Habakkuk: As the waters cover the sea

For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

Imagine you take a cruise from Durban harbour and end up in a life raft in the middle of the Indian Ocean! As far as the horizon, all you see is water. Put aside images of sharks, punctures, storms and dehydration for a moment, and imagine yourself floating blissfully around the horn of Africa, into the vast Atlantic Ocean. You are experiencing a tiny sample of the inter-connected system of the Earth’s five Oceans and many smaller seas, which cover 361 132 000 square kilometres, a volume of roughly 1332 million cubic kilometres. At its deepest, the ocean is 10km and 71% of the earth’s surface is water. That’s a lot of water!

Yet the Lord gives Habakkuk this all-encompassing image to describe how the knowledge of His glory will stream and seep, trickle and gush, roll and crash like the ocean–until it fills the whole earth. It is a remarkable declaration by the Lord that His everlasting Kingdom will flood the entire earth.

A remarkable promise

And it is even more remarkable, given what is happening in Habakkuk’s world: Let’s remind ourselves that Habakkuk is a prophet to the small eastern-Mediterranean kingdom of Judah, in around 600AD. He is bravely proclaiming God’s judgment on Judah and her Babylonian captors, on the cusp of the final Babylonian onslaught in 597BC. His oracle from the Lord is a great ‘burden’ to bear. In a short while, Jerusalem would be besieged, its temple pillaged and 10 000 of its strongest and brightest deported to Babylon. None would remain in Judah except the old and destitute. Yet Habakkuk sensed that neither Jehoikim nor Nebuchadnezzar were truly on the throne: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20). For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). For Habakkuk there was only one King.

How then could Habakkuk suppose that Yahweh’s fame would ripple to the ends of the earth, as he watched the last of God’s people caught like fish in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dragnet (Hab 1:14-17)? How could the righteous continue to live by faith– in exile (Hab 2:4)? The answer can be found in God’s promise to restore His people and all of creation.

Habakkuk 2:14 is an echo of a promise of restoration that reverberates through the corridors of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. They are the hopeful words of the prophet Isaiah a hundred years before, despite the annihilation of the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria in 722BC.

Isaiah 11:1-10:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

Thy Kingdom come

In Isaiah 11, the prophet sees a vision of God’s anointed Messiah-King. He is not just ruling over heaven, but over a restored earth, where the effects of sin’s curse have been reversed. There is no predator and prey. No death and oppression. No injustice and wickedness. This wise and good King is a descendant of King David (Jesse’s son), like a fallen ‘stump’ of a kingdom that grows into a fruitful tree. The King is also the righteous and powerful Judge, who bores into the human heart and rules with perfect equity. God’s Kingdom of justice and peace is not just for Israel, but extends to the whole world, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

The scope of the remainder of Isaiah’s vision is just as breathtaking– God’s new King will gather up his scattered, redeemed people from all over the world in a new exodus, like a path through the Red Sea (Isa 11:11-1415-16).

A signal for the peoples

The New Testament leaves no doubt that Jesus Christ is God’s promised King (Luke 4:18-1921Luke 1:31-33Rom 1:1-4).

The prophets did not have a clear picture of what the “signal (or “banner”) for the peoples” would look like, nor how the nations would rally to him (Isa 11:10). Or when “that day” would be.

They did not live to see the good news of the kingdom proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles around the world. They did not hear the Lord Jesus teach that his Kingdom was like a tiny mustard seed that would grow into a big tree, a home to many birds perching in its branches (Luke 13:19). They did not see Jesus seeking out a Samaritan woman or the Gentiles “forcing their way into the kingdom” (Luke 16:16Matt 11:12). Like us, the prophets were not amongst Christ’s first-century followers commissioned to go forth and multiply– to make disciples of all nations to the ends of the earth (Matt 26:16-20).

But Old Testament believers saw glimpses of God’s epic Kingdom, like the shaft of light in Habakkuk 2:14. They knew that one day all the nations would worship before the Lord. Every knee would bow, and every tongue would swear allegiance to Him (Isa 45:23). God’s glory would be declared among all the peoples of the world (Ps 86:9Ps 96:37-8). The peaceful reign of God’s King would extend past humanity, to all of creation (Hosea 2:18). Isaiah 60, 65, 66; Ezekiel 48 and Daniel 7 give Old Testament snapshots of God’s immense glory as King of the universe.

