Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

SJ in the OT: The Sabbath Year

Posted by Chris on September 23, 2006


Leviticus 25 is one of my favorite chapters in all the Scriptures. It contains one of the most powerful, challenging, awesomely radical calls for social justice that has ever been recorded. It addresses two concepts: the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee. I will focus first on the Sabbath Year.

Did you know the Sabbath is more than just another name for Saturday or Sunday? Have you always wondered if NFL players were sinning by having all of their games, and thus, “working” on the Sabbath? If God would rest on the seventh day and call it holy, shouldn’t this Sabbath have more significance? It does!

A book could be written on the significance of the Sabbath. It has many different facets and implications for our lives and is implemented in different ways. For Christians, it is usually celebrated on Sunday, or the Lord’s Day, in honor of the resurrection of Christ. For the Hebrews wandering in the desert, it was the day they were not to go out and gather manna. For some Jews, it remains a weekly holy day. For most full-time workers, it means a weekend off. But there are applications specifically for social justice as well, beyond making sure that poor people get time off from work. This is a Biblical idea, by the way- see the 10 Commandments. I wonder if the people who are most concerned with us all knowing the 10 Commandments take to heart the 4th commandment’s call that people be given a rest.

In any event, Leviticus 25 says three important things about the Sabbath Year, which like the day is every seventh year.
1) The land itself is to observe a Sabbath. (Lev 25:2-5) This is a piece of agricultural wisdom. Farmers rotate crops and even let fields lie fallow to ensure the field is fruitful for years to come. The social justice aspect is an application I believe can be made in the economic relationships between rich and poor nations. Too often, third-world countries have been forced into cash-crop systems and sacrificed their ability to produce food for themselves. We must not endorse and should disapprove of this practice as a general policy for entire nations. Unfortunately, much of the harm is already done and seemingly irreversible. Economies have been ravaged, people have starved, rainforest has disappeared, and for what? Poor, relatively unproductive agricultural practices that allowed your tea and coffee to cost a few cents cheaper. Arguably, the value of the land has been destroyed—not only was it an unjust decision, but a bad economic decision if you see

2) During this year of rest for the land, it would continue to produce from past seeds and through God’s hand (Lev 25:20). This yield was to be set aside as food for the landowner as well as for his servants, hired workers, and any other temporary residents who lived there that year, as well as food for animals. (Lev 25:6-7) So many things could be said. Do not hoard, but trust God for provision so that you are not afraid to allow others to eat from your fields. Be generous with your servants (in our context, I’d argue employees) and neighbors who have less. Don’t have a litmus test of status or longevity as to who is allowed to sit at your banqueting table. The most important take-away is that God called the Israelites to intentionally and regularly step back and live as equals and ensure the health and happiness of all.

3) Finally, the Sabbath Year is the foundation of something even more powerful—the Year of Jubilee. (Lev 25:8)
Before you go all “this is welfare” on me, take heed. Jesus Christ affirmed these concepts in Matthew 12. He and his disciples walked through the fields, hungry and homeless, and picked some heads of grain for food. They were also challenged by unbelieving Pharisees. It is not charity; it is God-commanded justice.

Next I will address the Year of Jubilee!


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