The Significance of Sabbath
“But you might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ The answer is, ‘I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a bumper crop, enough to support you for three years.'” – Leviticus 25:20-21 NLT
In this chapter we have outlined two significant commands of God that were unique to the people of Israel and were only to be followed after they came into possession of the Promised Land. One was the Sabbatical Year and the other was the Year of Jubilee. Both seem strange to our modern-day sensibilities. Yet, like all of God’s commands, there was a purpose behind these instructions. In both cases, God was teaching His people that He was their landlord and that they were His tenants. The land belonged to Him. Their prosperity was up to Him. While He was giving them the land of Canaan, it was really His possession and He willingly shared it with them. They were never to become attached to the land, but were to live as aliens and strangers in the land. As their landlord, God was free to do with the land whatever He wished. And one of His desires was to give the land a sabbath rest every seventh year. In doing so, they would become completely dependent upon God for their needs during that seventh year. Because they would not be caring for the land during that year, they would have more free time to serve and worship God. They would learn a new appreciation for the poor in their midst, who had to live on the charity of others to survive. Charity became a high priority during the sabbatical year. Everyone was brought to live in a constant dependence on God’s providence.
God knew His people. He knew that if they were not forced to rest the land, they would overwork it and themselves. They would become greedy for gain. They would horde and build little kingdoms for themselves. They would become dependent on the land and themselves, instead of God. They would expand their little kingdoms by acquiring more land and even buying property from their neighbors who weren’t doing as well. In doing so, inequities would develop among God’s people. Some would prosper while others suffered. So God put into effect another command that would help prevent this from happening. The Year of Jubilee provided a means by which all land reverted back to its original owner. Debts were forgiven and land was returned. Everyone knew this would take place every 50th year, so they bought land with this in mind. The closer it was to the Year of Jubilee, the less they paid for the land. But when the Year of Jubilee came, the land was to be returned to it original inhabitants. They were also to celebrate the sabbatical year as usual, not working the land that entire year.
The real point of it all was to teach the people of God to depend on God. He was their provider, not the land. He would bless the sixth year of harvest so that they would have enough not only for the seventh year, but the eighth as well. God would miraculously provide. Sabbath and Jubilee both typify the dependence we are to have on God. The Year of Jubilee illustrates our redemption by Christ from the slavery of sin and Satan. Just as those who had been sold into slavery because of their inability to pay their debts would be set free on the Day of Atonement during the Year of Jubilee, so we have been set from from slavery to sin by Christ. Some commentators believe that the very year in which Christ died was a year of jubilee and that it was the last year this command was kept. But regardless, we have been set free and our debts have been paid. We have been restored to a right relationship with God.
These two commands are wonderful reminders of our dependence on God. He wants us to live in perpetual reliance upon Him. But we find it so easy to lean on our own abilities and our own productivity. We tend to overwork and not rest. We put our trust in the things of this world and forget that it is God who sustains us. We become overly competitive and insensitive to the needs of those around us. It becomes every man for himself. But God has called us to a life of dependence on Him and interdependence with one another. Especially within the household of faith. It all belongs to Him, not us. We are his caretakers and He is the landlord. We are simply managers of His possessions. We work for Him. And His desire is that we hold loosely the things of this world, and that we cling tightly to our love for Him and our love for one another.
Father, You are the Great Provider. This world is not my home and these possessions that You so graciously share with me are not mine. Help me to hold on to them loosely. Give me an increasing awareness of just how dependent I am on You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men