Leviticus 25 talks about the Sabbath Year and the Jubilee Year. The Sabbath Year is once every seven years. While the Jubilee Year is the second year after seven times seven years or 49 years – which is the fiftieth year. God doesn’t allow the Israelites to plant in the Sabbath Year. While in the Jubilee Year, the people who sold themselves as slaves are to be set free, and the land must be returned to its seller.
During our Bible study we randomly (or perhaps by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), began talking about how American universities have a one year sabbatical leave for its professors every seventh year. This sabbatical leave (which is probably derived from the word Sabbath) is a time when they can rest and do nothing or use the opportunity to study a particular field that they didn’t have a chance to do during their teaching time. Some choose to study abroad for a period of time.
The United States is a Christian country. Most famous universities in the United States are also established by Christian churches. Therefore, we can say that the establishment of this system is largely because of Christianization.
Let’s think about when Adam first sinned. God judged him and commanded him to cultivate the ground through sweat and hard work for seven days to earn his living. Why then did God create the rules of the Sabbath for the Israelites and tell them not to work on the Sabbath day? Doesn’t this seem to be a waste of time and human resources? This is hard to imagine for the Chinese who are hardworking and wish they could make money twenty-four hours a day. Though the United States has become more and more secular, stores are often closed on Sunday. My mother-in-law often said that the weekend is the best opportunity for stores to make money and yet they close. This is unheard of in China and is an example of Christianization in American society.
Why did God make Adam sweat to live? Is it because God was unable to supply Adam’s food, so He let Adam find a way to solve it? No, it is because Adam committed a sin and he needed to learn obedience through suffering. The Bible tells us that even the Son of God, Jesus Christ, learned obedience from what he suffered (NIV, Hebrews 5:8). Then why did God forbid the Israelites to work on the Sabbath? It’s for the same reason; because a person needs to work for six days. The main purpose of itworking for six days is neither to get money nor to earn to get what we need in life, but to learn to know God through this process. As Moses said, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow.” (NIV, Psalm 90:10). It’s not easy to go to work. It’s not easy to be a man. It’s not easy to be a wife. It’s not easy to be a parent. Life is not easy. When people encounter various unsatisfactory things in life, they will often let out a heartfelt sigh saying what is the meaning of life? Slowly, people will seek and find God. This is God’s design. The purpose of the Sabbath is for us to stop and think about it. Have I drawn closer to God and do I know Him better even in the midst of encountering so many things at work and life during the week? If you can’t say yes to this, start this week and purpose to continue finding God and continue this cycle until your intimacy with him grows and you know Him.
People have two different attitudes toward life and how to act in it. They are shy at the beginning and are not immersed in the role. They are hesitant. The other problem is that they get too immersed in the role. They are too invested in their performance. But the audience has already left, the stage is empty, and they are still unwilling to step down from the stage. Life is like this. Some people are not immersed in their role. They feel that life has no meaning so they don’t work hard. They become hopeless. They are not willing to actively participate in the search of God. They even commit suicide to end their lives. Another type of person is someone who gets too immersed in the role. They don’t understand or will even forget the principles of the Sabbath. They invest too much energy and time to make money to the point of costing them their life. The issue of faith and eternal life wasn’t even a thought. They didn’t get anything and just died because people come into this world with nothing and leave this world taking nothing.
Of course, there are still people who just don’t understand the true meaning of working six days a week and resting on the seventh day or the Sabbath day. It’s like the pastor preaching on the stage and I am in the audience scrolling through Facebook or WeChat. I’m following all the rules, but my heart isn’t here. These type of people are among God’s chosen people who seem to have participated in everything, but in fact haven’t received much practical benefit.
The true principle of the Sabbath is to stop. Stop for whom? Of course, it’s to stop for God. Psalm 46:10 (NIV) says, “Be still, and know that I am God”. In other words, it’s not that we can’t hear the voice of God, but rather, we are too busy. It’s like being on a crowded bus. You don’t have a clue if your wallet is stolen. But when you are sitting alone in the balcony, you can even feel a breeze blowing through your hair. One of the main reasons people don’t know God is that they are too busy. They do not wait quietly for God. The word “busy” in Chinese has a “heart” on the left and a “dead” word on the right. It is being busy until the heart dies.
