Sermon Notes

May 16th 2018

Thoughts on the Sunday School Lesson May 20th

Remembering with Joy — Leviticus 25:1-12 (NRSV/MSG)

23 1-7 God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, When you enter the land which I am going to give you, the land will observe a Sabbath to God. Sow your fields, prune your vineyards, and take in your harvests for six years. But the seventh year the land will take a Sabbath of complete and total rest, a Sabbath to God; you will not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Don’t reap what grows of itself; don’t harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land gets a year of complete and total rest. But you can eat from what the land volunteers during the Sabbath year—you and your men and women servants, your hired hands, and the foreigners who live in the country, and, of course, also your livestock and the wild animals in the land can eat from it. Whatever the land volunteers of itself can be eaten.

8-12 “Count off seven Sabbaths of years—seven times seven years: Seven Sabbaths of years adds up to forty-nine years. Then sound loud blasts on the ram’s horn on the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement. Sound the ram’s horn all over the land. Sanctify the fiftieth year; make it a holy year. Proclaim freedom all over the land to everyone who lives in it—a Jubilee for you: Each person will go back to his family’s property and reunite with his extended family. The fiftieth year is your Jubilee year: Don’t sow; don’t reap what volunteers itself in the fields; don’t harvest the untended vines because it’s the Jubilee and a holy year for you. You’re permitted to eat from whatever volunteers itself in the fields.

INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND ON THE LESSON

This lesson explores the theological relationship between holiness and land ownership. Whereas last week’s lesson focused on holiness related to personal and communal behavior during the Sabbath and religious festivals, this week’s lesson investigates the importance of allowing Sabbath rest for the land, (shemitta in Hebrew, meaning “year of release”), and jubilee (yobel in Hebrew) in order to prevent Israel’s natural resources from being hoarded by a few wealthy individuals .
In Exodus 31: 12-18, God commands Israel to keep Sabbath rest because doing so would orient their hearts, minds, calendrical and chronological lives towards total devotion to God. Six out of seven days, Israel may work. However, on the seventh day, they are to cease from labor because God rested from labor on the seventh day after six days of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). In Leviticus 25 Moses indicates that the directive for commemorating weekly Sabbath will now extend to two separate yearlong observances. The first, the shemitta, is a period of sabbatical rest for the land, and its production, which Israel will celebrate every seven years. This rotation of a seventh year’s rest will reoccur for seven, seven-year-cycles, totaling 49 years. The culmination of this series of Sabbath rest periods is the yobel, or jubilee year, which Israel would celebrate in the fiftieth year. The “sabbath of the land” ensured the land—Israel’s primary source of sustenance and commerce—would enjoy a much-needed period of replenishment and renewal. Jubilee, by extension, would ensure that lands reverted to the original families of ownership, so that land ownership perpetually remained equalized.
For contemporary Christians, the biblical principle of a Sabbath for the land, and jubilee for the nation, should resonate with current social justice issues of food insecurity, economic inequality, and unequal distribution of wealth. It was never God’s intention or design that the Earth’s resources would be held in the hands of the few, or 1% of the world’s inhabitants. Inherent in the foundation of creation is the Divine intention that all of humanity would share in the stewardship and enjoyment of the Earth’s resources.

INTO THE LESSON

1-7 God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai: “Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, When you enter the land which I am going to give you, the land will observe a Sabbath to God. Sow your fields, prune your vineyards, and take in your harvests for six years. But the seventh year the land will take a Sabbath of complete and total rest, a Sabbath to God; you will not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Don’t reap what grows of itself; don’t harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land gets a year of complete and total rest. But you can eat from what the land volunteers during the Sabbath year—you and your men and women servants, your hired hands, and the foreigners who live in the country, and, of course, also your livestock and the wild animals in the land can eat from it. Whatever the land volunteers of itself can be eaten.
In verses 1-7, Moses details the importance of ecological justice when Israel enters the Promised Land. Although the Children of Israel will not possess the Promised Land for another 38 years or so, Moses is preparing them ahead of time for what God commands that they do one the arrive. Israel is to plant, nurture and harvest their grains and vineyards for six years. However, on the seventh year Moses says the land will rest from its labor. No fields will be sown, nor will grapevines be pruned. Note: the Hebrew word for unpruned in verse 5 is related is the same Hebrew root from which we derive the Hebrew word nazarite. Just as a Nazarite is prohibited from cutting or pruning their hair, Israel is prohibited from pruning her vineyards. The land will take a “Sabbath of complete and total rest”—or a Sabbath from sabbatism—laying completely fallow. However, the Israelites can glean the crops that volunteer, or crop up without cultivation from seed that fell during the previous year’s harvest. There are two important considerations to these Divine directives:
1. First, no landowner is permitted to lay claim to anything that volunteers on his or her personal land. Anyone and everyone—including men, women, servants, and foreigners, livestock and wild animals can consume the volunteer crops.
2. Second, the seven-year Sabbath (shemitta) assumes that God’s provision during the previous year’s harvest—particularly the sixth year—would be more than enough to cover any hardship that would arise during the sabbatical year.
As the ultimate expression of God’s ownership of the land and sovereignty, (i.e. “the Earth is the Lord’s” as in Psalm 24), although nothing will be harvested, Israel “shall not want”.
8-12 “Count off seven Sabbaths of years—seven times seven years: Seven Sabbaths of years adds up to forty-nine years. Then sound loud blasts on the ram’s horn on the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement. Sound the ram’s horn all over the land. Sanctify the fiftieth year; make it a holy year. Proclaim freedom all over the land to everyone who lives in it—a Jubilee for you: Each person will go back to his family’s property and reunite with his extended family. The fiftieth year is your Jubilee year: Don’t sow; don’t reap what volunteers itself in the fields; don’t harvest the untended vines because it’s the Jubilee and a holy year for you. You’re permitted to eat from whatever volunteers itself in the fields.
In verses 8-12, Moses instructs the people to observe a jubilee year after counting seven cycles of the seven-year Sabbath of the land. After 49 years, they will sanctity the fiftieth year to make it holy to God by sounding a ram’s horn. The ram’s horn will sound throughout the nation on the Day of Atonement, which is the tenth day of the seventh month. In this year, freedom (deror in Hebrew) will be proclaimed all over the land, to every individual living in the land. Regardless of social status, ethnic designation or racial lineage, there is freedom and liberty for all. According to Kaiser, the proclaimed liberty has three components :
1. Any man who has been disposed of their family inheritance is now free and able to return to their familial property and fortunes.
2. Every Hebrew slave is now a free individual.
3. Every individual that works the land is now free from labor and toil because the land is laying fallow, producing only that which volunteers without human labor.
Again, everyone regardless of status and property lines may consume whatever volunteers from the ground. While it seems like both Sabbath and jubilee would bring about widespread lack, because God’s economy is designed to provide for everyone, the shemitta and yobel produce rest, sustenance and equality for all because of God’s mercy. Further, Leviticus 25 underscores the Divine love and mercy that exist at the center of the jubilee regulations. Because God is so merciful and loving towards Israel, they are also to extend that same loving kindness (kesed) to the less fortunate in their midst.

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