Do you remember the funny TV commercials for Staples with the “easy button”? You press it and whatever the problem is, it’s solved, or the price goes down? Imagine if you could press a button and get a financial do-over; like restarting your computer, only it actually does fix the problem?
This Shabbat’s reading, Leviticus 25, is entitled B’Har, translated “on the mountain”. In it we find the commandment to have a rest every seventh year. The pattern is six-to-one. Six days of labor and then one day of rest; six years of labor and then one year of rest. The Sabbatical Year wasn’t only for native-born Israelis, but also for sojourners, servants and even animals. God commanded that when we entered Eretz Canaan, even the land itself was to enjoy Sabbatical Years. We were not to sow our fields or prune our vines or trees in the seventh year. Instead, we would simply eat what grew on its own for our food that year. And God promised to provide sufficiently in that year of rest. If we would trust Him, we would have plenty.
So let me ask you a question: If you knew that you would be financially provided for, wouldn’t you love to have a sabbatical year? What would you do with a whole year to rest and pursue your personal interests? I imagine Rabbi Loren single-handedly creating a new West Bloomfield botanical garden. Me? Traveling the Southwest United States, hiking in the national parks, and a Route 66 trip… in a convertible.
God would have provided abundantly, if Israel had kept the commandment to have a Sabbatical Year! Unfortunately, we didn’t. And listen to how the writer of 2 Chronicles described the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem and Judea, and the subsequent exile: Then they burned down the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its fortified buildings with fire… And those who had escaped from the sword Nebuchadnezzar carried away to Babylon… to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept Sabbath until seventy years were complete (2 Chron. 36). Seventy Sabbatical Years Israel neglected to honor. That’s 490 years of defiance! How tragic!
Next God commanded that at the end of every seventh sabbatical year, at the end of 49 years, on the Yom Kippur of the New Year, the 50th year, we were to declare a release throughout the land. It was called Shanat Yovel – The Jubilee Year, and was to be heralded with the blowing of the shofar. It was to be a divinely-authorized reset. Anyone who had previously forfeited their property due to financial hardship could now return to that land. Only the direst circumstances would ever have caused a man to part with his ancestral land. But on the Jubilee Year all debts were to be cancelled.
There is a beautiful lesson about economic renewal in the Jubilee Year, if we would but take it to heart. On an individual level, the forgiveness of debts and a fresh start can transform a person’s life. On a societal scale, the periodic elimination of debts can clear the way for tremendous economic growth. But beyond this, the 50th-year release and forgiveness of debts was a magnificent portrait of God’s gracious dealings with mankind. Yet again, sadly, the Scriptures nowhere record Israel honoring the Jubilee Year.
We’re reminded in this parasha that parcels of land in Israel were never to be sold permanently. At the Jubilee, the land was always to revert to the original family. Houses within walled cities could be sold permanently, but not lands or fields, and not houses in un-walled villages.
The principle is that the Land is the Lord’s, and He had deeded it according to His will. We had no business contravening His decree.
But beyond the particulars of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years as prescribed in Leviticus 25, there’s a lovely portrait of rest and redemption here, of the forgiveness of debts and fresh starts. Do-overs! It is a foretaste of the greater Rest and Redemption accomplished on our behalf by Messiah Yeshua. It is because of His sinless, perfect life, His atoning death, and His victorious resurrection that we are now forgiven, and guaranteed eternal life. Knowing that should motivate us to be gracious and forgiving of others. As Yeshua said, “He who is forgiven much, loves much.” Adonai has forgiven us our sins, our rebellion, and our unbelief. In Yeshua we enter into the greater Sabbath rest promised to the faithful throughout the ages.
This is what the author of the Letter to the Messianic Jews hand in mind, writing, Since therefore it remains for some to enter (God’s rest), and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David… “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”… There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God… Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:6-8, 9, 11).
May the Living God enable us to be merciful in our dealings, to walk in gratitude, and to enter His rest.