by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970
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 was not just for native-born Israelis. It applied to sojourners, servants and even animals. God commanded that when we entered Eretz Canaan, the land was to enjoy its own Sabbatical Year (25:1-7). 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 simply trust Him, there would be no lack.
So let me ask you a question: If you knew that you would be amply provided for, wouldn’t you love to have a sabbatical year? Imagine what you might do with a whole year to rest and pursue your personal interests. With a year off, I imagine Rabbi Loren would single-handedly create OaklandCounty’s largest botanical garden. Me? A trip around the U.S. on my motorcycle with a blank journal, a good pen and a reliable camera.
God would have provided so abundantly for our people! Sadly, we did not obey His command. The writer of 2 Chronicles sums up his narrative of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem and Judea, and the subsequent 70 years of captivity with these words:
Then they burned down the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its fortified buildings with fire, and destroyed all its valuable articles. And those who had escaped from the sword he (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 Chronicles 36:19-21).
Seventy Sabbaths Israel failed to honor. That’s 490 years of non-observance! 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 to be called Shanat Yovel – The Jubilee Year, and it was to be heralded with the blowing of the shofar. It’s what I would call a divinely-authorized “do-over”. Anyone who had once forfeited their property due to financial hardship could now return to that land. In fact God declared that we were never to sell any of His land permanently (25:3). Only the most dire 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 in economic renewal in the Jubilee Year, if we would but take it to heart. On a personal 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 describe Israel honoring God by keeping 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 Israelis the Lord’s, and He had already deeded it according to His will. We have no business countermanding His decree.
Beyond all the particulars of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years as prescribed in Leviticus 25, we have a lovely portrait here of rest and redemption, of the forgiveness of debts and fresh starts. Do-overs! It is a foretaste of the greater Rest and Redemption accomplished on our behalf through Messiah Yeshua. God, through Messiah Yeshua, has forgiven us our sins, our rebellion, our unbelief. In Yeshua we enter into the greater Sabbath rest promised to the faithful throughout the ages.
This is what the writer of the letter to the Messianic Jews had in mind when he wrote,
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it (speaking of 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 after so long a time just as has been said before, “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 God enable us to walk in obedience and appreciation, and enter His ultimate rest.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Behar בְּהַר. Other transliterations: Behar, BeHar, Be-har, or B’har