What Does the Bible say about Rest and Recreation?

What Does the Bible say about Rest and Recreation?                                     By Jack Kettler

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence, lexical proof, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.

Our study starts with the opinion that the Bible allows Christians to engage in rest or recreation as long as it is in balance with the other commitments of the Christian life.

At first glance, this question about recreation may seem like a no brainer. Showing a justification for rest is easy. Is rest the same thing as recreation?

A hypothetical question:

What about being challenged with the statement that every day people are going to hell. Because of this reality, how could anyone even think of resting or recreation? How would this question be answered? As we move through this study, the answer will become apparent.

Contemporary Definitions:

Rest can be to cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.

Recreation is an activity done for enjoyment when one is not working.

Scriptures relevant to rest:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” (Exodus 20:8-10)

“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.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” (Mark 6:31)

Scriptures relevant to recreation:

“There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your households shall eat and rejoice in all you do, because the LORD your God has blessed you.” (Deuteronomy 12:7)

“You turned my mourning into dancing; you peeled off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (Psalm 30:11)

“And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

“Furthermore, God has given riches and wealth to every man, and He has enabled him to enjoy them, to accept his lot, and to rejoice in his labor. This is a gift from God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

“And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” (Mark 6:31)

From Strong’s Lexicon on leisure:

εὐκαίρουν (eukairoun)

Verb – Imperfect Indicative Active – 3rd Person Plural

Strong’s Greek 2119: From eukairos, to have good time, i.e. Opportunity or leisure.

Leisure time is being free from the demands of work or duty, when one can rest; enjoy hobbies or sports, painting vacations, etc.

“The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” (Luke 7:34)

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (Corinthians 10:31)

Dancing is an activity for personal enjoyment and striving for excellence as in the case of ballet a highly technical form of dance. Dancing is often done publically for an audience. For example, many people around the world enjoy the discipline of figure skating, which is sometimes called ice dancing. The performance of and the watching of dancing is a form of recreation.

Rest from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

Most uses of the noun and verb in the Bible are nontheological. However, the verb and noun take on theological and/or spiritual meaning in relation to God, to the people of both the old and new covenants, and to individual believers under both covenants. The most significant theological use in the Bible is found in Hebrews 3:7-4:11.

The Old Testament. Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, rested from the act of creating on the seventh day. “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work of creation he had done” (Gen 2:2). God contemplated his own work, knowing that it was good.

The people of Yahweh were also given the blessing of rest — a whole day out of each week in which to rejoice in and contemplate God’s works and words. The seventh day was the day of complete rest, the Sabbath, and sacred to the Lord (Exod 16; 23; 25). It was a day on which everyone, whatever his or her status, had to rest from daily labors; it was a festival for all to keep in honor of the Lord God, who himself rested (Exod 20:10; 23:12; 31:15).

The tribes of Israel also enjoyed God’s gift of rest when they settled in the promised land, which flowed with milk and honey (see Joshua 1:13-15; 23:1). Canaan is actually called “the resting place [Heb. menuha] the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut 12:9). They also knew such rest when they were delivered from their enemies (Joshua 14:15; 21:44; Judges 3:11 Judges 3:30). This rest of peaceful living was granted by God as the people looked to him alone and sought to keep his covenant.

With respect to the covenant relation of Yahweh to his people, we read that his fury rested on them in judgment (Ezek 5:13; 16:42; 21:7) and that his hand and Spirit rested on them in blessing (Isa 11:2; 25:10 Jer 6:16).

The New Testament. The primary Greek words are the nouns anapausis [ajnavpausi] and katapausis [katavpausi], and the verbs anapauo [ajnapauvw] and katapauo [katapauvw].

In the Gospels the theology of rest is most clearly articulated in the words of Jesus: “come to me and I will give you rest and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28-30). The rest he promises is certainly for the world to come, but it is also for this world. It is the sense of security and peace that flows from a right relation with God, the Father, through obedience to his Son, the Messiah, and membership in his kingdom.

