The Gift of Unexpected Rest

encounter god psalm rest Aug 09, 2023
person resting in a hammock by the beach

Blog by Alan Fadling

God takes rest seriously and built into the very fabric of creation. The first full day after the creation of humanity is a day of rest—a Sabbath. God rests. We rest. And rest is the place in which relationship is established and cultivated. This is why God urges us to enter his rest. It isn’t a legalism. It’s an invitation to be rooted in love and grace. But too often we fail to open this invitation.


There’s an almost throwaway line at the end of Second Chronicles that catches my attention. Jerusalem has been attacked. The temple has been looted and burned. The city walls are broken down. God had been warned his people that their continuing disobedience would be disastrous for them, and it was. But there is a surprising bright spot in the end:


“The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” (2 Chron. 36:21)


What an amazing comment for the chronicler to make as he closes his story: the land enjoyed its Sabbath rests. A little background will be helpful here. The Law of Moses had taught God’s people that the land they’d been given was supposed to be left fallow one out of every seven years (Lev. 25:1-7). During that year the fields were not to be planted, the vines were to be not pruned, and no crops were to be harvested for profit.


Instead of obeying, the people had worked the land year after year, decade after decade, century after century until the land was exhausted.


When Moses gave God’s people the rules about a Sabbath for the land, he also warned them what would happen if they weren’t willing to follow God’s wise guidance. Specifically, he told them a day would come when they might be driven out of the promised land. And when that happened, the land would finally get its rest (Lev. 26:34-35).


Centuries later, Jeremiah warned God’s people that a seventy-year captivity was coming (Jer. 25). This was the backdrop for the chronicler’s comment about the land and its Sabbaths. For the seventy years Israel was in exile, the land was able to observe the Sabbath years it hadn’t had for centuries.


So, while the land lay desolate, it was resting. I am struck by this connection between a desolate season and rest. Sometimes a season of great consolation can be very draining. When everything goes our way, we may just keep working and working until we collapse.


But we may one day find ourselves in a season of desolation. It doesn’t even have to be “our fault.” Maybe we lose our job, or hit a quarter- or mid-life crisis, or experience some painful loss. While such circumstances often derail our normal work life, they can also be seasons in which we receive the unexpected gift of rest.


We might get stuck on what sounds like punishment language in Jeremiah or from the writer of Chronicles, but I think we need to see the bigger picture. Even when God sends discipline to his disobedient and rebellious children, he has redemption in mind. After seventy years, the Jewish people would return to a land that had rested and was ready to be more productive than any of them could imagine.


When the circumstances of life force us to rest, that can be a darker shade of grace than we can easily see. But it is grace nonetheless.


For Reflection 

  • When have you most recently been through a season of loss, hurt, or desolation that disrupted your normal work or productivity?
  • What are some ways in which an unexpected opportunity to rest presented itself?
  • Were you able to enter into that rest?
  • If not, what might have prevented you or gotten in the way?


A Next Step 

Have you seen our online resource, “Encountering God in the Psalms”? Many from our community have found these guided prayers to be a helpful way to sink deeper into God’s presence. Why not take a look!



Photo by Ris & Ry on Unsplash