Living in the “now,” but “not yet”

As New Testament believers, we look back to the gospel ‘banner’, but we’re still looking forward to the fullness of the promise to Habakkuk —“the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Christ is reigning in heaven right now (Heb 1:3Acts 7:56). But the Apostle Peter reminds us that Jesus must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through his prophets (Acts 3:21). That restoration will be visible, spectacular and indisputable, when the King of Kings returns to earth in glory, and every knee in heaven and on earth bows before Him (Phil 2:10-11). Before then, all creation groans under the curse of sin, and there is no utopia on earth.

But we see the kingdom coming each time a sinner comes to a saving knowledge of God, through faith in Christ. We see the earth being filled with God’s glory when a missionary goes out to the far corners of the world, or when a life-giving sermon is preached at home. We see God’s kingdom coming to earth each time you share Jesus by word and deed, in the messy streets of life. Each time you bring the King’s kindness, justice, wisdom and harmony to a world that groans from the fall (1 Peter 2:12). Each time you create or appreciate beauty. Each time you restore something broken. Each time you take captive a thought that opposes Christ’s reign in your life (2 Cor 10:3-5).

How big is your God, and where do you see yourself in relation to His Kingdom? Do you consider faith to be just a private matter, or do you see yourself as part of the diverse throng of worshippers John describes in Revelation? Do you see yourself as an active citizen in His Majesty’s service?– “A kingdom and priests to serve our God, and reign on the earth.”

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:9-10;12)

Join us next week as we look at the last few verses of Habakkuk and turn our hearts to the final renewal of all creation. The best is yet to come!

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:17)

Worship as you listen to All Glory Be to Christ. It is sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne!

JC Ryle:

“The second coming of Christ shall be utterly unlike the first. He came the first time in weakness, a tender infant, born of a poor woman in the manger at Bethlehem, unnoticed, unhonored, and scarcely known. He shall come the second time in royal dignity, with the armies of heaven around Him, to be known, recognized and feared, by all the tribes of the earth.

“He came the first time to suffer – to bear our sins, to be reckoned a curse, to be despised, rejected, unjustly condemned and slain. He shall come the second time to reign – to put down every enemy beneath His feet, to take the kingdom of this world for His inheritance, to rule them with righteousness, to judge all men and to live forevermore.”

Habakkuk– The righteous shall live by faith

Paul tells us that the gospel of Jesus Christ was promised beforehand through prophets (Romans 1:2). Their revelations were deeper and wider and richer than they could have ever imagined at the time. Last week we met the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in Judah at the end of the sixth century, when injustice and violence were rife among God’s people. Judah’s King, Jehoikim, was a despot who abused his own people and murdered the prophets who dared to tell him the truth (Jer 22:13-14 and Jer 26:20-24). Habakkuk’s message of judgment stands against the backdrop of the Mosaic covenant between Yahweh and the people He redeemed from slavery in Egypt: God’s people would enjoy blessings of fruitfulness, freedom and fellowship if they followed God’s ways, but if they rejected his laws, God would set his face against them and allow their enemies to rule over them (Lev 26; Deut 28). When we zoom in on the three poetic chapters of Habakkuk, it is by no means a good-news story, but a message of impending doom and disaster for Judah, and many more woes for their Babylonian captors. But Habakkuk’s story is set within the Bible’s great story from Genesis to Revelation –the story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Re-creation. If we look closely, the prophet’s ‘burden’ opens small apertures of light, which point to a vista far more amazing than its original context in 600BC– The gospel of God’s kingdom and His final restoration of all creation.

Look at the nations and be utterly amazed!

In chapter 1, this is how God begins to answer Habakkuk’s question, “How long will injustice prevail?”

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own…

 They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
    and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
    for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
    guilty men, whose own might is their god!”

(Hab 1:5-610-11)

In chapter 2, God replies to Habakkuk’s second question, “Why do you tolerate evil?”

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 1:5 is often quoted by Christians to talk about wonderful feats that God is performing in our day. This is true, but first we must grasp that the ‘astounding things’ God announced in this prophecy meant imminent disaster for God’s people in Habakkuk’s day. God was true to his word: Babylon conquered Egypt and Assyria to become the world power. Jerusalem fell to King Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC. God did not ignore King Jehoikim’s arrogance. As Jeremiah had foretold, there was no funeral or mourning for Judah’s despot when he died. Instead, the proud leader ended his days a captive, leaving behind a shameful legacy of dishonest gain, oppression, extortion and violence (Jer 22:17-19). God judged the ruthless Babylonians, when Cyrus the Great of Persia, captured Babylon in 538BC, and ended the exile. As the Lord had promised Habakkuk, his revelation was fulfilled at His appointed time. Though it lingered, it came with irresistible power (Hab 2:3). God’s eyes were not closed to evil after all.

