Fairview Baptist Church
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Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE - 2014

 

Study Theme:  And It Was Good

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this study is on the fact that God remains the Owner of all creation; it’s not ours. But He has given us a great responsibility to care for it.

 

Aug. 24

God’s Word of Creation

X

Aug. 31

Our Work With Creation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIFE IMPACT:

God has given us responsibility over His creation.

FOCAL PASSAGE:

Leviticus 25:1-7

LESSON OUTLINE:

I.    

II.

III.  

Be Good Stewards (Lev. 25:1-3)

Trust In God (Lev. 25:4-5)

Care For Others (Lev. 25:6-7­)

OVERVIEW OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE:  

Sabbatical and Jubilee Years (Lev. 25:1-55)

The proper observance of Sabbatical and Jubilee years was to testify to Israel’s status as a holy people (25:1-55). The land, like the people, had to have rest; so every seventh year was set aside as a year when nothing would be planted (25:1-7). Then after seven such cycles, the fiftieth year too would be set apart for the rejuvenation of the land, the forgiveness of mortgages on it, and the like (25:8-22). The redemption of property was to remind the people that the land was Yahweh’s and was actually leased out by Him to them (25:23-38). Likewise, those who had been forced to indenture themselves were to be released on the Year of Jubilee. It was most unfit that Israel, itself a slave people released from bondage by Yahweh, should tolerate bondage within its own borders. A holy people had to be a free people (25:39-55).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

INTRODUCTION:

 Do we have any responsibility for the earth around us?  Some people, in what borders on being a form of nature worship, are convinced we should avoid doing anything that upsets, or in any way alters, nature as it is.  Others, in what borders on being a complete disregard for nature, see natural resources as consumables and as something to be exploited for their own benefit.  The Bible gives us a different perspective.  God has given us the earth and its resources for our benefit, but He also has given some Biblical principles to guide us in how we use and manage those resources so He is honored. 

Introduction is adapted from the following source:

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

I.

Be Good Stewards (Lev. 25:1-3)

1 The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: 2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land I am giving you, the land will observe a Sabbath to the LORD.  3 You may sow your field for six years, and you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce for six years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.     If you were given chores to do when you were growing up, how did that make you feel?

2.     How would you describe your attitude when given that responsibility?

3.     When given that chore was your attitude always the same or did it depend on who gave you the chore?

4.     What do you think may have caused your attitude to differ depending on who gave you the chore to do?

5.     Did it make a difference to you in how the responsibility was given such as the tone of voice used?

6.     If so, what was the most important, the person who gave it, or the way in which it was given?  Why?

7.     What did the Lord command Moses to tell the people?

8.     What is a sabbath?  (See Digging Deeper.)

9.     What might this message have reminded Israel about its past? 

10.  What did this message imply regarding Israel’s future?

11.  What major principle of stewardship is evident in these instructions?

12.  What is the specific command God gave the Israelites in these verses?

13.  This command was an expansion of what previous command God had given them?

14.  What message do you think this passage has for us (believers) today?

15.  How does it make you feel that God has given you responsibility over His creation?

16.  For you, is caring for creation a political, biblical, or non-issue?

 

Lasting Lessons in Lev. 25:1-3:

1.  God’s people can work and use the land, or the earth, He created.

2.  God’s people can sue His creation year-after-year with blessing.

3.  God graciously allows His people to enjoy the abundance of Hs provisions.

4.  By informing His people that even the land needed a Sabbath, God was teaching them that they were to take care of the land and not overuse or abuse it.

 

II.

Trust In God (Lev. 25:4-5)

4 But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the Lord: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard.  5 You are not to reap what grows by itself from your crop, or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. It must be a year of complete rest for the land.

1.     What was the sabbath principle (v. 4)?

2.     What is the specific command that God gave the Israelites in these verses?

3.     Why would this not be an arbitrary command from God?

4.     What did the sabbath principle prohibit the Israelites doing (vv. 4-5)?

5.     Do you think this was the main issue for the Israelites in being willing to obey this command?

6.     How do you think the Israelites may have felt as the sabbath year approached?

7.     How would the sudden upheaval of your comfort zone make you feel? (Such things as: losing your job; a sudden decline in income; loss of your retirement plan; a natural disaster; a physical disability, loss of your home; etc.)

8.     God forbid, but if any of these things should happen to you, when does relying on God come into the situation?

9.     What is the primary reason for being obedient to the sabbath principle?

10.  What are some secondary reasons?

11.  How does the sabbath principle challenge us to trust the Lord?

12.  Beside the fact that He is God, what do you think makes His commands trustworthy?

13.  Do you think the sabbath principle has a message for us today?

14.  If so, what is it?

15.  What are some consequences you’ve seen as a result of abusing the earth?

16.  How would you rate your trust in God with your livelihood on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high)?

 

Lasting Lessons in Lev. 25:4-5:

1.  One primary way the Israelites were to show their care for the land was to allow it to rest every seventh year.

2.  The Israelites’ obedience in keeping the Sabbath year was a matter of trust in God and His sovereignty.

3.  Just as keeping the Sabbath day demonstrated that the Israelites honored God and were committed to pleasing Him, so it was to be with the Sabbath year.  Obeying this command showed whether or not the people acknowledged that the provision of the land and its produce came from their covenant, creator God.

4.  The Israelites’ extended disobedience to God’s command and instructions proved they were in rebellion against Him.

 

III.

Care For Others (Lev. 25:6-7­)

6  Whatever the land produces during the Sabbath year can be food for you—for yourself, your male or female slave, and the hired hand or foreigner who stays with you.  7 All of its growth may serve as food for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.

1.     How does this passage speak to our responsibility over God’s creation?

2.     How were people to be fed during the sabbatical year?

3.     How would you explain the apparent conflict between verses 4-5 and verses 6-7?

4.     What do these verses suggest about the scope of God’s care?

5.     What principle do you see in these verses that encourages you to trust God during lean times?

6.     What is the specific command God gave the Israelites in these verses?

7.     Who among the Israelites was being protected through these laws?

8.     What do you think this passage tell us regarding our benevolence toward others less fortunate than we are?

9.     How are you using what God has given you to benefit others who are in need?

10.  How are you using what God has given you to show those in need that God really does care for them?

11.  How would you summarize the application of this passage regarding our responsibility over God’s creation?

 

Lasting Lessons in Lev. 25:6-7:

1.  The fact that the crops grew voluntarily during the Sabbath year could be harvested by the owners for their personal use and by others in need shows us we need to be generous with what God has provided for us.

2.  God wants us to use the resources He has provided us to help others.

3.  Believers today still must trust God for their food supply—Jesus taught us to include this petition in our daily prayers (Matt.6:11).

 

CONCLUSION:

As you think about what God has said to you in this session, see if He is leading you to one of the following applications:

1.) God is my Provider.  As you go about your daily routines this week, be aware of everything you use (food, clothing, fuel, etc.) as a provision from your Creator. Thank Him, and pray to use wisely what He provides.

2.) Evaluate your use of God’s creation. Knowing that God is owner and you are manager of His possessions, make a list of a few items of God’s creation (food, water, plants, animals, etc.) you regularly interact with. Give yourself a grade on how wisely you are managing God’s resources.  How wisely you are managing God’s resources?

3.) Trusting my Provider. Wise management of God’s creation means that others benefit from our actions. Start praying today about what you could give up in order to be a blessing to someone in desperate need either physically, spiritually, or both. Then make yourself available to do whatever and go wherever God leads.

On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) rate how well you are wisely using the resources God has given you so you can share them with others in need?  Pray about your rating this week, and adjust accordingly.

If we love our Creator, we will want to love and care for His creation. He has given us this great responsibility. Let each of us be found faithful in it.

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.

 

Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

COMMENTARY:

Our Work With Creation — Lesson Outline & Commentary

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version: Leviticus 25:1-7

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.  3 Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; 4 But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.  5 That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.  6 And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee, 7 And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.   (KJV)

New International Version: Leviticus 25:1-7

1 The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 2 “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.  3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.  4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.  5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.  6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.   (NIV)

New Living Translation: Leviticus 25:1-7

1 While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the LORD said to him, 2 “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. When you have entered the land I am giving you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath rest before the LORD every seventh year.  3 For six years you may plant your fields and prune your vineyards and harvest your crops, 4 but during the seventh year the land must have a Sabbath year of complete rest. It is the LORD’s Sabbath. Do not plant your fields or prune your vineyards during that year.  5 And don’t store away the crops that grow on their own or gather the grapes from your unpruned vines. The land must have a year of complete rest. 6 But you may eat whatever the land produces on its own during its Sabbath. This applies to you, your male and female servants, your hired workers, and the temporary residents who live with you.  7 Your livestock and the wild animals in your land will also be allowed to eat what the land produces.     (NLT)

 

I.

II.

III.

