Welcome to this week’s Torah / Bible study. “Yahweh said to Moses at Mount Sinai, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to Yahweh’” (Leviticus 25:1–2).
Last week, in study section “Emor”, God called the Kohen (priests) to live lives that expressed a greater measure of holiness. It also described seven essential festivals that are fundamental to Israel’s walk with Yahweh God which He calls His feasts, in addition to the weekly seventh day Sabbath (our Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). This week, in “Behar” God gives Moses the law of the Shemitah (literally release; but commonly translated Sabbatical Year).
STUDY TO LEARN, TO DO.
What was the purpose of God redeeming Israel from Egypt and giving them instructions? What is the purpose of us going to church or reading our bibles? Study to Learn, Learn to Do! In Jewish thought, the purpose for studying is not the acquisition of knowledge; but to study to learn and we learn to do. Most bible readers and church attendees do not follow the purpose. To many it is to learn the scriptures, recite them, call on their promises or teach others them; but they do not do nor teach it is about the doing. Infact, many teach the contrary. That it is not about the doing; but the belief. If you know your bible you should be aware of the numerous times the doing is emphasised in both Old and New Testaments. Going to the tabernacle or synagogue was not about singing, definitely not about dancing; but about learning and doing. The singing was reserved to the appointed Levites as part of their service. Rom 2:13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. Jas_1:23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
The Torah portion begins by saying, "If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out ... " (Leviticus 26:3). What is the difference between (1) walking in the statutes, (2) keeping the commandments and (3) carrying them out?
A Jewish commentary by Rashi suggests that "walking in the statutes" refers to intensive study of the Torah. "Keeping the commandments" refers to learning how the commandments of Torah are properly kept. "Carrying them out" refers to actually doing what the commandments say to do. In other words, we should study Torah for the purpose of learning it, and we should learn it for the purpose of doing it. This approach to Torah may seem obvious; it is not and what people do today confirms it. Many study the Bible simply for the sake of learning the Scriptures, but never get around to doing what the Bible obviously tells them to obvious do, keep God’s commandments. We often hear the Word of God and learn its message but fail to put it into practice. This is especially true in regard to the laws of Torah.
In some Christian schools of thought, the laws of Torah are believed to have spiritual meanings instead of literal meanings. That suggests that the laws of Torah were never meant to be kept; they were only meant to be understood as spiritual lessons. Early church writer who had not learn the relevance of the TORAH spoke about the spiritual meanings of the Torah's commandments while discouraging people from actually practicing the Torah. That kind of thinking resulted from the influence of philosophical thought in the early church. In the philosophical worldview, the acquisition of knowledge is a worthy goal in and of itself. In Jewish thought, the purpose for studying is more than simply the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge and learning are regarded only as means for better serving God. Therefore, in Jewish thought, we study to learn and we learn to do.
God in the Torah says that, "Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword" (Leviticus 26:8). Notice the ratio changes. A congregation of five commandments keepers will be proportionately less successful than a congregation of hundred. Five chasing one hundred yields a ratio of 1:20. One hundred chasing ten thousand yields a ratio of 1:100. Why the discrepancy? Rashi says "You cannot compare a few who do the Torah to many who do the Torah." In other words, the power of righteous people banding together increases exponentially. Five Torah keepers are great. They possess the spiritual potential by which each one of them can single-handedly defeat twenty of its enemies. One hundred Torah keepers have even greater spiritual potential. Each one of them possesses the potential to single-handedly defeat one hundred of its enemies. This teaches that each individual who joins himself to the ranks of the faithful increases their efficacy by more than one. Jas_5:16... The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. So imagine a congregation of the righteous. The point is that each person is critical to the whole. Likewise, the body of believers is more than just the sum of its parts. Each person who commits to a life of obedience exponentially strengthens the entire body. Our behaviour toward one another should portray a holy people living in a Holy Land. God warned His people not to cheat, defraud or take advantage of one another and forbids them to charge interest on money loaned to a fellow Israelite. God wants us to deal fairly with each other and practice business integrity. “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 25:17).
The Shemitah law is related to the pattern or rhythm of seven in Scripture. Here are a few instances:
God created the universe in seven days;
There are seven days in the week;
God rested on the seventh day;
The Temple menorah was seven-branched;
There are seven moadim or appointed times (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Day of Blowing Trumpets/New Year, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles); and The Israelites made seven circuits around Jericho before the walls fell. Shavout which Christians call Pentecost is 50 days on from Passover.
While most people are aware of the seven-day cycle of the Shabbat and the holiness it infuses to the week, few realize that God instituted a yearly cycle of seven for the Holy Land. Just as we are to work for six days but rest on the seventh, the land is to be sown and harvested for six years. In the seventh year, the land is to have its Shabbat year of rest, its Shemitah. The failure to follow this law was one of the reasons God put Judah into Babylonian captivity for seventy years. Just as they could not choose a different year to give the land its God appointed rest, we cannot choose different days to offer to Him in substitute to ones He appointed.
“But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest” (Leviticus 25:4–5). Lev 26:33 And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. Lev 26:34 Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. Lev 26:35 As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it. Lev 26:43 The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes. 2Ch 36:21 To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years.
