Leviticus 25:1-12
The Sabbath And The Jubilee Years

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. In today's scriptural passage, the laws pertaining to the Year of the Sabbath and the Year of Jubilee are given. Today I would like for us to think about what the reasons are that the Lord gave these commands and what they might mean for us [now].

The Sabbath Day

2. Some of you may be hearing the term "Sabbath Year" for the first time. Yet, those of you who may not have heard of the Sabbath "Year" have probably heard about the Sabbath "Day." It is clear that they have a connection to each other. So, for starters, allow me to remind you of what [the Bible] says about "the Sabbath Day." As for "the Sabbath Day," it was set forth in the ten commandments with the following words: "Remember the Sabbath day, make it holy. Work for six days, do all the different works of yours, but the seventh day you should not do any kind of work as it is the Sabbath of the Lord your God," (Exodus 20:8-10).

3. The term "Sabbath Day" is derived from the word "stop, suspend, cease." When you think about it, it is a strange command. The Lord is commanding not to "Keep on working and don't be idle," but to "Stop working. Rest. You must not work." Why did the Lord command something like that? The Bible explains the reason for that in this way, "In six days the Lord created the heavens, the land, the sea, and everything that is in them, and because the Lord rested on the seventh day, he blessed the Sabbath Day and made it holy," (Exodus 20:11). As you know, it is the creation account that is written in Genesis, which we are being given as an illustration here as the reason for [the Sabbath Day].

4. [Most Japanese] would say [we're] not very good at resting. I'm no good at all at taking a rest. Even when I do rest, I always have church and work on my [heart] and guilty feelings lag behind for no real reason at all. [I once heard] this story somewhere. It's a story about a certain pastor. He'd never take a break. He used to always say to church audiences, "The devil is at work right now and not at rest. Why do I need to rest?!" But soon he noticed his mistake. Then as the story goes, he became ashamed of his former words and deeds and said, "I do not imitate the devil. I am supposed to be like God." Do you see [his point]? I agree. The devil doesn't rest but is always working, but yet God rested. As I read this somewhat humorous story, it made me think afresh of the meaning of "God rested." The biblical God himself rested and as the God he is he commands us to rest.

5. God commanded rest not only for our repose. It is written "It is the same for you, your sons, daughters, male and female slaves, your cattle, and the aliens [or sojourners] within your gates," (Exodus 20:10 b). What does this mean? The idea behind it is more clear in Deuteronomy than anywhere else. "In doing this then, your male and female slaves can rest just like you [can]," (Deuteronomy 5:14). In other words, this command will also free those around you and let them rest as well. If there's anyone not resting, then the others don't rest either. Those in weak standing [in society], particularly, do not get rest. So, as a matter of fact, those who do not rest do not allow those around them to rest either. Thus, God commanded you to "rest" so that you set others free and "let them rest."

The Sabbath Year, The Year Of Jubilee

6. As we look at it in this way, we see how that the laws that pertain to "the Sabbath Year," which we have written here in today's passage, have expanded upon the scope of "the Sabbath Day" law. [The scope of] those who were to be freed or allowed to rest did not stop with slaves and cattle. It says the land also must have rest. "On the seventh year you must give total rest to the land," says the Lord, (25:4). In order to do that, once every seven years, the people had to rest. They rested from sowing seed, tilling [the land], and tending to the vineyards.

7. So, what did they do with what would grow on its own during that interval? The text says, "You must not harvest the crop that has sprung up in the fallow field or the fruit in the vineyard which you have not tended to," (verse five). It doesn't have the meaning of "You must not eat it." It is saying that the owner of the land must not assert that "Because this land is mine, what has sprung up on it is mine too!" [God] doesn't mind the eating [of the produce of the land]. You just must eat it sharing it happily with everyone else. "What springs up in the field in the Sabbath year will be everyone of yours' food. All the produce of the land will be food for you, starting with you, and for your male and female slaves, the hired worker, the guests staying with you, and also for your cattle and the wild animals." In this way then, because the people are being liberated from the mentality of ownership and possession of [thinking] "It's mine!," the land can begin to have complete rest. This is the law pertaining to the Year of the Sabbath.