In Hebrews 3-4 the verb katapauo [katapauvw] occurs three times and the noun, katapausis, eight times. Also, the Greek text of Psalm 95:11 (“they shall never enter my rest”) is cited eight times. Joshua was given the task by Yahweh of leading the tribes of Israel into the promised land, into the rest promised them by their God. This task was fulfilled in an earthly sense by Joshua, as the Book of Joshua describes. However, the fuller meaning of the everlasting rest of God promised to his people and related to the gift of rest of the seventh day was not achieved by Joshua and the tribes under the old covenant. Jesus the Christ, the greater Joshua, was sent by the Father to bring into being the true nature and fullness of the gift of rest for the people of God.

The rest is rightly called a “sabbath rest” because it is a participation in God’s own rest. When God completed his work of creation, he rested; likewise when his people complete their service to him on earth, they will enter into God’s prepared rest. Now, in this age, the rest is before them as their heritage and by faith they live in the light of it in this world. How this is done is wonderfully illustrated with the wealth of biographical detail in Hebrews 11. Here the rest is also portrayed as a city prepared for God’s faithful people a city whose builder is God himself. Whatever this rest consists of it is not a state of complete inactivity, such as the rest of the wicked (Job 3:17-19).

In Revelation 14:13-14 the heavenly voice speaks of the blessedness of those who die in the Lord and the Spirit replies: “They will rest from their labor for their deeds will follow them.” Here a different dimension of the meaning of rest is being pointed to a rest that is not inactivity but is certainly free of the burdens of the flesh and of the present, evil age.

Finally, we note that as the Spirit of the Lord rests on the Messiah (Isa 11:2), so in the new covenant, “If you [Christian believers] are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1Peter 4:14). Peter Toon (1)

If appropriately handled with Godly constraints, team activities encompassing games (chess and debate), sports, dancing can be valuable training tools, especially for young people. The training and discipline can be incorporated into future activities such as the research and study requirements of higher education, and the job market with the accompanying challenges.

Recreation can take the form of games, sports, and dancing all of which require practice and discipline.

An abbreviated entry on games from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

  1. Children’s Games
  2. Sports
  3. Dancing
  4. Children’s Games:

There are two general references to the playing of children: Zec 8:5: “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof’; and Gen 21:9 margin, where we read of Ishmael “playing” (metscheq). The rendering of our Bibles, “mocking,” is open to question. Of specific games and pets, there is hardly a mention in the Old Testament. Playing with ball is alluded to in Isa 22:18: “He will …. toss thee like a ball into a large country,” but children need not be thought of as the only players. If the balls used in Israel were like those used by the Egyptians, they were sometimes made of leather or skin stuffed with bran or husks of corn, or of string and rushes covered with leather (compare Wilkinson, Popular Account, I, 198-201; British Museum Guide to the Egyptian Collections, 78). The question of Yahweh to Job (41:5): “Wilt thou play with him (the crocodile) as with a bird? Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?” suggests that tame birds were petted by Hebrew children, especially by girls. The New Testament has one reference to children’s play, namely, the half-parable about the children in the market-place who would neither dance to the flute as if at a marriage feast nor wail as if at a funeral (Mt 11:16 f parallel Lk 7:32).

There are interesting accounts in Les enfants de Nazareth, by the Abbe Le Camus (60-66; 101-10), of the way in which the children of the modern Nazareth mimic scenes connected with weddings and funerals. That Israelite children had toys (dolls, models of animals, etc.) cannot be doubted in view of the finds in Egypt and elsewhere, but no positive evidence seems to be as yet forthcoming.

  1. Sports:

Running was no doubt often practiced, especially in the time of the early monarchy. Saul and Jonathan (2Sam 1:23), Asahel (2Sam 2:18), Ahimaaz (18:23, 27) and some of the Gadites in David’s service (1Ch 12:8) were renowned for their speed, which can only have been the result of training and exercise. The same may be said of the feats of those who ran before a king or a prince (1Sam 8:11; 2Sam 15:1; 1Ki 1:5; 18:46). The Psalmist must have watched great runners before he pictured the sun as rejoicing like a strong man to run his course (Ps 19:5b; compare also Eccl 9:11; Jer 8:6; 23:10). For running in the Greek games, see the latter part of this article.

