Year of Jubilee
Leviticus 25: Sanctify the fiftieth year; make it a holy year.
In addition to the weekly Sabbath and the annual feasts the Lord designates that every seventh year the farm land is to lay fallow. This allows the land to rebuild and continue to produce a good yield. Then there’s a once in a lifetime event called the Year of Jubilee that comes each fifty years. Again, there’s to be no dirt farming during that year but there’s a lot more to it. The Israelites will be given land by family. That land is their inheritance for all time. Because of that, they can’t sell the land to another family. Instead, they’re to do a sort of lease agreement that can last no longer than the next Year of Jubilee. In that year, all land reverts to the original families. Still, there’s more. An Israelite can sell himself into slavery to another Israelite, but it really isn’t slavery. Instead, it’s more like indentured servanthood. The term can end at an agreed upon time, but in all cases, it must end on the Year of Jubilee. When the value of the person’s service is being calculated this must be taken into consideration. From what I’ve read the Israelites were unfaithful in observing Jubilee and it was only practiced, I think, once. Still, there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach. It gives the land rest, protects against the wealthy buying up all the land (very important in an agricultural society), and guarantees human freedom even in a culture all too familiar with the concept of slavery. The Year of Jubilee is an example of how the Lord gives rules intended, not to bind to unreasonable laws, but to protect the weak from unscrupulous people of means. Of course, there are some neat spiritual parallels. In Luke four Jesus proclaims his ministry to be “the year of the Lord’s favor.” His ministry is a Jubilee sort of ministry in which things are made right and those held captive by sin are set free. The Israelites may have never put the Jubilee concept into practice, but to our benefit Jesus the Messiah does just that.
Take Away: In Christ we are set free and things are made right.
God’s priority list
Zechariah 7: The message hasn’t changed.
The question asked concerning the day of fasting in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem opens the way for the Lord to restate what he requires of his people. Through Zechariah the Lord reminds them that his requirements are unchanged. He isn’t very interested in their traditions but he’s very interested in how they treat one another. He’s always called for them to love their neighbors and be compassionate in their dealings with one another. Also, the Lord still has a special concern for widows, orphans, outsiders, and the poor. If these Jews want to please the Lord, they’ll focus on these things more and on their traditions less. Zechariah goes on to describe how, when their ancestors ignored these things that the Lord became angry with them and scattered them throughout the world. Is it possible that we spend too much time worrying about doing church properly and too little time pursuing the things the Lord lists here? When all is said and done, is the Lord more interested in how capably I can do church than he is in how I treat the poor? This passage ought to serve as a compass for all who consider themselves to be a people of God. Here we find a description of how God’s people ought to live.
Take Away: When all is said and done, the Lord is more interested in how we treat others than in how we do church.
The measure of my religion
Micah 2: Don’t preach such stuff.
The prophet preaches a message of destruction. Judah, he says, will be “wounded with no healing in sight.” Of course, this kind of preaching isn’t welcome. Some preachers proclaim another “gospel.” They say “nothing bad will happen to us” because God is “on the side of good people.” Micah finds this laughable. These very people mistreat the poor, ignoring God’s command to show compassion on them. They might know how to have a rousing worship service but their day to day lives have nothing God-like in them. Passages like this might be from the depths of the Old Testament and addressed to people who lived 2700 years ago but they ought to get our attention. Think of it, God isn’t impressed with our church services. He doesn’t care much about whether I raise my hands and shut my eyes and sing praise to him…well, at least he doesn’t care unless I go out the door and treat people with a love and compassion that reflects his concern for them. I know that it’s possible for me to sell out to a “social religion” and forget that God wants to have a personal relationship with me. However, it’s just as possible for me to think my religion is all about “God and me” while forgetting it’s just as much about “me and thee.”
Take Away: How we relate to one another is just as important to the Lord as how we relate to him.
Puns that aren’t intended to be “punny”
Micah 1: God’s Message as it came to Micah of Moresheth.
Micah is a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea and his message is similar to theirs. Some suggest that he’s a student of Isaiah because of their similarities. However, Isaiah lives in Jerusalem and has some strong connections there. Micah (like Amos) lives away from Jerusalem in a farming community. His focus, as is that of Amos, is on how the poor are treated by so-called religious people who tend to divorce their religious activities from how they actually live their lives. Micah is a witty guy who likes to use puns to make his points. Sadly, these puns are lost outside the original language. As we read from The Message we find them restored, but they’re almost lost from the other direction. When Micah says “Glorytown has seen its last of glory” he’s using a play on words. He’s named a real town whose name sounds like “glory.” The best modern example of this I’ve seen is the suggestion that it would be like Micah to say “Wiscon-sin needs to give up its sin.” Anyway, the early portion this little book is full of such plays on words. Still, there’s nothing light hearted about his message. Both Israel and Judah are going through the actions of serving God but in reality they’re missing the boat. If things continue as they are judgment is coming. History tells us that Micah is right on target.
Take Away: Having a good commentary is handy sometimes and absolutely necessary at others.
Selling grandma for a buck
Amos 2: They’d sell their own grandmother.
The prophet begins his message by characterizing God as a prosecuting attorney who’s making his case against the accused. The Lord has been keeping records of the sins he’s seen and now he makes his case against them. Amos starts this prosecution by focusing on the nations surrounding Israel. I can imagine the cheers of agreement from his fellow countrymen as he does this. They have bones to pick with Tyre and Edom and Moab. Nothing pleases them more than hearing God pronounce his judgment on them. Then God’s man turns his attention to Israel. The formula “for three great sins, make that four” that was used in judging other countries is applied to Israel too. The meaning is that the more God looks into their affairs the more he finds wrong and worthy of condemnation. Concerning Israel, in particular, all the failures God mentions are clustered around how they treat poor people. The Lord charges that they see people as only “things – ways of making money,” he then adds, “They’d sell their own grandmother!” The Lord has a history of caring about people who are down and out. He also has a history of opposing those who take advantage of such people. As I read these words I find myself examining my own attitude toward the poor. I want to be on God’s side of this issue.
Take Away: The Lord cares for those who are society’s outcasts – his people are to join him in that concern.
Beyond having church
Isaiah 58: This is the kind of fast days I’m after….
The people Isaiah ministers to know how to do religious things. They stay busy with worship activities and doing what we’d call Bible studies. They practice prayer and fasting, spiritual disciplines that need some serious attention in the lives of most of us Christians today. However, they’re dissatisfied with the results of this frenzy of religious activity and complain to God about it. The Lord’s reply, through Isaiah, focuses on their failure to translate their “church” activities into their everyday lives. If they want to please God they’re going to have to tackle injustice, exploitation, and oppression in their world. They’re going to have to not just fast a meal or a day, but to share their food with those who are hungry, invite the homeless into their homes, and show loving concern for the needy of the world. Aren’t you glad that, these days, we just have to believe in Jesus and not worry about all that extra stuff? You know that isn’t true. Could it be that the problem of the powerless Church is that we think all our religious activities is what God wants when he’s clearly stated his demands in passages like this one? I do want God to answer my prayers and I want his blessing on my life. Maybe it isn’t that I don’t fast enough meals as much as it is that I don’t care for the hurting, down-and-out people he sends into my life.
Take Away: There’s more to religion than just going to church on Sunday.