Because we think it’s all about physical rest. God’s rest, Jesus in Matthew 11 suggests, that the rest that God is talking about is not having to do with physically taking time off of work. It’s, it’s at a deeper level.
Resting equals ceasing to work
What’s interesting, we go back into the first six days, so I like drawing a line at the end of day six, because really the Shabbat word in the Hebrew, where that’s translated as God rested on that seventh day, it literally just means a ceasing, something stopped. In other words, we have assumed that He stopped all work. But that’s not what it says in the text. It just says that He stopped.
And if we get really specific, in the beginning of C2hapter 2, it says He ceased on the seventh day from all His work, which He had done. So it doesn’t say from all His work period, it says He ceased from all the work which He had done. That’s specifically just talking about the first six days.
James Oh, that’s really interesting.
Greg Yeah, there’s a stopping of a type of work that He was doing in the first six days. That’s the organizational work. The way I say it easily is, He’s giving everything a place to be and something to do. So He gives land a place to be light and darkness, He separates. He gives that a place to be, if that’s even the correct way to say, luminaries.
God never stops working
James That makes me think of something Jesus said, when the Pharisees were accusing him of breaking the Sabbath day, working on on the Sabbath day, healing on the Sabbath day, oh, my goodness, how terrible. And he said, “My Father has been working ever since. And so I work too.” (see John 5:17 below)
In other words, God never took a day off. He does not still take a day off. He never took a day off. He’s always being God. And that’s not work in a sense of physical labor. But it’s the sense of, I mean, the sun never stopped shining. Right. And God can’t stop being divine Love, infinite grace and mercy. And all those things God is.
Greg Yeah, I mean, what timezone would He take a day off starting in? Right?
James Oh, that’s great. I love that.
Greg I think it’s clear it would be Pacific Coast time in the United States. I mean, because that’s my timezone.
James In light of everything, you said, I love it, and that’s why I loved our conversation a week or two ago, yet, the Old Testament is full of these times where they weren’t supposed to do anything. And that carries over into the New Testament a little bit in Jesus’s time. What do you think they were missing?
How to observe the Fourth Commandment
Why was that important for them? Maybe that was a stepping stone for them to get to a better understanding of what the Sabbath and the rest really was. But there was a definite practice of not doing anything, and they’d say they couldn’t gather manna on the Sabbath.
Go a little deeper now where you’re going with this, because I could see this conversation going in several different directions. I’m just curious on how you think about then those times in the Old Testament, and even with the Pharisees, they still had this very rigid, literal sense of what they were talking about.
Greg Yeah. So I think that part of the answer is found in how do we view, how do you view, as an individual, the Old Testament Law? And I’m not going to try and solve those problems today? Because there are so many different ways that people view how we should be interacting with the Old Testament Law, what role it may continue to play today, if any, and options run the gamut, right?
We have people believing we should go back and be living, according to the Old Testament Law in its entirety. That’s one extreme and then the other extreme would be it’s totally done away with; we don’t have to pay attention to it at all. And then lots of variations in between.
Remember the Sabbath Day
Part of the problem then is we’re not kind of settled in what does the Fourth Commandment mean in Exodus, Chapter 20. (See Exodus 20:8-11 below) “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
Some people feel within Evangelicalism today, they feel the obligation to keep a tie to at least, if only a bare minimum, at least the 10 Commandments. And so they go back and they believe by keeping one day a week, separate and not doing any work on it, is somehow what is still prescribed for today.
Now, the problem with that is we’ve got Jesus speaking into the 10 Commandments in his ministry, and he’s inviting us, he’s inviting us to see those 10 Commandments a little differently than maybe they understood them in the Old Testament.
James Yeah, he he takes them all to a different level, doesn’t he?
Jesus and the Commandments
Greg He does. He takes he takes murder. For instance, let’s start with murder. He says it’s not about just the physical act of killing somebody. Really, that’s just a symptom, in other words, that that comes out of a heart condition. So, he sort of takes that idea what leads to a physical act of murder.
