August 17, 2005
“Rest for the Land”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter 25. We are coming to the end of this great book. If you’ll allow yourself to turn over just a couple of pages, you come to Leviticus 27, the final chapter, and, God willing we’ll be in that chapter on the first Wednesday night of September.
And then, once we have completed this Book of Leviticus on Wednesday nights, Derek is going to begin to work us back through the Gospel of Mark, and I'm going to move to the third book of the Psalms. You remember our order that we've been sort of moving through is Genesis, then the first book of the Psalms; then Exodus, the second book of the Psalms; and now Leviticus and the third book of the Psalms, so that we work all the way through the Psalms and we work through all the five first books of the Bible together.
And we found Leviticus to be richer than we perhaps anticipated it being. I know that one of the feelings I have had consistently throughout my study is not only thankfulness for the privilege of studying this book, but also something of guilt about every sermon I've ever preached on the Book of Hebrews, because if I had studied and preached through Leviticus before I preached through the Book of Hebrews, I think my preaching on Hebrews would have been a lot better than it was. So, my apologies to any of you who suffered through my series on Hebrews many years ago! I've learned a lot, I hope, since then.
Now tonight we're going to be looking at the first half of Leviticus 25, and it's the half of that chapter that pertains to two distinct issues: the land Sabbath, the seven-year land Sabbath, and then the fifty-year (or the forty-nine year) jubilee. The first seven verses pertain to the Sabbath year, then verses 8-22 pertain to the jubilee year. So if you’re looking at a division for the verses that we're going to be reading tonight, looking from verse 1 all the way down to verse 22, then you’ll see in verses 1-7 God's commands to Moses at Sinai for Israel about the Sabbath year; and then, from verses 8-22, God's commands to Moses at Sinai for Israel regarding the jubilee year. So with that outline in mind, let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help as we study His word.
Lord, we thank You for Your word, and we pray that You would teach us from it, especially in a passage that is strange to us. It's strange to us because most of us have not grown up on the farm and we've not grown up in an agricultural setting, where agriculture actually dominates the whole economy, and so it's very difficult for us to conceive the situation that Israel was in. It's also strange to us because this isn't a part of the Book of Leviticus that we have perhaps studied as much as other parts of the Bible. We may know Mark or Romans, or Ephesians or Galatians, or the Psalms, better than this passage. But this is Your word and You mean it for our spiritual blessings, so surprise us tonight with the glory of Your truth, even from this lesser known passage. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word.
“The Lord then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a Sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest's aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year. And all of you shall have the Sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you. Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat.
“‘You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram's horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field.
“‘On this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his own property. If you make a sale, moreover, to your friend, or buy from your friend's hand, you shall not wrong one another. Corresponding to the number of years after the jubilee, you shall buy from your friend; he is to sell to you according to the number of years of crops. In proportion to the extent of the years you shall increase its price, and in proportion to the fewness of the years, you shall diminish its price; for it is a number of crops he is selling to you. So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.
“‘You shall thus observe My statutes, and keep My judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land. Then the land will yield its produce, so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it. But if you say, ‘What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we do not sow or gather in our crops?’ then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years. When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Now what in the world are we to do with a passage like that for us tonight? Most of us aren't farmers. There are a few farmers here at First Pres. There are folks that get up in the morning in Jackson and get in their pickup trucks and drive over towards Vicksburg and north of Vicksburg, and head out into the fields of cotton and soy and various other plantings, and they labor much of the year. And so we have some farmers that understand the dynamics that are afoot here, but what are we supposed to do with Scriptures, because after all this Levitical code is not required of us? It has passed away. The Lord Jesus Christ has caused the fulfillment of this whole ceremonial code to be brought about in His life and death and resurrection, and so these code commands from the Book of Leviticus are not directly applicable to us as Christians. What, then, are we supposed to do with this passage?
Well, I'm going to suggest four things that the children of Israel were to learn from this passage, and consequently, four things which are no less applicable to us today as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the first thing is this:
I. Everything comes from God, and that even the land belongs to God.
This passage reiterates a principle that we have met, really, since we were studying the Book of Exodus together, and that principle is that everything comes from God, and that even the land belongs to God.
Over and over, God, in the exodus, told the children of Israel that He was going to give them a land, and He was faithful to do that. He gave them a land flowing with milk and honey that was not their own. It was a land that at the time they entered in belonged to somebody else, and He gave to them that land. But one of the things that they were never ever to forget was (a) That God gave them that land. It wasn't something that they earned or deserved. It was something that God gave to them. It came from His hand; and, (b) that it was still His land. It was vital for them to understand that they were tenants on God's land when they were in Canaan; that everything came from the hand of God, and they were in fact stewards of what God had given to them. And this Sabbath command for a Sabbath year for the crops, for the land, and for this jubilee year, was to remind them that the land belonged to God. God is still giving them orders about what they will do with “their” land.
