One way to acknowledge God is to rest. Dr. John Walker has said, “A good night’s rest is way overrated.” Indeed, there are valid reasons for not being able to sleep well (see 2 Corinthians 11:27). Fred Craddock observed, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is go to bed.” Sabbath was part of creation (Genesis 2:2, 3), part of the Law (Exodus 20:8-11), and part of the lordship of Christ (Matthew 12:8).
According to Leviticus, 1/7 of the time the landowners and the land were to be on equal ground. Both landowner and land were to rest, and there was to be a spirit of joy about that rest. Our text today is the primary passage about the Year of Jubilee (see Deuteronomy 15). This became Israel’s golden anniversary of sorts. During this special year land was to rest, debts were to be canceled, and slaves were to be freed. It was a do-over of sorts. It highlighted fresh starts and new beginnings.
Land @ Rest
The opposite of bringing to God the firstfruits of the harvest (last week’s lesson) is letting the ground lay fallow (this week’s lesson). Ground and people need time off. The Lord told Moses as much when he was at Mount Sinai receiving the law. God and Moses were good farmers. They knew the value of rest for the land. Three times in these seven verses we are told that the land must observe a Sabbath. Over stressed land produces less. Rested land produces a bumper crop.
When Israel would enter the promised land the normal rhythm for that land would be sowing, pruning, and harvesting. This was the pattern for six years in a row. (Sabbath is important, but sometimes God’s people forget the other side, “Six days thou shalt labor.”) Three things were intended by this land at rest. First, this Sabbath was to the Lord. There was a worship dimension to it. It was not solely for agrarian productivity. Second, during this Sabbath the land would continue to produce. The caution was to keep from making what was produced a full harvest situation (called, “putting in sickle”). Rather, the purpose was to eat more simply on what little would be produced naturally. Finally, this Sabbath was widespread. It was for the people, their servants (both male and female), the hired worker, and the temporary resident (sojourner). It was even for the livestock and wild animals (living things). The land being at rest would put Israel in a posture of trusting God for their daily bread. It also was a slight glimpse at a future world where the curse (Genesis 3:17b, 18) would be removed and all nature would be at peace.
People @ Rest
The land was not the only thing that received a do-over. The nation was to receive the same benefit. First God informed Moses and the people how to reckon the Year of Jubilee. The number of “completeness” was used to mark it out. Seven sevens were counted amounting to 49 years. (There is some debate among Bible scholars about whether there was one year observed as a special year of rest, that being the forty-ninth year plus the next year, the fiftieth year, or whether it was just one year of celebration.) Jubilee does not mean fiftieth (that is the word Pentecost). Jubilee refers to what was done, namely, the sounding of the ram’s horn.
Perhaps most significant was when this all took place in the Jewish calendar. It was the tenth day of the seventh month. That month is special for the Feast of Tabernacles but also for the Day of Atonement (kippur, meaning “covering”). It is theologically significant that the do-over would be when God went about forgiving people and setting people free. Israel was to consecrate (make holy) the fiftieth year. Property was returned, slaves were freed, and land was restored. Most important was that liberty was proclaimed.
The God of the Bible is the God of the second chance. Some scholars (for example, Walter C. Kaiser Jr.) would caution about borrowing later freight from the New Testament to interpret early revelation from God. But in light of Luke 4:16-19, it would seem that Leviticus 25 is a type that would be fulfilled in the coming of the liberator Jesus. Whether Israel actually celebrated the Year of Jubilee much is hard to say—there does not seem to be an abundant amount of evidence. But Christians celebrate it in Christ. Let the ram’s horn sound again—rest and joy.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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