Living in a 24-7 Society
Tick, tock; tick, tock; tick, tock. The clock ticked steadily and mercilessly. Only two hours before Sabbath would begin, Mary sighed as she surveyed the small apartment. The kids’ toys were still lying all around the living room; the kitchen was a mess; Sarah, their youngest, lay in bed with a fever; and tomorrow Mary had agreed to serve as a greeter in their church, which meant that they had to leave home 30 minutes before the normal time. I wish I could find some quietness tomorrow, Mary thought wistfully.
At the same time, on the other side of town, Josh, Mary’s husband, was standing in line to pay for their weekly groceries. Traffic had again been a nightmare. The checkout lines were long. Everyone seemed to be doing their shopping right at that moment. I need some rest; I can’t go on like this, Josh groaned inwardly. There must be more to this life.
Our lives are governed by rush hours, work hours, medical appointments, virtual conversations, shopping, and school functions. Whether we use public transport, ride a small scooter, or steer a minivan to ferry around our families, the drumbeat of constant engagement with the world around us threatens to drown out what’s really important.
How do we find rest amid so much hustle and bustle?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 3.
Even before we humans would dash off on our self-imposed stressful lives, God established a marker, a living way to jog our memory. This day would be a time to stop and deliberately enjoy life; a day to be and not to do, a day to especially celebrate the gift of grass, air, wildlife, water, people, and, most of all, the Creator of every good gift.
This was no one-time invitation that expired with the exile from Eden. God wanted to make sure that the invitation could stand the test of time, and so right from the beginning He knit the Sabbath rest into the very fabric of time. There would always be the invitation, again and again, to a restful celebration of Creation every seventh day.
One would think that with all our labor-saving devices that we should be less physically tired than people were two hundred years ago. But, actually, rest seems to be in short supply even today. Even the moments when we aren’t working are spent in frantic activity. It always seems that we are somehow behind; no matter how much we manage to get done, there is always more to do.
Research shows, too, that we are getting less sleep, and many people are highly dependent on caffeine to keep going. Though we have faster cell phones, faster computers, faster internet connections, we still never seem to have enough time.
The God who created us knew that we would need physical rest. He built cycles into time—night, and Sabbath—to offer us a chance for physical rest. Acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of our lives also involves taking seriously our responsibility to make time to rest. After all, the Sabbath commandment isn’t merely a suggestion. It is a commandment!
Lack of sleep and exhaustion because of physical overexertion are real problems. More troubling, however, are the times we feel that we are running on “emotional empty.” And, of course, when lack of sleep is added to emotional trials, we can become painfully discouraged.
Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, must have felt like that often during the last turbulent years of Jerusalem, prior to the chaos, suffering, and havoc that would follow the city’s destruction by the Babylonians.
Can you imagine what it would feel like if God sent a custom-made message to you personally? Baruch received a message straight from God’s throne room (Jer. 45:2). We are told that this happened “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim of Judah,” about 605 or 604 b.c. Jeremiah 45:3 represents a good summary of how people feel when they are running on empty.
From all that we know in Scripture about this period, it’s clear that Baruch’s complaints were not superficial wails. He had good reasons to feel discouraged and emotionally worn out. A lot of bad things were happening, and more were to come.
God’s response to Baruch’s real pain reminds us of the fact that God’s despair and pain must have been exponentially so much bigger than Baruch’s. He had built Jerusalem; He was about to tear it down; He had planted Israel as a vineyard (Isa. 5:1–7); He was about to uproot it and carry it into exile. This was not what the Lord had wanted for His people, but it had to come because of their rebellion against Him.
But there was light at the end of the tunnel for Baruch. God would preserve Baruch’s life—even in the midst of destruction, exile, and loss.
Certainly, we all need rest, which is why it’s a theme found all through the Bible. Though God created us for activity, that activity is to be punctuated by rest.
The Hebrew Old Testament, for instance, includes a number of terms denoting rest. The description of God’s resting on the newly created seventh day in Genesis 2:2, 3 uses the verb shabbat, “to cease work, to rest, to take a holiday,” which is the verb form of the noun “Sabbath.”
The same verb is used in Exodus 5:5 in a causative form and translated as “making someone rest” from their work. Angry Pharaoh accuses Moses of “making them rest” from their labor.
The reference to God’s resting activity on the seventh-day Sabbath in the fourth commandment is expressed by the Hebrew verb form nuakh (Exod. 20:11, Deut. 5:14). The verb is translated as “rest” in Job 3:13 or, more figuratively, “settled,” referencing the ark of the covenant in Numbers 10:36. Second Kings 2:15 notes that Elijah’s spirit “rested” on Elisha.
