We are almost out of the woods in our confusing journey through this health crisis. If things won’t turn worse, they will turn better. We are a few days away from entering Phase III in Virginia, which will allow us to recapture most of our old strongholds, as we hope that getting back into the old routines will grant us a much expected security. Moreover, the pandemic has lately become a secondary issue for many of us, as a new national crisis had emerged over the past several weeks, in which we seem to throw most of our attention, concerns, and the frustration accumulated during isolation. We are done with this and ready to go back to normal, but as we focus on this transition, it would be helpful to take a look at the last two lessons from the Jewish Sabbatical Year, as described in Leviticus 25:1-7: (6) Remember your Ruler and (7) Go back to the essence. These two final lessons are appropriate for this stage because they address two tendencies that people have today: re-owning their lives and investing themselves in too many non-essential aspects of life simply because they are now being permitted.
[If you missed the previous five lessons, you can find them here: (1) Resting in the Lord is a command, (2) Faithfulness is more important than productivity, (3) Remember your Provider, (4) Be thankful for what you’ve been given, and (5) Extend grace.]
6. REMEMBER YOUR RULER
The main purpose of the Sabbatical Year in Canaan was not the physical rest of the people and land, nor was it the strengthening of social relationships between people, although all those played an important role. The main purpose, then, was to enforce the remembrance of who Israel was, who God was, and how Israel was to approach God. It was a yearlong reminder so that no person in Israel could miss the meaning of the human-God relationship, in which God is everything by definition and man is nothing apart from Him. It was a clear picture of Israel’s dependency upon God not only in matters of survival, but also in matters of identity. God is the provider of rest and food in a land that He would secure and for a people that He brought to Himself (Deut. 7:6-8). God is the sovereign ruler both of Israel (Exodus 19:5) and their land (Leviticus 25:23) and without God, Israel would have still been insignificant slaves in a foreign land (Exodus 14:30).
The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. (Leviticus 25:23)
God brought the Israelites to Canaan and He gave the land into their possession (Deut. 26:9; Exodus 3:8), but He knew that the people were prone to failing once they would experience the goodness and comfort of the land (Deut. 31:20). God knew that once the wilderness would end and comfort would start, the people would forget that they were God’s possession, living in God’s land, with God’s resources, and instead they would claim possession over their lives and destiny. Thus, God set in place such reminders as the Sabbath, the Jewish Festivals, the Sabbatical Year, and the Jubilee Year. Ignoring those requirements (Isaiah 58:13; Ezekiel 20:12-24; Nehemiah 113:15) or superficially keeping them (Isaiah 1:14; Amos 5:21) led to an unavoidable failure, which proved to be terminal for most tribes of Israel (most tribes never returned from exile).
These events took place in a much different time, with a different people, and inside an old covenantal relationship with God, but the reality is that, just as the people of Israel, we too need constant reminders that God is the ruler of our whole existence. We need this reminder because the human tendency to try to steal God’s possession is ontological – it applies to all of us as long as we exist in a fallen reality. This is obvious especially today, as people, who done with having leaders that they do not trust determining their actions, are eager to take control over their lives as the ultimate rulers. Consequently, we must keep in our minds that before, during, and after the pandemic our lives are God’s and we live in a borrowed land, with borrowed resources.
God is our ruler. Spiritually, He is the one who redeemed us and adopted us into His family through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. Any spiritual blessing and all spiritual achievements that we might have are through Him and for Him, and without Him we would still be slaves to sin, in a fallen kingdom of the world. Materially, He is our provider and we are called to administer His resources for His glory. Moreover, He is the designer of our lives, who plans and achieves through us all that our lives might represent. Remember this when you get frustrated with what you wish you could do, or when you get enthusiastic about recovering your routines. Allow God to control His possession in the ways he desires and live a life of faithful submission.
7. GO BACK TO THE ESSENCE
If the main purpose of the Sabbatical Year was to refresh in people’s minds the correct approach to God, the main duty of the people during the seventh year was to be engaged in worship and spiritual fellowship. During the Seventh year the people of Israel were required to strip their lives of anything that was not essential in order to replace it with extraordinary worship and consistent fellowship. Sabbath was not just the emptying of one’s schedule for the purpose of rest, but replacing one’s materially oriented activities with spiritual ones, in which meaningful rest could be found. Sabbath was not meant to be an idle event, but a holy one (Deut. 5:20; Ex. 20:8) – a time of sanctification (Ezekiel 20:12) and holy convocation (Lev. 23:3) in the absence of non-essential distraction. Thus, the Seventh Year was a return to the essence of life, which is worshipping God. This represents the last lesson in this mini-series: go back to the essence.
Sabbath was not meant to be an idle event, but a holy one (Deut. 5:20; Ex. 20:8) – a time of sanctification (Ezekiel 20:12) and holy convocation (Lev. 23:3) in the absence of non-essential distraction. Thus, the Seventh Year was a return to the essence of life, which is worshipping God.
What have we done with the idleness of isolation? Have we replaced the lacking of non-essential activities with spiritual ones? Have we focused on spiritual growth and invested in godly relationships? We talked plenty about focusing on what is essential, but have we truly invested in the essence of our existence, which is to worship God? Unfortunately, hearing many discussions before our gatherings and observing many believers’ Facebook activity, I am skeptical of the fact that we have been too preoccupied with distancing ourselves from what is material and of this world and focusing more on worshipping God. Sadly, in my experience, I have encountered more bitterness, hatred, or hopelessness among believers in the past few months than ever before, and if that is an indicator of something, it is perhaps that as a group, we Christians have not grown much closer to God now that we have been reduced to what was essential. This raises the question, how important is worshipping God and focusing on what is eternal in our lives? And if the answer is “very,” then how does that impact our words and actions?
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Moreover, focusing on what is essential is not only a beneficial thing that Christians should adhere to, but it is a command of Jesus for our everyday life. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus taught that his disciples must focus on what is spiritual and not get caught up in the material aspects of life. Believers should at all times have a spiritual approach to life in essence, because what is eternal is incomparably higher than anything related to the material and temporary life on Earth. We have been created and redeemed by God to worship Him with our whole life. This is the essence of our identity. Let us learn from the Sabbatical Year that we must constantly reassess our lives and return to the essence. Let us use this time that we still have before more of our distractions will reappear in order to replace unfruitful, non-essential routines with renewed dedication and depths of worship, for the glory of God, the provider and the ruler of our lives.