No One Was Allowed To Work: on the hard work of true rest

deck by water

“On the tenth day of the appointed month…you must deny yourselves. Neither native-born Israelites nor foreigners living among you may do any kind of work…It will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you…

…This is a permanent law for you, to purify the people of Israel from their sins, making them right with the Lord, once a year.”

Leviticus 16excerpts

It was significant to me that on the Day of Atonement – the one day of the year designated for clearing the slate and making Israel right with the Lord – no one but the priest was allowed to work.

The priest worked on their behalf, but the people could not make things right for themselves. On this day, they were not allowed to do. The day when they were made right with God was also “a day of complete rest” for them.

Can you imagine an entire day where the “to do” list is forbidden? No errand, big or small. No cleaning. Not a single job. All the work is still there. Urgent. Calling to you as it ever does. The pile is building. But you are not allowed to touch it. Because on this day, you have an order to leave the work alone.

On this day, your work is to obey that order and not become frantic about what isn’t getting done. On this day, your work is to rest completely with tasks left unfinished, and it’s harder work than you think.

Can you think of a few people who would develop an eye twitch just attempting it? If you know me, my name might be on your list.

When I ask the question “What does God want from you?” What answers bubble to the surface?


[The people] replied, ‘We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?’

Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.’

John 6:28-29


This is the only work God wants from you…

This is a permanent law for you…

It confounds me how rarely my priorities match His. I organize and plan ahead and work late and wipe the sweat from my forehead and say, “Look! Look what I have done! Are you happy? Is this what you wanted?”

But this is the God who put a day off into permanent LAW and fought His people on it for centuries because they were afraid to stop working.

God is not the slave-driver here. Fear is. And Rest is the opposite of Fear.

He has told me what He wants.

He wants me to not worry. He tells me not to be afraid. He calls me to see and believe in what HE has done. He wants me to live in a way that shows I believe it is enough; that I do not have to add something. He asks me to rest.

And true rest takes courage.

In the same way, the people of Leviticus could not please God by working hard, but by relying on the man he had put in place to mediate for them. It was not better to storm the Tabernacle because “These are my sins and I have to make things right myself!” It was better to rest completely.

Rest is the evidence of the work God wants from me – the work of believing what He says, of NOT trying to fix what He has taken care of.

As an Israelite, I think I would have struggled. I know in my marriage I have to fight the urge to fix and “make up for” what has already been forgiven. Complete rest feels wrong, but it only feels wrong when I still believe there’s something left for me to do.

Rest feels wrong when I see myself as the solution, when I argue that what has been done is not enough. I can only venture into rest when I choose to take Him at His word  rather than seeing to the matter myself. And that grows harder the more something matters.

True rest is hard work. It is not for the faint of heart. But our God handles expertly what we entrust to Him, and He is good to those who will take Him at His word and rest.

…Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed.

Isaiah 49:23

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:24-25

Produce in me the rest that comes from confidence in your work. Help me to finally stop and lay aside my own work long enough to gaze at you and see what you have done.

The work you want from me?
Believe you.

So, Lord, help my unbelief. Help my unrest.


“Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest…”

Hebrews 4:11