Monday, November 30, 2020

Numbers. Day 2, The Census, Part Two

In the first chapter of Numbers we find the Lord instructing Moses to take a census of the people. This is primarily for the purpose of forming and organizing an army, as we discussed yesterday. The census has a secondary purpose too, because God is going to parcel out territories in the promised land according to Israel's tribes and it's going to be very important for the citizens to be able to trace back their lineage and claim familial association with the correct tribe and the correct property in case any disputes or litigation come up in the future regarding land ownership. I believe there is yet another purpose for keeping track of this lineage and we will be discussing that at the end of our study today. 

The Lord doesn't expect Moses to complete the enormous task of the census alone. He is appointing Moses' brother Aaron and a man from each tribe of Israel to help him. "You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army. One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you." (Numbers 1:3-4)

The Lord calls these men by name. "These are the names of the men who are to assist you: from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur; from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai; from Judah, Nashon son of Amminadab." (Numbers 1:5-7) We will stop here in the list to point out that the Lord skips over the tribe of Levi. Levi's name would have appeared between the names of Simeon and Judah but Moses and Aaron aren't to count any men from the line of Levi for military service. The tribe of Levi is the priestly tribe and the men of this tribe are not expected to be warriors. Also the Lord won't be giving farmlands to the tribe of Levi but instead will give them cities and towns. This is because their work will revolve around the tabernacle (and later the temple) and not around growing crops or shepherding flocks and herds. 

Another thing I want to point out is that Nashon, the descendant of Jacob's son Judah, is a direct ancestor of Jesus. Jesus is from the tribe of Judah and is descended from the family line of Nashon, according to the genealogy provided in Matthew 1.

"From Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar; from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon; from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur." (Numbers 1:8-10) The genealogy of Jacob's son Joseph is reckoned through Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, because on his deathbed Jacob adopted the two as his own, saying to Joseph, "Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine." (Genesis 48:5) Jacob was saying, "These two sons of yours, Joseph, are going to be as much my sons as my two firstborn biological sons." 

Why did Jacob do this? Perhaps because Joseph had become, for all intents and purposes other than his worship of the one true God, an Egyptian. Joseph was going to die in Egypt and be given a royal Egyptian funeral long before the Israelites would be enslaved by a wicked pharaoh and long before the Lord would miraculously rescue the Israelites from slavery. If Jacob had not formally adopted Joseph's sons as his own, perhaps the tribes descended from Jacob's other sons would have tried to exclude the descendants of Joseph from their company. There was a history in this family of a hatred for Joseph and there was a plot to kill Joseph (when his ten older brothers were so jealous of him they wanted him dead but settled for selling him into slavery instead) and it's possible that this same type of animosity toward Joseph and his family line would have persisted throughout subsequent generations if Jacob had not given Ephraim and Manasseh equal standing with his own biological sons. 

"From Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni; from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishadi; from Asher, Pagiel son of Okran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan." (Numbers 1:11-15) In Numbers 2:4 the one called "Deuel" is referenced as "Reuel". The shape of the Hebrew letters for the "D" (daleth) and the "R" (resh) are so extremely similar in appearance that the discrepancy in the spelling of this man's name is easily explained by a copying error. This does not represent an error in the Scriptures or an error of Biblical doctrine so we won't get hung up on it. To provide a modern example, this is like a typo made on a computer. It's as minor of an issue as if someone typed a letter to me and in typing the name "Kim" accidentally hit the letter "N" on the keyboard instead of the letter "M" and inadvertently misspelled my name as "Kin".

"These were the men appointed from the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the clans of Israel. Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been specified, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the Lord commanded Moses. And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai." (Numbers 1:16-19) 

This census is invaluable to the nation of Israel, not only for the purpose of forming an army, but also for the purpose of maintaining family lines and keeping track of property ownership. In addition, this census is invaluable to anyone who has accepted or has even considered the claims of the writers of the New Testament (and the claims that Jesus made about Himself) that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. If this census had not been done, we wouldn't even know the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth. We wouldn't know that He was descended from the tribe of Judah on both His mother Mary's side of the family and on His step-father Joseph's side of the family. If we didn't have the record of Jesus' family line, there would be no proof that His lineage fulfills the prophecies regarding the lineage of the Messiah. No man's claim to be the Promised One was worthy of being given the time of day if he couldn't prove he was from the royal line of Judah and that he was a direct descendant of King David. The genealogies from Adam on down to the men whose names we've studied today, and the genealogies from the men we've studied today on down to Jesus of Nazareth, are of the utmost importance. They were important for the people of ancient Israel and they are important for everyone who is descended from the twelve tribes of Israel. They are important for everyone of any nation who believes that Jesus of Nazareth, of the line of King David, of the line of Jacob's son Judah, is the Son of God.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Numbers. Day 1, The Census, Part One

