Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years. When you plant your fields in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the large crop of the sixth year. In fact, you will still be eating from that large crop when the new crop is harvested in the ninth year. [Leviticus 25:21-22 (NLT)]
As earth’s first gardener, God knew a thing or two about agriculture. Recognizing that continually working a field depletes the soil of valuable nutrients, He commanded the Israelites to let their land remain fallow every seven years. During this yearlong land Sabbath, no produce was to be planted, pruned or harvested and any food that grew by itself, such as grapes or figs, could not be harvested, sold or stored. God promised to grant an abundant crop in the sixth year so there would be plenty of food to carry the people through the Sabbath year and well into the next years until a new crop was harvested. Considered ownerless, the produce that grew by itself could be eaten by anyone or fed to the animals. The Sabbath year was a test of faith; it required the Israelites to acknowledge God as the true master of the land, to trust Him for His provision, and to share with those less fortunate.
You’d think people would be thrilled to take a year off from tilling the soil, planting crops, and pulling weeds. That seventh year was a gift—a year when farmers could take it easy—a year for travel, family, service, study, rest and worship. Unfortunately, in the eight hundred plus years between their exodus from Egypt and their captivity in Babylon, the Israelites failed to observe the land Sabbath seventy times.
What a sad state of affairs, when given a whole year’s rest, the people weren’t willing to enjoy it, but I’m not sure we’re much different from those ancient Israelites. We Americans can’t even rest one day a year without conducting business. Although not established by God, Thanksgiving Day (minus the football games and parade) is much like the original idea of the Sabbath day—a day of praise, thanksgiving, family, food, friends, fellowship, and rest. When I was a girl, all the stores were closed and everyone waited until Friday morning before even thinking about Christmas. As happened with the Israelites, however, fear and greed stepped in. Businesses began to worry that they’d never make a decent profit without having one more day of sales and consumers fretted about the number of shopping days remaining until December 25th. Many retail stores were open yesterday and I’m sure Amazon and other e-commerce sites made record sales. Our businesses are not much different from Judah’s farmers. Once a few of them ignored the Sabbath year, they all did and, eventually, no one even remembered the way it once had been. Once one store decided to open its doors on Thanksgiving, the retail flood gates opened. Yesterday, I even received emails from two Christian websites urging me to shop their great Thanksgiving deals! Although fifty national retailers opted to close their doors yesterday, the others seemed to double-down by opening their doors earlier and staying open later. I wonder if anyone will remember the quiet restful way Thanksgiving once was celebrated.
During those 490 years they failed to observe the land Sabbath, the Israelites drifted away from God and started worshipping pagan gods. Seventy years as captives in Babylon was the result of their disobedience. Unfortunately, it’s as easy to drift away from God and let fear and greed enter into our lives as it was for them. Yesterday, as one family member rushed away from the holiday table to return to her retail job (and others sped off to start their shopping), I realized we’ve become captives as well. We’re not slaves to our conquerors but we have become slaves to busy schedules, business competition, money, and the desire to acquire things (especially if they’re on sale). With His detailed instructions for observing both the Sabbath Day and Sabbath year, God did not intend us to live anxious lives where enough is never enough—never enough time, money, possessions, or shopping days. Ours is a more-than-enough God—a God of both abundance and rest.
Sunday is the first day in Advent—a season of preparation for the coming of Christ. As we prepare to celebrate His first coming and look forward to His return, let’s remember that God ordained both work and rest for His children. During this season of waiting, let’s take some time to rest and reflect on God’s amazing and abundant provision in our lives.