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Rest is not what we think it is

A day off from work. A holiday. Sleeping in an extra couple of hours. Is that what resting is all about? By nature, we make it depend on external circumstances; in reality, it’s all about a spiritual relationship.

The Book of Psalms is a favorite for many people, whether Jews or Christians. And of the Psalms, the 23rd Psalm ranks at the top of those favorites. In six short verses it affirms the promise of the Good Shepherd's companionship in good times and bad, and ends with the final blessing of living in the presence of God forever. It's commonly read at funeral services, and that's where I heard it read most recently. When our lives are disrupted by difficulties, disasters or the death of a loved one, the "green pastures" and "still waters" of verse 2 bring to mind memories of times in the past when we experienced the calm of nature.

I followed the Hebrew text of Psalm 23 on my app and came to the phrase, "He leads me beside the still waters", and who came to mind? None other than Noah! Now there's a man who knew about water. Lots of water. Rain fell for 40 days, as the “floodgates of the sky” were opened, bringing down the canopy of water that enveloped the earth from creation to that time. And as if that weren't enough, the fountains of the deep broke loose, and the entire planet was covered with water to a depth of over 20 feet. At this point, you're probably thinking of Mt. Everest + 15 cubits of water, but I won't stop here to present the arguments for the view that the high mountain ranges of today rose during the flood and the sea bottoms correspondingly dropped to their current extremely deep formations to accommodate the volume of waters released in the flood. We'll just take God at His word about the universality of the flood. One thing is certain: the waters Noah sailed across were anything but the "still waters" we picture in Psalm 23.2.

So why associate Noah with Psalm 23.2? The Hebrew word for "still" in that verse and Noah's name are cognates. Cognates are words having a common derivation and come from a common root. Both words come from the Hebrew verb "nuach" (to rest). The name "Noah" means "rest"; the word for "still" is literally "a resting place".

"How odd!" I thought, "God led Noah's father to give him the name 'rest' at the very time in history when the world conditions were the least conducive for resting." Society as a whole was so violent and lawless that God was obliged to wipe the face of the earth clean and start over with one family. Rest? Noah and his sons worked 120 years building a massive floating zoo, without the benefit of Home Depot, chain saws and power tools. That sounds more like work than it does rest. Then there was the extended cruise on the ark, hardly the equivalent of a restful holiday cruise on one of the luxury liners of today. The Bible says Noah and his family were closed up in the ark for 365 days, with no ports of call, no sightseeing or shopping excursions, and no on-board casinos and shows for entertainment.

We have a distorted view of what God means by "rest". In Hebrews 4 we see God intends for us to rest, and not only in the eternal setting of His kingdom. "1: Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you should miss it. 3: (for we who have believed enter the rest) 11: Let us then make every effort to enter that rest". That confirms what Jesus said during his ministry on earth in Matthew 11, "28.Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." But that rest includes a yoke and burden, too: "29:Take up my yoke…you will find rest for yourselves. 30:For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

This rest does not mean there will be no problems. In Jesus' final words to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion, He concluded saying, John 16, "33:I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world." In the same breath He gives us the possibility of having peace and then says that we will have suffering. In other words, we're going to have suffering whether we have peace or not.

Noah is a perfect illustration of the rest God wants us to experience. We are living in Noah-like times. "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man," Jesus said. Lawlessness and violence are on the increase; these are not the times that are conducive to rest and relaxation. Peter says the destruction of the world by water in the days of Noah and the ark foreshadow the coming destruction of the world by fire. Do you see the Book of the Revelation as a frightening story or as a mensagem of consolation? Through all the cataclysmic events of Noah's life, he was the servant God used to bring rest to a violent world. It's our turn to be God's vessels of rest in a violent world. We must learn to see the turbulent waters of our times as an opportunity to rest beside the still waters of Psalm 23.

Why are the words of Psalm 23 so comforting? The green pastures and still waters become paths through the dark valley of the shadow of death. We live and dine in the presence of enemies. Where is the rest? "…and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." We rest in the assurance that we will live in the presence of the LORD forever. John 14.1-6 is the Psalm 23 of the New Testament. Jesus said, "I go and I will prepare a place for you, so that wherever I am, there you will also be with Me." It is in that promise we find the rest we’re looking for.

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