In Israel, even the children keep this commandment in their gan (kindergarten). In the year of Shemitah, it is not unusual to see a sign posted next to their weedy, unkempt garden that reads, “In honour of the year of Shemitah, our Gan is not tending our gardens.” Farmers in the land of Israel were instructed to let the land go fallow. They were not to plow, sow, prune, reap or trim during the seventh year. They could pick and eat the crops that grew of their own accord, but that was to be the limit of their agricultural production
It is contrary to worldly profit driven practice to let a land rest idle for a whole year. Does that not mean a loss of a year’s income, food and possible starvation? Yahweh is God because He can perform miracles. “Lev 25:20 And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: Lev 25:21 Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. Lev 25:22 And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store”. The miracle being whereby normally one year’s produce comes each year, God gives three years produce in the sixth year as He gave two days manna on the sixth day and blessings to those who keep His seventh day Sabbath.
Of course, this law involved more than allowing the land to rest. During the Shemitah, the Israelites were to make some agricultural and economic adjustments in order to rest and take the time to learn about Yahweh God. It was not only a time of physical rest, saving both the land and the people from exhaustion, it was a time of spiritual refreshment: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for cancelling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot), when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns, so they can listen and learn to fear Yahweh your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear Yahweh your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 31:10–13).
There was also an element of benevolence or social justice in this holiday since debts were to be forgiven, and the poor could pick the produce that grew without the land being worked. God also makes it clear that He holds the title deed to this land and does not give us the authority to sell it permanently. Despite there being severe consequences to not keeping God’s statutes, He promises to have mercy on His people even in exile; to remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and to remember the Land:
“Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking My covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord’” (Leviticus 26:44–45).
The Year of Jubilee: the Redemption of the Land.
We serve a God of kindness and mercy, and His laws are for the good of all, even for the land itself. Although some among the Israelite people might have endured a time of servitude, they were not to permanently remain in that situation. It is because God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt that no Israelite was to become a permanent slave of another. In the year of Jubilee, all were to be redeemed and released.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Leviticus 26:13).
“Count off seven Sabbath years, seven times seven years, so that the seven Sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years.… Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:8, 10).
The seven-year Shemitah cycle accumulated in sets of seven (49 years) and culminated in the Yovel (The Year of Jubilee). Every 50th year, both the land and the people rested. This is a very special appointed time of freedom and liberty that is sanctified, set apart, or holy (kadosh) to Yahweh. It was proclaimed throughout the land with the blowing of the shofar on the Day of Atonement. With the blast of the shofar, Hebrew slaves were freed and debts were forgiven, and while the land was left uncultivated, as in the Shemitah year, in the Yovel year, hereditary property was returned to its original family, even if it had been sold because of misfortune, poverty, or to pay off a debt.
In fact, at any given time, the proximity of the Jubilee determined the value of a person’s land. If it were just a few years away, the land would sell for less since it would soon be returned to its rightful owner. In other words, though land could be sold, it could only be sold for a limited period of time.
The shofar is blown for a variety of reasons, including the convening of an assembly, the coronation of a new king and the announcing of the new moon and the Year of Jubilee. Its piercing call is regarded as a prompt to return to Yahweh and to seek His face.
Although this type of land ownership may seem foreign and impractical, the intent of this law is to convey the truth that Yahweh is the real owner of Israel’s real estate; therefore, it cannot be permanently sold or should not be owned permanently by others thereby depriving a family of an inheritance and livelihood.
“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.” (Leviticus 25:23–24).
We might liken this concept of land ownership to a lease, with the Jewish People being God’s tenants. He renews their lease when they obey and temporarily suspends it when they do not. This law was for everyone, rich or poor alike. It was designed to protect the rights of each person and prevented land and wealth from being accumulated in the hands of a rich few, while the majority remained poor. What is more, this law really brings home the fact that no one, leader, politician or individual, has the right to sell, divide or give away God’s land for any reason. Not even for the purpose of a supposed peace deal with those determined to destroy those to whom God gives the land. God will execute His judgment on all those who attempt to divide up His land (Joel 3:2).
The Curse of the Law / Torah (Galatians 3:13)
In Messiah there is now no condemnation for those who believe. Messiah has taken away the curse of the Torah. Does this mean that the Law has lost its teeth? Have the curses of the law been removed by the death of the Messiah? Christians commonly teach that “Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Torah” (Galatians 3:13). This seems to indicate that the Torah has lost its teeth, so to speak. In Messiah, the curses are removed, but the blessings remain. Is this really true? On closer examination, it becomes obvious that “the curse of the law” spoken of in Galatians 3:13 is not the curses for disobedience listed out in Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28. Instead, the ultimate curse of the law is death, not mortal death; but eternal separation from God. According to Paul, the curse of the Torah brings condemnation in the eternal court of judgment. The Messiah took upon Himself the curse of condemnation and death, and He redeems us from that condemnation.