Well, it’s a heart condition that we need to solve. I often tell people, my wife’s a counselor, and she’s all about getting to the heart of an issue. Sometimes we need to pay attention to the symptoms. But usually symptoms are the result of a heart condition that needs to be resolved in a counseling situation.
And I believe that’s what Jesus was doing as well. He did it with adultery. He said, it’s not so much about the physical act of adultery, that’s a symptom of a heart condition. And let’s try and get the heart condition solved.
James Let me interrupt here for I’m gonna go chase a tiny little rabbit here. When we hear that phrase, a heart condition, we literally think of something wrong with your physical heart. You’re obviously talking about this in a more spiritual context. And I totally agree with you.
But I’m wondering if we solve some of these issues of the heart, as you say, the heart conditions, that might actually help heal the physical heart itself? I mean, it would relieve those things that are heavy on our heart.
Jesus invites us to a soul rest
Greg Yeah. Yeah. And honestly, Jesus, when he talks about rest, again, in his Matthew 11:28, I think he’s speaking specifically to the Fourth Commandment in that statement, even though he is not in the same context of you have heard it said that this but I say this type of stuff.
James Right. Right, right.
Greg He’s saying, all of you who are weary and heavy laden, come to me and I will give you rest, right. And then he defines it more fully as, and I’m not talking about taking one day a week off. He’s not saying, Come to me, and I will give you one day a week off. He is saying, Come to me. And I will give you a type of rest at the soul level that will then cure a lot of the other things going on in your life, when we get the heart in the right position.
James Let’s just stop and marvel at that idea that you just shared, Jesus says, you’ll find rest unto your souls, deep, way down spiritually. Isn’t that what we all need? You know, we can put a pretty good show on especially at church, we act like everything’s great: “How are you?” “Oh, I’m fine.” You just want to put on this good show of you’re such a good little Christian.
And yet, most of us are struggling with something. To find that rest at the deep spiritual level, Jesus is saying how we do that. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart.
Greg There you go. Yep.
The yoke of Jesus
James And that’s where we’ll find this recipe. So, can you talk just a little bit about what that means to take on the yoke of Jesus?
Greg Yeah, so interestingly, I just recorded yesterday, an episode of my podcast, Rethinking Scripture podcast, and it was “Unscrambling Christ’s Easy Yolk” was the title of it. So, it’s a play-on chicken yolks, egg yolks, and a different type of yolk that Jesus is talking about.
Just to say, we don’t have a really good command of what a yoke is, because we’re so far removed from a certain culture where they were commonplace, the original culture. But it’s interesting that when Jesus does make this statement, “Come to me all you who are weary,” and we know he’s talking about soul weariness, and soul heavy-ladenness, if that’s a correct way to say that, I will give you a soul rest. And then the very next statement, he says, “Take my yoke upon you.”
And what we miss in our culture is that a yoke is an instrument of work. It’s an instrument, that when animals are attached to a yoke, they are being prepared for work. There are reins on a yoke, right? It’s that piece of, it’s that wooden piece that goes between two ox or horses, so that they can pull something and that allows them to work together.
It also allows for the person holding the reins to direct their path and direct the type of work that they’re doing. Oxen on their own. left out in a field don’t just naturally gravitate toward a plow, and try and figure out how to pull it.
Rest and work
James You know, this is really good because it’s almost an oxymoron, isn’t it? If you want to rest here, you’ve got to do this work.
Greg Yeah, we’ve misunderstood. We have assumed because Jesus describes his yoke as easy and light, we assume that that means there’s no work involved. And that’s the yoke that Jesus brings. We bring it into a faith environment where we don’t have to do any work for our salvation. It’s just faith that saves us. I totally agree with that statement.
But that’s not at all what Jesus is talking about. We’ve assumed that when we come to faith, we experience his rest. But the author of Hebrews, and Jesus here, says, No, there’s something else. Rest is something that you have to do, after you come to faith.
The author of Hebrews says, Be diligent to enter that rest. (See Hebrews 4:11 below) And he’s talking to believers, people that already believe. So Jesus is inviting us, as believers, to come to him and take his yoke, meaning he has worked for us to do.