What about the faithful?

But what about faithful people like Daniel and his friends who were carried off into captivity in Babylon? What about the people of God who prayed, but were still swallowed up like little fish in a fisherman’s net? (Hab 1:17) Did God forget them?

Habakkuk 2:4 reassures us that this is not the case:

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

God describes two kinds of people here. One is proud and confident in himself, and the other humbly trusts in God’s provision. Is this an insignificant insight? Paul didn’t think so, as he quotes Habakkuk 2:4twice as the heartbeat of the gospel. The writer of Hebrews also cites it to motivate God’s people to keep trusting the Lord even in suffering and persecution. If Habakkuk 2:4 is a segment of God’s whole story, we need to turn to the New Testament to connect faith and righteousness.

The righteous shall live by their faith.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:16-17)

 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Gal 3:10-14)

36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,” (Heb 10:36-38a)

The prophet Habakkuk stood six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, but through his porthole of history, he knew that God is holy and just, and cannot ignore evil (Hab 1:13). He knew that no one obeys God’s law perfectly, and all are all under God’s curse (Deut 27:26). But he also knew that when judgment comes, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4). And somehow Yahweh would remember mercy in his wrath (Hab 3:1). Habakkuk believed God’s promises of a righteous Saviour who would bear our sins and make many righteous (Isa 53:11). Like Abraham, Habakkuk believed the Lord; and God reckoned it to him as righteousness. But Habakkuk could never have guessed the full import of God’s revelation to him! He had no idea how these words would unfold in the greatest gospel truth—justification by faith!

As we read through Habakkuk, we must not hold his sober fear of God’s judgment at arm’s length. If God is both good and powerful, He cannot ignore evil forever. At an appointed time, God’s righteous judgment will be revealed and Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead (Rom 2:5Acts 17:31Heb 9:27). The only question is whether we are trusting in our own righteousness, or Christ’s. The righteous shall live by their faith. There is no other way.

Wrath and mercy collide

Imagine if Habakkuk had been in Jerusalem four centuries later to witness the ultimate injustice in history? Imagine if he had been at the cross, like the Roman soldier or the thief, and seen God’s wrathraining down on His innocent Son, while mercy flowed over guilty men and women like you and me? (Luke 23:4147Hab 3:1). Imagine if Habakkuk had seen beyond king Jehoikim and Nebuchadnezzar, to the child born in Bethlehem as God’s Messiah, the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6Eph 2:14-18), the King who reigns with justice and righteousness now and for all eternity (Isa 11:45Rev 11:15)! Imagine if Habakkuk had seen us– Jews and Gentiles from every nation– receive the blessing of Abraham through faith in Christ, pressing on in faith until Christ’s return! (Gal 3:14)

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told” (Hab 1:5).

Join us next week to look through the amazing little window of Habakkuk 2:1414 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Listen to Lux, by Antoine Bradford.

Habakkuk– the prophet who prayed with his eyes wide open

After experiencing the holocaust and the rise and fall of the Nazi empire, Corrie Ten Boom said,

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.. In darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”

Her words are an apt reminder for God’s people in South Africa. This week has seen anger and anarchy bubble over. The rape and murder of Uyinene Mretyana unleashed the nation’s fury at a society which allows a woman to be murdered every three hours. Xenophobic violence, looting and arson have caused untold personal tragedies. People are tired of politicians tweeting “deepest condolences” and platitudes, but providing no genuine protection. Tired of pampered MP’S flying past with their blue light brigades, but failing to provide rape kits at police stations for the violated. Leaders seem indifferent to the struggles of ordinary people– deaf, blind and inactive. With a murder rate equal to war-torn regions like Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, South Africans feel leaderless and vulnerable for the future. As Christians, we may wonder if God is like our politicians, standing in heaven with his hands in his pockets. Like Emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned. We may even wonder if God sees the flames licking the tip of Africa.

The book of Habakkuk is only three chapters long, but it is like a prayer journal that speaks powerfully to God’s people living in perplexing times like ours. See if his complaint resonates with you.

Habakkuk’s Complaint

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted… (Habakkuk 1:1-4)

Lord, are you not from everlasting?
    My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
    you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
    you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
    Why are you silent while the wicked
    swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
    like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
    he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
    and so he rejoices and is glad.
(Hab 1:12-15).


“How long, Lord? Why do you idly look at wrong?”