8. Then, the law pertaining to "the Year of Jubilee" is even more thorough than this. On the fiftieth year, that is the following year after forty-nine years have passed in which the Sabbath Year is repeated seven times, "the Year of Jubilee" would come, which is even a more thorough year of emancipation and ease. Jubilee means a ram horn. "On the year of the seventh month and the tenth day, at the Day of Atonement, you will have the ram's horn sounded out. You will blow the horn in all the land, and set apart the fiftieth year as holy, and make a proclamation of liberty to all the inhabitants. This will be the Year of Jubilee. You will return each one of you to the lands originally owned by your ancestors, and go back to your families," (verses nine and ten).

9. On the Jubilee year, [like on the typical Sabbath years], rest wasn't only given to the land. The land was returned to all its owners. Those who took loans using the land they had inherited from their ancestors and who had to work apart from that land could go back to their own lands. Those who had sold their lands would receive the land restored back to them. All debts involved were wiped clean and those enslaved were set free. In this way then, not only the land was freed but so were the people. It didn't mean that only those bearing the debt of responsibility were freed. There was also a freedom for the creditors there. In it was also taking place a freedom from the hunger for possessions.

10. In this way then, the differences between rich and poor that arose in society in fifty years would be corrected at one time. Did they actually practice this in Israel like they were supposed to? Scholarly opinion on this is in the no. But, at the least, to understand what God required is important. What God required was that the land be returned completely back to its original state and be given complete rest. And on that land the people would also be freed and get complete rest. This would be so that everyone could live together afresh and anew. That is the law pertaining to the Jubilee Year.

Living In God's World

11. So, I hoped we'd take a look at the faith involved at the root level within the laws pertaining to the Sabbath and the Jubilee years. When we think about these laws, the following questions are quite naturally certain to arise. "If you shouldn't sow seed or harvest on the seventh year, how are you going to eat?," (verse twenty). The voice of the world will indeed ask that and say, "If we say we are to obey God's word in this, will we really be able to live it out? If we claim that, will we be able to eat?"

12. But, the word of God says this to us, "I will nourish you with life." The Bible says, "I will give blessings on your behalf on the sixth year, and on that year I will give a harvest worth three years. You will still be sowing seed from the old harvest on the eighth year and still be eating, and you can depend on that until you obtain the new harvest on the ninth year," (verses twenty-one and twenty-two). They do not sow seed on the seventh year. Even though they would sow seed on the eighth, they wouldn't have a harvest right away. But, on the sixth year that would precede it, the Lord says that he would give a harvest more than two fold. The one commanding them is also the one providing for them. The one requiring their trust and obedience is also the one supporting anyone who depends and trust upon him.

13. Then, [the Bible] goes on to say that the very land that causes the produce to be brought forth is the Lord's. "The land is mine, you are staying on my land and you are no more than sojourners [aliens, foreigners living in another country]," (verse twenty-three). The setting, in which the words of Leviticus are written, is before they enter into the promised land. The Israelites were in the wilderness. Therefore, they should have readily seen that the promised land essentially did not belong to them. It was the Lord's, they would be no more than people who had been allowed to stay on the land and to make use of it. The main thing was that they not forget that, even after they actually entered into the land of promise. The laws of the Sabbath and the Jubilee years have great significance for that very purpose; for, whether the Sabbath year or the Jubilee year, what is being commanded by them, is nothing special [in and of themselves] but that, in the final analysis, the meaning would simply be "to live making what's the Lord's the Lord's."

14. So, as a people given to stay and sojourn in the promised land as [I've described above], the Israelites could be considered a microcosm miniature version of all the varieties of peoples whom [God lets] live in the world. This world is a world God created. Even though there are people who never think of it as God's creation, at the least, they can't avoid acknowledging that this world essentially does not belong to the humans of it. -- Because this is not a world humans built. We are no more than sojourners allowed to stay in it. God graciously lets us dwell in the world, and he nourishes and sustains our lives. It is our sin as humans whenever we live like this world is all ours. True freedom and rest is found in living by regarding the world as the Lord's.

15. Jesus read aloud the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; for to announce the gospel to the poor has the Lord poured oil upon me. The reason the Lord has sent me is to set the imprisoned loose, to announce recovery of eyesight to the blind, to make the oppressed free, and to announce the gracious year of the Lord. The gracious year of the Lord is "the Year of Jubilee." Then after Jesus read this out loud, he declared, "The words of this scripture, today, when you heard them, are come true," (Luke 4:21). In this way then, Jesus has come to truly deliver us, set us free, and give us real rest.

 
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