Leviticus 24-25
(Sacred Objects and Sabbaticals)
February 5th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.

Leviticus 25:10 (KJV)

Summary of Chapters

The descendants of Jacob had escaped from Egypt on eagle's wings and have been living in the desert between Egypt and their future homeland. During this time the LORD is preparing them for their future by providing instructions for proper relationship with him and with each other, as described towards the end of the book of Exodus and throughout the book of Leviticus. Proper relationship with the LORD includes worship and respect for his sovereignty. Proper relationships with each other include a fair set of laws applied with justice to all parties.

Today's chapters reinforce the sovereignty of God in a number of ways. In the first half of chapter 24, the LORD describes to Moses two additional regulations for sacred objects in the tabernacle: The golden lamp stand with seven lamps must be kept burning continually to honor the LORD. In addition twelve loaves of bread are to be placed on the altar each week as a sacred offering. The loaves symbolize the covenant with God that includes his promise to provide for all twelve tribes of Israel. The priests are allowed to eat the sacred bread in the sanctuary.

    Regularly on each sabbath day the bread shall be set out before the LORD on behalf of the Israelites by an everlasting covenant.

    It shall belong to Aaron and his sons, who must eat it in a sacred place, since it is most sacred, his as a perpetual due from the oblations to the LORD.

    - Leviticus 24:8-9 (NAB)

The second half of this chapter describes a scene in which a heated argument causes one member of the tribe to use the LORD’s name in vain. After some deliberation he is put to death for violating the sacred nature of the LORD’s name.

In chapter 25, God makes it clear that he owns the land and we the people are his guests. He has promised to bring the Israelites to the Promised Land where they can grow crops and raise livestock. But on the seventh year, the sabbatical year, they must let the fields rest. They are told not to sow any crops and not to formally harvest any of the perennial plants, such as the grapevines. They may eat what grows naturally, and have to trust that the LORD will provide sufficient food.

After the seventh sabbatical year (forty-nine years) they are to have a jubilee year in which they also do not sow or harvest. In addition, all of the people are to return to the land that had been given to them and reclaim it – even if they had sold it for a fair price prior to the jubilee. The exception would be for homes in a walled city. But any home outside the walls and any farms must be returned to the original holders of the land if they come to claim it. The people are reminded by the LORD that

    "The land cannot be sold permanently because the land is mine and you are foreigners—you're my tenants. You must provide for the right of redemption for any of the land that you own.

    - Leviticus 25:23 (MSG)

The LORD also describes how people can redeem themselves or relatives who have been sold into bondage. The method for computing the fair value of their life is to determine the number of years remaining until the next jubilee and then multiply it by the value that the servant would have contributed on the average year. There was not supposed to be any interest charged, so the value did not have to be discounted to recognize the time value of money. If the servant or a relative can hand over money or assets equivalent to that value computed, then the servant is redeemed and is free once again. If no one is able to redeem the servant then they will serve until the jubilee year and then set free, because they belong to God - not to any earthly master.

Reflection and Application

The LORD makes clear that his ownership over the universe is absolute. The sacred objects are to be maintained according to his instructions, his name is to be spoken with respect, and his land is to be used according to his instructions. If we believe in God, then we should perceive ourselves as caretakers of our part of his universe, not owners.

Note that the period in between the Jubilee years has a numerical significance that is similar to the time between Passover and Pentecost. We read yesterday that Pentecost occurs the day after seven weeks have passed since Passover. That's seven times seven, which is forty-nine, plus one, which equals fifty days. The year for leaving the fields fallow occurs every seven years. The Jubilee year occurs the year after seven of the seven-year cycles, which is every fifty years.

The idea of letting the land sit fallow for one out of seven years is consistent with the concept of crop rotation that was “discovered” many centuries later. The purpose of crop rotation is to avoid overtaxing a particularly section of the earth with one specific type of grain or vegetable. By rotating different crops from year to year the earth has an opportunity to re-generate the required nutrients and the soil remains healthy. Therefore, once again, God’s command had a dual purpose: To honor and respect him while also serving a practical purpose.

Sabbaticals are as important for people as they are for land. We need to give our bodies and minds a chance to rest. This is particularly important for people who have demanding jobs. For example, the Presbytery of New England has recommended that its churches allow pastors to take a three-month sabbatical after six years of service. The head pastor of my church, The Rev. Sam Schreiner, accepted that offer for the summer of 2011 and one of his associates, the Rev. Greg Doll accepted it in 2013. Schreiner explained that "Sabbaticals allow pastors to do some mind-stretching, soul-caring, health-restoring activities. Pastors who experience a sabbatical return to parish life rejuvenated, inspired and re-energized (1)."

The idea behind the jubilee year was to maintain a strong egalitarian society. God knew that when the Israelites would arrive at the Promised Land they would be assigned specific regions of land by tribe and then by family. The intent would be for the assigned tribe and family to occupy the land perpetually. The LORD knew that citizens who acquired more land would tend to drift away from his laws and would be tempted to seek more and more land. Meanwhile, those without would tend to sink deeper and deeper into debt, the gap between the haves and have-nots would widen, and the structure of the society would begin to crumble.

If the society crumbled it would be taken over by more organized neighbors and could no longer serve as a light to the world. By restoring the land in the jubilee year the distribution of assets would be re-balanced every 50 years. The idea was perfect. Unfortunately the human race is not. There does not appear to be any record of the Israelites adhering to the jubilee, but there is a record of the society crumbling and succumbing to its aggressive neighbors, and being taken away into exile, as we shall read much later in the Bible.

Treasure Hunters and Bible Experts: Do you know on what famous U.S. artifact one can find the following inscribed quote from today's reading of Leviticus? "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXV X" Hint: It's in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It's the Liberty Bell. Check it out: "The Liberty Bell".

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What types of crops have you grown in your lifetime?
    2. What elements of the sabbatical and jubilee years could be incorporated into our society and culture?
    3. How do we apply God’s laws to work towards an egalitarian society?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to recognize the patterns of work and rest that you intend for us and help us to build egalitarian societies according to your will

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People around the world who are struggling to feed their families today


    (1) "Best Practices of Caring Churches," Schreiner, The Rev. Sam, The Spire, February 2011, p. 1-2

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Leviticus 26-27 (Final Terms)

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