Oren Martin describes the connection between land and rest:
[T]he rest in Canaan functions as a type of God’s heavenly rest in Genesis 2 and Psalm 95; that is, entering the presence of God on the last day. The rest that came with possession of the land was achieved in some measure under Joshua. . . . However, it still left something to be desired. The rest, then, anticipated the eschatological rest for the people of God, which David announced in Psalm 95. [Bound for the Promised Land, 143.]
This leads Martin to conclude:
God’s people are not exhorted to return to the type of rest in the land of Canaan. Rather, they are exhorted to enter God’s eschatological rest. [Ibid.]
I would argue that Martin has correctly traced out the connections between Genesis 2, Joshua, Psalm 95, and Hebrews 4. But his conclusion needs some correcting because his conception of land typology is not nuanced enough.
The idea that rest in Canaan typifies eschatological rest is the teaching of Hebrews. Hebrews 3:11 quotes Psalm 95:11 to the effect that the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness would “not enter my rest” (cf. 3:18-19). Numbers 14:23, 30, 35 make clear that what they do not enter is the land. But the author of Hebrews concludes from the use of “today” by David in Psalm 95 that the conquest of Canaan in Joshua’s day did not fulfill the promise of rest (Heb. 4:8-11). And yet the rest of God that his people enter into is not disconnected from the promised land. Psalm 132:13-14 identifies Zion as Yhwh’s eternal resting place.
Martin holds that the antitype is expanded beyond Canaan to encompass the new creation. This is also a reasonable conclusion from Hebrews. Hebrews 4:3-4 indicates that the rest of God to which believers enter is the rest that God began upon finishing Creation. This also indicates that the rest has a creation-wide aspect to it. In fact, it may be that believers finally enter God’s rest when they fulfill the creation blessing of rightly ruling over God’s earth.* Thus the rest is centered on Zion, but it extends throughout the world.
To conclude from the tracing of the rest theme that none of God’s people are to find their rest fulfilled in Canaan involves a bit of category confusion. God’s eschatological rest includes Canaan because it includes the whole world. Further, it is not the land of Canaan simpliciter that is the type. It is the land of Canaan after Joshua conquered Canaan and thus gave the people rest that is the type. There is therefore no violation of typology if spome of God’s people recieve their rest on the renewed earth in the land of Canaan.
* If this supposition is correct, I would view the Millennium as the period in which mankind under the Messiah’s rule fulfils God’s purpose for man as set forth in the creation blessing. However, the fulfilling of this blessing and the entering into God’s rest cannot mean that humans cease to rule over the earth or that they are inactive in the new creation. See Revelation 21:24-26; 22:5.
This is part of a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land theme in Scripture: