John Owen on divine rests in Hebrews 3:7-4:11
from Getting the Garden Wrong: A critique of New Covenant Theology on the Covenant of Works and the Sabbath, by Richard C. Barcellos,
forthcoming from Founders Press
In Hebrew 3:7-4:11 divine rests are presented by the author to induce perseverance in the readers’ profession of faith in Christ. Owen identifies three divine rests in the passage. These rests are all founded upon a great work of God, are identified as divine rests, are the grounds upon which man is invited into God’s rest, and include a sign or emblem of that rest via a day of rest. The first divine rest pertains to creation and man under the law of nature. The second rest pertains to the people of God under the law of institutions. The third rest pertains to the people of God under the Messiah.
We will now identify the first two divine rests in the passage. What is important about Owen’s view of these divine rests is the way he describes them and the way he connects them to Hebrews 4:9-10. The connection to Hebrews 4:9-10 will be noted in the exposition of those verses under the next heading. The quotes below by Owen are quite extensive. I thought it best to quote at length so readers can get the gist of Owen’s view. After the quotes I will offer brief comments. I will also show that some of the insights made by Owen have been made by others. What are the first two divine rests in the context? First, in the words of Owen:
He considers the church and the state of it under the law of nature, before the entrance of sin. And herein he shows first that there was a rest of God in it; for saith he, “The works were finished from the foundation of the world. . . . . And God did rest the seventh day from all his works,” verses 3, 4. As the foundation of all, he layeth down first the works of God; for the church, and every peculiar state of the church, is founded in the work, some especial work of God, and not merely in a law or command. “The works,” saith he, “were finished from the foundation of the world.” . . . This work of God, as hath been proved, Exerc. iii., was the foundation of the church in the state of nature, and gave unto it the entire law of its obedience.
On this work, and the completing of it ensued the rest of God himself: Verse 4, “God did rest the seventh day from all his works.” This rest of God, and the refreshment he took in his works, as comprising the law and covenant of our obedience, have been explained already.
But this alone doth not confirm, nor indeed come near, the purpose or argument of the apostle: for he is to speak of such a rest of God as men might enter into, as was a foundation of rest unto them, or otherwise his discourse is not concerned in it; whereupon, by a citation of the words of Moses from Gen. ii. 2, he tells us that this rest of God was on the seventh day, which God accordingly blessed and sanctified to be a day of rest unto man. So that in this state of the church there were three things considerable:—(1.) The rest of God himself in his works, wherein the foundation of the church was laid; (2.) A rest proposed unto man to enter into with God, wherein lay the duty of the church; and (3.) A day of rest, the seventh day, as a remembrance of the one and a means and pledge of the other. And herewith we principally confirm our judgment on the Sabbath’s beginning with the world; for without this supposition the mentioning of God’s work and his rest no way belonged to the purpose of our apostle. For he discourseth only of such rests as men might enter into and have a pledge of; and there was no such thing from the foundation of the world, unless the Sabbath was then revealed. Nor is it absolutely the work and rest of God, but the obedience of men and their duty with respect unto them, which he considers; and this could not be, unless the rest of God was proposed unto men to enter into from the foundation of the world.
The first divine rest came as a result of a divine work (i.e., creation). It included a rest proposed to man to be entered via obedience and it had added to it a weekly pledge, the seventh day. This rest reflects man under the covenant of works, which has been discussed in previous chapters of this book.
The second rest in Hebrews 4 is described by Owen as follows:
The apostle considers the church under the law of institutions; and herein he presenteth the rest of the land of Canaan, wherein also the three distinct rests before mentioned do occur:—(1.) There was in it a rest of God. This gives denomination to the whole. He still calls it his rest: “If they shall enter into my rest.” And the prayer about it was, “Arise, O LORD, into thy rest, thou and the ark of thy strength,” or the pledge of his presence and power. And this rest also ensued upon his work; for God wrought about it works great and mighty, and only ceased from them when they were finished. And this work of his answered in its greatness unto the work of creation, whereunto it is compared by himself: Isa. li. 15, 16, “I am the LORD thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The LORD of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundation of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.” The dividing of the sea, whose waves roared, is put by a synecdoche for the whole work of God in preparing a way for the church-state of that people in the land of Canaan. And this he compares to the work of creation, in planting the heavens, and laying the foundations of the earth; for although these words are but a metaphorical expression of the political and church state of that people, yet there is an evident allusion in them unto the original creation of all things. This was the work of God, upon the finishing whereof he entered into his rest, in the satisfaction and complacency that he had therein; for after the erection of his worship in the land of Canaan, he says of it, “This is my rest, and here will I dwell [Psalm 132:14].”