And it’s good work; it’s easy work, not in the sense that it’s not work at all, but in the sense that we’ve been gifted to do that type of work already. And it’s a light burden, because it brings us joy to do that type of work, when we do it, under the rule, under the organization of the first six days that God created.
So let’s not try and go back and reorganize the cosmos, and do our work under our own organization. Let’s lean in on God’s organization of the first six days. He ceased from that type of work. And He never went back to it because it was very good. It was working properly.
Don’t go back into the first six days of creation
James And it was complete.
Greg It was complete. Yeah, so let’s not go back into this first six days, and try and organize it ourselves, let’s move on from that. God’s invited us into His rest, which remember, is not a day off, it’s to cooperate in his rule of the cosmos. If you go back into the day six of creation, that’s exactly what it gives humanity, the right to do.
I’ll just read it here. It’s near the end on day six, verse 28, Chapter 1 of Genesis, “God blessed them, [humanity]. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply.” That’s one thing to do, right? And then “Fill, the earth subdue it, and rule.” Subdue and rule or God activities and what He’s doing, because we’re made in His image, He’s allowing us to do those activities under His rule and authority.
And when we do that, when we’re doing what we’ve been gifted to do, and called to do, and we’re doing it under the organization and structure that He created in the first six days, under His set of rules, in other words, the way the world should operate, then we’re bearing His image in a good way, within creation, and people within the creation, get to see what God is like. It’s just a different variation of “What would Jesus do?” Remember the bumper stickers and those bracelets back in the 90s?
Day seven: the original Sabbath
James You know, what I’m hearing, and I’m putting some things together, you’ve said, you said that the rest on the seventh day for God represents sort of that line in the sand where day one through six is done; everything is completely set up. And day seven of rest is actually the beginning of the reign or the rule.
Are you saying then that for us to celebrate the Sabbath or the rest, or whatever, is really to let the six days of creation, accept them as complete, go forward from that, but we began our rule as image and likeness of God. And that’s our rest. Is that what you’re saying? Is there a parallel there?
Greg Yes, that’s perfect. We experience God’s rest. This is again, going back to the author of Hebrews, this is his argument. We experience God’s rest when we rest, like God rested. And then that takes us back to the seventh day of creation.
How did God rest? He ceased one type of activity. And He began another type of activity, His rule. And so we experience God’s rest, when we rule with Him. And don’t go back and try and recreate a new function and order for the cosmos.
It goes straight into the Adam and Eve story. The Adam and Eve story is a story of how humanity tries to go back into the first six days of creation and reorganize it. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, right? He said: Here are My rules. Don’t go eat of that tree. I’ve organized this thing so you don’t need to have that wisdom.
The snake came in, said, Oh, if you had that wisdom, you’d be like God. But what the snake didn’t say was, When you have that wisdom, you then will go back into the first six days, just that act of eating that fruit is saying, I’m not trusting what God did in the first six days. I think I can do a better job of reorganizing this whole hot mess that the world is.
God’s order of creation
James Isn’t that one of the basic flaws of the human mind? is that we think we want to be in charge, we want to redo it, we think we can do a better job than someone else. And ultimately, we’re making little gods out of ourselves. And that does, that totally messes with God’s order of creation, because He’s the only God. He’s the only creator.
Greg Yeah, so And let’s give it feet, some practical things that Jesus said, you know, “The last shall be first.” (see Matthew 19:30 below) That’s the way God originally organized this thing, is for the lowly and humble at heart, to have a place of prominence.
And how have we upset that apple cart? Well, greed and vanity and everything else but the lowly and humble in heart, take prominence in the way we’ve reordered the world. We’ve just reintroduced chaos back into something that was organized well, and created for a purpose.
And so when we come on as believers and say, You know what, I’m going to follow Jesus and his teachings, what we’re really doing is saying, I am trusting, even though it makes no sense in certain circumstances, I am trusting that the way that God has ordered this thing is the best way and I agree to follow those rules.
I agree not to seek vengeance. And yet, I’m still tempted, right. And something happens to me where I’m offended, or somebody takes up, and just today on social media for me, somebody misunderstood something I said, and went a different direction with it that I wasn’t intending. And I wanted to lash back out. And I wanted to correct it in my way.