The prophet Habakkuk lived in Judah in the reign of King Jehoikim. It was shortly before the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and took godly Jews like Daniel and his friends into exile in 586BC. Habakkuk witnessed a time of economic collapse, extreme social injustice and violence in Judah (Hab 1:1-4). It was about to get worse for the nation, as the ruthless Babylonians would soon swallow Judah like fish in a dragnet (Hab 1: 5-17). Habakkuk’s crisis in 600BC was not too different from our news in 2019AD.

Many of us are unconscious of how we process our national and personal crises. One person may choose to ignore the news and focus on feel-good stories. Another may rage, get depressed, or send funny cartoons on social media to soften the blow. Others with options make plans to emigrate.

But Habakkuk processed his honest questions with the Sovereign Lord. As he prayed with eyes wide open to his realities, God shone His truth into Habakkuk’s darkness.

Like most of our complaints, Habakkuk’s questions involved God’s timing, his apparent inaction and tolerance of evil. He voiced the big ambiguities honest Christians feel: How can a powerful and good God stand idle while wickedness flourishes and people suffer (Hab 1:13)? Why is God taking so long to answer my prayers?

David raised the same questions in Psalm 37 and 73, Psalm 13:1-2 and Ps 74:10-11. Please God, take your hand from the folds of your garment and crush the wicked! How long? It is the refrain of Christian martyrs as they wait for God to vindicate their deaths (Rev 6:10). These questions are not displaying a lack of faith when they are directed at the Sovereign Lord of history.

God is attentive to Habakkuk’s questions, but his answers are not simplistic, nor optimistic in the short term. The oracle is not good news, but a weighty ‘burden’ that God’s spokesman must bear (Hab 1:1 KJV): The sovereign Lord of history will do what is right and just in his appointed time. God will raise up a ruthless pagan nation, Babylon to punish his people.

This was hardly the ‘amazing’ intervention Habakkuk expected!

“Look at the nations and watch—
    and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told (Hab 1:5).”


Habakkuk calls a spade a spade. There are only two kinds of people—The proud, whose hearts are crooked. And the righteous, who live by faith. (Hab 2:4). There are no euphemisms in his detailed list of evils. No silver linings to the final end of God’s enemies (Hab 2:2-20). It is a terrifying picture of humanity… and our hearts, if we lift the veil of self-righteousness. The arrogant and greedy. The man who piles up stolen goods and extorts from the poor. The man who builds his house by unjust gain and establishes a city with bloodshed and injustice. The porn user and sex abuser. The destroyer of God’s creation. The one who trusts in useless idols. It’s all there.

Habakkuk didn’t live in splendid isolation, disengaged or ignorant of the suffering and evil around him. Nor did he minimize it, like some did when Robert Mugabe died, calling him a colossus, a martyr and a giant of the African Revolution. God does not close his eyes when leaders commit genocide or rain terror on millions of people for decades. No, Habakkuk was burdened by the sight of suffering (Hab 1:3). As Jesus was (Mark 1:41). And as we should be, when we read of the rape of a 6-year old girl in a restaurant bathroom, just one of 60 children raped every day in our country. God’s eyes are wide open when the wicked hem in the righteous (Hab 1:4).


But Habakkuk’s journal does not end with his complaint. As his conversation with God unfolds, his perspective changes. His unknownsare slowly processed through the filter of God’s known character, what He has done in the past and what He has said He will do in the future. God’s truth penetrates Habakkuk’s confusion:

For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
    it speaks of the end
    and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
    it will certainly come
    and will not delay (Hab 2:3).

Habakkuk is finally able to trust in God’s sovereign purposes and sure revelation.

As Christians, we know the fulfilment of God’s greatest revelation in history– the appearance of Jesus as Saviour, his death and resurrection. We know the certainty of God’s written revelation–the Bible.

Now, we too must wait in hope for God’s “appointed time”–when Jesus returns to judge the earth and make all things new. In the meantime, we live by faith in what we know to be true.


Despite the political darkness, God directs Habakkuk’s eyes to the light: The righteous are saved and kept by faith (Hab 2:4). God’s kingdom willprevail, no matter what Satan and his forces throw at it. “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14). Six centuries before Christ the King appeared on earth, Habakkuk sees that God’s kingdom is not in retreat, despite the carnage on the battlefield.

He gazes at the Lord in his holy temple, before whom all the earth is silent (Hab 2:20). Habakkuk’s questions end, as he rests his case. Just awe and worship before the just Judge. His heart pounds, his lips quiver and his legs tremble before the Sovereign Lord. He glimpses the end of the proud, feeble kingdoms of the world and finds new strength and joy in his Saviour (Hab 3:18).