Archery practice is implied in the story of Jonathan’s touching interview with David (1Sam 20:20, 35-38) and in Job’s complaint: “He hath also set me up for his mark. His archers compass me round about” (Job 16:12 f). Only by long practice could the 700 left-handed Benjamite slingers, every one of whom could sling stones at a hair-breadth and not miss (Jdg 20:16), and the young David (1 Sam 17:49), have attained to the precision of aim for which they are famous.

In Zec 12:3, “I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone,” literally, “a stone of burden,” Jerome found an allusion to a custom, which prevailed widely in Israel in his day, and has been noticed by a recent traveler, of stone-lifting, i.e. of testing the strength of young men by means of heavy round stones. Some, he says, could raise one of these stones to the knees, others to the waist, and others to the shoulders and the head, and a few could lift it above the head. This interpretation is not quite certain (Wright, Comm., 364), but the form of sport described was probably in vogue in Israel in Biblical times.

High leaping or jumping was probably also practiced (Ps 18:29). The “play” referred to in 2Sam 2:14 ff of 12 Benjamites and 12 servants of David was not a sport but a combat like that of the Horatii and the Curiatii.

  1. Dancing:

Dancing, that is, the expression of joy by rhythmical movements of the limbs to musical accompaniment, is scarcely ever mentioned in the Bible as a social amusement, except in a general way (Jdg 16:25, 27; Job 21:11; Ps 30:11; Eccl 3:4; Jer 31:4,13; Lam 5:15; Mt 11:17; Lk 15:25). There is one exception, the dancing of Salome, the daughter of Herodias, before Herod Antipas and his court (Mt 14:6 parallel Mk 6:22), which was a solo dance, probably of a pantomimic character affected by Roman influence. The other Biblical references to dancing can be grouped under two heads: the dance of public rejoicing, and the dance, which was more or less an act of worship. Of the former we have two striking examples in the Old Testament: the dance accompanied by the tambourine with which the maidens of Israel, led by Jephthah’s daughter, met that leader after his victory (Jdg 11:34), and the dances of the Israelite women in honor of Saul and David to celebrate the triumph over the Philistines (1 Sam 18:6; 21:11; 29:5).

It was probably usual to welcome a king or general with music and dancing. There is a good illustration in a fine Assyrian sculpture in the British Museum, which represents a band of 11 instrumentalists taking part in doing homage to a new ruler. Three men at the head of the procession are distinctly dancing (SBOT, “Psalms,” English, 226).

The distinctly religious dance is more frequently mentioned. The clear instances of it in the Bible are the dance of the women of Israel at the Red Sea, headed by Miriam with her tambourine (Ex 15:20); the dance of the Israelites round the golden calf (Ex 32:19); the dance of the maidens of Shiloh at an annual feast (Jdg 21:19 ff); the leaping or limping of the prophets of Baal round their altar on Carmel (1Ki 18:26), and the dancing of David in front of the ark (2Sam 6:14, 16 parallel 1Ch 15:29). There are general references in Ps 149:3: “Let them praise his name in the dance”; 150:4: “Praise him with timbrel and dance”; and perhaps in 68:25. The allusions in Song 6:13, “the dance of Mahanaim,” and in the proper name Abel-meholah, “the meadow of the dance” (1Ki 19:16, etc.), are too uncertain to be utilized. The ritual dance was probably widespread in the ancient East. David’s performance has Egyptian parallels. Seti I, the father of Rameses II, and three other Pharaohs are said to have danced before a deity (Budge, The Book of the Dead, I, xxxv), and Asiatic monuments attest the custom elsewhere. About the methods of dancing practiced by the ancient Hebrews but little is known. Probably the dancers in some cases joined hands and formed a ring, or part of a ring, as in some heathen representations. The description of David’s dance: he “danced before Yahweh with all his might …. leaping and dancing before Yahweh” (2 Sam 6:14-16) suggests three features of that particular display and the mode of dancing which it represented: violent exertion, leaping (mephazzez), and whirling round (mekharker). Perhaps the whirling dance of Islam is a modern parallel to the last. Women seem generally to have danced by themselves, one often leading the rest, both in dancing and antiphonal song; so Miriam and the women of Israel, Jephthah’s daughter and her comrades, the women who greeted Saul and David, and, in the Apocrypha, Judith and her sisters after the death of Holofernes (Judith 15:12 f). Once the separation of the sexes is perhaps distinctly referred to (Jer 31:13). In public religious dances they may have occasionally united, as was the case sometimes in the heathen world, but there is no clear evidence to that effect (compare, however, 2Sam 6:20 and Ps 68:25). Of the social dancing of couples in the modern fashion there is no trace. There seems to be some proof that the religious dance lingered among the Jews until the time of Christ and later.