And just this gentle, humble at heart voice came out of the side of my head thinking, You know what, there’s probably something else going on here. Let’s just listen and try and get to a soul condition. You know, something else is going on. Turns out, yeah, that was it.
The original Sabbath in our daily lives
James That’s beautiful. I think it’s important here. Let’s talk a little bit about how to make these ideas practical, because this all sounds great. But how does this play out in our daily lives? I kind of feel like the Sabbath, this rest you’re talking about, is more of an attitude or a mindset that is rejoicing in the completeness of God’s creation.
And it could be if we were that aware of it a moment by moment, awareness, of God’s fullness, God’s completeness, the completeness of His creation, and as you said, as His image and likeness, ruling. What does it say in Genesis subduing and having dominion or ruling? That should be an everyday thing, shouldn’t it?
Greg Yeah, in fact, that’s where the argument in Hebrews goes. That’s why I love these two chapters in Hebrews. They’re so deep, and it’s not like it’s a brief mention. The author goes into detail on what rest is still available. And what about this concept is still important. And they don’t go back to the one day a week idea; they literally say, they quote the Old Testament Psalm that says, “Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts.” This is Psalm 95:7, 8 (see below), “don’t harden your hearts like they did in the rebellion.”
Those people coming out of Egypt hardened their hearts and missed out on a rest opportunity that God was providing for them. That doesn’t mean that God abandon them. God was with him the whole 40 years in the wilderness. Their relationship with God was dramatically different, though than it could have been.
And that’s what the author of Hebrews is saying. It’s, if you choose, believer, okay, we’re not talking about non-believers, author of Hebrews is writing to believers, the whole book. And he’s saying, If you as a believer choose not to enter into the rest that’s available, He’s not abandoning you. It’s just your quality of life.
You are created to rest with God, to rule with Him. You’ve been gifted to do that. And that opportunity is a today thing. And that’s the beauty of where Hebrews goes with it.
What day is the Sabbath?
I often finish with what day is the Sabbath? And, you know, people want to typically argue, oh, it’s Saturday or Friday or, you know, Sunday or some other day of the week. The author of Hebrews clearly says “Today if you hear His voice.”
James So it’s every day.
Greg The Sabbath is today. And the beauty is, it’s always today, no matter when you exist,
James I love that.
Greg It’s always today. So to today is always the Sabbath. And what I mean by that ,what the author of Hebrews is going for, is today is an opportunity to enter into a rest that is available to you today. You don’t have to wait any number of days. You don’t have to wait for your schedule to clear.
You could be very busy today and still experience rest. We often we often think of the opposite of rest as being work. Well, this turns that all upside down and says, You know what, the opposite of rest is not work. The opposite of rest is restlessness. And you can be restless, while you’re not doing anything. Or you can be restless in your work. And the same is true. You can be rested in your work as well.
Jesus turned things upside down
James That is so good. Jesus turned things upside down. He did the same thing with the concept of worship. When he was talking to the woman of Samaria at the well of Jacob. They were talking about worship. The woman says, Well, you say we should worship in Jerusalem and our people worship on this mountain.
And Jesus says, no, no, no, no, no, no. There’s a day coming, and it really is already right now – back to the nowness, the everydayness of all this, that the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and it’s not about a place. (see John 4:20, 23 below)
It’s not about a time or a ceremony, or a ritual. It’s a completely spiritual experience between you and God, and may be shared with other people. But it doesn’t have to be. He went to that soul definition, just like he did with rest. And just like you said, in Hebrews. That helps me understand.
Jesus was always interested, as you said, in the spiritual depth of an issue. According to the rules of the Pharisees of his day, he was breaking the Sabbath when his disciples went and picked grain, or he was healing, or he told someone that he healed “Take up your bed and walk.” You know, they had trouble with that.
Why do we ritualize the Sabbath?
I want to ask you, why do you think it is that we have, and it’s been in cycles, probably in more or less at different times throughout history, but certainly in the Old Testament, and, and even my dad, when he was a kid, he wasn’t allowed to go to the movies, they couldn’t play cards on Sunday.