Be Good Stewards (Lev. 25:1-3)

Trust In God (Lev. 25:4-5)

Care For Others (Lev. 25:6-7­)

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: The Pulpit Commentary,The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

The Pulpit Commentary – Volume 2: Leviticus 25:1-7

The sabbatical year was instituted not for any supposed physical benefit accruing from it to the land, but, first, as serving for a link between the sabbath and the jubilee by means of the sacred number seven — the sabbatical year being the seventh year, and the jubilee being the year following the seven-times-seventh year; and secondly, and chiefly, as enforcing the lesson of the weekly sabbath in a manner that could not be overlooked, and symbolically, teaching the universal application of the sabbatical law, even where physical needs were not concerned, and in that way suggesting the expectation of a rest to be hereafter attained by all God's creatures. The sabbatical year began with the commencement of the civil year, the 1st of Tisri, just before the autumn sewings, which were intermitted for one year. The ground was not tilled during this year (verse 4). There was a release of debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-11), and there was to be public reading of God's Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). During the previous six years the husbandmen had been well aware of the coming sabbatical year, and would have laid by in store accordingly, so as to support themselves and their families during that year. The release of debts inculcated mercy. The command that the Law should be publicly read showed that the intention of the institution was not that the year should be spent in idleness, but that the time saved from ordinary labour was to be given to devotional pursuits. The law of the sabbatical year was so hard of observance by an agricultural people, that it was seldom or never acted upon until the Captivity (see 2 Chronicles 36:21). But after that time it seems to have been religiously kept (see Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 11:8, 6; 14:10, 6; 14:16, 2; 15:1, 2; 1 Macc. 6:49; Galatians 4:10; Tacit., ‘Hist.,’ 5:2, 4).

The jubilee was a joyous year appointed to be observed every fifty years. The cycle of the sabbatical year and the jubilee touched without coalescing. The forty-ninth year was necessarily a sabbatical year, and the following year was the jubilee. It has appeared to some so difficult to believe that two years in which it was not allowable to engage in agricultural work should come together, that they have assumed that the sabbatical year itself, that is, the forty-ninth year, was the year of the jubilee. But this was clearly not the case. Twice in the century the laud was to lie fallow for two years running — from September to the second September following — special preparations having, of course, been made by laying up a store of grain from the abundant harvest promised in the previous year (verse 21), and foreign crops being, no doubt, imported to take the place of the usual home crops. In matter of fact, however, these two blank years seldom, if ever, occurred together; for as the sabbatical year was not observed before the Captivity, while there are indications of the existence of the jubilee (1 Kings 21:3; Isaiah 61:1-3), so probably the jubilee ceased to be observed after the Captivity, when the sabbatical year was carefully kept. Supposing that they did come together, the second year in which labour was prohibited would end just in time for the seed to be sown for the next summer's harvest.

The jubilee affected both land and men. Land could only be sold for fifty years, its value immediately after a jubilee had passed being that of fifty harvests, or rather, deducting the sabbatical years and the fiftieth year, of forty-two harvests. If it were sold, it might be bought back by the original owner or any of his relations, counting the number of harvests remaining before the next jubilee, and buying out the previous purchaser with the sum of money thus estimated. No more effective plan could be well devised for preserving the various properties in the families to which they were at first assigned.

The other point chiefly affected by the law of the jubilee was slavery. In ease a brother Israelite became poor, it was the duty of his richer brethren to help him, and to lend him money without interest, to set him up in the world again. But if this did not succeed, the poor man might sell himself as a slave, either to an Israelite or to a foreigner living in the land. In the former ease it had been already enacted that his slavery was not to last beyond six years (Exodus 21:2). To this enactment it was now added that he must be also set free whenever the year of jubilee occurred.

If he became the slave of a non-Israelite, he must be set free, not as before on the seventh year of his slavery, but still at the jubilee. He had also preserved for him the right of being redeemed by any kinsman, the price paid for him being the wages which would be paid up to the next jubilee. In either case, he was to be treated without rigour, and it was the duty of the Israelite magistrate to see that no undue harshness was used by the foreign master. The principle is, as before, that as the land is God's land, not man’s, so the Israelites were the slaves of God, not of man, and that if the position in which God placed them was allowed to be interfered with for a time, it was to be recovered every seventh, or at furthest every fiftieth, year. The possession of slaves was not forbidden — the world was not yet ready for such a prohibition. The Hebrews might purchase and own slaves of alien blood, but between Hebrew and Hebrew the institution of master and slave was practically abolished, and superseded (in most respects) by the relationship of master and servant.

Verse 1.  And the Lord spake unto Moses in mount Sinai. The purpose of the words, in Mount Sinai, is not to distinguish the place in which the sabbatical law and the law of the jubilee were given from that in which the preceding laws were delivered. The words mean only, “in the Sinai district;’’ and they are employed because these laws form the conclusion of the series of laws given while tile people were en-camped under Mount Sinai. The law on vows is, it is true, added to them, but it is by way of appendix.

Verses 2-7.  The sabbath of the seventh year could only be observed when ye come into the land which I give you. The habit of making no distraction in the seventh year during the whole of the life in the wilderness may have led to the neglect of the law after the settlement in Canaan. Another excuse for the neglect may have been a difficulty which would have presented itself of fixing the date from which to count up to the seventh year, as different parts of the land were conquered at different times. According to the law, from New Year's Day of the seventh year (the 1st of Tisri, which occurred about the middle of September) to the following New Year's Day, there was to be neither sowing nor pruning, reaping or gathering. The expression, Neither shalt thou gather the grapes of thy vine undressed, would be more literally rendered, the grapes of thy Nazarite vine, the vine with its unpruned tendrils, being likened to the Nazarite with his unshorn locks. As to sowing and reaping, an exception was made with respect to the barley sown and reaped for the Passover sheaf, and the wheat sown and reaped for the Pentecost loaves. The spontaneous fruits of the earth, and they were very large in the rich fields of the valleys and plains, were to be the property of all alike, whether the owners of the land or not, “that the poor of thy people might eat” (Exodus 23:11). And what was left by man was to be food for the cattle and beasts of the field. The cessation of agricultural labours must have served, and may have been intended to serve, as an encouragement to mercantile pursuits, as well as to the study of the Divine Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). The Feast of Tabernacles of the seventh year was specially appointed by Moses as a day for reading the Law to the assembled people (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). And the Mishna appoints the following passages of Deuteronomy to be read on that day: — Deuteronomy 1:1-6; 6:4-8; 11:13-22; 14:22; 15:23; 17:14; 26:12-19; 27, 28. (‘Mish. Sotah.,’ 7:8). The other ordinance connected with the sabbatical year, the release of debts to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1-6), was, like the fifth commandment, made of none effect by rabbinical traditions — notably by one which required a debtor, when his creditor said, “I remit,” to insist that nevertheless he should accept payment. The moral purpose of the sabbath of the seventh year is well drawn out by Keil: — “In the sabbatical year the land which the Lord had given his people was to observe a period of holy rest and refreshment to its Lord and God, just as the congregation did on the sabbath day; and the hand of man was to be withheld from the fields and fruit gardens from working them that they might yield their produce for his use. The earth was to be sacred from the hand of man, exhausting its power for earthly purposes as his own property, and to enjoy the holy rest with which God had blessed the earth and all its productions after the Creation. From this, Israel, as the nation of God, was to learn, on the one hand, that although the earth was created for man, it was not merely created for him to draw out its power for his own use, but also to be holy to the Lord and participate in the blessed rest; and on the other hand, that the great purpose for which the congregation of the Lord existed did not consist in the uninterrupted tilling of the earth, connected with bitter labour in the sweat of the brow (Genesis 3:17, 19), but in tile peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, which the Lord their God had given them and would give them still, without the labour of their hands, if they strove to keep his covenant and satisfy themselves with his grace.”

SOURCE:  The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 2: Leviticus and Numbers; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

 

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament: Leviticus 25:1-7

The Sabbatical Year (25:1-7)

25:1-7 The sabbatical year (shabbath) is mentioned also in Exodus 23:10-11 and Deuteronomy 15:1-18. In the former passage, however, it is described as a year to leave the land fallow (as here in Lev 25) without the year being specifically named. In the Deuteronomy passage the year is called a shemittah and is described as a year of canceling debts and freeing slaves, not as a year of rest from the tillage of the land. However, the verb shamat is used in Exodus 23:11 and translated by the NIV as “let the land lie unplowed” (cf. TWOT, ##454b, 2408). It appears from the combination of these two ideas that the seventh year was both a fallow year for the land and a year of canceling debts. For the further matter of liberating slaves (darar), see the Jubilee below.

As far as Moses knew, the occupation of Canaan would begin in a few months, and Israel would begin this program of land tenure at once. Though Israel was in the wilderness, she was looking toward a settled condition within a year, similar to what they had known in Egypt—without the slavery! The adoption of such a law does not imply that the legislation is late, long years after the Conquest. Indeed, v. 2 says it is a law adopted to cover future circumstances.

The terminology “the land itself must observe a sabbath” (v. 2) apparently comes from the weekly Sabbath that was already in force. The emphasis of the Sabbath was the resting. The land “I am going to give you” (notice the proprietorship) will have its rest as well. Presumably no one then knew why this would be good for the land. Principles of crop rotation were not known, and God did not give them such advanced wisdom. But he did give them the idea of the land lying fallow, and he gave it religious sanction. It does not seem that any other nation had any custom like this.

