A prominent concept

Rest for God

According to Genesis, the principle of regular rest was part of God’s plan for creation. God is described as resting on the seventh day, having created the whole world (see Genesis 2:2–3). The Temple built in Jerusalem was also the place God rested amongst his people (see Psalms 132:13-14).

Rest for God’s people

The people of Israel were promised rest after God saved them, following four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Once they crossed the Red Sea, Canaan was the Promised Land where they might rest from their enemies (see Deuteronomy 12:9–10).
When God gave his people, the Israelites, the Ten Commandments to live by, having a Sabbath, or day of rest, was included (see Exodus 20:8–11) and there were frequent reminders of the importance of this.

Rest for the land

In the Old Testament there were also detailed instructions on how the Israelites were to give the land itself a time of rest (every seventh year – see Leviticus 25:4). After almost continuous warfare to establish the united kingdom of Israel, it was a great relief to King David when God promised:
a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.     1 Chronicles 22:9 ESVUK     

A state of ‘being’

In the Bible rest is not just described as a withholding of activity in order to be refreshed physically, but also has a spiritual element. Hope in a continuous future state of rest becomes a frequent motif. However, in the Old Testament, the idea of finding rest remained a promise that was never fully realised due to human unbelief and disobedience (see Hebrews 3:18-19).

New Testament fulfilment 

Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians believe that Jesus represents – and has given them access to – the promised rest of God. Jesus himself said to his disciples, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you’ John 14:27. Such rest involves release, joy and contentment to souls, regardless of outward circumstances (see Matthew 11:28-29). 

A future hope

The advent of the Holy Spirit is believed to have realised some of the prophesies about God’s people achieving their longed-for rest. When:
the Spirit is poured upon us from on high ..   
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
  and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
  and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
  in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places. Isaiah 32:15-18 ESVUK     


The Bible also looks towards the future, using ‘rest’ as a metaphor for heaven, the final destination of believers (see Revelation 14:13). The prominent nineteenth century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, described the Christian life as ‘rest which develops into heaven’. The New Jerusalem found in Revelation is a place in which God’s people can dwell with him in peace forever (Revelation 21:3-4).

The Vale of Rest by MillaisOther cultural references

  • Literary texts: Modern poem The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry 
  • Paintings: Sir John Everett Millais painted The Vale of Rest. The title and subtitle, ‘Where the weary find repose’, come from Mendelssohn’s part-song ‘Ruhetal’ from Sechs Lieder, Opus 59, no.5
  • Jean-Francois Millet’s Noonday Rest was copied by many other artists, including Van Gogh who painted Rest from Work
  • Other paintings depicting rest include The Rest on the Flight to Egypt with Saint Francis by Correggio, Daniel Ridgeway Knight’s A Moment of Rest, A Moment’s Rest, Barbizan by Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, A Rest in the Woods, by David Foggie.

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