There were all these things they couldn’t do on Sunday, like you just sat around in your Sunday clothes all afternoon.
So what do you think it is that makes people turn to that approach to Sabbath and think they’re doing it right, when they’ve kind of missed the spirit? They’ve made it into a ritual as opposed to a spiritual observation? Why do we do that?
Greg Yeah, in fact, I think we come by most of our typical mistakes, honestly. So let’s, let’s just throw ourselves in with everybody else. Where we’ve misunderstood things, and with good intentions, are trying to worship correctly the way we think God would have us worship.
And I think it stems back to a misreading of that Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20. Number one, we’re confused about what role the Old Testament Law should have. And that’s a larger conversation, bigger than today. But if we just look at that one commandment, let me give you a possibly a different way to understand it, different than the way most people read it.
So I’m in Exodus, Chapter 20, verses 8-11 (see below) is where we find it. It’s the longest of the 10 Commandments, as far as word count goes. And interestingly enough, it’s broken into four verses.
The way they wrote in an ancient context, had symmetry to it. It’s called chaistic structure. Basically, what that means is, they would introduce an idea and then they would recap that idea at the end, their argument would work towards a middle. And that middle thing was the most important part of their message.
Remember the original Sabbath
So we have four verses. The first and the last verse are in parallel structure, meaning they’re talking about the same thing. The middle two verses of this commandment then, are the main point of what the commandment is.
So as we look at it, though, it says in verse 8, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”. And when we read that, we assume that when it says Sabbath day there, we assume that they’re talking about what comes next, the description of the observance of a Seventh Day Sabbath. So we think the commandment is to remember the seventh day of every week, to try and keep that holy.
But that’s not what the author is doing. Verse 8 is in parallel to verse 11. Verse 11, further defines what verse 8 says. So when it says, Remember the Sabbath day, that’s literally the ceasing day. Remember the ceasing day, when things stopped. We’re trying to keep that day holy.
Verse 11, further defines it. “For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that was in them. And He ceased. On the seventh day, therefore, the Lord blessed, thus ceasing day, the Sabbath day, and made it holy.”
To Remember the Sabbath day is not about remembering the seventh day of every week; we’ve misunderstood that. The whole purpose of taking a day off every week, the Fourth Commandment, was to remember the original ceasing day. That’s day seven of the creation of the cosmos, where God ceased.
A line in the sand
We are to remember that day, because that is a line in the sand that we’re not supposed to cross, we’re not supposed to go back into the first six days. How are we going to do it? Well, in a shadowy sense, in the Old Testament, they said, Don’t do any work one day a week. And by doing that, hopefully you can remember the original ceasing day. It’s all about the original day. It’s not about what we think the Sabbath is.
James Oh, that’s beautiful.
Greg Doesn’t that makes sense with what Jesus said, his offer of rest, right? It’s not about one day a week, it’s about a deeper condition of rest.
James Right. Right. Right.
Greg That makes sense, that makes total sense with the argument made in Hebrews as well. So I think we’ve misunderstood honestly, I don’t, again, nothing malicious, we’ve just brought our lens and our focus to the text, and we read it differently than they would have.
A shadow of things to come
James I am looking something up here, you use the word shadowy. In Colossians, 2:16, 17 it says, “Let no man judge you…” This is King James, that’s just the one that came up on my software. “Let no man judge you therefore in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon or of the Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come.”
What you just said kind of goes along with that the Sabbath Day observance of the every seventh day every week. It’s just a shadow of the real essence of the original day of ceasing, as you say, is that what you’re saying?
Greg Yeah, yeah, totally. And I would add to that, not that I’m adding to Scripture, but add to the thought of Colossians 2:16, 17. Not only the Sabbath days that we find in the Old Testament Law are not just a mere shadow of what is to come. But they’re a reminder, they were intended to be a reminder of what was once the case.
So we’ve got bookends for this idea of Sabbath. It was restful in the beginning, before humanity went his own way and was expelled from the Garden. Right. And it will be at the end. That’s what Colossians is saying, there is a Sabbath rest to come that the Law foreshadows.