Verse 5 seems at first to contradict v. 4. The solution seems to be that there is to be no normal work of harvest or grape-gathering that would involve servants and include storage. It was all right to eat and gather directly from the fields (v. 11), but regular harvest work was forbidden. The idea was twofold. First, the produce of the sixth year would be so abundant because of the Lord’s blessing that there would be a surplus. Second, the natural produce of the land would feed the poor (Exod 23:11). It would even give wildlife a chance to repopulate itself. The natural crop would be public property. There is an additional reason for the sabbatical year that does not appear in this chapter. In the Feast of Booths of the sabbatical year, the law was to be read to the people. The whole nation was to have a short-term Bible institute (Deut 31:10-13). There would be opportunities for other instruction during the rest of this vacation year.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers

 

The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Leviticus 25:1-7

25:1-55. Holiness in relation to God and in relation to one another climaxes in the treatment of the covenantal inheritance. Holiness shows appreciation for what the Lord has provided, acting as good stewards or managers of the inheritance for Him, holding loosely to it, as always belonging to Him the Owner Who lets us manage it for Him. It also indicates an active concern that all God’s people continue to enjoy and use well their covenant inheritance from the Lord. Holiness recognizes that God is Owner of all, and those who receive his gift of salvation are equally his servants. For Israel, the covenant inheritance was the Promised Land apportioned to each family in the days of Joshua. The land was the physical place God provided for them where they could be free to enjoy all He wanted to give them, become all He wanted them to be and work to accomplish the mission toward the rest of the world that He intended for them. The land as inheritance functioned as the means to his provision of daily physical needs (Lev. 26:4f; Deut. 7:13; 11:9-15). It functioned to provide a place of security from fears and the threat of harm (Lev. 26:6; Deut. 12:9f). The land functioned for Israel as the place from which they had the opportunity to make a contribution to the lives of other people, first in the covenantal community of faith, and then as a part of God’s mission to the world (Gen. 12:2f, 7; Deut. 4:6ff; 8:18; 28:9-13; Mic. 4:1-7; Zech. 8:12f). Finally, the land was to function as the place of rest and peace in spiritual relationship with God. It was to provide the opportunity for fellowship with the God of the universe and for experiencing the ultimate well-being through his gracious presence (Exo. 33:14; Lev. 26:11ff; Heb. 3:18-4:11). The physical Promised Land was the actual place God chose to establish his people Israel as a nation, to be a witness to the world as his theocracy and to provide a people through whom He could have the Savior, his Son, incarnated. This purpose has been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, but that does not mean that all passages referring to the physical situations of the land and Israel have no relevance to Christians. When realizing the functions of the land, as described above, people can see that the principles involved in such passages as Leviticus 25 are applicable in many ways to the lives of Christians today. All these functions of the land as God’s inheritance for his people are still needed by God’s people today and are fulfilled in the provisions of Christ’s inheritance to believers. He wants to meet the physical needs of his people. He wants us to live securely and without fear in his protection. God wants his people to be productive and impact this world for his eternal purpose. He wants us to enjoy his presence in rest and peace (Matt. 11:28ff; Rom. 14:17). Furthermore, to be productive and accomplish God’s purpose, everyone needs a “place,” like Israel, on which to stand and relate to others. God’s people need a place both physically and socially from which they can effectively communicate the gospel to others. This includes a physical place to live as well as a place in a family and a community. God wants to provide a “place” for each of us and for his people together so that we can accomplish his mission in this world.

If all these are what God wants for his people, then his people should want everyone in the covenant community to continue to enjoy the covenantal inheritance He has provided in Christ. An important application of ch. 25 for Christians is to become the kind of community God wants for his people, where members know each other well enough to get involved in each other’s lives. One illustration of this might be becoming involved when there is loss or threat of loss of someone’s inheritance from the Lord and thus a need to “redeem” it. That means recognizing and intervening when a brother or sister in Christ is in need of daily physical provisions, or is living in insecurity, whether physical or emotional. It also means becoming involved when someone is not being productive in the Kingdom of God, or is lacking rest and peace in the Holy Spirit. The message here is caring enough to redeem a brother or sister’s spiritual inheritance. The Church is intended by Christ and empowered by the Spirit to provide this kind of “place” where God’s people can find acceptance by a significant group and receive healing and renewal. It is also where they can mature in Christ and in human relationships to function effectively in the world. The Church should provide such a place for people. All of this is how the functions of the land are applied in the lives of believers since Christ has come.

Other specific applications from this chapter involve expressing appreciation to God for his salvation by acts of faith and acts of kindness toward fellow members of the saved community. The message of the sabbatical year and the Jubilee is the need to express faith in and appreciation of the Lord by how we treat what He has provided for us. We must be good stewards or managers of all we own, but hold it loosely as really belonging to God, Who is the true Owner and Lord of everything. That perspective makes a difference in how we live our lives every day. Occasionally Christians hold too tightly to a ministry the Lord has allowed them to do and are not open to sharing the opportunity and blessing with others whom He may be wanting to use. If He is the real owner, and we do not “own” our “place” of ministry, then He should be allowed to do what He wants with it. It should be no threat to us because He is Lord and has a good “place” for us if we will let Him lead us.

Furthermore, we should appreciate the awesome privilege we have of being saved into intimate fellowship with God. We must never lord it over others, show any harshness or take advantage of anyone who is vulnerable to us (Matt. 18:21-35). We should never take gain for ourselves from the misfortune of others. We should give one another a fresh start by offering whatever help is needed, including forgiveness. True gratefulness is expressed in being generous and merciful toward others.

Christ implied that He was the fulfillment of the Jubilee when He said He fulfilled Isa. 61:1f, (which He quoted in Luke 4:16-21) because Isaiah referred to the Jubilee in relation to the Messiah and the time of salvation He would bring for the world. He is the eternal Redeemer who brings eternal freedom to all who will receive it. The Jubilee ultimately looked forward to the final restoration of God’s creation (Acts 3:21) through the Second Coming of Christ.

Chapter 25 climaxes the covenant instructions before the blessings and curses conclude the original Sinai covenant of Exodus 20-Leviticus 26 (with ch. 27 as an appendix). This may explain the unique references to Mt. Sinai in 25:1, 26:46 and 27:34, with the only other reference in Leviticus at the end of the sacrificial instructions (7:38). After covering the principles of holiness in regard to time (ch. 23) and the privilege of his presence, particularly at the place He chose for his presence to be experienced (ch. 24), the observance of the 7th year and 50th year of rests for the land together the forgiving of debts is explained. The Sabbath as a sign of the covenant is here combined with the theme of the sanctity of the land as the inheritance provided for those in the covenant. Not only is concern for the environment legislated, but in context, concern is also expressed for the ultimate well-being of one’s fellow members of the covenant community. The overall context is the total lordship of, and ownership by, the Lord of the land, as well as its being the place of his presence in a way similar to the Ark in the Tabernacle.

25:1-7. The seventh year Sabbath rest for the land is covered first. Verse 2 promises that the Lord is giving them the land (even though it would actually be 38 more years before they would enter it, due to their unbelief). When they occupied it, they were to let the land rest on the seventh year, as a solemn observance to the Lord. That year they were not to do any planting or harvesting beyond gathering what they needed to eat from what the land produced on its own. Whatever grew belonged to everyone. All the dependent people in the land were to eat from this. Exodus 21:1-4 had set indentured servants free in the seventh year, and 23:10f had made the seventh year a time for the ground to lie fallow and the poor to eat from it. Deuteronomy 15:11 instructs them to forgive all debts at the end of every seven years. Here, however, Leviticus 25 focuses on the vertical dimension of holiness, calling it a Sabbath to the Lord in v. 4, and applying the Sabbath principle of the rhythm of seven to a rest for the land. This would testify to Israel’s faith in the Lord to supply their needs, and that He is the true Source behind all their harvests. He could provide enough in the other years so that there would be no lack in the seventh. It is also good agricultural practice for replenishing the nutrients (by ridding it of organisms that engage the nutrients) in the soil to let the land lie fallow periodically.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.

 

DIGGING DEEPER:

Sabbath—The Hebrew word Sabbath in Leviticus 15:2 comes from the word shabat, which means “to cease” or “to rest.” “Sheba” is the word for “seven” and shabua’ refers to “a period of seven” or “a week.”  The term Shabbat thus refers to the seventh day of the week, a day of rest.

A reference to the seventh day occurs for the first time at the end of creation week: “By the seventh day God completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.  God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation” (Gen. 2:2-3).  God’s resting on the seventh day after His six days of work in creation set a precedent for His people in the Mosaic law.  In the Fourth Commandment God told His covenant people Israel, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” and pointed back to creation week and God’s rest as the reason they were to do so (Ex. 20:8).  God gave Israel specific instructions about the Sabbath, and the penalty for violating the Sabbath was that the guilty person was to be stoned to death.  Numbers 15 records a specific incident about a man found gathering wood on the Sabbath day, and the Lord commanded the Israelites to take him outside the camp and stone him to death (vv. 32-36).

About 75 references to the Sabbath occur in the Old Testament, and the New Testament contains another 60 references, though the vast majority of these (50) are in the Gospels.  Luke stated on several occasions that the apostles went to the synagogues on the Sabbath to preach the gospel (see, for example, Acts 13:14,42-44).  The only other two verses outside of the Gospels and Acts in which the Sabbath is mentioned are Colossians 2:16, where Paul warned against those who demanded that Christians should keep the Sabbath, and Hebrews 4:9, where the Sabbath rest refers to the future kingdom.

