This parashah is essentially one chapter, which gives the regulations regarding the 7th year Sabbath for the land, and the Jubilee year, which comes every 7 Sabbaths (the 50th year). Anyone who had sold their land, or themselves (as debtor-slave) was to be allowed to have their land or freedom back, which could be redeemed by themself (if they had the means) or by a redeeming family member. The redemption on the Jubilee year also was to be pro-rated, based on the number of years between the sale and the Jubilee year.
Jews were subject to this law, but Gentiles were not. Although the laws for God’s people were to be the same for those who sojourned with the Jews, those that were not “converts” were to be treated differently, without the preferential compassion of a brother.
The Sabbath year is an extension of the Sabbath Day (obviously) but has a deeper meaning; resting every 7th day is to honor God, but resting the land every 7th year is not just to honor God by allowing the land to rest, but it is a statement of faith and trust in God. This was an agricultural society- you plant at the beginning of the year, you reap at the end, and what you reap needs to last you until the next harvest. In other words, you were always a year behind. To allow the land to rest in the 7th year meant that from year 7 to year 8 there is no planting, so no food for year 8. Then in year 8, you plant but there is still no food until the end of year 8, which is what you need to live on during year 9.
This means no food for 2 years. God promises that the harvest in year 6 will be so much more that it will last until year 9: to believe that will happen is an absolute statement of faith. And to (literally) risk your life by not touching your land at all, for an entire year, is the kind of faith in God that is a “doing” faith and not just a “talking” faith. It is absolutely “walking the walk.”
In the next chapter, Leviticus 26:32, God tells us that if we fail to obey His laws regarding the Sabbath for the land He will reject us and the land will be barren. Jeremiah warns the people about this, as well, in Jeremiah 25:11:
This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
The 70 years of allowing the land to lay desolate and regain it’s rest was to pay it back, each year for a missed Sabbath year, which was foretold to the people by God in Leviticus 26, repeated by Jeremiah, referenced by Daniel and recalled in 2 Chronicles 36:21:
The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
What God says will always come true- it’s that simple, it’s that dependable. His plans will always come to fruition, despite what we mere humans try to do to avoid it. I like the idea that God is the captain of a ship, going from port to port, and we all are allowed to come along on the ride. We are also allowed to jump ship whenever we want to- whether we ride along and help, or jump off at the very next port, the ship will get from start to finish. What really matters is whether or not you are still on when it reaches it’s destination.
Also in this Parashah God reminds us that the land is His- we are stewards, not owners. He has provided the land but it is, ultimately, His land. Just like Adam and Eve were to tend the Garden, we are to tend the land. And that means letting it rest, just as we let ourselves rest. And since the land is not ours, when we sell it to others we are really subletting it; when God says to allow it to go back to the original owner, the one in possession at the time of the Jubilee year has to allow the original owner the opportunity to buy it back. And that original owner needs to be constantly working at redeeming his land, too. Again- God gave it to him as his possession, but it belongs to God so when the person sells it, he needs to get it back because he is, ultimately, the one responsible to God for tending it.
We may ignore God, we may make excuses for not doing that which we know God really wants us to do, but in the end, God will have His way. That’s how it is, Folks- it’s His way or the Hell way. The Israelites during the time of Jeremiah, and for about half a millennium before that, didn’t pay attention to God’s rules about giving the land it’s Sabbath rests, and they ended up in Babylon serving a pagan king for 70 years.
Adam and Eve refused to do as God said and they were rejected from the land God gave them to tend, and when the nation of Israel refused to do as God said, they also were kicked out of the land God gave them to tend. Whether it ‘s 2 people, or 2 million, God doesn’t care- if you reject God, you will be rejected.
One last thought- we may not be an agricultural society anymore, we may not have fields and lands to which we can give a Sabbath year of rest, but we are still stewards of the Earth. And look what we have done to it.
If you want to show God how you appreciate the land He has given us, then recycle. Use less energy, turn off the water while you brush your teeth, treat the land, whether it is woods or city, with respect and care, as well as the animals. They all belong to God and He wants us to care for them, so do so with respect, compassion and concern.
And just as God promised those who let their lands rest that they will be blessed, I believe that those of us who care for God’s earth will also receive blessings.