But it’s the book ends where the real rest is. In the middle, we’re just looking at shadows, which are representations of that rest. But it’s not the substance. And it clearly says in Colossians, at the end of that the substance of this idea is Christ. He is the one with theological substance when it comes to rest. And that makes sense because he claimed to be Lord of this idea.
Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath
James Yeah. He said, I’m the Lord of the Sabbath.
Greg He’s not saying I’m Lord one day a week, is he?
James Yeah, you’re right.
Greg I mean, that’s ludicrous. Nobody would claim that.
James No, of course not. So let’s go there just a minute. He also said, “God made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (see Mark 2:27 below)
Greg Yeah. And again, you could substitute ceasing. God created the ceasing for man. Well, what ceasing are they talking about? We’re not talking about one day a week. We’re talking about the original ceasing.
James Oh, my gosh, that puts so much more power behind this idea.
Greg Yeah. Yeah, God ceased for man’s benefit. In other words, He completed the first six days of activity, so that we wouldn’t have to. Man wasn’t created to cease. We weren’t created to go back into that type of work. That’s what we try and do, unfortunately.
You know, and part of the curse is to Adam and Eve, humanity’s representatives, were you’re going to do the same things that you do here in the Garden, you’re going to go out there, though, in a land that is cursed, and it’s going to be painful.
And we like to think that is physical pain, like it talks about the labor for a woman and physical work for a man. And we think that they’re talking about those things, will have physical pain involved with them. And that’s true.
But that’s not really the deeper issue of pain that we experience. Our work, whether it be giving birth by a woman, or physical work that we do, it’s painful, because we’re not equipped to give function and order to the universe. And that’s the land in which we’re trying to do it in.
We’re trying to create all this stuff. And it’s painful, because we’ve got to protect whatever cosmos we create, from everybody else that’s trying to create their own.
Dwell in God’s rest
James Oh, my gosh, we could really dive into this a little bit. The thought that comes to me is that when we make today, the day of ceasing, when we embrace this idea that you’ve been talking about, we aren’t in that cursed land.
If we can dwell in the land of God’s rest, God’s ceasing, where we real with Him, it begins to dissolve this, curse, this pain, whatever the burden, because then those things become, then the work becomes a rest, becomes a joy, because you’re doing what God has called you to do what you were talking about earlier.
Greg Yeah. So when Adam and Eve took the fruit, right, and were expelled from the Garden, they were expelled from their place of rest, they were then going out into a world that was unsettled, it was a world of chaos.
But what God gives us the opportunity to do is he has gifted us in certain ways to bring His function and order to that chaotic situation. That could be an interpersonal relationship that you have with somebody else, or chaos they’re experiencing in their life. It could be a company that you exist within, to bring a function and order to that situation, and bring God’s image into and display who God is and His function and order to the world. It’s really a unique opportunity.
That assumes that we understand God’s function and order. And that really takes a bunch of study. That’s why it’s important to listen to the words of Jesus, and see how he would have responded to something in the way he says the world is organized. Because it’s our job to go out into that chaotic world that we live in and bring God’s function and order to the chaos.
Doing God’s will
James Yeah, isn’t that what kind of the Lord’s prayer that line in the Lord’s Prayer? Where we pray for God’s will to be done. And his kingdom come? That sort of means you give up your kingdom. And you give up your will. You know, and that’s what you’re talking about.
Well, Jesus did that in his own ministry, not just in the Garden of Gethsemane all throughout his ministry: I didn’t come to do My will. (see John 5:30 below) I didn’t come to do my agenda. I didn’t come to tell you what my ideas were, I just am telling you what God said. I’m just telling you what the Father has revealed to me. I don’t say anything unless he tells me to. (see John 12:50 below) What if we did that for just five minutes?
Greg Yeah, I speak only what the Father has told me, I’d say only what the Father has revealed to me. And I’m here to reveal the Father to you. And in a lesser sense, we have the same role Jesus in his humanity was doing the thing that we are called to do. It’s bringing the image of God to a chaos in the world that doesn’t understand him. When we do that, well, we give the world a picture of who God is, like they would never understand otherwise.