The book of Numbers deals with Israel's years in the desert. As we begin this book, the Israelites have been free from Egypt for just over a year, for the first verse tells us, "The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt." (Numbers 1:1) 

We find Moses communing with the Lord in the sanctuary as Numbers begins. I believe Moses spent a lot of time in prayer with the Lord. He had to in order to receive the Lord's guidance in leading the people. While Moses is engaged in prayer with the Lord, the Lord tells him to take a census of the people. "He said: 'Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men of Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army." (Numbers 1:2-3)

The main purpose of this census is to form an army, which they will need when taking over the promised land from the idolatrous tribes the Lord plans to uproot from Canaan. Although it's the Lord's will for the Israelites to occupy this territory, He isn't going to supernaturally remove the pagan people from the land so the people of Israel can move right in. This endeavor is going to involve the Lord and Israel fighting side by side.

There are times in our lives when the Lord clears up our unpleasant circumstances all on His own. Then there are other times when He calls upon us to get in the trenches with Him and fight the battle together. He chooses whichever method is best for our spiritual development. In the case of Israel taking over the promised land, it was better for the spiritual development of her citizens to fight alongside the Lord for the land that the Lord promised Abraham long ago. If the Lord had just supernaturally handed over the promised land to them, would the land have felt as much "theirs"? If they had to put no effort into taking this territory, would their hearts have been fixed on this land to defend and protect it at any cost for themselves and for the generations to come? When we put effort of our own toward a specific purpose, the achievement of that purpose means so much more to us. The victory is so much sweeter. And our relationship with the Lord grows because in the heat of battle we feel the awesome comfort of His presence beside us.

I'll provide an example of just a couple of situations in which the Lord fought the battle for me on His own. Twice so far in my life I've had unusual, mysterious, and very painful illnesses. The first time it happened I was 28; the second time I was 48. (It was not the same type of illness both times. They were completely different.) There was nothing I could do either time to make myself feel better. I saw lots of doctors and endured lots of tests. I fell into depression and had panic attacks wondering whether I'd ever be okay again and how I was going to manage to live with so much pain. In both these cases the Lord healed me. I can look back now and see some reasons why He let me go through what I went through, but in both these cases He fought the battle for me. I couldn't fix what was wrong with me. The doctors weren't sure what was wrong with me or how to fix it either. The Lord fought the battle alone and did what needed to be done to turn my circumstances around. I didn't have the physical strength or the scientific knowledge to help myself. I wasn't doing too well with my spiritual strength either because the pain had really gotten me down. The Lord did all the work for me. 

But there have been other circumstances in which the Lord expected the two of us to go out onto the battlefield together. This wasn't because He needed my help. The Lord can do everything that needs doing on His own; He never asks us to fight with Him because He can't win the battle by Himself. But He's asked me to fight alongside Him at times because I would benefit more spiritually by fighting side by side with Him. In these cases I needed to be heavily invested in the battle so I would be heavily invested in its outcome, the same way Israel had to be heavily invested in the battle for the promised land so she would be heavily invested in the outcome. Most of the time we don't grow very much spiritually when we aren't called upon to flex our spiritual muscles in the heat of battle. Just as we can't become physically fit without pushing ourselves to increase in strength and endurance, we can't grow spiritually if the living is always easy and we are never expected to participate in the things that lead to victory. 

I think another reason the Lord expects the Israelites to fight in the battles to take over the promised land is because they need to develop the physical strength to defend themselves against their enemies. If the Israelites hadn't fought for the promised land, they wouldn't have had the military might to hold on to the promised land. Once they occupy the land, they are going to have to be able to protect and defend it. The Lord wouldn't be doing them any favors if He did all the work for them. They are going to be forming a nation and a nation needs an army. The Lord has already provided the laws and commandments necessary for forming a society and a government. Now He's going to begin preparing them to form a powerful military. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Leviticus. Day 96, Redeeming What Is The Lord's, Part Three

Today we'll conclude Chapter 27 which has to do with dedicating oneself, another person, an animal, or property to the Lord. 

