The LORD said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD.’” (Leviticus 25: 1-2, NIV).
I confess. I’m a huge fan of the Old Testament. It’s epic, mysterious, and gripping—like an Avengers movie—but true. And then there are books like Leviticus that cover pages and pages of rules, including “the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord.” What does that even mean?! And why should it matter to us today?
Let’s take a quick trip back in time and look at what God demanded of the Israelites and what it meant.
For example, in Leviticus 25, God gives Moses instructions about how His people can show their faithfulness and maintain a holy relationship with Him when they enter Canaan, the Promised Land. Observing holy times, like the Sabbath Year, was a part of these instructions. This Old Testament book can seem unwieldy, but Leviticus shows us that God wants His people to know and understand exactly how to live holy lives in relationship with Him.
When we read Leviticus 25, we see that God is detailed and specific in His explanations and commandments. He doesn’t want us to guess or wonder how to walk in close fellowship with Him. In these few verses, we can see how generous God is with instruction and how He anticipates and provides for our needs so we can be obedient.
God promised Canaan to the Israelites as part of His covenant with them, which made the land sacred. From the Garden of Eden to the covenants made with Abraham and Moses, we see that the land was a place of special blessing from God. As the owner of the land, God reserved the right to dictate how it would be cared for.
We’re familiar with the Sabbath as one day out of seven when God woos us to rest. A Sabbath year meant that every seventh year the land would rest—for the entire year.
“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 25: 3-4)
During this time, no new crops could be planted, and permanent crops couldn’t be pruned or cared for. No crops could be harvested or sold. The Israelites could only pick and eat what the land produced on its own. Can you imagine not working for a full year and trusting God to provide for you and your family?
God doesn’t require us to keep a Sabbath Year today, but His commandment to the Israelites teaches us about His character and the blessings of obedience:
God’s commandments protect us. Taking a year off from working the land would benefit people, animals, and the land itself. Modern agriculture still follows practices that allow land to rest so it can build up nutrients. God cares about all of His creations. The heart behind the commandments in Scripture is less about restricting and more about protecting.
God’s commandments teach us dependence on Him. During the seventh year, the Israelites would be completely dependent on God for provision. Obedience would require a tremendous amount of faith. There are times when we may feel that obedience makes us too vulnerable or comes at too great a cost, yet when we let go of self-sufficiency to honor God’s commands, He is faithful to sustain us.
God’s commandments come with blessings He wants to give us. In Leviticus 25:6-7, God tells the people of Israel that the Sabbath year will provide food for everyone in their households, the poor, their livestock, and even the wild animals. As we’re told in Matthew 6:33, when we seek God and His righteousness first, He’ll provide everything else.
God’s commandments are timeless. These instructions for daily life are relevant because we, too, are a people on our way to a better place—a heavenly home—graciously provided by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross. God has done His part. He redeemed us and provided clear instructions about how we can remain in close relationship with Him, but there’s a surrender that has to happen in the form of obedience on our part.
After I dug into these few verses, I was reminded that every letter of God’s Word is ageless. He ensured our access to the entire Bible because every word we consume teaches us more about Him, His character, and His love. Throughout Leviticus, we see that God gives us commandments to protect, teach, and bless us. While ancient laws may look different on the outside, the heart and holiness of the God who made them hasn’t changed.
Oh—if you’re interested in reading about where the bacon fits in, check out Leviticus 11 followed by Acts 10. I’d love to hear your conclusions!