We discussed the Sabbath a little bit in Leviticus 23, and there we talked about the Sabbath is about living from eternity – out of the rest of God. So, when we come to Leviticus 25, and we read about the Sabbath year and the year of Jubilee, it is not difficult to see how this could easily correlate with heaven in some way. After chapter 25, Leviticus begins to sum up, and thus we’ll find blessings and curses for obedience or disobedience and redeeming what is the Lord’s.
To focus specifically upon the Sabbath year and not go too far off of what this immediately speaks to, just think about what this implies: no work for a full year. In the ancient Hebrew culture, they didn’t have people living in the city, studying in Yeshiva, or working as a professor. The ancient Israelites didn’t have any kind of income or paycheck system. Everyone was essentially a homesteader. You had a certain plot of land that you lived off of, and you planted your garden, you took care of your livestock, and when you needed something that you didn’t have (whether in food or in skill), you went to a fellow Israelite and traded. If you needed metal working, and you didn’t have the skill for blacksmithing, you would trade some food (or your skill) in order to get some metalworking done.
Of course, this isn’t 100% correct, seeing as they did have gold, silver, and other precious metals and stones. So, there was at least a source of currency. And, there was at least commerce. They weren’t so “primitive” as to not have any kind of money at all. Yet, the point still remains. Even with their gold and silver, people would tend their own property in order to sustain their family. If they struggle, they would go to a fellow Israelite asking for help. That was the way that ancient life was in Israel.
This is extremely difficult to imagine. What are you supposed to do all day? You’re not farming, you’re not gardening, you could tend to the animals, but even in that it doesn’t take all day. If you’re not planting and harvesting, how are you supposed to feed your family? If you aren’t working (taking a Sabbath year), how are you supposed to make a living? How is anyone supposed to eat for that year while no one plants?
Obedience to this kind of a command takes all of our focus off of what we can do to cultivate and make it, and puts it directly upon God. There is no other hope. No one could survive a full year without planting a crop. Could you imagine if a nation were to try this today? Their economy would collapse simply from buying food from their neighbors. Yet, somehow, I assume this is the intent. Israel will need to put her faith in God in order to not be bankrupt. God will allow for the food to grow, and for enough of it to grow to feed everyone.
This command implies that there is something more important to life than yielding food and working. Then, if that weren’t already countercultural enough, it claims that whatever the land produces is free for anyone to eat (even the animals have access to it). Could you imagine the responses that you might get if you told people that work isn’t everything? Could you imagine how you might be treated if every seventh year you were to quit your job and take a year sabbatical? What would be the response if every seven years you made the claim with your life – for an entire year – that a man shall not live on bread alone? What would that mean and look like for you to do that?
The Hebrew word that is used here is ‘shmitah’. My wife and I have not worked for 20 months now. We’ve left our fast-food jobs, have minimal income, and have spent the last 20 months praying and wondering how we’re supposed to pay the rent bill and car insurance. It has been quite the struggle, and at the same time quite fulfilling. We’ve watched as God would send person after person into our lives to help us. The whole time, I am entirely kicking against the goads. Not only is there the constant question of, “What are we supposed to be doing,” but there is also the difficulty that I don’t want to be a burden to others.
For 20 months my wife and I have questioned ourselves and questioned what God is doing, and for 20 months God has continued to provide. Yet, you might ask, “Why 20 months? Isn’t the Sabbath year only for a year?” Aha! That’s what you think. When you plant a field, and then you harvest it, how long does it take to grow? If you don’t plant anything, not in the spring, not in the fall, how long will it be before whatever you plant next year comes up? You could plant something that doesn’t take long to grow, but truly that won’t feed your family. The Israelites would have to plant crops that take a long time, because if they don’t, they won’t have those things at all.
There will be 12 months that the Israelites won’t plant anything, and in the case of fruit trees and other things already planted, they won’t prune or harvest. Then, when next year comes, it is already after the harvest. Rosh Hoshanna (the Feast of Trumpets) is sometime in the September/October region of the year. By that time, you’re either going to be preparing to wait out the winter, or you should have already been working on your fields to be able to plant for winter. Even if you rushed everything and got something in the ground, it would still be spring before it came up and you could harvest it. We’re looking at an easy 16 months of no harvest.
What do you do? You are at complete exposure to God. He is your only hope. If God is not God, then we perish. If there is no God, and we’re making all of this up in our heads, we die. And not only “we” meaning my family, but the entire nation will collapse and the entirety of the Israeli people will be wiped off of the face of the earth. Does this seem like a severe command from the Lord to you? Are you starting to see why the Israelites did not take this year long Sabbath (Leviticus 26:34, 2 Chronicles 36:21)?