In the 1960's, Americans learned a new song. Woodie Guthrie taught it to us. “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California….” — you remember the song, OK? Well, the Hebrews had a different song: “This land is God's land, it is not your land, this land is God's land, it is not your land. This land is God's land, it is not your land…” and it goes on and on and on. And that's the point of the Sabbath year law and the jubilee law: to remind the children of Israel that this land is God's land. He tells you how to farm it. He tells you when to let it lie fallow. It's His land. And so in following God's command the children of Israel were acknowledging that they understood that everything that they had, including their land, came from God and that they simply held it in trust as stewards.
Now, my friends, you don't have to live under Leviticus 25 as a Christian to understand that principle. That principle of stewardship still pertains today. Everything that we have, God has given us. We hold it in trust as stewards, and therefore when we deal with what God in His mercy and grace has given to us, even those things which we have earned, and we know we have earned by the sweat of our brow, even those things that we have earned because we have stayed up later than the other guy, even those things that we learn because we think that we're smarter than the other guy, those things that we've gotten because we made better deals than the other guy, and on and on and on. All of that is God's. He's granted it to us and we're stewards, and therefore we are to approach everything that we have in life as a trust from God, as a stewardship for which we will give account. He gives us the principles by which we are to use it, and we will render account to Him for how we use it. That's a principle that all Christians can appreciate and understand, and it's reiterated to us right here in this Sabbath year law and in the jubilee law of Leviticus 25. The land belongs to God. He has given it to Israel. God has given us everything that we have; we hold it as stewards in trust from Him; we will give an account.
Jesus talked about this, didn't He, in His parables when He spoke about the Lord going away on a long journey and entrusting to stewards various aspects of His creation, and coming back and expecting an account from them.
So there's the first principle. Everything comes from God, and everything that we have we hold in trust from God as stewards. There's something that Christians can learn from Leviticus 25.
II. Israel, by following this command, would learn, in Technicolor, dependence on God's providence
But there's a second thing, too, and it was very obvious to you. You even chuckled a little bit as we read that part of the passage together. And the second thing is this: Israel, by following this command, would learn in Technicolor dependence on God's providence, because the very first thing that crosses your mind when you’re reading this passage is ‘What are we going to eat in the seventh year? We’re going to be very hungry if we're not planting anything and we're not reaping anything! What are we going to eat?’
And of course, the answer that's given in this passage is that everything that spontaneously grows on its own is going to be free for gleaning for everyone in Israel, but at the end of the passage God goes even beyond that to say that if we will be faithful to trust Him, He will do – what? He will give you better crops in the years prior to the Sabbath and to the jubilee. And what does that force everybody in Israel to do? To depend on God, to trust in God's providence. And it's the most unnatural thing in the world, because we want to be able to be in control, and we want to be able to take care of ourselves, and we want to be able to think that it's all something that if we do this and this happens, we can take care of ourselves.
This is a glorious opportunity for God's children to learn to depend on Him. They've got to be faithful. They've got to work hard for six years, just like they work hard for six days. And just as the children of Israel in the wilderness were to learn, that even by taking off that seventh day Sabbath, God could still provide for them. What did He do in the wilderness? He gave them more manna on the sixth day, so they didn't have to worry about the seventh day. It's the only day of the week that He did it. He provided for them in the wilderness so that their very act of keeping the Sabbath was an act of dependence on God's providing for them. The same lesson is learned here in the law of the Sabbath year and in the law of jubilee: dependence on God's providence.
Well, again, Christians don't have to follow this particular agricultural economy. It is not required of us today, but what is required for us is to depend on God's providence. He is the Lord who provides, and we depend on His provision not only for salvation, but upon His provision for all our needs. And so there's a second thing that we learn from this passage.
III. We are to share with our neighbors.
But there's a third principle as well, as you see this especially in the law of jubilee, but you also see it in the sabbath year law as well, and that is this: that we are to share with our neighbors. In this passage, you notice how it goes: During the six years in which you are farming the land, you are free to do with that produce as you would. You can use it, you can store it, you can sell it, you can barter it; you can do whatever you want. But in the seventh year you’re not going to sow, you’re not going to reap, and whatever comes up in the field and whatever is on the vine…what's going to happen? Anybody who wants to in your household, and even the resident alien in the land, are going to be allowed to do what? Glean off of everyone's land. So that during that seventh year everybody is just going to share what they've got.
Isn't that an amazing picture? And there's of course a picture of that in the New Testament as well. It's in the Book of Acts. These early Christians, and they’re huddled there together serving the Lord Jesus under tremendous persecution and pressure in Jerusalem, and what do they do? They hold everything in common. In other words, they look out for one another. They care for one another. They recognize that since God has given them everything they have, they've got a responsibility to care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And so even as this passage in both the sabbath year command and the jubilee year command reminds the children of Israel that they need to have a concern for their neighbor in Israel to care for them, so also this passage reminds us that we are to have a special concern for our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now there are many practical ways that can manifest itself today. It can manifest itself in terms of the work of the church, and it can manifest itself in terms of our personal dealings with people, one on one. The Lord may bring Christians into our sphere of experience from time to time who ought to be objects of our concern…our tangible care and concern, the sharing of what God has given to us with them. It might be missionaries, but then again it might simply be a Christian who is in a situation, through no fault of his or her own, in which they are in need. And God has given us much so that we might share the much that He has given to us.