In one of his often misunderstood passages (Colossians 2:14), the apostle Paul speaks of a written document of condemnation which is nailed to the cross. Christian teachers sometimes mistake this document for the Torah. Well-meaning brothers and sisters triumphantly declare that Messiah nailed the Torah to cross (God forbid). Translations like the New International Version encourage this kind of interpretation by translating the thing nailed as “the written code,” a term which seems to imply a law code, namely the Torah. It is not the Torah that has been nailed to the cross. It is a written verdict of condemnation, like the type delivered by a Roman court of law.
Having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
The “certificate of debt,” which has been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, is a list of sins. The Messiah took upon Himself condemnation (i.e., death) for those sins when He became “a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Therefore it is incorrect and foolish to suppose that there are no longer any consequences for sin. For those who have attached themselves to Yahshua, the ultimate consequence of eternal condemnation (2nd death of Rev_2:11; Rev_20:6; Rev_20:14; Rev_21:8) has been removed, nailed to the cross; but the laws of cause and effect are still very much at work. Sin still reaps punishment. Obedience to God still results in blessing. Disobedience to God still results in dire consequences. Rom_3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. Rom_6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Gal_2:17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
Phrophetic Reading: The Hope of Jeremiah: the Hope of Israel. (Alternative reading 16:19-17:14).
Jeremiah 16:19–17:14 continues with the theme of promised blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. Because God alone is the One who grants freedom and blessings according to His covenants, the Prophet Jeremiah promises that those who place their trust in man will become desolate and alone:
“Cursed is he who trusts in man, who makes mere flesh his strength, and turns his thoughts from the Lord. He shall be like a bush in the desert" (Jeremiah 17:5–6).
On the other hand, “blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7–8).
The alternative prophet reading section for this week ends with the proclamation that God alone is the hope of Israel / His people, the source of life-giving water, our healer, and Saviour. When we rely on and obey God, He will not fail us, and we will walk in the blessings.
“LORD, you are the Hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise” (Jeremiah 17:13–14).
“Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (Jeremiah 32:15).
The prophetic reading that accompanies “Behar” echoes the theme found in the Torah portion of the purchase and redemption of land. This portion opens with a rather bizarre situation. King Zedekiah has imprisoned Jeremiah in Jerusalem because he had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish People. Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonians who will soon overtake the Land. Nevertheless, Yahweh tells Jeremiah that his uncle will ask him to purchase his field and God instructs Jeremiah to accept the offer. “Buy my field in Anatot, since you have the right of redemption to purchase it” (Jeremiah 32:7).[Modern-day Anatot, also called Almon, is named after the hometown of Jeremiah. Ezra 2:23 reveals the true toll on Anatot when it states that only 128 men returned home after the exile].
This seems like an absurd thing to ask of Jeremiah! What? Buy a field that will soon be Babylonian property? Ridiculous, especially for a man rotting in jail; but this is no ordinary purchase. It is a prophetic act. Despite Jeremiah’s accurate predictions of Jerusalem’s destruction, he retains the ability to see hope in the face of desolation. Even though he knows that the city is about to be destroyed and the rest of the land conquered, in obedience to Yahweh, Jeremiah redeems the land.
In doing so, he affirms his faith in the Eternal who promised the redemption of Israel, that houses and fields would once again be bought in the land (Jeremiah 32:15). Although it is unlikely that Jeremiah will ever live on that land during his lifetime, this prophetic act displays his refusal to give in to hopelessness. He trusts in God’s mercy. One day, God will bring His people back home to the Land and to Himself. “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).
The exiled people of Judah did rebuild Jerusalem and again inhabited Israel, as God promised. However, after AD 70 they were scattered by the Romans, though a remnant has always remained in the Land. Yet, God promised that a second time, He would return His people to His land. Not from Babylon; but from the four corners of the earth to never be dispersed again:
“I will bring my people Israel back from exile. ‘They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them’” (Amos 9:14–15).
Scriptures to note from this week’s reading.
We must keep in mind that God does not willingly afflict or grieve us; He only does so when it is absolutely necessary to get our attention so we can see the error of our ways and, through His mercy, put our feet back on the right path.
“For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:32–33).
Lev 25:35 And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Lev 25:36 Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Lev 25:37 Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.
Lev 26:1 Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God. Lev 26:2 Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD. Lev 26:3 If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Lev 26:4 Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit... Lev 26:12 And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.
Lev 26:14 But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; Lev 26:15 And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: Lev 26:16 I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. Lev 26:17 And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you. Lev 26:18 And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
Lev 26:29 And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
“I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it.” (Leviticus 26:33–35)
Lev 26:40 If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; Lev 26:41 And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: Lev 26:42 Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land... Lev 26:44 And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God.
Lev 27:10 He shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good: and if he shall at all change beast for beast, then it and the exchange thereof shall be holy.
Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Rom 6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? [sin is transgression of the law, so even under grace we are still to keep the law].
Rom 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. Rom 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Rom 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Rom 6:17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. [1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1Jn 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. Psa 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. Psa 19:8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes].
Rom 6:20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Bottom line, sin no more or try your best not to. In the event you do, repent by returning back to God, through obeying His word which states do not transgress His law as that is sin].