In the first part of this article (linked here), we observed the overall meaning of the Sabbatical Year, commanded in Leviticus 25:1-7. This was a year of both the people and the land pausing and catching a breath after the previous six years, but much more importantly, this was a time that would have Israel reinforce the centrality of God in their lives for the years to come. Thus, as we find ourselves in a time of reset, although of a very different nature, and as we prepare to tackle “normal” life again, we would do well to learn some lessons from this Seventh Year that could show us how to approach life in a God-centered way. Seven such lessons will be found in this series.
After the overall look on Leviticus 25:1-7, we learned the first and most important lesson of the seven – Resting in the Lord is a Command. This rest, which is the only authentic, God-promised rest, can be found solely in Christ and by acknowledging the ownership and sovereign control of God over one’s whole life. Trying to find rest in anything else, apart from God, will ultimately lead to disillusionment and disappointment. The next six lessons from this passage are all related to this main one, without which all the others would be misplaced. How else, then, could the Seventh Year impact our approach to life throughout and beyond this crisis situation of ours?
2. FAITHFULNESS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PRODUCTIVITY
The life of today is heavily oriented around providing for ourselves and our families. The sources of income (or preparing for such sources) are undoubtedly the highest priority when it comes to time-scheduling for most people. Western Christianity often leaves God at the center of day-by-day life only at a conceptual level, while the practical segment is mostly dominated by things that people “have to do” in order to build or maintain a certain level of comfort – in order to produce something. This creates an interior conflict for many Christians, which often shows through the contradictions that they might live.
In comparison, Israel embraced an agrarian society in Canaan, in which their subsistence would mainly depend upon working the land. Knowing when and how certain agricultural activities had to be done was the equivalent of our jobs today, and because man cannot control weather, prioritizing certain “jobs” was essential for survival. The main difference between them and us, I would argue, is that the urgency of agricultural events was interwoven with their religion, while for us the urgency of our productivity is often seen as competing with our religion – for our attention, time, dependency, trust etc. Nonetheless, just as us today, Israel was constantly faced with the temptation to believe that providing was a work of their own, which led multiple times to forgetting God and becoming arrogant, stubborn, and unfaithful (Deut. 6:10-12; 8:10-14; Neh. 9:16; Jer. 7:22-26).
23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ 24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. (Jeremiah 7:23-24)
However, in the Seventh Year they had to stop their work and depend entirely on what God would provide for them. Can you picture the tension that those dependent upon their own strength would have felt the whole year, and then again in seven years, and again, and again? Perhaps it was somehow similar with the tension many of us feel today, not being able to control our own provision. Can you imagine the risk that they had to assume in the spring by not working the land? This was, for most of them, an irreversible decision for the rest of the year. Can you imagine the level of trust that they had to show in God every Sabbatical Year? God was teaching them an important lesson: faithfulness to God’s commands was more important than the responsibility to provide for their families. In verse 18 God makes it even clearer claiming that the only way to security in the land was by being faithful to God.
“Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely.” (Leviticus 25:18)
We need this reminder every day, and especially in these times! Being faithful to God must be the highest priority of our lives, while our hard work for providing for ourselves and our families must always be subordinated to our faithfulness, in so much that if faithfulness would require not to produce, then we would be faithful with no second thoughts. There was no time in Israel’s history when prioritizing anything other than faithfulness to God led them to blessings, or even to achieving what they were striving for. The first step in being a responsible head of the family, parent, student, or leader is faithfulness to God!
3. REMEMBER YOUR PROVIDER
Closely connected to the lesson of faithfulness is the third lesson – Remember Your Provider. Through the Sabbatical Year, Israel had to remember that God is the Supreme Provider and that they, regardless of how hard they would work, were simply taking part with God in a process that He could do by himself. For six years they would survive because of God’s provision through their hard work, but during the seventh they would have to remember that God would provide not because of their hard work, but rather because of His faithfulness to His promises (Deut. 7:9). Israel’s hard work was not determinative of Israel’s sustenance, but God’s character was.
Moreover, in Leviticus 25:18-21, coming back to the idea of letting the land lie fallow, God answers to the Israelite’s potential concern about what would they eat in the seventh year and the first part of the eighth year, as they wouldn’t be allowed any systematic-harvesting the seventh year. According to these verses, God would make sure that the production of the sixth year would be tripled, so that it would last in the seventh and eighth years. Can you imagine the picture that the Israelites must have seen every sixth year, when, although they would own the same land and would do the same work, God would triple the land’s production? This was an active walk with God: they would see with their own eyes that God is faithful, would respond in faithfulness the next year, and then the eighth, they would still experience the abundant grace of God. They would surely remember who the provider was!
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
Jesus was also reminding his listeners (and us, in turn) of the importance of remembering who the Provider is and to live a life centered on Him. God is still the Ultimate Provider. He will always be the Ultimate Provider because it is only through Him that we can receive anything. Moreover, the provision of God goes beyond an earthly survival and comfort, as He has provided for our greatest need – salvation – in His son, Jesus Christ. Let us remember that we are eternally cared for and instead of worrying about how we will care for our families in the next several months, or putting our hope in changes of our circumstances, let us pursue godliness and faithfulness. Let us find rest in His faithfulness today.
[End of Part II]