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 Oakland County’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
How many times have you heard it said that God’s love is unconditional? Maybe you’ve said it yourself. Now if what you mean by that is that God loves all people and that His love doesn’t depend on our behaving ourselves, and that those who reject Messiah will nevertheless go to eternal judgment, then I concur. But while His love may be ‘unconditional’ His favor is decidedly conditional.
The Torah portion for this Shabbat is called B’chukotai, meaning “In My statutes”. If it were up to me, I would call this section HaIM HaGadol – “The Big IF” and I’ll explain why as we go through it. The passage is Vayyikra (Leviticus) 26:3 through 27:34 which brings us to the end of this book.
God says to Israel: “IF you will walk in My statutes and my commandments, to observe and to do them… THEN…”
In response to Israel’s obedience, the list of what God will do is marvelous. He will give our people rain seasonally and proportionally such that every year we’ll see a bumper crop. From sowing time to harvesting and from planting time to gathering, abundance will be the rule. One crop will overtake another and the same will be true for the fruit of the land. God further promised that He would give us secure borders, peace in the land, victory over our enemies and, most blessedly of all, He would delight to dwell in our midst and be our God.
But it’s all conditioned by that one word: (“IF”).
In response, however, to our disobedience, Adonai forewarns the appalling circumstances that will overtake us. Instead of feasting we’ll have famine. Invasion and defeat before our enemies will be our lot. Our once beautiful land would be laid waste, and we would go into exile. Our rebellion against God would even lead us to starvation and cannibalism! The passage also says that we would become completely paranoid – fearful for no cause, superstitious, running away when no one is chasing us. Verse 36 says The sound of a driven leaf will chase them. What a lamentable condition.
But that too is conditioned by the big (“IF”).
The Haftarah reading (Jeremiah 16-17) accompanying this section of the Torah, draws a similar dichotomy:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes… Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness…
The focus of chapter 27 concerns assigning fair value to the things a person might dedicate to the Lord, as well as the tithe of our income, and the great importance of following through on the vows that we make.
You and I have the benefit of hindsight. Everything described in Leviticus 26 came to pass, just as God, speaking through Moses, foretold. Likewise, the Prophets gave the same warning which, sadly, went unheeded. Yet this same passage, which cautions of the dreadful consequences of despising God’s Covenant, also promises that if our people would humble ourselves, confess our sins and return to Him, God would remember us, remember His Covenant, and bring us back to the Land and restore our prosperity. Those who teach Replacement Theology – the idea that the Church has replaced Israel and that God is finished with the Jewish people, seem to have ignored that provision of the Covenant. Ironically, they ascribe to what is called covenant theology. I think they need to go back and review this Covenant!
Let me close with this: There’s something here we need to take to heart and Yeshua Himself affirmed it: there are absolutes – as much in the spiritual realm as in the physical realm. We are called to declare our loyalty one way or the other. God’s Kingdom is not for the indecisive. We must not deceive ourselves into thinking there’s a comfortable middle when it comes to Yeshua – God’s promised Messiah. It was a hard line Yeshua drew in the Galilean sand, when He said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23).
The Scriptures speak of an ongoing cosmic war. There is no question about who will win the war. The only question is where individual human beings will find themselves when the dust settles. Blessings and curses follow your decisions, and if you would have blessings, you must choose Yeshua, which is the essence of obedience to God’s New Covenant.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Bechukotai בְּחֻקֹּתַי. Other transliterations: Bechukotai, Bechukosai, or B’hukkothai