We also should mention that this notion of a Sabbath rest—whether for a day or for a year—for everyone and everything is met with only in Israel among ancient societies.1

1.  A. Noordtzij, Leviticus, in the Bible Student’s Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982], 250.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Sabbath: The English word sabbath in verse 2 is a transliteration of the Hebrew word shabbat that means “restfulness.”  A sabbath was specified period of cessation from all work.  We often think of it as a day, but as a concept it was not limited to that single time period.  The sabbath day was observed to honor and respect God’s own rest after six days of creation (Ex. 20:8-11).  In other Scripture texts, the sabbath was viewed as a sign of the covenant relationship between God and His people, and a symbol of the eternal rest He has promised (Heb. 4:1-13).  Instructions were also provided for keeping a sabbath year in relationship to the land (Lev. 25:1-7).  Every seventh year landowners “rested” their fields from bearing crops.  The sabbath year also was a time when slaves were released and debts forgiven.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SABBATH: The day of rest, considered holy to God by His rest on the seventh day after creation and viewed as a sign of the covenant relation between God and His people and of the eternal rest He has promised them.

Old Testament: The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew shabbat, meaning “to cease” or “desist.” The primary meaning is that of cessation from all work. Some persons have traced the origin of the concept to the Babylonian calendar which contained certain days, corresponding to phases of the moon, in which kings and priests could not perform their official functions. Such days bore an evil connotation, and work performed on them would have harmful effects. The fifteenth of the month, the time of the full moon in their lunar calendar, was shapattu, the “day of pacifying the heart” (of the god) by certain ceremonies.

Although one can show similarities to the Babylonian concept, the Hebrew sabbath did not follow a lunar cycle. It was celebrated every seven days and became basic to the recognition and worship of the God of creation and redemption. Regulations concerning the sabbath are a main feature of the Mosaic laws. Both reports of the Ten Commandments stated that the sabbath belonged to the Lord. On six days the Israelites should work, but on the seventh, they as well as all slaves, foreigners, and beasts must rest. Two reasons are given. The first is that God rested on the seventh day after creation, thereby making the day holy (Ex. 29:8-11). The second was a reminder of their redemption from slavery in Egypt (Deut. 5:12-15).

The day became a time for sacred assembly and worship (Lev. 23:1-3), a token of their covenant with God (Ex. 31:12-17; Ezek. 20:12-20). Death was the penalty for desecration (Ex. 35:1-3). The true observance of not following one’s own pursuits on that day would lift a person to God’s holy mountain and bring spiritual nourishment (Isa. 56:1-7; 58:13), but failure to keep the sabbath would bring destruction to their earthly kingdom (Neh. 13:15-22; Jer. 17:21-27).

Interbiblical: The sabbath became the heart of the law, and the prohibitions were expanded. Thirty-nine tasks were banned, such as tying or untying a knot. These in turn were extended until ingenious evasions were devised that lost the spirit but satisfied the legal requirement.

New Testament: The habit of Jesus was to observe the sabbath as a day of worship in the synagogues (Luke 4:16), but His failure to comply with the minute restrictions brought conflict (Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17; John 5:1-18). At first, Christians also met on the sabbath with the Jews in the synagogues to proclaim Christ (Acts 13:14). Their holy day, the day that belonged especially to the Lord, was the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (Matt. 28:1; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10). They viewed the sabbath and other matters of the law as a shadow of the reality which had now been revealed (Col. 2:16-23), and the sabbath became a symbol of the heavenly rest to come (Heb. 4:1-11).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

SABBATICAL YEAR:  Every seventh year when farmers rested their land from bearing crops to renew the land and people of Israel. Mosaic law directed that every seventh year the land would not be planted in crops; food would come from what grew wild (Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:1-7). Just as the Law reserved the seventh day as holy unto God, so too, was the seventh year set aside as a time of rest and renewal. This not only assured the continued fertility of the land by allowing it to lay fallow, but also protected the rights of the poor. Peasants were allowed to eat from the natural abundance of the untended fields. It may be that only a portion of the land was allowed to rest each sabbath year, the remainder farmed as usual. Hebrews sold into slavery were to be released in that year (Ex. 21:2). Loans and debts to Israelites were also to be forgiven (Deut. 15:1-3). It is doubtful that the sabbath year was celebrated in early Israel. Jeremiah reminded the people that their fathers had ignored the observance of the law (Jer. 34:13-14; compare Lev. 26:35). Although Israel renewed her dedication to practice the sabbath year during Nehemiah’s time, it is unclear whether it was carried out (Neh. 10:31). During the intertestamental period an attempt was made by Israel to observe the sabbath year despite the political turmoil of the times (1 Macc. 6:49). The sabbath year laws consistently pointed to helping the poor.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Sabbatical Year: sa-bat´ik-al שַׁבָּתוֹן שְנַתshenath shabbāthōnἐνιαυτός ἀναπαύσεωςeniautós anapaúseōs, “a year of solemn rest”; or שַׁבָּתוֹן שַׁבַּתshabbath shabbāthōnσάββατα ἀνάπαυσιςsábbata anápausis, “a sabbath of solemn rest” (Lev 25:4); or הַשְּמִטָּה שְׁנַתshehath ha-shemiṭṭāhἔτος τῆς ἀφέσεωςétos tḗs aphéseōs, “the year of release” (Dt 15:9; 31:10)):

1. Primary Intention:

We find the first rudiments of this institution in the so-called Covenant Book (Ex 21-23). Its connection with the day of rest (Sabbath) is obvious, although it strikes us as somewhat remarkable that in Ex 23:10-12 the regulation regarding the 7th year should precede the statute respecting the 7th day. Still it seems natural that after the allusion in verse 9, “Ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” the Covenant Book should put in a good word for the poor in Israel (verse 11: “Let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of thy people may eat”). Even the beasts of the field are remembered (compare Jon 4:11).

We must, therefore, conclude that in this early period of the history of Israel the regulation regarding the 7th year was primarily intended for the relief of the poor and for the awakening of a sense of responsibility in the hearts of those better provided with the means of subsistence. It would be wrong, however, to deny its Sabbatic character, for the text says expressly, “But in the 7th year thou shalt let it rest” (literally, “thou shalt release it”), implying that the land was entitled to a rest because it needed it; it must be released for a time in order to gain fresh strength and insure its future fertility. Two motives, then, present themselves most clearly, one of a social, the other of an economic character, and both are rooted in God’s dealings with Israel (compare Ex 21:1).

2. Mosaic Legislation Humane:

Another evidence of the humane spirit pervading the Mosaic Law may be found in Ex 21:2-6 where, in the case of a Hebrew slave, the length of his servitude is limited to six years. The connection with the idea of the Sabbath is evident, but we fail to detect here any reference to the Sabbatical year. It is clear that the 7th year in which a slave might be set free need not necessarily coincide with the Sabbatical year, though it might, of course, The same is true of Dt 15:12-18; it has nothing to do with the Sabbatical year. On the other hand it is reasonable to assume that the “release” mentioned in Dt 15:1-3 took place in the Sabbatical year; in other words, its scope had been enlarged in later years so as to include the release from pecuniary obligation, i.e. the remission of debts or, at least, their temporary suspension. This means that the children of Israel were now developing from a purely agricultural people to a commercial nation. Still the same spirit of compassion for the poor and those struggling for a living asserts itself as in the earlier period, and it goes without saying that the old regulation concerning the release of the land in the 7th year was still in force (compare 15:2: “because Yahweh’s release hath been proclaimed”).

According to Dt 15:1, this proclamation occurred at the end of every 7 years, or, rather, during the 7th year; for we must be careful not to strain the expression “at the end” (compare 15:9, where the 7th year is called “the year of release”; it is quite natural to identify this 7th year with the Sabbatical year).

Moreover, we are now almost compelled to assert the Sabbatical year by this time had become an institution observed simultaneously all over the country. From the wording of the regulation regarding the 7th year in the Covenant Book we are not certain about this in those early times. But now it is different. “Yahweh’s release hath been proclaimed.”

3. General Observance:

It was a solemn and general proclamation, the date of which was very likely the day of atonement in the 7th month (the Sabbatical month). The celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (booths) began five days later and it lasted from the 15th day to the 21st of the 7th month (Tisri). In the Sabbatical year, at that time, the Law was read “before all Israel in their hearing,” a fact which tends to prove that the Sabbatical year had become a matter of general and simultaneous observance (compare Dt 31:10-13). Another lesson may be deduced from this passage: it gives us a hint respecting the use to which the people may have put their leisure time during the 12 months of Sabbatical rest; it may have been a period of religious and probably other instruction.

In Lev 25:1-7 the central idea of the Sabbatical year is unfolded. Although it has been said we should be careful not to look for too much of the ideal and dogmatic in the institutions of the children of Israel, yet we must never lose sight of the religious and educational character even of their ancient legislation.

4. Central Idea:

One central thought is brought home to them, namely, God is the owner of the soil, and through His grace only the chosen people have come into its possession. Their time, i.e. they themselves, belong to Him: this is the deepest meaning of the day of rest; their land, i.e. their means of subsistence, belong to Him: this reveals to us the innermost significance of the year of rest. It was Yahweh’s pleasure to call the children of Israel into life, and if they live and work and prosper, they are indebted to His unmerited loving-kindness. They should, therefore, put their absolute trust in Him, never doubt His word or His power, always obey Him and so always receive His unbounded blessings.

If we thus put all the emphasis on the religious character of the Sabbatical year, we are in keeping with the idea permeating the Old Testament, namely that the children of Israel are the chosen people of Yahweh. All their agricultural, social, commercial and political relations were to be built upon their divine calling and shaped according to God’s sovereign will.

But did they live up to it? Or, to limit the question to our subject: Did they really observe the Sabbatical year? There are those who hold that the law regarding the Sabbatical year was not observed before the captivity. In order to prove this assertion they point to Lev 26:34 f, 43; also to 2 Ch 36:21. But all we can gather from these passages is the palpable conclusion that the law regarding the Sabbatical year had not been strictly obeyed, a deficiency which may mar the effect of any law.

