When God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, His purpose was to bring Israel to the land of Canaan, where they would be able to serve and obey Him freely (Exod. 8:1; Ps. 105:43–45), including enjoying the Sabbath rest that Pharaoh had prohibited (Exod. 5:5). This land of Canaan was the inheritance God had promised to their father Abraham because he had obeyed God’s voice and left his country to go to the land God would show him (Gen. 11:31–12:4).

God’s purpose in giving the land to Israel was not simply for them to possess it. God was bringing them to Himself (Exod. 19:4). God wanted them to live in a land where they would be able to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him, without any hindrance, and would also be a witness to the world of who the true God was and what He offered His people. Like the Sabbath of creation, the land of Canaan was a framework that made possible an intimate relationship with their Redeemer and the enjoyment of His goodness.

In Deuteronomy 12:1–14, the Lord told the people that they would enter rest, not simply when they entered the land, but when they had purged the land from idolatry. After that, God would show them, as His chosen people, the place where He would dwell among them.

God connected the Sabbath of creation with the deliverance from Egypt. He instructed Israel to observe the Sabbath as a memorial of creation and as a memorial of their redemption from Egypt. Creation and redemption are both enshrined in the Sabbath commandment. Just as we did not create ourselves, we cannot redeem ourselves. It’s a work that only God can do, and by resting we acknowledge our dependence upon Him, not only for existence but for salvation. Sabbath-keeping is a powerful expression of salvation by faith alone.

The sad story is that, according to Hebrews 3:12–19, those who were delivered from Egypt were unable to enter into the rest that God had promised them. When Israel arrived at Kadesh Barnea at the border of the Promised Land, they lacked the faith that they needed to enter the land. Numbers 13 and 14 explains that the Israelite spies “brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land” (Num. 13:32, ESV). They affirmed that the land was good, but warned that the inhabitants were strong and the cities were fortified and they would not be able to conquer the people.

Joshua and Caleb, two of the spies, agreed that the land was good and did not dispute the fact that people there were strong and the cities fortified. But they said that God was with them and He would bring them into the land (Num. 14:7–9). Yet, the people who saw God destroy Egypt through plagues (Exodus 7–12), annihilate Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea (Exodus 14), provide bread from heaven (Exodus 16) and water from the rock (Exodus 17), as well as manifest His continuing presence and guidance through the cloud (Exod. 40:36–38), failed to trust in Him now. It is a tragic irony that the generation which saw such mighty displays of God’s power became a symbol of faithlessness (Neh. 9:15–17; Ps. 106:24–26; 1 Cor. 10:5–10).

God promises His children gifts that are beyond human power to obtain. That is why they are based on grace and are accessible only through faith in God’s power and blessing. Hebrews 4:1–2 explains that, although the gospel was preached to Israel, the “word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who hear it” (Heb. 4:2).

Israel traveled to the borders of the Promised Land as a people. When the people were faced with contradictory reports, they failed to believe that God would defeat their enemies and lead them successfully into the land He promised them.. Faith, or lack of it, is contagious. That is why Hebrews admonishes its readers to “exhort one another” (Heb. 3:13), “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24, ESV), and to “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God” (Heb. 12:15, ESV).