Or, it may be manifested through the church. It may be First Presbyterian Church deciding that we are going to share of what God has given to us in order that the Neighborhood Christian Center can teach young children reading, and the Bible, and the truth of salvation in our facilities during the year. Or, it may be going to Neighborhood Christian Center and working amongst other Christians — Christians who love the Lord Jesus every bit as much as we do, but who have not been given the enormous resources that we have been given. Or, it might be ministering with a hundred other groups in our own area, but we are to share with our neighbors, especially those brothers and sisters in Christ that God has put right in our way. When God has blessed us, He has blessed us that we might be blessing to others.
Isn't it beautiful how God used these commands to force the children of Israel not simply to look out for Number One? They always had to be looking out for their neighbor's well-being, and a Christian should have a similar attitude, especially towards his brothers and sisters in Christ: that when God has blessed us with much, we are ready to give.
I’ll never forget when I first came to Jackson. There was a lady in a local congregation who had an extra room in her house, and she called that room “The Prophet's Chamber.” And because she had an extra room in her house and the Lord had enabled her to have a room that she really didn't need for herself, she devoted that room so that any time there was a missions conference speaker or a visiting preacher, or someone who was passing through town to minister at her church or to minister in the area, she was always open to say to the elders and to the ministers, “I will be happy to keep that person and to provide a place for that person to stay, because God has given me more than I need, and I want to use what's been given to me in order to bless others and to help others.” And in a thousand similar ways we can look at what God has given us and ask how can we share that with our brothers and sisters in Christ, with those who are in need? And so the third principle that we see from this passage is: Share with your neighbors.
IV. The land that God was giving to the children of Israel in the land of Canaan, was not the final rest and was not the final land.
But the final principle — and this is one I want to dwell on for just a few minutes — is this: This passage made it clear to Israel, or it would have made it clear to Israel had she paid attention, that the rest God was giving the children of Israel in the land of Canaan, that the land that God was giving to the children of Israel in the land of Canaan, was not the final rest and was not the final land. This passage makes it clear that the children of Israel every seven years were to remember that the land which God had given them was not the ultimate land that God was going to give to them, because every seven years they would look forward to a land which they had not yet enjoyed.
You see, Israel had a tendency towards satisfaction once she got into the land. She came into Canaan, Canaan was conquered, and she got comfortable there; and she failed to remember that Canaan itself was a picture of something to come, and the sabbath year and the jubilee year was just one and two ways that God constantly reminded the children of Israel that there was more to it than Canaan. There was more to it than the land of Canaan.
And of course, the author of Hebrews makes much of this. If you’ll turn with me to Hebrews 4…verse 8:
“For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”
And the seven-yearly observance of the sabbath year and the observance of the jubilee year were designed to remind all the children of Israel that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; that there is something yet to come, and that the land of Canaan and the blessings of Canaan pointed forward to something greater.
Now again there's a great message for us as believers: We ourselves must remember that no matter how rich God's blessings are to us now, this is not all there is. There is something greater that remains.
You know what Malcolm Muggeridge once said? “The only ultimate tragedy is that a man make this earth his home.” The only ultimate tragedy is that a man make this earth his own, and God was reminding the children of Israel of that by saying ‘Now, every seven years we're going to pretend like you don't have a land here that belongs to you. You’re not going to sow it, you’re not going to reap it, you’re not going to gather it, you’re not going to sell it, you’re not going to barter it; you’re going to glean off it like you were pilgrims. We’re just going to pretend like you don't even have a land here, every seven years.’
Why? So that the children of Israel would know that there was something yet to come, something greater in God's economy. And, my friends, we have it so good here that sometimes we are tempted to make this our home. And this sabbath year command and this jubilee year command in Leviticus 25 can remind Christians — even Christians living in the light of the resurrection, living in light of all the glorious promises of the Lord Jesus Christ and all His teaching about the world to come — Christians can still be helped by Leviticus 25 to remember that this is not the end of the story, and so we must live as pilgrims in this world and not make it our home.
We've been studying Pilgrim's Progress this summer on Sunday nights, and one of the very difficult things to do is to want to live as a pilgrim when you have so much. You know, when you don't have much it's easy to live like a tinker and a nomad, moving from place to place; but when you've been given much — oh, it's so easy to settle in and get comfortable! Here's God saying to the children of Israel and saying to you and me ‘As good as I've been to you here, as many blessings and resources as I've given to you here, this earth is not your home. A Sabbath rest remains for the people of God, and therefore you are to set your eyes on that City which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God; and you’re to live as a pilgrim here, because this world is not your home. Home is yet to come.’
Lord God, thank You for Your word. Thank You for the reminder that Your word gives us that this world belongs to You. We’re to be utterly dependent on Your providence. We’re to be sharing of all that You have given to us with those in need, and that this world is not our own. These lessons are easy to say with the lips, but often very hard to live in our daily lives, so by Your Holy Spirit help us not only to understand and believe the truth, but more and more to live it. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.