- August 17, 2014
- By Carolyn Porterfield / Multicultural Consultant, Texas WMU, Dallas
• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Aug. 31 focuses on Leviticus 25:1-7.
Farming is part of my family heritage. Both grandfathers and several uncles made a living from the land. They knew hard work was necessary to support their families.
They had a healthy respect for the seasons and what each brought to growing crops. They knew when and how to prune their peach trees. Irrigation was necessary in Colorado to provide the water needed to keep the peach orchards thriving.
My farmer relatives knew God was the one who ultimately made the harvest possible. The earth belonged to him; they were only stewards of what he had entrusted to them.
The land God gives
Leaving 400 years of slavery in Egypt behind, God led his people to the land he had promised them. For two years, he had the Israelites camp at the foot of Mount Sinai to prepare them to live as his people in their new home.
This week’s lesson comes from the book of Leviticus. It was written as a handbook for the priests of Israel, which outlined their priestly duties. It also was a guidebook for the Hebrew nation to teach them how to live holy lives. They were to be set apart, different in attitude and action because they belonged to a Holy God.
Moses received the Ten Commandments during this time. The fourth commandment was to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8). It was a day set aside for worship and rest. The people were to remember their Creator rested on the seventh day and set that example for his people. They could cease their work knowing he would provide what they needed.
In Leviticus 25:1-2, we see God instructing Moses to tell the people about another dimension of sabbath rest. The first thing to pay close attention to is the fact that God keeps his promises. Joshua 21:43, 45 reads: “So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. ... Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”
Coupled with the promise was the gift. God gave them the Promised Land. He chose it for them. It was a land flowing with milk and honey. God knew this land would provide crops to feed the people. It would be a place where herds of sheep and goats would provide meat and wool. He also knew what was necessary for the land to remain fruitful because the 12 tribes were large. If not taken care of properly, the nation would deplete the resources God had given them.
A sabbath for the land
Even as the Israelites observed a sabbath rest once a week, now they were to allow the land to experience sabbath every seventh year. Leviticus 25:3 provides instruction for the farmers and vineyard owners. For six years, crops were to be cultivated in the fields. For six years, vineyards were to be pruned so grapes would grow in abundance and produce juicy fruit. Every year those who planted the fields or tended the vineyards were to gather the crops.
In Leviticus 25:4-5, we learn God instructed that in the seventh year the land was to observe, practice, experience a sabbath rest to the Lord. No planting or pruning was to occur.
What could be the purpose of this? First, the Israelites did not practice crop rotation. Giving the land a rest would help the land recover from continuous use. It would have opportunity to rest and rejuvenate.
Second, the Israelites would live among peoples who did not know their God. The nation was to be holy even as their God was holy in order to point other nations to him. To allow their land to lay fallow for a year would show the trust they had in Jehovah Jireh, their provider.
Provision for many
Even though the land was at rest, some food still would be produced. People were allowed to use the food for themselves, their servants, their hired workers, the temporary residents who lived among them, as well as their livestock (Leviticus 25:6-7).
The text doesn’t tell us if the abundance of the six years was stored in preparation for the seventh year. We do know God was in control and provided what his people needed. Even though they didn’t cultivate crops during that year, he allowed them to eat whatever the land produced without their help.
Who provides what your family needs? It is tempting to think we do it by ourselves. We work hard to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. We labor long hours to ensure our families have all they need.
Work is honorable and ordained by God. What we must never forget, however, is that our Holy God created a natural rhythm of work and rest. Sabbath was created for man. When we rest from our work we acknowledge God is able to meet our needs and take care of us. We can rest in his care. As stewards of God’s creation, we also acknowledge the earth belongs to him. He has set the same natural rhythm of work and rest for it as he did for human beings.
Taking care of the earth does matter. How can the land produce a harvest if we deplete the resources necessary for that to happen? How can oceans, lakes and rivers provide fish to eat and water to drink if they are polluted with toxic chemicals? Be mindful of Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”