Another important verb form is shaqat, to “be at rest, grant relief, be quiet.” It is used in Joshua 11:23, where it describes the rest of the land from war after Joshua’s initial conquest. The term often appears to indicate “peace” in the books of Joshua and Judges.
The verb raga` also is used to indicate rest. In the warnings against disobedience in Deuteronomy, God tells Israel that they won’t find rest in exile (Deut. 28:65). The same verb also appears in a causative form in Jeremiah 50:34, describing the inability to rest.
Both verses use an idiomatic expression from the verb shakab, which literally means “to lie down, sleep.” In God’s covenant with David, God promises the future king of Israel that “ ‘when your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you’ ” (2 Sam. 7:12, NKJV).
The long (and here incomplete) list of different Hebrew verbs denoting rest helps us to understand that the theological concept of rest is not connected to one or two particular words. We rest individually and collectively. Rest affects us physically, socially, and emotionally and is not limited to the Sabbath alone.
A verb form for rest often found in the New Testament is anapauō, to “rest, relax, refresh.” It is used in one of Jesus’ most famous statements on rest, Matthew 11:28: “ ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ ” (NKJV). It can refer to physical rest (Matt. 26:45). In the final greetings to the Corinthians, Paul expresses his joy over the arrival of friends who refreshed his spirit (1 Cor. 16:18).
Another verb used to indicate rest is hēsychazō. It describes the Sabbath rest of the disciples as Jesus rested in the grave (Luke 23:56). But it also is used to describe living a quiet life (1 Thess. 4:11) and can indicate that someone has no objections and, thus, keeps quiet (Acts 11:18).
When the Epistle to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 4:4, describes God’s Creation rest on the seventh day, it uses the Greek verb katapauō, to “cause to cease, bring to rest, rest,” echoing the use of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Intriguingly, most of the uses of this verb in the New Testament occur in Hebrews 4.
“ ‘Come aside by yourselves . . . and rest a while’ ” (Mark 6:31, NKJV) is not framed as an invitation. It’s expressed in the form of an imperative, which is an order or a command. Jesus is concerned about His disciples and their physical and emotional well-being. They had just returned from an extensive mission trip on which Jesus had sent them two by two (Mark 6:7). Mark 6:30 describes their excited return.
Their hearts must have been full. They wanted to share their victories and their failures with Jesus; yet, Jesus stops it all by first calling them to rest. Mark includes an explanatory note: “For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat” (Mark 6:31, NKJV). Being overwhelmed and too busy in God’s business was a genuine challenge for the disciples, as well. Jesus reminds us that we need to guard our health and emotional well-being by planning in seasons of rest.
The biblical text does not explicitly state why God respected Abel and his offering but did not “respect” Cain and his offering (Gen. 4:4, 5). But we know why. “Cain came before God with murmuring and infidelity in his heart in regard to the promised sacrifice and the necessity of the sacrificial offerings. His gift expressed no penitence for sin. He felt, as many now feel, that it would be an acknowledgment of weakness to follow the exact plan marked out by God, of trusting his salvation wholly to the atonement of the promised Saviour.
He chose the course of self-dependence. He would come in his own merits.”— Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 72.
When God said that Cain would be “a restless wanderer” on the earth, it wasn’t that God made him that way; rather, that is what happened as the result of his sinful actions and disobedience. Not finding rest in God, Cain discovered that he couldn’t find it any other way, at least not true rest.
The Hebrew word translated as “respected” (Gen. 4:4, NKJV) also could be rendered “looked closely, considered carefully.” The focus of God’s careful and close-up look is not so much the offering but more the attitude of the offerer. God’s rejection of Cain’s fruit offering is not the arbitrary reaction of a capricious god. Rather, it describes the process of carefully considering and weighing the character, attitudes, and motivations of the one bringing the offering. It is a good example of an investigative judgment.
When we try to run away from God’s presence, we become restless. We try to fill the yearning for divine grace with things, human relationships, or overly busy lives. Cain started to build a dynasty and a city. Both are great achievements and speak of determination and energy, but if it’s a godless dynasty and a rebellious city, it will ultimately amount to nothing.
Further Thought: “In the estimation of the rabbis it was the sum of religion to be always in a bustle of activity. They depended upon some outward performance to show their superior piety. Thus they separated their souls from God, and built themselves up in self-sufficiency. The same dangers still exist. As activity increases and men become successful in doing any work for God, there is danger of trusting to human plans and methods.
There is a tendency to pray less, and to have less faith. Like the disciples, we are in danger of losing sight of our dependence on God, and seeking to make a savior of our activity. We need to look constantly to Jesus, realizing that it is His power which does the work. While we are to labor earnestly for the salvation of the lost, we must also take time for meditation, for prayer, and for the study of the word of God. Only the work accomplished with much prayer, and sanctified by the merit of Christ, will in the end prove to have been efficient for good.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 362.