The possibility of observing the precept respecting the Sabbatical year is demonstrated by the post-exilic history of the Jewish people. Nehemiah registers the solemn fact that the reestablished nation entered into a covenant to keep the law and to maintain the temple worship (Neh 9:38; 10:32 ff). In 10:31 of the last-named chapter he alludes to the 7th year, “that we would forego the 7th year, and the exaction of every debt.” We are not sure of the exact meaning of this short allusion; it may refer to the Sabbatical rest of the land and the suspension of debts.

For a certainty we know that the Sabbatical year was observed by the Jews at the time of Alexander the Great. When he was petitioned by the Samaritans “that he would remit the tribute of the 7th year to them, because they did not sow therein, he asked who they were that made such a petition”; he was told they were Hebrews, etc. (Josephus, Ant., XI, viii, 6).

During Maccabean and Asmonean times the law regarding the Sabbatical year was strictly observed, although it frequently weakened the cause of the Jews (1 Macc 6:49, 53; Josephus, Ant., XIII, viii, 1; compare Josephus, Jewish Wars, I, ii, 4; Ant., XIV, x, 6; XV, i, 2). Again we may find references to the Sabbatical year in Josephus, Ant., XIV, xvi, 2, etc.; Tac. Hist. v. 4, etc., all of which testifies to the observance of the Sabbatical year in the Herodian era. The words of Tacitus show the proud Roman’s estimate of the Jewish character and customs: “For the 7th day they are said to have prescribed rest because this day ended their labors; then, in addition, being allured by their lack of energy, they also spend the 7th year in laziness.”

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

SEVEN:  The most prominent number [in Scripture] is the number 7, which is referred to in one way or another in nearly 600 passages in the Bible, as well as in many passages in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, and later Jewish literature. Of course the number has its usual numerical force in many of these places, but even there not seldom with a glance at its symbolic significance. For the determination of the latter we are not assigned to conjecture. There is clear evidence in the cuneiform texts, which are our earliest authorities, that the Babylonians regarded 7 as the number of totality, of completeness. The Sumerians, from whom the Semitic Babylonians seem to have borrowed the idea, equated 7 and “all.” The 7-storied towers of Babylonia represented the universe. Seven was the expression of the highest power, the greatest conceivable fullness of force, and therefore was early pressed into the service of religion. It is found in reference to ritual in the age of Gudea, that is perhaps about the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. “Seven gods” at the end of an enumeration meant “all the gods.” How 7 came to be used in this way can only be glanced at here. The view connecting it with the gods of the 7 planets, which used to be in great favor and still has its advocates, seems to lack ancient proof. Hehn has shown that the number acquired its symbolic meaning long before the earliest time for which that reference can be demonstrated. As this sacred or symbolic use of 7 was not peculiar to the Babylonians and their teachers and neighbors, but was more or less known also in India and China, in classical lands, and among the Celts and the Germans, it probably originated in some fact of common observation, perhaps in the four lunar phases each of which comprises 7 days and a fraction. Conspicuous groups of stars may have helped to deepen the impression, and the fact that 7 is made up of two significant numbers, each, as will be shown, also suggestive of completeness—3 and 4—may have been early noticed and taken into account. The Biblical use of 7 may be conveniently considered under 4 heads: (1) ritual use; (2) historical use; (3) didactic or literary use; (4) apocalyptic use.

(1) Ritual Use of Seven.

The number 7 plays a conspicuous part in a multitude of passages giving rules for worship or purification, or recording ritual actions. The 7th day of the week was holy (see SABBATH). There were 7 days of unleavened bread (Ex 34:18, etc.), and 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:34). The 7th year was the sabbatical year (Ex 21:2, etc.). The Moabite Balak built Balaam on three occasions 7 altars and provided in each case 7 bullocks and 7 rams (Nu 23:1, 14, 29). The Mosaic law prescribed 7 he-lambs for several festal offerings (Nu 28:11, 19, 27, etc.). The 7-fold sprinkling of blood is enjoined in the ritual of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:14, 19), and elsewhere. Seven-fold sprinkling is also repeatedly mentioned in the rules for the purification of the leper and the leprous house (Lev 14:7, 16, 27, 51). The leprous Naaman was ordered to bathe 7 times in the Jordan (2 Ki 5:10). In cases of real or suspected uncleanness through leprosy, or the presence of a corpse, or for other reasons, 7 days’ seclusion was necessary (Lev 12:2, etc.). Circumcision took place after 7 days (Lev 12:3). An animal must be 7 days old before it could be offered in sacrifice (Ex 22:30). Three periods of 7 days each are mentioned in the rules for the consecration of priests (Ex 29:30, 35, 37). An oath seems to have been in the first instance by 7 holy things (Gen 21:29 ff and the Hebrew word for “swear”). The number 7 also entered into the structure of sacred objects, for instance the candlestick or lamp-stand in the tabernacle and the second temple each of which had 7 lights (Nu 8:2; Zec 4:2). Many other instances of the ritual use of 7 in the Old Testament and many instructive parallels from Babylonian texts could be given.

(2) Historical Use of Seven.

The number 7 also figures prominently in a large number of passages which occur in historical narrative, in a way which reminds us of its symbolic significance. The following are some of the most remarkable: Jacob’s 7 years’ service for Rachel (Gen 29:20; compare 29:27 f), and his bowing down 7 times to Esau (Gen 33:3); the 7 years of plenty, and the 7 years of famine (Gen 41:53 f); Samson’s 7 days’ marriage feast (Jdg 14:12 ff; compare Gen 29:27), 7 locks of hair (Jdg 16:19), and the 7 withes with which he was bound (Jdg 16:7 f); the 7 daughters of Jethro (Ex 2:16), the 7 sons of Jesse (1 Sam 16:10), the 7 sons of Saul (2 Sam 21:6), and the 7 sons of Job (Job 1:2; compare 42:13); the 7 days’ march of the 7 priests blowing 7 trumpets round the walls of Jericho, and the 7-fold march on the 7th day (Josh 6:8 ff); the 7 ascents of Elijah’s servant to the top of Carmel (1 Ki 18:43 f); the 7 sneezes of the Shunammitish woman’s son (2 Ki 4:35); the heating of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace 7 times more than it was wont to be heated (Dan 8:19), and the king’s madness for 7 times or years (Dan 4:16, 23, 25, 32); Anna’s 7 years of wedded life (Lk 2:36); the 7 loaves of the 4,000 (Mt 15:34-36 parallel) and the 7 baskets full of fragments (Mt 15:37 parallel); the 7 brothers in the conundrum of the Sadducees (Mt 22:25 parallel); the 7 demons cast out of Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:9 parallel Lk 8:2); the 7 ministers in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 6:3 ff), and the 7 sons of Sceva (Acts 19:14, but the Western text represents them as only 2). The number must no doubt be understood literally in many of these passages, but even then its symbolic meaning is probably hinted at by the historian. When a man was said to have had 7 sons or daughters, or an action was reported as done or to be done 7 times, whether by design or accident, the number was noted, and its symbolic force remembered. It cannot indeed be regarded in all these cases as a sacred number, but its association with sacred matters which was kept alive among the Jews by the institution of the Sabbath, was seldom, if ever, entirely overlooked.

(3) Didactic or Literary Use of Seven.

The symbolic use of 7 naturally led to its employment by poets and teachers for the vivid expression of multitude or intensity. This use is sometimes evident, and sometimes latent. (a) Evident examples are the 7-fold curse predicted for the murderer of Cain (Gen 4:15); fleeing 7 ways (Dt 28:7, 25); deliverance from 7 troubles (Job 5:19); praise of God 7 times a day (Ps 119:164); 7 abominations (Prov 26:25; compare 6:16); silver purified 7 times, that is, thoroughly purified (Ps 12:6); 7-fold sin; 7-fold repentance, and 7-fold forgiveness (Lk 17:4; compare Mt 18:21); 7 evil spirits (Mt 12:45 parallel Lk 11:26). The last of these, as well as the previous reference to the 7 demons cast out of Mary Magdalene reminds us of the 7 spirits of Beliar (Testament to the Twelve Patriarchs, Reuben chapters 2 and 3) and of the 7 evil spirits so often referred to in Babylonian exorcisms, but it is not safe to connect our Lord’s words with either. The Babylonian belief may indeed have influenced popular ideas to some extent, but there is no need to find a trace of it in the Gospels. The 7 demons of the latter are sufficiently accounted for by the common symbolic use of 7. For other passages which come under this head compare Dt 28:7, 25; Ruth 4:15; 1 Sam 2:5; Ps 79:12. (b) Examples of latent use of the number 7, of what Zockler (RE3, “Sieben”) calls “latent heptads,” are not infrequent. The 7-fold use of the expression “the voice of Yahweh” in Ps 29, which has caused it to be named “The Psalm of the Seven Thunders,” and the 7 epithets of the Divine Spirit in Isa 11:2, cannot be accidental. In both cases the number is intended to point at full-summed completeness. In the New Testament we have the 7 beatitudes of character (Mt 5:3-9); the 7 petitions of the Paternoster (Mt 6:9 f); the 7 parables of the Kingdom in Mt 13; the 7 woes pronounced on the Pharisees (Mt 28:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29), perhaps the 7 sayings of Jesus, beginning with “I am” (egṓ eimi) in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1), and the 7 disciples at the Lake after the Resurrection (Jn 21:2). Several groups of 7 are found in the Epistles and in Revelation: 7 forms of suffering (Rom 8:35); 7 gifts or charismata (Rom 12:6-9); 7 attributes of the wisdom that is from above (Jas 3:17); 7 graces to be added to faith (2 Pet 1:5 ff); two doxologies each containing 7 words of praise (Rev 5:12; 7:12), and 7 classes of men (Rev 6:15). Other supposed instances of 7-fold grouping in the Fourth Gospel are pointed out by E.A. Abbott, but are of uncertain value.