James I think that’s what Jesus must have meant when he said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify God.” (see Matthew 5:16 below) You’re not doing it for your own glory, but let your light shine. Let people see this, this Sabbath, this day of rest, shine out from your heart. And that’s a better testimony than almost anything else.
Jesus’s yoke is the original Sabbath
Greg Yeah, “take my yoke upon you.” What Jesus is offering is for us willingly to have him give us direction. We willingly put his yoke on; it’s not forced upon us. Even as believers it’s not forced upon us, believe that or not.
He is saying, Come to me, allow me to place my yoke upon you, with your permission. And when you do, I’m going to lead you to exactly where I’ve gifted you to be. I’m going to take you places that you wouldn’t go normally on your own.
And that’s great, because you’ve got some other interests at times in your life. And I’m going to correct you, when you get off course. I’m going to pull on the reins, and I’m going to lead you to where you’re going to be the most effective display of God’s image, here in the world, I’ve got a plan for you.
James When we had our previous conversation, we were talking about this yoke image. And you mentioned that it’s like, Jesus is there in the yoke with us, guiding our steps, pacing according to how we can manage, but also sort of encouraging our pace. But he’s also got the reins, and he’s directing the whole thing.
So I love that, it’s a double image, really. It’s good, because we’re not doing it alone. Christ, the presence of Christ in our lives, does pull up beside us, does help us take the next step. And it also pulls the reins. All those images are for our spiritual well being, our spiritual progress, fulfilling the calling that God’s put on our lives that you’re talking about.
We could go on and on about this, I want you to tell my listeners a little bit about your book, probably some of the same ideas we’ve talked about here. But tell us if there’s something else about it you’d like to share? And also, what’s the best way for folks to find your book?
Greg Yeah, so the book’s available pretty much anywhere online, Amazon’s the easiest place to go, Barnes and Noble, christianbook.com, all of those places. My websites also going to come up rethinkingest.com.
The important thing that I want to let people know is I’ve created this, I was a pastor, when I started writing this book, I created it. It was birthed out of a seven week class that I did at my church. And it has a full Bible study curriculum online. It’s totally free.
So if you are interested in the topic, maybe something we’ve said today has sparked some interest, you can get the book and check it out. Again, you’re going to be taken from Genesis all the way through to Revelation on the topic of biblical rest.
And I’m going to be asking you to do just what the title says; you’re going to be doing some rethinking which is kind of uncomfortable for some people. But if that rings true in any fashion, there’s a whole slew of further resources that are available right there online. I’ve got QR codes in the book that you can scan with your phone, it takes you right to the Bible study.
James Well, I’ll have links to Amazon, I’ll have links to your website and to your podcast. I love the idea of getting us to rethink we need to take a fresh out of the box approach sometimes to to leave our preconceptions at the door. Because it colors what we see.
Greg I think we again, we come by our mistakes, honestly, I’m not trying to be accusing my whole Master’s program and Doctoral program that I went through. I can’t tell you the amount of times I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me. I have camped on that so long in the wrong spot. And I’m so embarrassed. And those those are, that’s a good process to go through when God begins to speak to you through His Word.
The Holy Spirit is moving
James I think that’s so important because I feel the Holy Spirit is moving on the waters in a much bigger way than people talk about. Because I talk to people in lots of different churches, from conservative to more liberal, to all these different things. And there’s, there’s something going on.
The Holy Spirit is putting some fresh air, the wind, the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing some fresh breeze. It’s so encouraging to see and I think your book is part of that. I’ve talked to so many people who… there’s this freshness of God revealing things. It’s like, Yes.
Greg Yeah, it’s It’s exciting to be a part of it. And to be able to see if my book is in that context. I would be honored to have that be the case. Yeah.
James Greg, I want to honor you for your willingness to take a fresh look at these things. And I want to honor your spiritual curiosity to sort of keep chasing down the rabbit holes until you sort of are piecing a few things together. And I’m sure that process is not over. But that’s a beautiful quality. And I just want to honor that.
The three final questions
I have three final questions that I ask all my guests and then we’re going to wrap up. The first question is, If you could talk to any Bible character, other than Jesus, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Greg Oh, this is good, though. Another Bible character. I’m gonna here’s where I would go. I would want to talk to Rahab.
