Saturday, June 16, 2012

Making a Fresh Start

Last week’s lesson text (Lev 19:9-18, 33-37) was from a portion of the “Holiness Code”, see Leviticus 17-26. Leviticus is the third book of the Pentateuch written by Moses, receiving its name because it treats chiefly Levitical service. This book contains more of God’s communications and commands than any other. In Lev 19:2 God told Moses “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.” God wanted all of their ways to reflect holiness as they were His children, and He is holy. We reviewed social justice at that time. In today’s lesson God is speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai about economic justice. Our text is from another portion of the Holiness Code. See Lev 25:8-12,25,35-36,39-40,47-48,55.

The Lord told Moses when the children of Israel reached the Promised Land they were to sow the land and prune the vineyards for six years. But in the seventh year, it was to be considered a Sabbath rest unto the Lord. They were not to sow or reap from the land thereof. It must be left for the poor, strangers, servant, and cattle. God would provide their meal, if they believed and were obedient.

“And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.” Lev 25:8 The ultimate Sabbath rest was to be celebrated by counting a multiple of seven Sabbath years times itself. This equaled forty-nine years which was to be the start of the Year of Jubilee in the 50th year. Jubilee was an extension of the Sabbath rest of the land, a time when no crops were to be planted. “Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.” Lev 25:9 The priests were to blow the trumpets (ram’s horns) throughout the nation, on the day of atonement which would start the year of celebration unto the Lord.

“And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.” Lev 25:10 Jubilee would create a climate of safety when people who had been slaves or had sold themselves into servitude because of indebtedness would be free to return to their homes and families. The creditor would no longer own him; his contract was one that ended with a fixed term (the Year of Jubilee). All debts are cancelled and the rights of inheritance are restored. Part of the wording of this verse, “…proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof…” are inscribed on the United States Liberty Bell. However, people are debating immigration laws in the United States today. So, do we really mean it? What would be economically just according to God?

“A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.” Lev 25:11-12 The Lord would provide enough in the year prior to Jubilee to last for three years. (See Lev 25:21) During Jubilee Year, the people were not to sow seeds or reap the crops nor harvest any vines. It was a time of rest for the land, the people, and a time to be released from economic injustices. This was to cause the people to reflect holy attitudes because God is holy.

“If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.” Lev 25:25 In ancient Israel, God was the owner of the land; therefore, it could not be bought and sold for a profit. God had made other arrangements for the transfer of title to realty. If a family member got in a financial crisis and sold some of his assets to cover his debts, his family member must serve as a kinsman-redeemer or “goel”. Such was the case with Boaz as a kinsman-redeemer in Ruth 4:1-10. Christ was our kinsman-redeemer, paying the price for our unrighteousness. “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;” Rev 5:9

In the next part of the lesson, there are three hypothetical situations beginning with the word if. For each situation, God gave Moses law for economic justice.

“And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.” Lev 25:35-36 Suppose a countryman becomes poor, is not able to support himself, is forced to sell everything, and is still in poverty. (Does this sound like the homeless in today’s society?) The point of economic justice is that the rich must not oppress the poor. They were not to ignore their poor. There will be no interest loans, high interest loans or increases granted in order that all the people may live in unity for fear of God. It would be easy to see the stranger as social outcasts, but the Israelites had been in bondage not that long ago. He reminded them He was their Deliverer. What would it take to make us see our Deliverer when 2 percent of the world’s population own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth.

“And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile:” Lev 25:39-40 The Israelites were not free to treat their brethren as slaves if they had fallen into misfortune. They could treat them as servants or employees until the Year of Jubilee when he would be released. They had to be treated with respect in order to be an example to strangers of God’s mercy and grace.

“And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger's family: After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him:” Lev 25:47-48 The third hypothetical is similar to the others. However, the Israelite sold himself or indebted himself to the stranger (Gentile) who is rich and living among the Israelites. The land belongs to God and cannot permanently be sold to anyone. The law is the same and he is to be treated the same. The Israelite is to be released in the Year of Jubilee.

“For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” Lev 25:55 This verse sums up God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. His call to the people for holiness encompassed economic justice. In so doing, He incorporated the Year of Jubilee and the liberties of both man and the land.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Year of Jubilee was a widespread celebration today for all nations? The Sabbath (Year of Jubilee)as Israel’s day of rest was applicable only to ancient Israel as God’s covenant people. Christians are not bound to this law but worship on Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day. With foreclosures, student loan and credit card debt, and jobs insecure, etc., many Christians do not have the compassion of Christ in order to understand the ideas behind economic justice for all.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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