Resting in God, Psalm 23:2

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA

Invocation

Lord God, heavenly King, loving Father – Rest with us this morning. In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspires the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

Monday, February 12, 2007 was a long day for me.

Driving on Route 66 halfway to Washington at about 6:40 a.m., I received a phone call from my mother. She told me that my sister, Diane, had suffered a heart attack and stroke. She is asking for her brothers. After the call from mom, I turned around and headed back to Centreville. A few minutes later, I picked up my brother and we drove to an unfamiliar hospital in Philadelphia. Upon arriving at the hospital at the end of the morning I found my parents. My sister was in a bed on life support. Unfortunately, it was too late. Diane had left us.

We read together Psalm 23, we said goodbye to Diane, and prayed.

Psalm 23 is familiar and powerful. Why do we find comfort resting with God?

Passage

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Anyone familiar with the Middle East knows that green pastures are hard to find and wars fought over scarce water resources. The desserts are best known for nasty weeds and drought. So when our verse speaks of green pastures and still waters, the psalmist makes an allusion to the Garden of Eden, one of the biblical visions of heaven. Listen to the words in Genesis:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers (Gen 2:8-10 ESV).

Eden pictures restoration. Here the world’s corruption is not present. Nor there is no sin. We are in full communion with God. There is no death, there is no fear. Here we find peace in the biblical sense of Shalom, which means not only the absence of conflict, but also a fullness of spirit caused by communion with God himself.

Consequently, resting with God gives comfort deeper than just green grass and clear water, because all conflicts and struggles have been eliminated.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Interpretation

The theme of rest appears in the New Testament. Jesus said: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (ἀναπαύσω (BNT), Matthew 11:28 ESV). The author of Hebrews expands on this idea and uses the word, rest, four times with four different meanings. Listen for the four uses of rest in Hebrews 4.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.  For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.  For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” (Heb 4:1-4 ESV)

These four lines are dense. We could have a Sunday school class on nothing but these four verses. By the end, we see the word, rest, interpreted four different ways: physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest. Please stay with me when I explained why. Vaya conmigo!

The story begins in the Greek text with the word for the rest: κατάπαυσις.  Here is the only place in the New Testament where it is used. However, the text refers to two passages from the Old Testament: Genesis 2 and Psalm 95. Allow me a few minutes to look at these passages.

Genesis 2. This passage is familiar because God rests on the seventh day. Here rest means to stop working. If you think about it, however, this idea seems strange. Ask yourself: was God physically tired when He rested on the seventh day? OBVIOUSLY NOT:  exhaustion is a problem for us, not for God. God was never physically tired from creating. Maybe God stopped creating for spending time with us (2X) (Murray 1996, 159-60).

Psalm 95. This Psalm is less familiar. We read in verses 10-11: forty years I was angry with that generation, and said: 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. (Psalm 95:10-11 ESV)

The rest here is a metaphor for the Promised Land. The generation of Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, they could not enter into the rest of God, because they did not believe that God would keep his word (2X) (Murray 1996, 156).

In Hebrews 4 includes a mystery. Why does the author say that the promise of rest still stands? When this book was written, the people of Israel had lived in Palestine for a long time. How could the author say that the promise of the Promised Land is still standing? The image here is of Jesus as our new Joshua who leads us from this earth to heaven (Murray 1996, 160-61). Here we find heavenly rest.

So we see the word, the rest played four ways in Hebrews 4:  physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest – a return to Eden. Each of these inferences applies also to Psalm 23.

Application

Christian psychologist Henry Cloud, asks the question: which values ​​are not optional in your life? (2X) Our deepest values ​​are not the most urgent, but they determine the quality of your life and are easily overlooked (Cloud 2008, 133-142).

How can we rest as God intended? Three are obvious: practice physical rest, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

First:  Practice Physical Rest. The obvious place to start is the physical rest. If you want to feel more holy, take a nap (2X). People hurried have decreased ability to love God and neighbor. Hurry is not just a messy schedule, but a messy heart (Ortberg 2002, 72, 79, 81). Practice physical rest.

Second: Observe Sabbath Rest. Spend quality time with your family in front of God.  As the psalmist writes:  Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10 ESV).  Abraham Heschel (2005, 15) describes the Sabbath as:  a palace in time that we build (2X). Observe Sabbath rest.

Third: Mediate on Heaven. Heaven is two important things: a place where God lives and our eternal destiny. Because we know that the future lies with Christ, we can afford to take greater risks in life to bring heaven to earth. C.S. Lewis (2001, 134) writes: If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. Mediate on heaven.

In short, the rest practiced three classes: physical rest practice, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

Prayer

Almighty Father. Thank you for the spiritual gift of rest. Help us to rest with you now and always. In the power of your Holy Spirit, guide our thoughts and keep us close to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

REFERENCES

Brueggemann, Walter.  1984.  The Message of the Psalms:  A Theological Commentary.  Minneapolis:  Augsburg.

Cloud, Henry.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.  New York:  Harper Business.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua.  2005.  The Sabbath (Orig. Pub. 1951).  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Ciroux.

Lane, William.  1985.  Hebrews:  A Call to Commitment.  Vancouver:  Regent College Publishing.

Lewis, C.S.  2001.  Mere Christianity (Orig. Pub.1952).  New York:  HarperCollins.

Murray, Andrew. 1996.  The Holiest of All (Orig. Pub. 1894).  New Kensington: Whitaker House.

Ortberg, John.  2002.  The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

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