We learned yesterday that a person could dedicate an animal to the Lord (through sacrifice) or pledge an animal to the Lord and redeem it with money (pay the value of the animal plus another 1/5 of its value into the sanctuary treasury). A person could sacrifice a clean animal to the Lord or choose to redeem it instead. A person could not sacrifice an unclean animal to the Lord but he could still pledge the animal to Him and redeem it with money. As we begin our study today we'll look at a category of animal that could not be dedicated to the Lord.

"No one, however, may dedicate the firstborn of an animal, since the firstborn already belongs to the Lord; whether an ox or a sheep, it is the Lord's. If it is one of the unclean animals, it may be brought back at its set value, adding a fifth of the value to it. If it is not redeemed, it is to be sold at its set value." (Leviticus 27:26-27) The Lord gave the rule regarding the firstborn in Exodus 13:1-2, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Consecrate to Me every firstborn male. The offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to Me, whether human or animal.'" In Exodus 13:11-16, the Lord explains that every man's firstborn son is to be dedicated to Him. In Numbers 18:16 the Lord will tell the men of Israel that when their firstborn sons are born they are to take five shekels of silver to the priest to redeem their sons. Remember, when a person redeems something he retains it. The men are not giving their sons away or sacrificing their sons. They are paying a specified amount into the treasury and are keeping and raising their sons in the reverence of the Lord.

Firstborn animals already belonged to the Lord. Therefore the people could not use them as an extra dedication to the Lord because they were already His. If a person wanted to dedicate an animal to the Lord he would have to choose an animal from his flock that was not a firstborn male. He couldn't use the same animal for both purposes because that would be cheating the Lord. If a person wanted to dedicate an unclean animal to the Lord, he could do so but it could not be sacrificed to the Lord. The person could either redeem the animal and take it back home with him by paying its value plus an extra 1/5, or he could leave the animal with the priest and the animal could be sold for its value and the money put into the treasury.

This next passage, at least in the English translation, may seem a bit confusing at first because it almost appears as if it contradicts the previous material of Leviticus 27. But that has to do with the way the words "dedicate" and "devote" mean practically the same thing in English. But in the original language, the word translated as "dedicate" means to "consecrate or sanctify". The word translated as "devote" means to "doom or destroy". So we see there is a difference. If a person promised to dedicate something to the Lord, he was consecrating it to the Lord but it could be redeemed. He didn't have to irrevocably relinquish his rights to whatever he was dedicating to the Lord. But if a person devoted something to the Lord, he could not redeem it. He also could not change his mind and sell it, for it was no longer his. It belonged to the Lord irrevocably. Keeping this difference of word meanings in mind, we'll look at this next section: "But nothing a person owns and devotes to the Lord---whether a human being or animal or family land---may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the Lord." (Leviticus 27:28) 

If a man pledged a field to the Lord in a vow of devotion, he couldn't pay a redemption price for it and keep it. The same goes for if he devoted an animal or a house or any other property to the Lord. It appears as if a person could devote another person to the Lord, and I assume the person being devoted would have to be someone under the custody or ownership of another, such as a child or a slave. Once that person was devoted to the Lord, their life was to be spent in the service of the Lord. 

The case of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, looks like an example of a person devoting another person to the Lord. In 1 Samuel 1 we find her praying to the Lord to heal her of the infertility that has broken her heart. She has been married for a number of years but has been able to conceive no children. Her husband has another wife and has children by her and this is something that is a thorn in Hannah's side, especially since the other wife loves to rub it in that Hannah is barren. Hannah prays to the Lord and promises Him that if He will give her a son she will "give him to the Lord for all the days of his life". (1 Samuel 1:11) The Lord answers her prayer and gives her a son and she keeps her promise, after he has been weaned, to "take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always". (1 Samuel 1:22) Samuel remains with the priests and Hannah visits him every year, according to 1 Samuel 2:19, and the Lord blesses Hannah with three more sons and two daughters. 

Certain types of persons cannot be dedicated or devoted to the Lord, and these are persons upon whom a death sentence has been passed due to them having committed a capital crime. "No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; they are to be put to death." (Leviticus 27:29) Suppose a man's relative is in prison awaiting execution and the man wants to spare his condemned relative's life by devoting him person to the Lord for the rest of his life or by dedicating him to the Lord and paying a redemption price for him. This is not acceptable to the Lord. A person under sentence of death cannot be devoted or dedicated as someone "holy to the Lord". 