(4) Apocalyptic Use of Seven.

As might be expected, 7 figures greatly in apocalyptic literature, although it is singularly absent from the apocalyptic portion of Daniel. Later works of this kind, however—the writings bearing the name of Enoch, the Testaments of Reuben and Levi, 2 Esd, etc.—supply many illustrations. The doctrine of the 7 heavens which is developed in the Slavonic Enoch and elsewhere and may have been in the first instance of Babylonian origin is not directly alluded to in the Bible, but probably underlies the apostle’s reference to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). In the one apocalyptic writing in the New Testament, 7 is employed with amazing frequency. We read of 7 churches (Rev 1:4, etc.); 7 golden candlesticks (Rev 1:12, etc.); 7 stars (Rev 1:16); 7 angels of the churches (Rev 1:20); 7 lamps of fire (Rev 4:5); 7 spirits of God (Rev 1:4; 3:1; 4:5); a book with 7 seals (Rev 5:1); a lamb with 7 horns and 7 eyes (Rev 5:6); 7 angels with 7 trumpets (Rev 8:2); 7 thunders (Rev 10:3); a dragon with 7 heads and 7 diadems (Rev 13:3); a beast with 7 heads (Rev 18:1); 7 angels having the 7 last plagues (Rev 15:1); and 7 golden bowls of the wrath of God (Rev 15:7) and a scarlet-colored beast with 7 heads (Rev 17:3) which are 7 mountains (Rev 17:9) and 7 kings (Rev 17:10). The writer, whoever he was, must have had his imagination saturated with the numerical symbolism which had been cultivated in Western Asia for millenniums. There cannot be a shadow of doubt that 7 for him expressed fullness, completeness. As this inquiry will have shown, the significance of the number is practically the same throughout the Bible. Although a little of it may have been rubbed off in the course of ages, the main idea suggested by 7 was never quite lost sight of in Biblical times, and the number is still used in the life and song of the Holy Land and Arabia with at least an echo of its ancient meaning.

The significance of 7 extends to its multiples. Fourteen, or twice 7, is possibly symbolic in some cases. The stress laid in the Old Testament on the 14th of the month as the day of the Passover (Ex 12:6 and 16 other places), and the regulation that 14 lambs were to be offered on each of the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Nu 29:13, 15) hint at design in the selection of the number, especially in view of the fact that 7 and 7 occur repeatedly in cuneiform literature—in magical and liturgical texts, and in the formula so often used in the Am Tab: “7 and 7 times at the feet of the king my lord … I prostrate myself.” The arrangement of the generations from Abraham to Christ in three groups of 14 each (Mt 1:17) is probably intentional, so far as the number in each group is concerned. It is doubtful whether the number has any symbolic force in Acts 27:27; 2 Cor 12:2; Gal 2:1. Of course it must be remembered that both the Hebrew and Greek words for 14 (ʼarbāʽāh ʽāsārdekatéssares) suggest that it is made up of 10 and 4, but constant use of 7 in the sense above defined will have influenced the application of its double, at least in some cases.

Forty-nine, or 7 X 7, occurs in two regulations of the Law. The second of the three great festivals took place on the 50th day after one of the days of unleavened bread (Lev 23:15 ff), that is, after an interval of 7 X 7 days; and two years of Jubilee were separated by 7 X 7 years (Lev 25:8 ff). The combination is met with also in one of the so-called Penitential Psalms of Babylonia: “Although my sins are 7 times 7, forgive me my sins.”

Seven multiplied by ten, or 70, was a very strong expression of multitude which is met with in a large number of passages in the Old Testament. It occurs of persons: the 70 descendants of Jacob (Ex 15; Dt 10:22); the 70 elders of Israel (Ex 24:1, 9; Nu 11:16, 24 f); the 70 kings ill treated by Adoni-bezek (Jdg 1:7); the 70 sons of Gideon (Jdg 8:30; 9:2); the 70 descendants of Abdon who rode on 70 asscolts (Jdg 12:14); the 70 sons of Ahab (2 Ki 10:1, 6 f); and the 70 idolatrous elders seen by Ezekiel (Ezek 8:11). It is also used of periods: 70 days of Egyptian mourning for Jacob (Gen 50:3); 70 years of trial (Isa 23:15, 17; Jer 25:11 f; Dan 9:2; Zec 1:12; 7:5); the 70 weeks of Daniel (Dan 9:24); and the 70 years of human life (Ps 90:10). Other noticeable uses of 70 are the 70 palm trees of Elim (Ex 15:27 parallel Nu 33:9); the offering of 70 bullocks in the time of Hezekiah (2 Ch 29:32), and the offering by the heads of the tribes of 12 silver bowls each of 70 shekels (Nu 7:13 ff). In the New Testament we have the 70 apostles (Lk 10:1, 17), but the number is uncertain with Codices Vaticanus and Bezae and some versions reading 72, which is the product, not of 7 and 10, but of 6 and 12. Significant seventies are also met with outside of the Bible. The most noteworthy are the Jewish belief that there were 70 nations outside Israel, with 70 languages, under the care of 70 angels, based perhaps on the list in Gen 10; the Sanhedrin of about 70 members; the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek by Septuagint (more exactly 72), and the 70 members of a family in one of the Aramaic texts of Sendschirli. This abundant use of 70 must have been largely due to the fact that it was regarded as an intensified 7.

Seventy and seven, or 77, a combination found in the words of Lamech (Gen 4:24); the number of the princes and elders of Succoth (Jdg 8:14); and the number of lambs in a memorable sacrifice (Ezr 8:35), would appeal in the same way to the oriental fancy.

The product of seven and seventy (Greek hebdomēkontákis heptá) is met with once in the New Testament (Mt 18:22), and in the Septuagint of the above-quoted Gen 4:24. Moulton, however, renders in both passages 70 plus 7; contra, Allen, “Mt,” ICC, 199. The number is clearly a forceful equivalent of “always.”

Seven thousand in 1 Ki 19:18 parallel Rom 11:4 may be a round number chosen on account of its embodiment of the number 7. In the Moabite Stone the number of Israelites slain at the capture of the city of Nebo by the Moabites is reckoned at 7,000.

The half of seven seems sometimes to have been regarded as significant. In Dan 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; Lk 4:25 parallel 5:17; Rev 11:2; 13:5 a period of distress is calculated at 3 1/2 years, that is, half the period of sacred completeness.

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

JUBILEE YEAR (הַיּוֹבֵל שְׁנַתshenath ha-yōbhēlἔτος τῆς ἀφἓσεωςétos tḗs aphéseōsannus jubilaeus, “year of jubilee” [Lev 25:13], or simply הַיּוֹבֵלha-yōbhēl, “the jubilee” [Lev 25:28; compare Nu 36:4], the King James Version and the English Revised Version Jubile):  The Hebrew word yōbhēl stands for ḳeren ha-yōbhēl, meaning the horn of a ram. Now, such a horn can be made into a trumpet, and thus the word yōbhēl came to be used as a synonym of trumpet. According to Lev 25:9 a loud trumpet should proclaim liberty throughout the country on the 10th day of the 7th month (the Day of Atonement), after the lapse of 7 sabbaths of years = 49 years. In this manner, every 50th year was to be announced as a jubilee year. All real property should automatically revert to its original owner (Lev 25:10; compare 25:13), and those who, compelled by poverty, had sold themselves as slaves to their brothers, should regain their liberty (Lev 25:10; compare 25:39).

In addition to this, the Jubilee Year was to be observed after the manner of the sabbatic year, i.e. there should be neither sowing nor reaping nor pruning of vines, and everybody was expected to live on what the fields and the vineyards produced “of themselves,” and no attempt should be made at storing up the products of the land (Lev 25:11 f). Thus there are three distinct factors constituting the essential features of the Jubilee Year: personal liberty, restitution of property, and what we might call the simple life.

1. Personal Liberty:

The 50th year was to be a time in which liberty should be proclaimed to all the inhabitants of the country. We should, indeed, diminish the import of this institution if we should apply it only to those who were to be freed from the bonds of physical servitude. Undoubtedly, they must have been the foremost in realizing its beneficial effects. But the law was intended to benefit all, the masters as well as the servants. They should never lose sight of their being brothers and citizens of theocratic kingdom. They owed their life to God and were subject to His sovereign will. Only through loyalty to Him were they free and could ever hope to be free and independent of all other masters.

2. Restitution of Property:

The institution of the Jubilee Year should become the means of fixing the price of real property (Lev 25:15 f; compare 25:25-28); moreover, it should exclude the possibility of selling any piece of land permanently (Lev 25:23), the next verse furnishing the motive: “The land is mine: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.” The same rule was to be applied to dwelling-houses outside of the walled cities (Lev 25:31), and also to the houses owned by Levites, although they were built within walled cities (Lev 25:32).

