Even though the English title is “Mount”, the translated Hebrew text is ,”And the Lord spoke to Moses IN Mount Sinai, saying:…”. I just wanted to point this out because I think it is interesting that from Moses’s view (since he wrote this) he wasn’t on the mountain, but inside it. Perhaps there was a cave or a sheltered area God provided for Moses? After all, he was there for 40 days and nights, and to provide a sheltered area for him to sleep and be comfortable in would have been the least God could have done, right?.
This parashah is all about Sabbath for the land and Jubilee Year. Just as we rest from our work every 7th day, the land rests every 7th year. And every 7th year of years (in other words, the beginning of every 50th year) there is a Jubilee Year. In that year all people and property revert to their God-given owners.
I say “God-given owners” because Joshua divvied-up the land among the 9 1/2 Tribes (remember that Gad, Reuben, and the 1/2 tribe of Manasseh settled on east side of the Jordan) after they had conquered Canaan. Because the land was divided among the tribe by lot, meaning God ordered who got what, clearly it was “God-given.”
In the 50th year, on the 10th day of Tishri, which God declared as the Day of Trumpets (known today as Rosh Hashannah) the Jubilee Year begins, although it isn’t officially announced until Yom Kippur. In the Jubilee Year all property reverts to the original owner, and all slaves are set free. There are also rules regarding how to pro-rate the value of the lands and slavery work results so that when Jubilee Year comes the people who were buying back or selling back would receive a fair value.
Let’s start with the Sabbath year for the land. The law about leaving the land untouched for an entire year means that in the 6th year you would need to have enough produce to be able to sustain your family and all your possessions (animals and slaves) for three years: the 7th year you wouldn’t be farming or planting, you would be living off what was done from the 6th year harvest. Then, in the the 8th year, you would have to plant, and you wouldn’t see that harvest until the 9th year. So the 6th, 7th and 8th years you are living off the 6th year harvest. Now, God promises that He will provide enough for 3 years in the 6th year, so obeying His 7th year Sabbath commandment is the same test of faith He gave us in the desert. Back then, we were to gather one day’s worth of manna for 5 days, and on the 6th day we were to gather enough to last through the Sabbath, because no manna came down on the 7th day. If you gathered more than you were supposed to, the manna turned bad overnight, but what was gathered on the 6th day stayed good for 2 days. This miracle from God, which He had provided to His people for 40 years in the desert, would be applied to the Jews living in the Land, as well.
From what we read in the Tanakh, though, it appears the commandment regarding the Sabbath yer for the land was rarely obeyed. Ezekiel mentions it as one of the reasons for the upcoming destruction, and in the next Parashah (Leviticus 26:32-35), where God tells us all the punishments He will bring upon us for disobedience, He warns us about what will happen if we disobey giving the land it’s Sabbath year:
I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.
The letter Jeremiah wrote to the Israelites in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29) he says that the captivity will last 70 years, which would indicate that the land had not had it’s Sabbath rest for nearly 490 years prior to the Babylonian exile.
We have been given free will to choose what we will do, and when it comes to our relationship with God, that free will allows us to find peace and joy forever, or to turn from God, disobey and ruin our eternity. God will help and direct us to make the right decision, but He will not force us to accept it. The people had seen His provision for 40 years in the desert, and also the miraculous salvation from enemies He provided throughout the times of the Judges; even after we sinned by asking for a king, God still provided for those kings that were righteous before Him. All this provision, all these miraculous events, have been passed down in the oral history (the Tanakh was not completed until, at the earliest, 450 BCE, although it may have not been until much later, around 140-116 BCE- scholars can’t agree) and was known by all the people living in the Land, well before Jeremiah’s time. And today we have even more evidence of God’s provision, most importantly the evidence of Messiah, Yeshua.
Yet, we still disobey, we still ignore, we still reject (as a people) God and His commandments. Oy! And worse, still: many, if not most, are not even repentant! They make excuses and give justification (from a human viewpoint) for their disobedience. When we make excuses instead of asking for forgiveness, we are not repentant. And lack of repentance means that the forgiveness we ask for will not be given. God is wonderfully merciful, but He isn’t stupid: if you don’t really feel sorry and rueful for the sin you commit, I believe you can ask all you want, call on Yeshua, jump up and down and recite the Torah backwards, but it won’t help.
God doesn’t care about what we do to be forgiven, He cares about how we feel when we ask for forgiveness:
1 Samuel 15:22– Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.
Psalm 51:17– The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
God wants us to repent of our sins, not just go through the motions of asking for forgiveness without truly being repentant.
To pull it all together, we need to be aware that God will provide for us when we obey, and when we reject Him and His good laws, He will make sure that what He wants done will be done, from anything as simple as withholding blessings, as to complete desolation of our land.
God’s will WILL be done, one way or another; I don’t want to speak for you, but as for me, well, I want to be in God’s will as much as possible. Being outside His will is not a good place to be.