We're not going to get into a discussion about capital punishment here, but we'll just remind ourselves that the Lord said no one in Israel could be put to death unless his capital crime is witnessed by two or more persons. (Deuteronomy 17:6) This law was intended to prevent innocent persons from being put to death. I am certain under our own legal system that there have been times when innocent persons were put to death. They were convicted with enough evidence to make a jury feel they were guilty, but not necessarily because two or more persons witnessed their crime and could positively identify them as the perpetrator. We sometimes hear of cases where convictions are overturned when evidence is retested by modern science and the DNA evidence proves that someone other than the convicted person committed the crime. Considering this, we know that there have been people on death row who weren't guilty, but because they were convicted in an era before DNA evidence was available, they were executed. No one could test DNA in Old Testament times. People didn't even know DNA existed. The Lord wanted to prevent innocent persons from being executed and that's why death penalties could not be handed down unless two or more persons actually saw the accused person committing the crime. So when we look at verse 6 which regards persons under sentence of death, we can be reasonably certain that they actually committed the crime. The Lord will not accept the dedication or devotion of such persons to His service. Therefore no one can take them off death row and give them to the Lord as a means of saving their lives.

A tenth of everything the people grow belongs to the Lord. This is where we get the concept of giving to the Lord a "tithe" (a tenth) of our income. "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it." (Leviticus 27:30-31) A person could give a tenth of his seeds to the Lord or he could pay the price of the seeds plus an additional 1/5 into the treasury. He would still be coming out ahead even if he pays the extra 1/5 because when he plants the seeds he will reap far more than that which he put into the ground. A tenth of the fruit belonged to the Lord but a man could redeem it by paying the price for it plus the extra 1/5. This would still leave the man in a profitable situation because let's say that instead of giving to the Lord a tenth of his grape crop, he pays the price of a tenth of his grape crop plus an extra 1/5. He still has the grapes with which he can make wine, which he would sell and still come out ahead. The Lord isn't asking anyone to put themselves in poverty. He's not taking food out of anyone's mouth. They will still have plenty of food on their tables and they will still have money in their pockets after giving the Lord the share that is His for providing them their crops in the first place. Not only does the Lord intend to provide for them abundantly, He promises to provide even more abundantly for anyone who has the faith to give Him their tithes: "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.'" (Malachi 3:10) 

The food paid into the storehouse was to feed the priests and their families. The priests didn't raise crops or herds or flocks. Their job was to serve the Lord and minister to His people Israel. Their pay was these tithes. If the people didn't tithe, how were the priests and their wives and children to eat? A person could buy back their seed by paying for it plus an extra 1/5 of its value, and this would allow the priests to use the money to buy things like fruits and vegetables and grains. But we'll see in our next passage that animals aren't treated the same way as fruits and vegetables and grains. A tenth of all the animals must also be given, but they can't be redeemed by paying their value plus 1/5. A tenth of these animals automatically go into the possession of the priests. "Every tithe of the herd and flock---every tenth animal that passes underneath the shepherd's rod, will be holy to the Lord. No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed." (Leviticus 27:32-33) The people are forbidden to cheat by giving only the worst of their flocks and herds. They must walk through their flocks and herds and count out every tenth animal for the Lord. This ensures that there is a fair mix of animals given to the Lord and a fair mix of animals retained by their owners. If a person is caught substituting a good animal for a bad animal, he suffers the loss of both animals as his penalty for being dishonest.

The people are to obey these laws because they are holy laws given by a holy God. "These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites." (Leviticus 27:34)

This concludes Chapter 27 and the book of Leviticus. Join us tomorrow as we begin the book of Numbers.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Leviticus. Day 95, Redeeming What Is The Lord's, Part Two

Chapter 27 deals with how vows are to be handled in which a person dedicates himself or another person or thing to the Lord. On Wednesday we learned that various sums of money were donated to the sanctuary based on the age and sex of a person being dedicated to the Lord, with exceptions made for those who are too poor to donate the prescribed amount. Today we'll look at how dedications of animals and property are handled.

