Leviticus 23: 1-4
The great thought of all the feasts mentioned in this chapter is that God desires to surround Himself with His people, with happy and joyful beings, and He gives them to this end a meeting place at the tent of meeting.
God will not leave His people, Israel, as they are today dispersed among the nations; He will gather them on the earth to enjoy His rest in the midst of them. He will not have even one member of His church who does not enjoy His rest in glory. This will then be God’s Sabbath. It speaks to us of the rest of the church in heaven, of the rest of Israel on earth, of the rest of creation in future blessing.
To facilitate the division of this chapter, I will remark that the Sabbath, the rest, occupies a distinct place; it is the great result of all; and each week God reminds Israel of it. From verse 4, we find the detail of the feasts, or the means God uses to gather His people and lead them to rest. (The formula “Jehovah spoke to Moses” always announces a new subject in the last four books of Moses.) The first is the Passover and the unleavened bread (v 5-8); the second, the wave offering of the sheaf of ears of corn and Pentecost (v 9-22); the third, the feast of jubilee (v 23-25); the fourth, the great day of atonement (v 26-32); the fifth finally, the feast of tabernacles (v 33-44). The Passover and the unleavened bread go together, as do the sheaf of ears of corn and Pentecost; the three last feasts are each separate. These seven feasts represent the perfection of God’s ways to lead the people into His rest. The first thing in the mind of God, the rest of God with His people, is the last which will be accomplished.
The Sabbath was the rest of God Himself. On that day, God rested from all His work in creation. But man had no part at all in this rest; he was already fallen in sin when God visited Him for the first time. Only, God was not satisfied to rest in Himself. He desired to have a people in His rest, but that was not possible with sin. To enjoy rest truly, there must not be a single thing remaining uncertain, or a single thought remaining which could not be shared together; it must be that the heart of man and the heart of God should be perfectly in accord. Renewed man can enjoy this rest before it is definitively fulfilled, but he will only enjoy it fully in resurrection. By faith, our hearts and our consciences are already at rest with God.
The Bible lays the heart of man completely bare, and certainly the result of this examination is not made to cheer us. Matthew 15 details for us what goes out of the heart of man. When it is emptied by the judgment of ‘self’, and by death, the new life that we possess in Christ fully enjoys the revelation that God has made of Himself. The apostle is also not afraid to say, “that the Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts, being rooted and founded in love … and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge; that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God”, Eph 3: 17-19. And again, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us”, Rom 5: 5. In fact, this will be the rest, when in the presence of God, like to His Son, we will fully enjoy His love and the relationship between the Father and the Son.
I add further the rest of the lower creation, as one sees in Hosea 2: 21-22. God desires that it should be blessed, so that all should enjoy the fulness of the blessing. The creation groans (Rom 8: 22) after this moment when everything will be united in Christ before God. Thus He will not miss a single link in the chain, from the highest blessing to that of the creation. Nothing will hinder the full manifestation of this blessing down to the lowest parts of the creation redeemed from the power of Satan, for all have participated in the fall of man.
The second mention of the Sabbath (Exod 16: 23) supposes the call of a people and a covenant between God and them. It is not the law but the promise, which is the first thought of the relationship of God with sinners. God gives the Sabbath to Israel before the law. He calls a people with whom He desires to surround Himself, redeemed between [the time when] the blood of the Passover lamb was put on the doors, and the arrival of Israel at Sinai. Until then all is the pure grace of God towards His people.
After the Sabbath, we find in our chapter the whole history of the ways of God’s grace right up to the millennial rest. In the short account of the ways of grace, set out between chapters 12 and 18 of Exodus, the Sabbath is given before Sinai; in chapter 16, the rest is connected with the manna, Christ. In chapter 17, we find the conflict which follows the water [being brought] from the rock, that is to say, the presence of the Holy Spirit.
At Sinai, where all the relations of God with Israel depend on the law, the Sabbath takes the same character; the man who breaks it is to be stoned, for the law always leads to the curse.
When the prophets come onto the scene later, grace begins to shine anew. The very fact of their testimony was a grace towards the people who had broken the law. Jehovah came to seek fruit of His vine and found nothing but sour grapes, but announced at the same time to the elect, by the prophets, the promises of God’s grace as restoring the things that man had spoiled.
The glad tidings speak of a new creation, a new life, not a reparation, while the prophet said, “If thou … call the sabbath a delight … then shalt thou delight thyself in Jehovah”, Isa 58: 13-14. The Sabbath therefore takes a different character in the gospel than the Sabbath in the law. God takes every possible care to bring to light the fact that He cannot find His rest in the midst of an unfaithful people and of sin. When the Messiah appears, His presence proves that all is in disorder. As David rejected ate the shewbread - when the true David is rejected, everything among the people is profaned, violated, broken, and the relationship between Jehovah and the Jews rendered impossible. For them, the Sabbath fell with the Messiah, and all was lost by their fault; but the Gentiles on their side had been delivered up to a reprobate mind. God could not therefore have any relationship with man; there had to be something new.
Then God establishes the rest of heaven and earth on the resurrection of Christ for He could enjoy nothing on the earth before this resurrection apart from the Person of Christ. As every blessing descends from heaven, it must be that Jesus should ascend there. He could not have a relation with men before that, John 20. From then on, the unbroken chain of blessing could extend right down to here on the part of the Father Himself.
In presenting the thought of the rest of God to you, I have touched a little on the means used by God to reach it. The resurrection of Christ places the new man before God, according to His power; and the blessing flows from there. The first link in the chain [is that], Christ glorified, is already ascended above all principality and power, while man on earth is deprived of all power. We see this in the case of Peter, who was made to deny the Lord whom he loved by a maid servant. What characterises the new man is that, laying hold by faith of the power of Him who is above, he gains the victory over Satan and finds himself set by faith between the power of faith in the heart and the power of Christ in heaven.
May God by His grace make us lay hold of the joy of the rest, before entering there. He who is the Centre of it, and who will be the glory of it, is already in this rest before the Father.
20th June 1843