Saying stop is easy but it’s actually hard to do. If you don’t believe me, you can try doing it. If you decide to stop and pray to God, or wait for God, you will find that your thoughts are difficult to control even though you have only prayed for a few minutes. Your mind may be in Tokyo one minute, and then in Los Angeles the next minute. Your thoughts travel faster than light, like an uncontrollable wild horse, making them hard to control. Therefore, those who really practice spiritual discipline and who pray deeply are good at controlling their minds. They are able to control their minds not to run wild and to be restrained in the spirit. They set their minds on things above and not on earthly things (NIV, Colossians, 3:2). If we can control our thoughts and become the master of our own minds, we can quickly enter the spirit, communicate with the Lord, and live in His presence.
I heard a story of a smuggler arranging for illegal immigrants to sneak into the United States. A steel cable was installed in the middle of a waterfall somewhere along the border and the immigrants had to take firm hold of the cable to cross over the falls. If they were careless or tired they would be washed over the falls to their death. I think this story is a very good picture of the distractions in our minds or daily pressures of the world or even ministry. These things are like waterfalls trying to wash us away. But our anchor of rest and trust is like the steel cable. We must unload our burdens and put our hopes on the promise of heaven, like how the illegal immigrants have put their hopes on their new life in the United States. Hebrews 6:19 (NIV) says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”
We live on earth, and we have flesh, but our soul can choose whether to set our minds on the spirit to experience life and peace or set our minds on the flesh which means death (NIV, Romans 8:6). The anchor of our soul can be placed in the Holy of Holies. This is like what the above Hebrews 6:19 passage is saying about our spirit. If we put the anchor of our soul in the world, when the rushing torrent of the world falls, we will be swept away and die.
So the main purpose of God’s principle of setting up the Sabbath is to let us stop the activities outside, whether it is making money or doing ministry. We should temporarily stop from the busyness of the world. We should place the anchor of our soul in the Holy of Holies through prayer, worship, sacrifice, praise, and other spiritual disciplines. We should go forward to the Holy of Holies and communicate with our Heavenly Father, listen to His voice, and accept His grace and light, allowing us to get supply, comfort, and spiritual encouragement from Him. We are created to be the vessels of God, to be like Him, to be filled with His glory, and to become His fullness. But if we forget this fundamental purpose and we’re just surviving for the sake of survival, we are just being busy for the sake of being busy, then we lose the meaning of life. Therefore, God has set up this Sabbath principle especially for Israel. Even when this principle was first established, a man who was found gathering wood on the Sabbath would be stoned as the Lord commanded Moses to do. This was a warning for the Israelites.
If people are able to observe the principles of the Sabbath and the Sabbatical year, there is no need to set up a Jubilee. Why? The principle of the Sabbath is to work six days and rest on the seventh day. The principle of the Sabbatical year is to sow the field in six years and to rest in the seventh year. Not only do people have to rest, the land also has to rest. Whatever the land yields during the Sabbatical year will be food for the Israelites, and their manservant, maidservant, hired worker and foreigners and the wild animals in their land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten. (NIV, Leviticus 25:6-7). But the question is what if it is not enough? The Lord said that, He would send the Israelites such a blessing in the sixth year that the land would yield enough for three years and that they would be able to eat old crops during the eighth year (NIV, Leviticus 25:21-22).
Based on this cycle, the Israelites didn’t have to worry about not having enough food to eat. When the Israelites situation was bad economy wise, often they would sell the land little by little. The land of the Israelites in the Bible represents the inheritance we received from God. In the New Testament, we can look at it as the faith we received from God. When we become so poor, we sell the inheritance we received from God, even selling ourselves into slavery. In the Old Testament, the Israelites sold themselves to other people as slaves. What this means in the New Testament is that we were sold as a slave to sin. If this is the case, what should we do? When the principles of the Sabbath and the Sabbatical year are not observed, we lose the blessings that God has promised us. Just like the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, who had squandered his family’s fortune and gradually become poor. In the end, he had no choice but to eat pods. This is the scenario of losing the inheritance of God and selling ourselves as slaves.
We need God to intervene at this time because we are unable to extricate ourselves. God has considered human weakness here, and stipulates that the land cannot be sold permanently. If a man sells a land, he can redeem it. If a man is too poor to redeem his land, his relatives can help him do so. If the man doesn’t have a relative nor the necessary wealth to redeem the land, all the lands that are sold and slaves will be released and set free in the Jubilee. This is God’s rule to the Israelites.