In the same manner the price of Hebrew slaves was to vary according to the proximity of the Jubilee Year (Lev 25:47-54). This passage deals with the enslaving of a Hebrew by a foreigner living among the Jews; it goes without saying that the same rule would hold good in the case of a Hebrew selling himself to one of his own people.

In Lev 27:17-25 we find a similar arrangement respecting such lands that were “sanctified unto Yahweh.” In all these cases the original owner was at liberty to redeem his property at any time, or have it redeemed by some of his nearest relatives (25:25-27, 29, 48 ff; 27:19).

The crowning feature, though, was the full restitution of all real property in the Jubilee Year. The primary object of this regulation was, of course, the reversion of all hereditary property to the family which originally possessed it, and the reestablishment of the original arrangement regarding the division of the land. But that was not all; for this legal disposition and regulation of external matters was closely connected with the high calling of the Jewish people. It was a part of the Divine plan looking forward to the salvation of mankind. “The deepest meaning of it (the Jubilee Year) is to be found in the ἀποκατάστασις τῆς  βασιλείας τοῦ  θεοῦapokatástasis tḗs basileı́as toú theoú, i.e. in the restoring of all that which in the course of time was perverted by man’s sin, in the removing of all slavery of sin, in the establishing of the true liberty of the children of God, and in the delivering of the creation from the bondage of corruption to which it was subjected on account of man’s depravity” (Rom 8:19 ff) (compare Keil, Manual of Biblical Archaeology). In the Year of Jubilee a great future era of Yahweh’s favor is foreshadowed, that period which, according to Isa 61:1-3, shall be ushered in to all those that labor and are heavy laden, by Him who was anointed by the spirit of the Lord Yahweh.

3. The Simple Life:

The Jubilee Year, being the crowning point of all sabbatical institutions, gave the finishing touch as it were to the whole cycle of sabbatic days, months and years. It is, therefore, quite appropriate that it should be a year of rest for the land like the preceding sabbatic year (Lev 25:11 f). It follows, of course, that in this instance there were two years, one after the other, in which there should be no sowing or systematic ingathering. This seems to be clear from Lev 25:18-22: “And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the fruits, the old store; until the ninth year, until its fruits come in, ye shall eat the old store.” Thus in the 7th and 8th years the people were to live on what the fields had produced in the 6th year and whatever grew spontaneously. This shows the reason why we may say that one of the factors constituting the Jubilee Year was the “simple life.” They could not help but live simply for two consecutive years. Nobody can deny that this afforded ample opportunity to develop the habit of living within very limited means. And again we see that this external part of the matter did not fully come up to the intention of the Lawgiver. It was not the simple life as such that He had in view, but rather the laying down of its moral and religious foundations. In this connection we must again refer to Lev 25:18-22, “What shall we eat the seventh year?” The answer is very simple and yet of surpassing grandeur: “Then I will command my blessing upon you,” etc. Nothing was expected of the people but faith in Yahweh and confidence in His power, which was not to be shaken by any doubtful reflection. And right here we have found the root of the simple life: no life without the true God, and no simplicity of life without true faith in Him. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; compare Dt 8:3).

We may well ask: Did the Jewish people ever observe the Jubilee Year? There is no reason why they should not have observed it in pre-exilic times (compare Lotz in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, X, under the word “Sabbatical Year” and “Year of Jubilee”). Perhaps they signally failed in it, and if so, we should not be surprised at all. Not that the institution in itself was cumbered with any obstacles that could not have been overcome; but what is more common than unbelief and unwillingness to trust absolutely in Yahweh? Or, was it observed in post-exilic times? Here, too, we are in the dark. There is, indeed, a tradition according to which the Jubilee Year has never been observed—neither in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah nor at any later period. The truth of this seems to be corroborated by the silence of Josephus, who, while referring quite frequently to the sabbatic year, never once mentions the Year of Jubilee.

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

 

Israel’s Understanding of the Land

By D. Larry Gregg, Sr.

D. Larry Gregg, Sr., is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Rutherfordton, North Carolina and instructor of biblical studies, philosophy, and world religions at Isothermal Community College in Spindale, North Carolina.

A

N EXPLORATION of the relationship between Israel and the land must reflect a balanced understanding of the appropriate tension between two foundational biblical assertions: “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever” (Gen. 13:15).1  And “That the land spew not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spewed out the nations that were before you” (Lev. 18:28).  God’s original promise to Abraham must be read through the lens of the moral and ethical accountability enshrined in the Levitical “fine print” of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.  On the threshold of Canaan, Israel faced the stark truth that the privileges and the responsibilities of chosenness came  wrapped together in the same package.

Israel and the Covenant

Ancient Israel’s covenant relationship with God was the stack-pole around which the people’s understanding of the land was organized.  God said to Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Gen. 12:1).  God reaffirmed the promise He made to Abraham by repeating it to Abraham’s son, Isaac (26:3) and to his grandson, Jacob (46:3-4).  Finally, Joseph reiterated in his deathbed speech the belief that God had promised a land to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants (50:24).  When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, this promise of the ultimate possession of “a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8) was behind his being commissioned to lead God’s people to the land that was their heritage (6:8).  This sense of divine promise reached its apex in the covenant at Sinai where God laid down the conditions of relationship and the people swore, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (19:8).

A covenant is an agreement in which all parties share expectations and obligations.  Covenants, as opposed to legal contracts, are ethical in nature and depend “solely upon the integrity”2 of the covenant partners.  Therefore, the enduring viability of such agreements rests upon the emeth (Hebrew for “covenant faithfulness”) of all parties.  To betray the covenant could lead to suspension, temporarily or permanently, of the relationship.

God warned Israel that when they violated the covenant relationship they “defiled the land” and risked being “vomited” out of it (Lev. 18:25,28; 20:22).  Israel’s classical prophets interpreted the people’s eventual expulsion from the land as the illustration par excellance of this truth.  Ancient Israel’s greatest folly was the assumption that God was obliged to keep His side of the covenant regardless of whether or not they remained faithful.  They forgot that the same God who had, in divine grace, declared them to be His people, could also declare to an idolatrous, morally and ethically bankrupt society, “ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hos. 1:9).

Inherit, Possess, and Rest

Three Hebrew words characterize the nature of Israel’s understanding of the land: nahala (inheritance), ahuzza (possession), and memuha (rest).3  Inheritance here does not simply signify the passage of property from one generation to another on the basis of biological descent.  More accurately the image is that of the feudal bestowal by a sovereign lord of land and title upon a dependent vassal.  “The emphasis falls on God as one who has authority to dispose of land belonging to him.”4  While the land may be passed from generation to generation through biological descent, the sovereign lord retains the right to reclaim the inheritance and bestow it upon another if the original recipient or his descendants betray the trust.

“Possession” reaches back to Genesis where God placed the man and woman in the garden and gave them responsibility of caring for it.  Eden was not their garden; it was God’s.  Their tenure in the garden carried with it both privileges and responsibilities.

Likewise, while the Israelites were to benefit from the blessings of the land, they were also accountable to God for how they used it.  Regardless of how long Israel possessed the land, God ultimately remained its Owner.  “The land [was] a sacred responsibility of stewardship under Yahweh.”5

The land God gave to ancient Israel was to be held in trust.  For this reason God commanded, “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev. 25:23).

Lastly, Israel understood the land as “rest.”  Joshua spoke these words to the Israelites on the threshold of Canaan: “The Lord your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land” (Josh. 1:13).  Through the wilderness journey Israel had been sustained by the hope that a day would come when their wandering would cease, their battles would be over, their liberty would be secure, and every man would sit “under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid” (Mic. 4:4).  However, such rest and covenant faithfulness remained closely linked.  The psalmist warned: “It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Ps. 95:10-11).

Covenant Faithfulness

Leviticus 18—20 makes clear that the Israelites’ right to inherit, possess, and reside in peace in the land was directly connected to their moral behavior.  They were warned that they were called to a higher personal and societal morality than that which existed in Egypt from which they had been delivered, or in Canaan toward which they were traveling.  The abuse of sexual relationships, not being charitable, committing human sacrifice, fraud, talebearing, necromancy, and the abuse of the land were all betrayals of trust relationships, either with others or with the environment.  The deliberate betrayal of such interpersonal relations constituted a breach of the ultimate covenant with Yahweh.  Thus the Lord solemnly warned that as surely as the land was about to spew out the Canaanites for their abominable behavior, the land would also spew out Israel if they refused to abide by the conditions of the covenant.  The same God who chose them and conferred the land upon them was also their Judge.  Therefore, “ye shall . . . keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord” (Lev. 18:5).

A Concluding Thought

Many today are scandalized at any suggestion of a connection between human social ethical behavior and the recalcitrance of the environment expressed in natural disaster, disease, climate-change, and the like.  While one should always be careful in ascribing such things to God’s judgment on a sinful people, reminding ourselves that our decisions and our conduct, individually and collectively, have consequences is always appropriate.  While our eternal salvation is forever secure by our faith in Christ, all that we have in this life may be lost as the consequence of destructive choices, our own or others.  We are a fallen people living in a fallen environment where “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22).  Living in this fallen environment still carries for us, we who are covenant people, both responsibilities and privileges.  We must be careful not to assume that God’s conditional promises are guarantees of perpetual entitlement.  Instead, our right to inherit, possess, and rest in the fullness of God’s blessings are contingent upon our willingness to live faithfully within the covenant relationship we have with Him.  Living as covenant people should be our goal.  Concerning our living on the land, we should remember 1 Peter 2:11, which reaches back to 1 Chronicles 29:15 to remind us that we also are “strangers and pilgrims” accountable to God for how we live our lives.                            Bi

1.  All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version (KJV).

2.  Herion, “Covenant” in Eerdmand Dictionary of the Bible, ed. in chief Freedman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 289.