If the Mishna can be trusted (Cukkah, v.4), there was a torch-light dance in the temple in the illuminated court of the women at the Feast of Tabernacles in which men of advanced years and high standing took part. The Gemara to the Jerusalem Talmud adds that a famous dancer on these occasions was Rabbi Simeon or Simon, the son of Gamaliel, who lived in the apostolic age (Josephus, BJ, IV, iii, 9). According to another passage (Ta`anith 4 8) the daughters of Jerusalem used to dance dressed in white in the vineyards on Tishri the 10th and Abib the 15th. Religious dancing in the modern East is illustrated not only by the dances of the dervishes mentioned above, but also by occasional dances led by the sheikh in honor of a saint (Curtiss, Primitive Semitic Religion Today, 169). Among the later Jews, dancing was not unusual at wedding feasts. More than one eminent rabbi is said to have danced before the bride (Kethubboth 17a). Singing and dancing, with lighted torches, are said to be wedding customs of the modern Arabs.

William Taylor Smith (2)

The Westminster Larger Catechism relevant to recreation, from Question 139:

The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage, having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.

The sins forbidden are, “lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays.”

Are there songs, books, pictures, dancing, stage plays that are not lascivious? Yes, for example, Handel’s Messiah, commentaries on the Bible, biographies about leaders in church history, enjoying biblical art, David dancing before the Lord, figure skating, the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, the movie Ben Hur.

In closing:

First, to answer the question about no activity being valid unless it involves evangelizing.

If this is true about nonstop evangelizing, why does Jesus set the pattern for rest and leisure in the gospel of Mark?

When “… he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” (Mark 6:31)

Second, a question of this nature about nonstop evangelizing ignores many other directions and commands in Scriptures.

For example, consider what the Bible says about church callings:

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)

“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office.” (Romans 12:4)

Third, why is the person asking the question not out evangelizing instead of arguing? Do they work to support their family, do they home school, buy food and clothing, or read the entire Bible, what about church attendance? How can these activities be justified?

Fourth, a person who believes in non-stop evangelizing almost certainly does not believe in the sovereignty of God and believes that a man plays a part in the conversion of souls. God in His sovereignty has ordained evangelists and preachers and has commissioned them to preach, and has sent them forth. See (Romans 10:15).

In another place, we see that God is the one who sends forth His ministers, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (Jeremiah 23:21). Besides, these individuals may be on a self-appointed mission, rather than a calling from God. In the church age, the elders of the church ordain and send forth preachers and evangelists as a guard against the self-appointment to a ministry. “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him” (1Corinthians 12:18).

The one-track mind syndrome:

People who focus on only one command in Scripture suffer from the one-track mind syndrome.

The one-track mind syndrome also manifests itself in people who believe the only valid activity of Christians is fighting to stop abortions. As wicked as abortion is, it cannot be maintained that this is the only valid activity for Christians who fight in the public square or the market place of ideas for biblical truth.

A concluding observation of our chief study:

Rest and recreation are not the same. Rest may include recreation. There is some overlap as seen with taking a vacation. Vacations would fit into both a theology of rest and recreation. God gives rest and recreation to us. “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13)

Godly recreation (with biblical parameters) has been a factor in the development of sports, the arts (music, literature, dancing) adhering to biblical principles. Pagan recreation, on the other hand, glorifies violence, profanity, and vulgarity.

An exhortation:

We can control our rest and recreation time, or it can control us.

Quotes:

“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.” – Francis Schaeffer, Art & the Bible

“We were free to create, as long as we never forgot that we are slaves to Jesus.” – Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible

Notes:

  1. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 674-675.
  2. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. “Definition for ‘GAMES,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 1168-1170.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM

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