When we are sinking in deep sin and unable to extricate ourselves, Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor. Luke 4 records that when Jesus was tempted by the devil and He gained the victory, He returned to his hometown in Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. On the Sabbath day, when He arrived at the synagogue, someone handed Isaiah’s book to Him, and He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (NIV, Luke 4:18-19)
Then Luke 4:20-21 continues:
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Christ is the Jubilee that God has prepared for us. This is what helps us to be free from degeneration. It is the salvation that God has promised Adam (crushing the serpent’s head) by the seed of woman.
Someone might say I’ve already received salvation; does this principle apply to me? Yes. Let’s look at a verse below.
After we are saved, committing sin or falling will not cause us to lose our salvation because the faith of salvation comes from God, as specially said in Leviticus 25:23 (NIV), “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine.” It is particularly explained in 2 Peter 1:1 that this faith is from the Lord, just like the Israelites had received the Promised Land from God. 2 Peter 1:1 (NIV) says: “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.” Peter’s tone of voice is like when the Israelites received their own Promised Land from God. So, in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we also share the same precious faith. In other words, this faith is like the Promised Land that the Israelites received. Although the number and size may be different, the quality is equally valuable.
God’s faith for us will unlikely let us fall into eternal perdition after we are saved because the Lord Jesus himself said that no one can take us away from the Heavenly Father. Our salvation will not be lost, but it doesn’t mean that our communication with God will not be interrupted. Like a disobedient son, after he left his father, he’s still his father’s son but his communication with his father is interrupted. Similarly, after we are saved, if we betray and stay away from God, and break the Sabbath principle, we will not lose our salvation. We will however, be cut off from our communication with the Heavenly Father, and lose the life, peace and joy from it.
When people raised questions about Leviticus 25:29-30, this was my answer, Leviticus 25:29-30 (NIV) says: “If a man sells a house in a walled city, he retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time he may redeem it. If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and his descendants. It’s not to be returned in the Jubilee.” What does this mean? This means that the houses in the city were built by the people themselves. It is not like the Promised Land (that the Lord gave) which completely belongs to God. There’s the work of man involved here. Therefore, the houses in this city can be said to be the experience of God in the Lord after our salvation, the extra richness we received from Him, and the reward we will be receiving. But if we lose the joy of salvation, it doesn’t mean that we have lost our salvation. It just means that we have lost the joy and peace that comes from our fellowship with the Lord. This is not difficult to understand. For example, how many Christians are feeling anxious and troubled like the world because they don’t have much joy and they lack the fellowship and intimacy with the Lord? This is a picture of not being able to redeem the house in the city after it was sold. We often say that yesterday’s experience with the Lord cannot substitute our experience with the Lord today. It’s like saying that we already had breakfast yesterday so we don’t need to have breakfast today. Getting closer to the Lord and praying to Him should be done on a daily basis. For example, we prayed yesterday but did not pray today, and began to pray again the day after tomorrow. We may be able to still quickly enter God’s presence, but if we didn’t pray yesterday, today, or for a long time, we will find that it will be difficult for us to quickly enter into His presence if we just pray to Him when we encounter difficulties. Because we don’t practice spiritual discipline, the lessons we learned before may be lost. As the Chinese say, if you don’t practice calligraphy for one day, only you know it; if you don’t practice calligraphy for two days, your family will know it; if you don’t practice calligraphy for three days, people all over the world will know it. A more modern way of saying it would be, if you don’t practice the piano for one day, only you know it; if you don’t practice the piano for two days, your family will know it; if you don’t practice the piano for three days, the audiences all over the world will know it. This is an exaggerated statement. But in any case, if you are a pianist, you must practice the piano every day. If you haven’t practiced for a while, although not everyone will know it, as soon as the professionals hear it, they’ll know that your piano skills have become rusty. You fooled others, but you can’t fool a professional or yourself.
Our fellowship with God is like practicing calligraphy and piano. It should be a daily assignment that cannot be interrupted. It’s like the house we built, it’s the dwelling place and tabernacle of God. It’s the place where we are with God. Paul clearly stated in the Bible that we are the field and building of God. Our spirit is like the Holy of Holies, our soul is like a sanctuary, and our body is like an outer court. In other words, the three parts of a person – spirit, soul and body – is a small tabernacle in which God lives. We are communicating with God through Christ. We are building this spiritual house through the Holy Spirit. Peter also said that we are living stones. We are slowly building this house into the sanctuary of God to be a holy priesthood (NIV, 1 Peter 2:5). Each of us is building a house. The characteristics of this house and this city are the New Jerusalem. There’s a city there but there is no temple in the city, because the whole city is the temple. We are building a New Jerusalem, but it is stated in the book of Revelation that some people are outside the city. They are not in the city. Only those who wash their robes can enter the city. Although we don’t know what is going on, at least we can roughly guess that some people are outside the city. They are alive. They also get sick because the fruit on the tree of life in the city is just given to some people to eat. But the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (NIV, Revelation 22:2).