"If what they vowed is an animal that is acceptable as an offering to the Lord, such an animal given to the Lord becomes holy. They must not exchange it or substitute a good one for a bad one, or a bad one for a good one; if they should substitute one animal for another, both it and the substitute become holy. If what they vowed is a ceremonially unclean animal---one that is not acceptable as an offering to the Lord---the animal must be presented to the priest, who will judge its quality good or bad. If the owner wishes to redeem the animal, a fifth must be added to its value." (Leviticus 27:9-13) I believe this passage regards sacrificial animals offered to the Lord. A person bringing an animal to the Lord had to bring the best. A person couldn't vow to offer the best male sheep of his flock, for example, and then substitute a less valuable sheep when the time came. A ceremonially unclean animal couldn't be offered to the Lord in sacrifice but a monetary amount could be donated in the animal's place. We'll use the donkey as an example of this type of vow. A donkey was an unclean animal that could not be sacrificed to the Lord but donkeys had value in an agricultural society because they performed work. A person who wanted to dedicate a donkey to the Lord would bring it to the priest and the priest would assess a monetary value to the donkey. Then 1/5 of that value would be added to the total and that's the amount the person would give to the sanctuary. The person then took his donkey back home and kept it.

"If anyone dedicates their house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will just its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain. If the one who dedicates their house wishes to redeem it, they must add a fifth to its value, and the house will again become theirs." (Leviticus 27:14-15) A person could sign the deed to his house over to the Lord in the same way we might, in modern times, give a house to our church or leave a house to our church in our wills. The church can then sell the house and put that money in the treasury for use in the Lord's work. Here in Leviticus, if a person vowing to give a house to the Lord wanted to keep his house, the priest would make an appraisal of the house and then the person would pay into the sanctuary treasury an additional 1/5 of the value of the house. He would keep his house and the money would go to the Lord's work.

"If anyone dedicates to the Lord part of their family land, its value is to be set according to the amount of seed required for it---fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed." (Leviticus 27:16) A homer is believed to have been about 300 pounds. For every 300 pounds of seed that it would take to sow the land, fifty shekels of silver are assessed. "If they dedicate a field during the Year of Jubilee, the value that has been set remains. But if they dedicate a field after the Jubilee, the priest will determine the value according to the number of years that remain until the next Year of Jubilee, and its set value will be reduced. If the one who dedicates the field wishes to redeem it, they must add a fifth to its value, and the field will again become theirs. If, however, they do not redeem the field, or if they have sold it to someone else, it can never be redeemed. When the field is released in the Jubilee, it will become holy, like a field devoted to the Lord; it will become priestly property." (Leviticus 27:17-21) 

Earlier in Leviticus we studied the Year of Jubilee and learned that land reverts back to its original owner, or his heirs, in the Year of Jubilee. The Lord is going to mark out sections of the promised land to give to each tribe, with the exception of the priestly tribe because they will receive towns, and each section of the promised land is to remain the possession of the tribe to which the Lord bequeathed it. If a person dedicates land to the Lord, that land belongs to the Lord until the next Jubilee. The land can be leased during the years between now and the Jubilee and the money for the lease will go into the treasury. A person can redeem the land (pay a price into the treasury and retain the use of the land for himself) by having the value assessed until the next Jubilee and adding 1/5 of that price to the total. If the person fails to pay the price for redemption, or if he has actually already sold the land to someone else and cannot legally dedicate the land to the Lord, the piece of land cannot ever belong to him again because he has attempted to defraud the Lord. If he retains the use of the land and never pays the money he has vowed to pay, or if he makes a show of dedicating land to the Lord that is not rightfully his to dedicate, he is being dishonest and the penalty is that he loses his right to the piece of land forever. 

A person could dedicate a field that is not part of his family's land but is a field that he bought from some other individual. "If anyone dedicates to the Lord a field they have bought, which is not part of their family land, the priest will determine its value up to the Year of Jubilee, and the owner must pay its value on that day as something holy to the Lord. In the Year of Jubilee the field will revert to the person from whose it was bought, the one whose land it was. Every value is to be set according to the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel." (Leviticus 27:22-25) Let's say a man from the tribe of Judah buys a field from a man from the tribe of Reuben. If he wants to dedicate that field to the Lord, he has the right to do so up until the next Jubilee. The priest will assess the value of the land up til the year of the next Jubilee and the person dedicating the land will pay that price into the treasury. In the Year of Jubilee the land will no longer be in the possession of the man from the tribe of Judah but will revert back to the possession of the man from the tribe of Reuben. 

