I will give you rest.
In the months following the miraculous exodus of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, Moses found himself in an unlikely and unenviable position before God. As Moses led the people through the wilderness, they constantly moaned and complained about how bad things were for them. They’d quickly forgotten how much they had suffered in Egypt and dared to gripe about their living conditions since God had led them out of slavery. On more than one occasion God offered and/or threatened to wipe out the entire ungrateful bunch and start over with Moses and a new nation. Moses often ended up pleading to God for mercy and patience with the rebellious and ungrateful Israelites.
In one poignant moment, Moses pleaded for God to protect them and to continue to guide them. He then prayed, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people,” (Exodus 33:13). That’s quite a daring prayer. Moses boldly asked God not just to grant favor to his rebellious people, but to also grant it to him as their leader. He prayed that God might take him on as his very own student. I envy Moses’ boldness before God and must confess that I have prayed this prayer for myself on many occasions.
God’s response to Moses was far beyond anything that Moses could have hoped for: “The Lord replied, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest,’” (Exodus 33:14). The promise of God’s presence must have been music to the ears of Moses and his wandering people. God wasn’t obligated to just hang out with them. If he chose to abandon them, they’d be sitting ducks for the marauding nations that inhabited the lands around them. The promise of God’s presence brought with it the guarantee of God’s provision and protection for his people. Moses must have been humbled and thrilled.
But it’s the second part of God’s promise to Moses that really merits our interest here: I will give you rest. This latter promise is the result of former: Because my presence will be with you, because you’ll know my protection and provision, you’ll have rest.
There’s a cause and effect relationship here: God’s presence yields God’s rest.
The Hebrews knew that by rest God meant not only the protection of their boundaries from invading hordes, but also the emotional, mental and spiritual confidence that they would have knowing that God was irreversibly with them. Rest meant that they could stop worrying about what might happen tomorrow and what enemy might be waiting for them around the next corner. And don’t overlook this point: Rest was inseparable from God’s presence. One always precedes the other.
Now let’s jump from Exodus to Matthew in the Bible and about 1400 years in history. Jesus stood before a group of weary spiritual seekers and invited them to enter into a relationship with him. And then what did he promise? I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
That was no accidental statement by Jesus. Any good Hebrew knew what God had promised Moses and the Israelites back in Exodus. Those words were some of the sweetest ever spoken by God to a person or a people. And when Jesus said them, he fully understood the implications of what he was saying.
Imagine the murmur that must have moved through the crowd as listeners turned and said to each other, “Did he just say what I think he said?” No one, and I mean NO ONE, quoted God as an equal and lived to tell about it. When Jesus invoked the I will give you rest promise he was saying that he had the same ability to bring peace, protection and provision to people’s lives as the God who spoke to Moses in Exodus. He was saying that they were one-and-the-same: that his presence was the same as God’s presence, that his rest was the same as God’s rest.