Seven Lessons from the Seventh Year (part III)

field
Gabriel Aron
May 27, 2020

Time has changed some since part I (find here) of this article. By God’s grace, we have been able to resume some of the habits and activities that we enjoyed before the lockdown. Although there still is a long way to go, we appear to be overall more positive and enthusiastic, mainly due to the small things that we took for granted for so long that are special to us now. This reality is perhaps the best context for our fourth lesson from Leviticus 25:1-7, coming after (1) Resting in the Lord is a command (find here), (2) Faithfulness is more important than productivity (find here), and (3) Remember your Provider (find here).

4. Be Thankful For What You’ve Been Given

You probably have heard plenty of urges to be thankful these past couple of months, coming from pastors, business providers, politicians, or family members and friends. It is likely that you have heard it so much that by now the words don’t even have much persuasive power for you. We all know that we ought to be thankful every day, but the very fact that this is such a common urge today makes us more aware of how many apparent reasons there are not to be thankful. Money is thin, politicians are dishonest, pastors don’t take the right decisions, places ask you to wear a mask, your favorite buys are out of stock, delivery takes two weeks longer, you have discovered another dark side of your kids since school closed, your job security is long gone, etc. How could anyone be thankful and why does everybody tell me to be thankful?

The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, (Leviticus 25:6 – ESV)

I would claim that this urge is different in some crucial aspects than what we hear every day. First, it implies that, although there might be many things lacking, everything that you have has been given to you. Moreover, it has been offered to you undeservedly. It is a funny picture to see people claiming that whatever they have is only through the grace of God, but then becoming angry with the food delivery guy who is an hour late due to a pandemic – at least until you are that angry person. During the seventh year that Lev. 25:6 describes, the people would be provided food that would keep the entire household alive, because being alive was a good enough reason for a thankful heart to worship God and focus only on Him for a whole year.

Second, if you are the receiver, then there is a giver. According to this text, “the Sabbath of the land” (v. 6a ESV) would provide food, or “whatever the land produces during the Sabbath year can be food” (v. 6a HCSB). Under God’s extraordinary control, the land would have already unusually produced more in the sixth year (Leviticus 25:18-21), and now under God’s ordinary control, the land would naturally produce food for which the Israelites wouldn’t have to work. We have already discussed in part II that God was the provider, but this lesson takes it a step further in suggesting that however much the provider would offer, it would be sufficient, because one’s thankfulness during the Sabbatical year was built upon the Giver and not upon what has been given.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This lesson was presented in the New Testament as well, as Paul asked the church in Thessalonica to give thanks to God in any circumstances for the sake of God. We ought to be thankful to God because of who He is and what He desires from us, and not because of how much we may have or how comfortable we may be. This is, in fact, the only way to remain constant in thankfulness – anchoring it in the unchangeable nature of God and his will for us.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

5.   Extend Grace

Have you ever met a selfish yet thankful person (or vice versa)? Perhaps they exist, but I am still to find someone joining in oneself both characteristics at once. This is because more often than not, a person who cannot be thankful will never have enough to share with others or will at least feel that she deserves any blessing she receives, while a thankful person will find joy in extending grace regardless of the amount of possessions. For Israel, both thankfulness and selflessness were main requirements of the Sabbatical year. The second part of v. 6 instructs that the Israelites were not just required to joyfully eat whatever and however much the land would produce naturally, but they were also supposed to share the produce with the slaves, the poor, the day-laborers, and the foreigners among them. In essence, those who had no land, and thus, for whom there would be no soil to produce naturally – the vulnerable, were to be cared for by the land owners (see also Exodus 23:11).

In a capitalist system, the requirements of this verse seem almost incompatible with what would be considered by many an acceptable political narrative. Moreover, how to deal with the vulnerable among us has been a huge apple of discord all throughout this crisis. How then is this lesson relevant to us today?

First, although for Israel this was a politico-religious requirement, it would be inappropriate today to apply the requests of this verse at a political level. We must decode the metaphor of Israel as representing the church today (the New Covenant’s people of God), and thus, limit our hermeneutics to how the church should apply the principles of this verse. Thus, if you are part of the Universal Church, regardless of your political affiliation, the timeless principles of this verse apply to you as an expression of God’s character and will for His church.

Second, we must find what the equivalent of the slave, poor (Exodus 23:11), day-laborer (Leviticus 25:6), and foreigner would be in our society and then in our particular situation. Perhaps the slaves would be those powerless, who have no attributed value in our society, or whose voice is too irrelevant to be heard. The poor are just that, those who struggle making ends meet for whatever reasons and who could truly benefit from our help. The day-laborers would be those left without jobs, as the Sabbatical year meant jobless seasonal workers; while the foreigners are another obvious category.

Third, we must determine what sharing the natural produce of your land with those categories of people would mean today. For Israel, caring for those who were landless was primarily a reminder that God cared for them while they were wandering in the wilderness, and now, after God gave them the land and made it prosper, they were to extend this undeserved favor to those around them. What is it that you have received undeservedly from God? That is the very thing that you are called to selflessly share with those in need. Is it salvation? Is it food? Is it clothes, or time, or a voice, or a place to sleep, or emotional support, or finances? Don’t hesitate to share any of those, regardless of how much or little you have been given. When we don’t live to accumulate more and more, we will give more and more and when we learn to worship our Provider with thankful hearts, we will know to extend the undeserved grace that we’ve received from Him with those around us in need or difficult situations.

             35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick                   and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and                 give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:35-40)

May we all find ways to apply these two lessons in our lives. May we benefit from God’s guidance in our lives and may those around us benefit from the grace that we have received from God. May we care for the needs of the vulnerable around us, especially in regards with their eternal destiny, as salvation is the most undeserved and magnificent thing that we have ever received. May we never care for someone’s earthly needs without caring for their salvation. All for the glory of our God, who is with us.