James Oh, that’s a good one. Okay.
Greg The reason I say that is because other than like Mary in the New Testament, Rahab is mentioned as a great woman of faith more than any other character. Old Testament character for sure, woman character. She does not fit in any of our boxes that we would consider a good church woman today. Right?
James Oh, I appreciate you saying that. Yeah, totally. Yeah. So what would you ask her?
Greg So I would just, you know, I think, How did you land? Well, inside the walls of Jericho, in the profession that you are in, not going into detail? How did you land, with spies in your house? What was it? And I think what I would hear, I think she was a believer.
We get the sense that she was a believer, well before those spies came in. She had heard the stories of what the God of Israel had done, and there was a fear there in the walls of Jericho within the city. But I think it may have sparked a faith in her and then just an unlikely scenario.
If faith can be sparked in that type of a scenario, environment, God can work anywhere, any environment I would step into today, with any type of characters in it, I’ve got to be willing to acknowledge that God’s probably already at work in those environments. And he’s just inviting me into his work.
James Yeah, well, that kind of goes in with this whole idea of Sabbath. We don’t have to recreate the first six days, God’s already doing it in ways that we can’t see.
Here’s the second question. Is there any Bible character that you especially identify with?
Greg I would, I would love to think that I was one of the lesser known disciples. One of those guys that we’re not quite sure what his name was, or where he lived. I’m not one of the famous guys. I’m not the guy that was invited in, you know, at the healings when only three of them were invited. But I was definitely there most of the time.
Maybe when they cast lots in Acts, and they had two to pick from, who are those two? Do you remember this?
James Matthias And I’ve forgotten?
Greg Yeah, I was the other guy. I wasn’t Matthias. I was the other guy.
James Oh, the one that didn’t get picked.
Greg Yeah, yeah. That was me.
James But he had been with Jesus the whole time.
Greg That’s right, unassuming, in the background, got the credentials, maybe, but not well known. That’s me.
James Yeah. Actually, his name, I just looked it up. His Joseph called Barabas.
Greg Yeah, so I’m a guy that has hung close. And I’d like to see what Jesus is doing. I think I would have been that type of character.
James Good. Well, I think you’re that type of a guy now to hanging close to Jesus.
So here’s the third question is, you know, from listening to my podcast, it’s all about getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus, trying to get off of all these things we’ve added in the last 2,000 years. How would you describe Jesus’s original message of how he wanted us to live our lives?
Greg Well, let’s just stay on topic, because it’s where my mind is, his offer of rest. I think it’s an all encompassing offer, to believers. And I think, in so doing, he’s also offering humanity, this offer of rest.
It’s this idea that we were created to live a certain way. And we don’t always know the best way that we should live. We make poor decisions, we go places we shouldn’t go, we do things we shouldn’t do.
But if we have an ear, if we have an inclination to listen, we have somebody that knows what’s best for us. And I think that’s not a very American message. And so I think it gets lost even within the church walls of evangelicalism. But I think that’s really what Jesus is saying is, there’s a reason we’re here. And I think Jesus’s message was, if you lean into that concept, you’re going to find a rest for your soul that I intended for you to have.
James Yeah, absolutely. Greg, thank you so much for your time, we kind of really got into things. I really appreciate that. I appreciate your heart. Appreciate you giving me some of your day this afternoon.
Greg I appreciate your time. It’s it’s been a pleasure.
James All right. Take care.
Podcast: Rethinking Scripture podcast
* Amazon affiliate link
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
John 5:17 NLT
17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”
Exodus 20:8-11 NLT
8 Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work,
10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.
11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
Hebrews 4:11 CSB
11 Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.
Genesis 1:28 CSB
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.
Matthew 19:30 KJV
30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Psalm 95:7, 8 KJV
7 To day if ye will hear his voice,
8 Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
John 4:20, 23 NLT
20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”
23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
Colossians 2:16, 17 NLT
16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.
17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.
Mark 2:27 KJV
27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
John 5:30 KJV
30 I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
John 12:50 KJV
50 whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
Matthew 5:16 KJV
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.