Habakkuk’s longings for safety and certainty are ours. God welcomes our honest questions too. But however dark and unstable our reality, our only safe haven is in our Sovereign Lord and Saviour, Jesus. He called himself the Light of the world. And if we are His, “in darkness God’s truth shines most clear…Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Please join us next week on The God Walk as we flesh out the spiritual journal of Habakkuk through the lens of the New Testament.


Oh My Soul, by Casting Crowns.


Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy…

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:217-19)


Why not take this week to read the book of Habakkuk for yourself? Download the free Explore Bible Devotion App on your phone and buy Andrew Reid’s devotion on Habakkuk for R14. It will only take you six days to read it from beginning to end and will greatly enrich your understanding.

Click here for Apple users.

Click here for Google Play.

Rest for the Weary

New series: Texts that changed my life.

If I were to make a mini-series of our society, I would call it “The Weary and the Restless.” Many of us  are staggering under demanding burdens that are far too heavy to bear. Exhausted, stressed, overworked, or worried about not having work, South Africans live with nagging fears about the future, crime and the shaky economy. Many are frantically eyeing secure havens for their families while others feverishly tick off their bucket lists of exotic destinations and physical challenges. Perhaps it’s because I’m turning fifty this week and my generation is clawing at the last vestiges of youth! But even if you haven’t succumbed to the crazy restlessness of mid-life crisis, it is rare to find a soul that isn’t burdened by the ever-increasing pace of the year, runaway technology, and relentless expenses. Added to this basic burden of weariness, is the weight of economic and political upheaval which presses down on the world like a giant blanket, squeezing more from us than we are able to give. The truth is that humanity has been profoundly weary since sin came into the world and paradise was lost in Genesis 3. Jesus Christ makes a simple offer of HIMSELF– the eternal God made flesh. He invites us to give up our burdens and willingly take on his yoke of life and freedom. In a world that is staggering under heavy burdens of sin, fear and brokenness, Jesus alone has the power to give us soul rest.

Matthew 11:28-30:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Our work, and Christ’s

In the context of Matthew’s gospel, Christ makes it plain that true soul rest can only be achieved through his death on the cross. He is not offering us a day at the spa!

On the cross, Jesus finished the “work” needed to bring us peace with God and end our restless wandering. Only the perfect God-man could bear our burden of sin. The empty tomb and his risen body proved that Christ’s “work” was acceptable and perfect. Nothing more could be added to it. That’s why Jesus “rested” when He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God (Heb 10:12). In return for his work on the cross, Jesus offers us rest from our own efforts to be acceptable to God. He invites us to stop and listen, to cease our restless striving, and to find our rest in His perfect work. We bear the easy yoke of believing and obeying Him.

The easy yoke of work and rest

It’s easy to divide our lives into work and rest as if they are a divorced couple that cannot live in the same house. But Jesus sees no incompatibility or contradiction between them. Instead, he lays yoke and rest side by side as a paradox.  A “yoke” is a board that is placed over two cattle pulling a plough. The image implies labour, as the oxen pull together to plough row after row of hard soil. At the same time that the oxen are working, the yoke eases the weight of the load. The yoke makes the burden lighter. Jesus offers his disciples rest and an easy yoke in the same breath.

Yoked oxen resized

Obeying the gospel of Christ is not a heavy burden but a blessed yoke, because when we attach ourselves to Jesus, we are free to live and work and flourish as human beings were designed to.  When the crowds asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus replied that our work is believing in Him whom God has sent (John 6:29). Later Jesus gave his disciples a strange job description: Their work was simply to remain attached to Jesus (the true vine) and allow God (the vinedresser) to do his work of pruning to make them fruitful (John 15:1-4).


Our work is simply to believe, abide and obey Christ! He has done the rest on our behalf. That is why Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light.

Soul rest

For those who accept his invitation to come, the Lord Jesus replaces our burden of guilt and restlessness with deep soul rest. It is the true rest to which the Sabbath points: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Heb 4:9-10).

Entering into God’s rest is not a once-off event that happens the day we place our trust in Jesus. It is a moment-by-moment faith journey in which we must stop our striving and rest in God’s promises fulfilled by Jesus. We look forward to our ultimate rest in God’s eternal kingdom when we will rest from the hard labours of service in this age. “Yes”, says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them” (Rev 14:13). In contrast, those who do not accept Christ’s invitation to come to Him will have no rest, day or night (Rev 14:11).

