August 10, 1999
Because lots on both sides were vacant for months, our neighbor could not develop her yard. Finally, she started. However, she soon ran into contractor problems, weather delays, and other unexpected setbacks. When the yard work was finished, she could not contain her relief.
A week or so later, we were both outside. She weeded her flower bed and remarked, “Just when I thought my yard was finished, now it needs more work. I guess there is no rest for the wicked.”
We laughed together. Later, I couldn’t help thinking how we use Bible verses in ordinary conversation, sometimes without thinking. When she talked about “no rest for the wicked” my neighbor referred to an Old Testament verse from Isaiah. When most people say it, including her, they mean something like, “If I was a better person, God would let me sit down and put my feet up more often.”
After checking it out, I notice this verse does not talk about being a better person or even being more moral. Nor is it referring to relaxation or time for recreation. Instead, in its immediate context the verse says, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (Isaiah 57:20-21)
While everyone is a sinner, the Bible does not call every person wicked. In the Old Testament, wicked people were thoroughly immoral and actively evil. They were ungodly, continually guilty and without any faith. In other words, they had no use for God nor any intention to trust Him. This verse applies to these people, not the average person.
As for its concept of rest, Scripture uses a word that sometimes means being idle with your feet up, but it usually means “tranquility.” In our culture, it is difficult to imagine being free from inner or outer tension and strife but in the Bible, a person at rest was not agitated or troubled in any way. They had an inner peace that made it possible for them to face all sorts of trials and circumstances. It is this kind of rest that eludes wicked people.
According to God’s Word, this rest is not a psychological gimmick. The way to achieve such peace is by trusting or resting in God through a deep faith in Him. This faith knows He is far greater than any threat we might face. That gives us confidence to focus on Him. When we do, our hearts are at peace. But the wicked cannot find this rest. They are not interested in its source. Even if they were, they would try to manipulate God rather than simply trust Him.
My neighbor used the word “rest” rather than “peace” which is used in that verse. Her choice is legitimate. The one is closely related to the other. The word “peace” comes from “shalom.” Shalom is used over 250 times in Scripture. Jews still use it today as a greeting. It basically means a state of completion and fulfillment, wholeness and unity. This condition includes restored relationships and deep contentment. The Bible links shalom as a result of being in the presence of God.
The bottom line seems to be that rest is a state of mind, a gift from God, yet partly our choice. We can be agitated by the weeds and the necessity of using our lawn mower or we can choose to enjoy the presence of God — who lives both in the back yard and in the hearts of those who trust Him.