Shabbat Noach: Knowing how to rest
It is said: Nomen est omen, you are your name. Here we have the first portion in the Torah named after a person, Noach, and his name comes from the Hebrew verb ‘lanuach‘ which means to rest. His father chose the name because he felt that through him (Noach) rest would come, or comfort, as some translators have it, from the toil of the land. In some way Noach, as a type of Mashiach, would reverse the curse brought about by the sin of Adam. Already we can detect the desire for a redeemer who would release and deliver from the hard labour of sin’s penalty. And indeed, Noach did have a profound influence in his generation. It was in his time that he ran a ‘successful’ outreach ministry for 120 years that saw 8 people saved from the judgement that followed (and that was his extended family), and the world as he knew it perish. And yet profound enough that we are still talking about him and his life of trusting faithfulness to G-d.
Did he however bring rest, rest for a planet and humanity riven with despicable acts and almost destroyed by depravity? He certainly pointed the way forward to the future judgement of G-d, and also to a way out, the Ark, the safe place to be when judgement falls. The fact that there is a future application of this is shown by Yeshua Mashichanu’s own comments on Noach as recorded for us in the Messianic Writings; apparent normality of life going on, yet what was the ‘norm’ was actually diseased and no one apparently saw it until too late. Who believed Noach? Everything seemed fine, why should they believe him? Just another madman they thought. How the norm of the democratic majority can be so wrong. What may appear to be the cultural and societal high water mark may (and here did) prove to be nothing than vain boasting and devoid of foundation. But did Noach bring rest and comfort? Did he offer it to a lost and sin filled generation? What exactly did he offer, and more, did Noach nevertheless demonstrate somehow what true rest is? Did he just sit back, kick off his shoes and say ‘I’m resting’?
These are interesting questions, and demand an answer based on what we mean by rest.
Firstly, one of the outcomes of sin was work, hard labour, toil and the sweat of one’s brow. No longer would the earth yield up so easily its goodness and provision, we would have to learn to survive by our own endeavours and strength. Sin caused work. If rest has any meaning attached to it, it surely has the concept that rest somehow breaks the connection to our original punishment, that of work and banishment from G-d’s presence in the Garden. It reverses it in some way. It is of utmost importance then that rest is the main commandment given to ensure Shabbat observance. Read Shemot (Exodus) 31:15. Note the judgement that falls if you work and how it echoes the judgement in the Garden. We are commanded to cease work, to rest, to reverse the pattern of the rest of the week, to go back and symbolically enjoy the Garden once more. Our weeks are filled with the slavery of work, the tyranny of need and the persecution of the alarm clock. But on Shabbat, rest should triumph, a freedom and release from the bondage brought by sin. But it doesn’t just stop with Shabbat; the concept is enlarged by the Shemittah year and finally in Yovel too. And this is where it gets more interesting because in these years we are not to work the Land, but equally the Land is to rest also.
So the second point then is this: Work, and its reversal through rest, is directly tied to the Land, Israel. We can rest from our work anywhere, but the conceptual links that connect Shabbat to the larger picture inevitably draw us back to the Land, or should we again say, to the Garden? Israel, the Land was always meant to be a visual reminder of the origins, the Garden, the place where the Kingdom of G-d is seen and lived out, the place where G-d’s presence resides (as it did in the Mishkan and was meant to in the Temple(s)). Jerusalem is the only place on earth where G-d has said He has placed His name, His name equalling His presence, who He is. Yes He is omnipresent, but He clearly makes Jerusalem, the centre of the world, special. As we departed on our journey towards the Land, the promise of G-d was directly tied to this rest in Shemot (Exodus) 33:14, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’. Again the concepts link up His presence, the Land and rest. Only in His presence will we ever find the rest from our weary labours that we seek, and that leads you to the Land too. To be in His presence puts you into the journey that inevitably takes you to the Land, or back to the Garden again, restored and renewed, the curse of sin broken and defeated.
The third point takes this even further. The Land has been given to us forever as a gift of G-d. It belongs to Him and He has given it to us as temporary sojourners to look after (rather like the Garden being tended). The Torah talks of this gift as an unconditional covenant through Avraham Avinu. It is our inheritance. Again we see the Links between the Land, the inheritance and rest, see Devarim (Deut) 12:9-10. Rest is a quality of life that is ours in His presence by promise and inheritance. If we stay in His presence we come into that rest legally, just as anyone else inherits things by law. As each generation dies, it passes to the next, each generation teaching the next to walk with the Lord in faithfulness and obedience, thus inheriting the rest and returning to the Garden.
So all we have to do is sit back and inherit? Sadly no. We actually have to walk the path of obedience laid out by Torah. Sounds easy? Read Devarim (Deut) 28:65. Our history as Jews is full of our covenantal disobedience to G-d. Twice already we have been vomited from the Land, temporarily lost our inheritance because of our national and personal sins. And wherever we have been driven we have had no rest. The Prophets knew the situation well and continually called us to repentance and return to G-d. Read Yeshiyahu (Isaiah) 28:12 where the rest equals refreshing and Yimeyahu (Jer) 6:16. What we as Israel need is revival, refreshing and renewal. Not Torah we’ve been taught according to rabbinic and other forms of Judaism, but a return to the Judaism of the real Torah, as we read it in the scroll. Walking in the commandments, real obedience brings rest too, of course it would, why? Because to be obedient means you live in His presence and the Land accepts you! So you continue in the inheritance.
But renewal means a change of course. It means getting out of the rut of the teachings we’ve had and re-assessing them against what Torah actually says, as Yemiyahu says, going back to the old paths. Not for nothing did Yeshua Mashichanu realise this when He said in the Besorah according to Mattityahu ‘come unto me all who labour and are heavy laden, I will give you rest’. Torah lived out in any other way except through trusting and faith will bring burdens too heavy to carry. But Yeshua’s yoke is light, Torah becomes doable in Him. The same message is reiterated in Heb 3:18-4:11. By trusting we walk and so enter that rest. Had we trusted G-d in the Garden at the outset, we would have remained in that rest.
But we need to answer the questions now: Did Noach, according to his name, offer rest? Did he demonstrate this rest in his life? And the answers above lead us to some challenging thoughts. The rest we’ve heard about today is about being in His presence, in the Land, walking in true obedience. Did Noach do this? Maybe to some extent, but if we look at the pattern of his own life we may be shocked to see how little ‘rest’ in human terms he had. He worked incredibly hard for 120 years preaching to the pagans around him and of course in his spare time, building a boat. Having the rest of G-d does not mean being a slob for the Lord. We have to work hard for Him, even our mitzvot are sometimes a challenge and tough, in a godless world it is never easy to work righteous deeds. We ‘slave’ away at outreach and work tirelessly, at weekends, evenings for Him. But as with Noach, this ‘work’ of faith and trusting takes you to the ark, the place of salvation and deliverance, the place of true rest. Noach didn’t save himself; G-d shut the door on him to save him. All Noach had done was to be obedient, a righteous man in his generation. Read Heb 11:7. By trust he acted. Noach had the faith that saves (as Avraham would also demonstrate later) and lived it out with the true rest he had, before the peoples around him. Now we work, like Noach, for Him in faith, receiving the inheritance of rest, knowing that our lives point to the One who alone can give that rest, a full return to the Garden.