If the stakes of Christ’s invitation are this high, we must ask ourselves some honest questions–

Have we accepted Christ’s offer of rest and submitted to his yoke by believing, obeying and abiding in Him?

Are we living our lives as restful disciples of Christ? Or are we as weary and restless as the world around us?

Rest is…

Rest is not about working less, doing more, or existing in a peace bubble. Rest is about the posture of our hearts as we go about the labours of life.

REST IS… believing that Jesus is who He claims to be—our Messiah who has freed us from sin’s tyranny and bought us peace with God. Rest is dropping our burden of sin, shame and striving at the foot of his cross and living as his disciple.

REST IS… trusting that Jesus will do what He says He will do. Rest is casting all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Rest is depending on Jesus to supply every need (Phil 4:19), to give us peace in tribulation and life in death (John 16:33John 11:25).

REST IS…coming to Jesus with every question, feeling and fear that burdens us, allowing Him to quench our soul thirst for approval, belonging, fulfilment, purpose and identity.

REST IS…abiding in Jesus as the vine, offering ourselves to be useful in His kingdom work and drawing from his grace to become fruitful branches.

REST IS…being contented and thankful, resting in God’s perfect purposes for our lives.

REST IS…yoking ourselves to Jesus as we move in the same direction and at the right speed in our work. It is labouring alongside the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2).

In moments when I find myself becoming restless and weary in my soul, I love to read this quote on my fridge. It was written by Elizabeth Elliot, whose missionary husband was killed by the people he came to serve:

“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”

A poem about Rest

Soul rest lies at the heart of the gospel. My son, Stuart, gave me permission to end with a heartfelt poem he wrote in response to Matthew 11:28-30.  My prayer is that every person who reads it will experience the deep rest that only Jesus has the power to give:

I live in a bubble
Of logic
Desperately clawing
At matter
That doesn’t
Reasoning how I
A Good Man
Can work
Myself so hard
That my muscles become scars
That my bones become dead branches
So He cannot
Say no

But I am always
Never attaining
A handhold
That I can cling to
And I don’t know why

I make sense
If I receive
I must give
And I have received
A gift so precious
That no man could comprehend
The magnitude of its value
But out of habit
I work
To repay the incalculable debt

I am in the trenches
Shovel in hand
Sweat soaked brow
Dust plated lungs
Milky white eyes
Peeking through
A cesspool of muck
I look around
Others like me
As far as my tired eyes can see
Furiously chiseling
With blunt tools
At stubborn ground
Dust is the only reward

My muscles are like
My gran’s mushy peas
But I keep digging
Deeper and deeper
Further coating my face
With grit
Which clings
Like iron shavings to a magnet

A man
In dazzling white
Strides through
The dismal mire
Not a speck of grit
Dares get close to him
I look up to him
He has figured out
How not to work
A voice
As harsh as thunder
On the Highveld
But soft
As a well groomed Labrador’s fur
Emanates across the trenches

I lift my broken face
To look at the dazzling face
From where the voice came
I see a few forlorn faces lift
But almost everyone continues
As if they had simply heard
An ibis’s morning cry

There is no sign of strain in the voice
It is as clear
As a fresh sea breeze
On a crisp autumn morning
“Come to me, all you who are weary
And burdened,
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you
And learn from me,
For I am gentle and humble in heart,
And you will find rest for your souls.”

I fall to my knees
With hands raised
In awe of his presence
I see His hand
Dark and calloused
From years of manual labour
Extended to my forlorn state
Tears run down my face
Like a stream running down the contour
Of a sparse mountain
I dare not touch this spotless hand
With my foul excuse for an appendage

He steps in to my trench
With grace abounding
And picks up the scarred mess
That is my body
And carries me out
In able arms
I am home
For years I have toiled
To earn the right
To be free
But here I am
In my Abba’s arms
But covered by his perfection

I look out to the other trenches
I call out to them
With tear-stained cheeks
That we don’t have to break ourselves
Any longer
We have been made enough
Not by our labours
But by His
No eyes move away from the ground
Not so much as an eyebrow is raised
I scream more earnestly
But nothing changes

I am free
All I want to do is to show others
The joy I have found
He looks at me
With a kind expression
As if having gone through this
A thousand times or more
“For the message of the cross
Is foolishness to the perishing,
But to us who are being saved
It is the power of God.”

Worship and pray

Thank Jesus for his finished work on the cross, and ask him to fill you afresh with deep soul rest, as you listen to this song by Andrew Peterson, “God Rested”.