God being thus entered into his rest, in like manner as formerly two things ensue thereon:—(2.) That the people are invited and encouraged to enter into the rest of God. This the apostle treats concerning in this and the foregoing chapter. And this their entrance into rest, was their coming by faith and obedience into a participation of the worship of God wherein he rested, as a means and pledge of their everlasting rest in him. And although some of them came short hereof, by reason of their unbelief, yet others entered into it under the conduct of Joshua. (3.) Both these, his own rest and the rest of the people, God expressed by appointing a day of rest. This he did, that it might be a token, sign, and pledge, not now, as given to the people absolutely, of his first rest at the creation, but of his present rest in his instituted worship, and to be a means, in the solemn observation of that worship, to further their entrance into his rest eternally. Hence had the seventh day a peculiar institution among that people, whereby it was made to them a sign and token that he was their God, and that they were his people. And here lies the Judaical Sabbath in our fourth Exercitation.
It is true, this day was the same in order of the days with that before observed, namely, the seventh day of the week; but it was now re-established upon new considerations, and unto new ends and purposes. The time of the change of the day was not yet come; for this work was but preparatory for a greater. And the covenant whereunto the seventh day was originally annexed being not yet to be abolished, that day was not to be yet changed, nor another to be substituted in the room of it. Hence this day came now to fall under a double consideration,—first, As it was such a proportion of time as was requisite unto the worship of God, and appointed as a pledge of his rest in his covenant; secondly, As it received a new institution, with superadded ends and significations, as a token and pledge of God’s rest in the law of institutions, and the worship erected therein.
Notice how Owen views the rest of Canaan grounded upon a divine work that is reflective of the original creation. He bases this on a text in Isaiah.
“For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name). 16 “I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’” (Isa. 51:15-16)
Canaan is viewed as a new Eden. Israel is God’s corporate son, a new son of God (Exod. 4:22-23) with a new rest (Psalm 132:14) in the promised land. God’s people are now in a new place, with a new rest, based on a new divine creational work, along with a new divine rest.
Viewing Canaan as a recapitulation of Eden is not unique to Owen. For example, Oren R. Martin, while discussing the book of Exodus, says:
Furthermore, the multiplication of a people and movement towards inhabiting a place to live under God’s blessing is rooted in his original blessing on humanity. The promises to Israel to plant them in the land are reiterations of a former promise. This connection is forcefully illustrated in Exodus 15:17:
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O LORD, which your hands have established.
At the end of the song sung by Israel after crossing the Red Sea, ‘the establishment of Israel in the land of Canaan is pictured as the planting of a tree in a mountain sanctuary, exactly the picture of Eden presented in Genesis 2 and Ezekiel 28.’ Through their redemption, then, Israel inherits the role of Adam in a new Eden-like land and are the means by which God will fulfill his worldwide purposes.
In subsequent discussion, Martin says:
Through the miraculous act of the exodus (ch. 14), an event pregnant with creational overtones, God delivers his people through the chaotic waters of judgment and brings them out as a new creation, free from foreign rule.
While discussing the book of Deuteronomy, Martin says:
. . . the land is described as a new paradise. That is, the description of the land holds out promise of a return to an Eden-like bliss.
. . . Deuteronomy contains numerous references to the creational mandate given to Adam.
. . . recurring themes of ‘life’ and the ‘prolonging of days’ allude back to Eden and the life Adam enjoyed before the fall.
. . . inheritance and rest become important aspects of the promise of land.