I repeat, once we are saved, our salvation in Christ will not be lost, but this doesn’t mean that our reward in Christ will not be lost. I believe that some people, because they are lax, don’t manage to build their own houses. If they don’t work their land and fellowship well with the Lord, one day, they may lose the God’s reward. The Bible talks a lot about this, such as the stories of five foolish virgins, and the parable of hiding one’s talent. They don’t necessarily lose salvation because they all call the Lord, Lord, but they may have lost their rewards.
If person understands it that way, he or she can explain why the verse here says that the land sold can be redeemed, and will be returned in the year of Jubilee. Slaves are also to be set free in the Jubilee. However, selling a house in the city can be redeemed in just one year. After a year has passed, you can’t redeem it even in the Jubilee. God is righteous. God’s grace allows us not to lose our salvation. But God’s righteousness can only reward those who are worthy of His reward, right?
Leviticus chapter 25:31 says: (NIV), “But houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee.” Why is it different from the earlier verses? My understanding is that this is the difference in spiritual experiences. We often say that the closer we are to God, the stricter God’s requirements are. The unwalled village here is like the experience of Christians in the outer court. How God deals with a man who just received grace and has occasionally disobeyed God, is very different from a man like Moses, a servant who is used by God and who does not obey. For example, if you have just been saved and you lose your temper once, you might be easily forgiven by God, or even comforted by Him. But if you are Moses and you have gotten angry with the Israelites when God wasn’t angry, He may let you pay a heavy price, losing the opportunity to enter the Promised Land. So why is the degree of God’s punishment different for each person? As I said before, the Bible mentions that Moses knew God’s ways and principles. Moses spoke to God face to face in the Holy of Holies. He knew that God was asking him to sanctify His name before the people, but losing his temper was disrespecting God. So, God got very angry. It’s like when outsiders are saying something about us today, we might not even get angry. But when our relatives or close family members say the same thing, it will hurt us more and often stir up anger. The type of house in the city is like Moses having a deeper experience in the Lord. While the houses in the villages without walls in the open country are like the first stage of our Christian life, having a shallow experience in the Lord. The principle of God’s dealing with new believers is more grace. But in dealing with people who are growing more mature, the principle of God is more discipline. God will discipline us, just as a father will discipline his children. The fathers in our flesh will discipline his children according to what he thinks is good. How much more will the Father of all spirits discipline His children? (Hebrew 12:9)
In chapter 25:32-33, it mentions the different situations of the Levites. The verse here says: “The Levites always have the right to redeem their houses in the Levitical towns, which they possess. So the property of the Levites is redeemable–that is, a house sold in any town they hold–and is to be returned in the Jubilee, because the houses in the towns of the Levites are their property among the Israelites.” (NIV). Why is it different here? The illustration here is about the experience of dedicating ourselves to God. For example, the American evangelist D.L Moody, who was hesitant because of the contradiction between God’s call on his life and his lower educational attainment, later heard a British evangelist say, “Look, a person who is absolutely consecrated to God, the world is yet to see how God can and will use him to change the world”. This sentence greatly encouraged Moody. It let him break away from the inferiority of his own academic qualifications and become a person who was fully devoted to God, a person who was greatly used by God to change the world. For those who are dedicated to God like Moody, it won’t always be smooth sailing when they are learning to serve God. They will also fail. But God promises them that no matter if they fail; they will fail in the hands of the Lord. Even if they fall, they will fall in the arms of the Lord. Because they are dedicated to the Lord, He will be personally responsible for them. If we are a person who is dedicated to God, honor and disgrace or even gains and losses are not important because we have completely handed over our authority to God. God will naturally be responsible for us. To those people who are not Levites or Nazirites, they haven’t completely handed over their authority to God. Therefore, God does not fully assume responsibility for them. They must shoulder their own responsibilities. But God is fully responsible for the Levites.
God especially told the Levites that “the pastureland belonging to their towns must not be sold; it is their permanent possession.” (NIV, Leviticus 25:34). This means that even if we are Levites and we dedicate ourselves to God, we shouldn’t be self-indulgent. There are some things that we can’t do. We can’t sell God’s property. We should not be like Esau, who was tricked to sell his own birthright to his brother for a bowl of stew.