3.  Janzen, “Land” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. in chief Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 4:144.

4.  Ibid.

5.  Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 211.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2010.

 

To Have Dominion Over All The Earth

By Bryce Sandlin

Dr. Sandlin is professor of Bible and Hebrew, Howard Payne University, Brownwood, Texas.

T

HE SIGNIFICANCE OF GENESIS 1:26 T0 2:3 for the environmental and ecologic concerns of today is recognized rather generally by those who study the roots of the present crisis.  In fact, the passage long has been of interest in the study of the implications of Scripture for cultural concerns.  Philo, a Jewish philosopher of the first century, spent much effort relating the passage, especially 1:28, to the culture of his day.1  Joseph Rickaby, a nineteenth-century Catholic moralist based his views of the manner in which people should think of and use animals on the passage and found in the dominion theme justification for all but the “wanton” use of animals.2 

It generally is agreed that at least one of the causes of our present ecologic crisis is to be found in a particular understanding of this and related biblical passages, against which there has been an absence of sustained Christian criticism.  The purpose here is to present a perspective of the dominion theme that brings the abuse of the environment and the self-centered use of natural and human resources into focus in the light of the deeper implications of this passage and other Old Testament teachings.

Genesis 1:26—2:3 is the climax of an exquisitely fashioned literary unit that is very precise in its description of creation.  The larger passage 1:1—2:3, begins with a comprehensive statement that embraces the entire chapter.  All subsequent statements basically move along the line that is given in the first verse of the chapter: everything was created by God and there was no creative power apart from Him.

Within this description of creation is an ascending line expressing the relationship of creation to the Creator.  Not all of creation has the same place before God.  Farthest from God is plant life, which has a direct relationship to the earth.  The animals are nearer.  At the end of this succession are “human beings,” and they are directly responsible to God.  The world is oriented toward humanity, and in people it has its purest direct relation to God.

People are created in the image of God.  The purpose of God’s image is the real intent of the passage.  There is less said about the image itself than about the task which the image makes possible—the domination of the world.  The commission to rule is the consequence of the image, that is, that for which humanity is capable because of God.  The practice of kings erecting images of themselves in distant quarter of their empires where they could not appear personally is a parallel to God erecting His image in persons in His kingdom.  Humans are only God’s representatives to maintain and enforce His claim to dominion over the earth.  “The decisive thing about man’s similarity to God, therefore, is his function in the non-human world.”3

Seen in its context, the dominion theme is the climax of the ascending line of likeness to God, with people as the nearest and having the responsibility to exercise God’s rule over all other aspects of creation.  Likeness and responsibility to God are emphasized in being created in the image of God, and likeness to the other animals is indicated by the food they share.  In verses 29-30 human food is to be the same as that of the other animals.  As people and animals were created on the same day, they are to partake of the same food.  The exercise of dominion over animals does not include the useless shedding of their blood.  “This word of God, therefore, also means, a limitation in the human right of dominion.”4 

This arrangement, with people exercising God’s dominion over the natural world and environment, and at the same time belonging to nature, is a well-balanced provision for the good of all creation, including persons.  In verse 31 “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”  This statement refers more to the wonderful purposefulness and harmony of creation than to its beauty.  The concluding phrase could be translated “ . . . it was completely perfect.”

As the Sabbath was the climax of the week in Judaism, so the climax of the creation week was the “rest” of God.  Chapter 2:1-3 often is interpreted as the establishing of the Sabbath as a day of rest for the people of Israel, but the verses have far greater significance.  The verses emphasize, first, that the world is no longer in the process of being created.  God finished His work of creation and turned the care and protection of it over to humans, His image.  God then “blessed” the day of rest, “sanctified” it, and thereby expressed His concern for the world.  “Thus Genesis 2:1ff. speaks about the preparation of the exalted saving good for the world and man.”5  The “rest” God took established His intention that all creation takes time for rejuvenation, and the institution of the Sabbath in the life of Israel was meant to be an expression of that intention.

Concern for domesticated animals was also a major consideration in the purpose of the Sabbath (Deut. 5:14-15).  The motivation cause for keeping the Sabbath came in verse 15: “remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out . . . “ (RSV).  Although the motivation was theological, the humanitarian quality of the practice was just beneath the surface because the memory of their own servitude was to provoke compassion for others who had fallen into the same lot.

The sabbatical year and the year of jubilee, obviously extensions of the Sabbath idea, further limited dominion of the earth and taught concern for environment and life.  Leviticus 25 details the proper observance of the sabbatical year and the jubilee.  According to this passage the main feature of the sabbatical year was the cessation of working the land for food purposes.  Exodus 21:1-6 emphasizes the freeing of slaves.  Deuteronomy required the cancellation of debts.  If this was an absolute cancellation, lending money as a business transaction would never have been practiced in Israel; it would only have been an offer of assistance to the needy.  “The sabbatical year laws appear to be the most radical social legislation prior to the twentieth century.”6

The year of jubilee had characteristics of its own, but the laws for the sabbatical year applied to the jubilee as well.  The year of jubilee began with the sounding of the loud trumpet on the Day of Atonement, thereby proclaiming “liberty” to all the inhabitants of the land.  Liberty was the hallmark of jubilee, as emphasized in Ezekiel 46:17, where it is called the “year of liberty.”

An important aspect of liberty was the returning of land that had been sold during the years since the last jubilee to the original owners or to their descendants.  If the land were not returned to the newly freed slaves, they could find themselves compelled to enter bondage again.  The aim of the jubilee was the restoration of the position as if was of old—free persons living on free land.  In other words, the jubilee legislation concerning the land and liberty was a perpetual land reform program which guaranteed the equitable distribution of the land.  There can be no mistaking the emphasis on humane concerns and the  proper use of the land.  Humanity’s dominion over the land was not considered to be absolute, but was limited by the legislation regarding Sabbath, sabbatical year, and year of jubilee.

The principle of jubilee as stated in Leviticus 25:17, “for I am the Lord your God,” declares that jubilee was grounded in the person and character of God.  God is identified three times in Leviticus 25 as the one who “brought you forth out of the land of Egypt.”  The strong implication was that God’s historical activity involved coming to the aid of the oppressed and setting them free, and that the land and Israel both belonged to God.

A second principle of jubilee was to view the poor as brothers and sisters.  The phrase, “if your brother becomes poor” (RSV), occurs four times in Leviticus 25, where it means fellow citizens.  “This means, therefore, that the Israelites were not just to look after their immediate families.”7  It particularly should be noted that it makes no difference how the poor became poor, whether through misfortune or Laziness.  Jubilee was based on the theological truth that ownership of the land was not absolute, that it was given to Israelites as a stewardship.  God was the owner, and the individual head of a family His overseer.  God wanted the country to remain equally divided among His people, as was the case in the days of Joshua.  The land itself was to have rest, the implication being that when Israel treated the land with respect it would respond in kind. 

Finally, humanity’s dominion over the earth must be seen in the light of “the web of life,”8 a web involving all of creation in mutual relationship and dependency, coming very close to the modern concept of “ecology.”  That this web is “good” in all its parts was indicated in the tightly knit account of creation in Genesis 1, with every “thread” of the web existing in its own right, decreed so by the word of God.

The creation account in Genesis 1—2 speaks eloquently of life in the natural world, the basic necessities for life, and the space in which to live “ . . . as an endowment that is always preordered and given together with life itself.”9  Genesis 1—2 reflects a perception of a basic connection and the condition of existence.  Because the Old Testament world view of humanity and nature are linked closely in a divine order from which persons cannot extract themselves and act independently of that order, the dominion of humanity is limited to what can be done without harm to the remaining parts of the order.

The creation hymn in Psalm 104 emphasizes humanity’s involvement in the natural order of things, especially verses 27-30.  Natural life and the fulfillment of life is not at the disposal of the living thing; life is a gift, an event conferred, upon which everything is dependent.  People are elementally dependent for their existence, their environment, and the length of their natural lives.  For people today the world is the material and potential for human activity, and the result is a “manipulation reduction of all life, including man, to the level of objects.10  In contrast, the psalmist sees it as a gift of Yahweh the Creator who offers life and life-span, living room, and the provision of life’s necessities to all living things.                                                                                                            Bi

1.    See Philo, On the Creation, 83-88; Questions on Genesis 2.56.

2.    Jones, Anglican Theological Review 63, no. 3: 259.

3.    Von Rad, Genesis: a Commentary in The Old Testament Library, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961, p. 60.

4.    Ibid., p. 61.

5.    Ibid., p. 63.

6.    Wacholder, “Sabbatical Year,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962) supp. vol., p. 762.

7.    Westphal, “Sing Jubilee,” The Other Side, March, 1984, p. 22.

8.    Roark, “The Bible and Ecology,” unpublished seminar notes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

9.    Steck, World and Environment (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978), pp. 99-100.

10.   Ibid., p. 87.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 1986.

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (08/24/14) Which king of Israel prayed for the peace of what city? Answer next week: Three-part question: (1) king; (2) city; (3) Bible verse.

 The answer to last week’s trivia question:  (08/24/14)  The name of the Lord is like what place of safety? Answer: A strong tower; Prov. 18:10.