Finally, Deuteronomy 12:9-11 pulls together the thematic threads of inheritance and rest. . . . That is, rest provides the opportunity for Israel to worship in the place God has chosen to dwell with his covenant people. On this note, Alexander rightly points out that it is impossible to consider the concept of rest without noting its association with the Sabbath. Despite differences in wording, the Decalogue in both Exodus and Deuteronomy associate these two concepts. Whereas Exodus 20:11 contains an explicit connection between the divine institution of the Sabbath and the seventh day of creation, Deuteronomy highlights God’s deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians (e.g., Deut. 5:15). As a result, Alexander suggests that the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and subsequent settlement in the Promised Land were viewed as in some manner paralleling God’s rest following the completion of his creative activity. This textual connection indicates that the rest offered in the land may be tied to the rest of God in creation prior to the fall.
Martin’s insights correspond to Owen’s. In fact, many contemporary authors make connections between Eden and Canaan. Israel is God’s son in a new Eden-like place, given a task, and a weekly Sabbath based on divine acts. Just as Adam, the protological and typological son of God, was placed in Eden, given a task, and had a weekly Sabbath day founded on the divine rest, so Israel, the redemptive-historical and typological son of God (Exod. 4:22-23) was placed in Canaan, given a task, and had a weekly Sabbath day founded on the creational rest of God (Exod. 20) and the redemptive work of God (Deut. 5). This implies that Israel ought to be viewed as a corporate Adam.
Owen also views the rest of Canaan as a preparation for a greater work. Many others have seen the pattern of divine works preparing the people of God for greater works in the future. Francis Foulkes, for example, shows that the writers of the Old Testament viewed the past acts of God as the basis for future, greater acts of God ultimately pointing to Christ and his kingdom. As Oren Martin says, “. . . God’s past dealings with his people serve as patterns, or types, for his future dealings with his people.” Israel (as with Adam) functions as a type of something greater to come—the people of God under the inaugurated new covenant. Commenting on Hebrews 4:9, Schreiner says this of Israel:
Another typological connection should be made explicit. The writer refers here to “the people of God” . . . The rest given to Israel was a rest for a particular people in a specific location. But just as the rest points forward to a rest that embraces the whole creation, the new creation, the heavenly city, so Israel functions as a type for the new people of God, the church of Jesus Christ. The new people of God is not restricted to Israel but consists of Jewish and Gentile believers scattered throughout the world.
Owen then draws this conclusion from these two divine rests:
So both these states of the church had these three things distinctly;—a rest of God in his works, for their foundation; a rest in obedience and worship, for man to enter into; and a day of rest, as a pledge and token of both the others.
The common features of these rests are: 1) a divine rest after a divine work; 2) a rest to be entered in terms of man’s obedience and worship in light of the divine work/rest; and 3) a day of rest as a pledge and token of the divine rest and of man’s entrance into it. These rests function, in part, as foreshadowings of a better rest to come for the people of God.
Having mentioned the two previous divine rests, Hebrews 4:9 announces that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” Does this relate to previous rests? If so, how? Is this rest related to a divine work? If previous rests had an eschatological element to them, does this one? And who is the someone who has entered his rest in 4:10? These and other questions (and their answers) will be pursued below.
 Owen, Works, 18:413-16. Owen’s discussion reflects a redemptive-historical reading of Scripture terminating upon Christ and his kingdom.
 Owen, Works, 18:413-14; emphasis original.
 Owen, Works, 18:414-15; emphasis original.
 Martin footnotes the citation of this quote as follows: “Gentry and Wellum 2012: 227; emphasis original.”
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 78. The formatting of Exod. 15:17 is original. See Dempster, Dominion and dynasty, 102-03, where he discusses creational echoes in the book of Exodus.
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 80. See Owen, Works, 18:414-15, quoted above.
 Martin lists the following texts in a footnote: Deut. 6:3; 11:9; 26:9, 15; 27:3; 31:20.
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 83.
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 84.
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 84.
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 85.
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 85-86. Martin is referring to T. Desmond Alexander. Commenting on the book of Deuteronomy, Dempster says: “Divine presence and holy land echo the lost glory of Eden” (Dempster, Dominion and dynasty, 118).
 E.g., Alexander, Beale, Dempster, Dumbrell, Fesko, and Hamilton.
 See the discussion in Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 118-21.
 See Francis Foulkes, “The Acts of God: A Study of the Basis of Typology,” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?, 342-71.
 Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 25.
 Schreiner, Hebrews, 144.
 Owen, Works, 18:415.