Notice verse 4. The Sabbath is intended for the land. This isn’t merely a sabbatical for the Hebrew children to sit back and do nothing for a year. The Land itself needs to rest. Maybe this is like when God tells the man not to sleep with a woman on her period, because she just needs some time for her body to rest and grieve the loss of life. Is it possible the land itself has to recuperate? I’m not sure if it needs to “mourn the loss of life”, but certainly I can see the land having need to rest. It makes sense that the land itself would need a time where it isn’t being forced to produce, and that it can just do what it has to do.
The implications that the land needs rest only goes to show again that we as humans are from the ground, and that our first task given to us was to tend the garden (take care of the ground). Just like the land can be exhausted, and it needs the seventh year to regain its stature, so too does man need a day of rest in the week. These are all based around cycles of seven. There are six days on, then the seventh day we rest. There are six years on, and in the seventh year we rest. There are seven feasts of the year. It all cycles in sevens.
Ultimately, when overwork leads to exhaustion, for both the crop and the person, we often take fake “vitality” through chemicals and not true renewal. When our bodies are starving, we then start popping vitamin pills to compensate. Doesn’t it make more sense to just eat the vitamins from food? What if the food isn’t producing enough vitamins? There could be a couple reasons for that. It might be that we have so manufactured the crop that it no longer is able to bear what it originally bore. It is possible that through chemicals, hormones, pesticides, etc that we are diminishing the nutritional value of the crops and animals. It also happens that when we don’t take care of the food, and we just stuff the animals into a small space, or we feed them from “feed” (it isn’t even called “food”), or we grow all of our food inside, or we do any of these means to keep up production, and to produce quickly at that, that the food loses its nutrition.
The plants don’t take in so many nutrients from the soil when the ground itself has been sucked dry. Without nutrients from the soil, how can we expect the plants to then contain high nutritional value? And, if these low standard plants are then fed to the animals, you can’t expect that the animals are going to have the best immune system, the highest quality of meat, or a good source of vitamins and minerals. The way that we treat the land will filter to the food we eat in some manner. There is tremendous importance to allowing the ground to rest, and therefore to allow the crops to be healthy, which in turn makes the animals more healthy, which in turn makes all of our food healthier.
When we’re eating truly healthy food, we need less of it. Our bodies become satisfied with smaller portions, because it has the nutrients it needs. Suddenly we don’t need to eat massive portions for each meal. We can eat only a six-ounce steak instead of ten. One potato is enough instead of mashing up two. This, of course, relates directly into spirituality. Think of it this way: “Therefore rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Why would Peter (1 Peter 2:1-3) tell us to crave pure spiritual milk? Isn’t any milk good enough? Obviously, it is not good enough. What happens when you feed a baby unsatisfying milk? Somehow, somewhere down the line, that will come back to haunt you. In spiritual terms, it could stunt growth. It could cause for wrong attitudes or mindsets. It could cause for a wrong perception of who God is. It could cause for difficulty in relating to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Somewhere down the road, that impure spiritual milk will manifest in some manner.
At the end of Hebrews 5, and the beginning of Hebrews 6, we read, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Look at what he then calls milk: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”
Looking at some of those things, I’m not sure that there are many congregations that even discuss that! If these things are milk, then what in the world are we discussing in our congregations? To a certain extent, we do hear messages about repentance from acts that lead to death (but even these teachings are becoming less common), and we do hear about having faith in God. Yet, when was the last time you heard someone get up and truly explain baptisms? And notice the “s” at the end of that. When was the last time that you heard someone teach about the laying on of hands, where it comes from in the Old Testament, why they did it in the New Testament, what it signifies, and why is it important? When was the last time that the issue of the resurrection from the dead was taught, other than to glibly talk about our “glorified body” and how we’ll enjoy finally having a good singing voice in heaven one day?
If these things are milk, and we aren’t even scratching the surface on these issues, then what exactly are we pumping down our throats each week? Is it possible that we’re feeding “formula” – a milk substitute, which isn’t even nutritious?
To get back to the book of Leviticus, the Sabbath year reveals to us God’s intention. We’re supposed to have the best quality of food, both physically and spiritually, and that high quality is born out of rest. Specifically, it is born out of “Sabbath”. We read of the creation itself being in a much better condition at the return of Jesus than what we currently see. I would recommend looking up passages like Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 28:25-26, Isaiah 11:6-9, Joel 2:24, 3:18, Leviticus 26:10, Ezekiel 36:33-38, Jeremiah 31:10-14, Romans 8:22, and Isaiah 51:3 (among several others, if not many others). God is planning on restoring the earth back to its original intention, when the Lord comes and all of creation finally is brought into eternal rest.