The money paid into the treasury is always the same: the standard weight of the sanctuary shekel. This silver shekel was to weigh 11.5 grams. Having a standard weight helped to prevent dishonesty. Shekels being paid into the treasury had to be weighed when presented to the priest and each shekel had to weigh in at 11.5 grams. If a precise weight had not been set, some citizens could have made a vow to the Lord but could have presented a bag of shekels to the priest that looked to be right size and shape but that weren't the right amount of silver. A person could have presented counterfeit shekels if he wanted to silverplate some other type of coin to make it look like a solid silver coin. Honesty is important to the Lord and honesty should be important to us. We shouldn't be dishonest in our dealings with Him or with our fellow man. Money gained by dishonest means will never profit us in the long run and we should be content with what the Lord has given us and with what He has enabled us to earn by honest means. "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Leviticus. Day 94, Redeeming What Is The Lord's, Part One

Chapter 27 has to do with dedicating oneself to the Lord or dedicating a person or animal or some type of possession to the Lord. This dedication doesn't involve the death or destruction of whoever or whatever is dedicated to the Lord, but it involves the "redeeming" of the person or animal or thing by paying a price to the Lord that is based on a set value of whoever or whatever is being dedicated.

I'll use the following modern example of dedicating a person to the Lord. In my church we don't perform infant baptisms but we do hold services known as "baby dedications". In these services the parents bring the infant to the front of the sanctuary and the pastor anoints the baby's forehead with oil in the shape of the cross. The parents acknowledge before the Lord that the child is His, for He is the Creator of everyone and everything. The parents vow before the Lord and the congregation to bring up the child in the faith. Then the pastor and the parents and the congregation pray together. A similar thing is happening in the verses of Leviticus 27 we'll be studying today. A person is being dedicated to the Lord. The person may be making a vow on their own behalf to dedicate their life to the Lord or they may be making the vow on behalf of another person. The person being dedicated is not sacrificed to the Lord, of course. A specific amount of money is paid into the treasury of the Lord's house as part of the ritual of dedication. This symbolizes the seriousness of their vow. 

If living for the Lord doesn't cost a person anything, is he actually living for the Lord at all? Living for the Lord usually means swimming against the stream and going against the unbelieving culture around us. It means saying no to things that are ungodly, and this can sometimes be difficult. We have to fight against our carnal natures when we say no to ungodly things. Following the Lord may mean not being as popular as we'd like or being ridiculed for standing firm in our faith or being passed over for certain opportunities because we don't join in with the sinful pursuits of our co-workers and superiors who are unbelievers. Living for the Lord will cost us something, so money is paid for the dedications made in Leviticus 27 because the Lord doesn't want anyone making empty promises to follow Him. He wants them to think about what they're getting into before they get into it. The Lord Jesus counseled anyone interested in following Him to count the cost before vowing to commit their hearts and lives to Him. He said following Him had to mean more to them than anything else, or else they were not true disciples. (Luke 14:25-35) 

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate a person to the Lord by giving the equivalent value, set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; for a female, set her value at thirty shekels; for a person between the ages of five and twenty, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels; for a person between one month and five years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels of silver; for a person sixty years old or more, set the value of a male at fifteen shekels and of a female at ten shekels. If anyone making the vow is too poor to pay the specified amount, the person being dedicated is to be presented to the priest, who will set the value according to what the one making the vow can afford." (Leviticus 27:1-8) 

I was concerned about why females were valued less than males when it came to the price paid at the sanctuary. I was also concerned about why the price for an older adult was smaller than that for a younger adult. I don't believe the Lord participates in discrimination or that He values one life above another life or one soul above another soul. From the research I did, it appears that the most common opinion among Bible scholars is that the people being dedicated are having a monetary value assigned to them according to the work they are able to perform in the agricultural society in which they live. Generally speaking, a male has more physical strength than a female due to his larger build. Men in an ancient agricultural society would be expected to perform more physical labor outside the home than the females, since married females of childbearing age were often pregnant (there were little to no methods of birth control available) and would also be occupied with the tending of small children and the running of the household. The price paid to the sanctuary for a younger person is greater than that paid for an older person because, generally speaking, a younger person has more strength and endurance than an older person. A young man of twenty-five would be expected to be able to harvest more crops in a day than a man of seventy-five. If the amount of money paid at the sanctuary is intended to reflect the amount of work each person is potentially capable of doing, the difference in amounts makes sense. We see, though, that even infants being dedicated must have a price paid to the sanctuary when their parents vow to bring them up in the reverence of the Lord. An infant can perform no work, but a value must still be paid into the treasury at their dedication, so a very small amount is assessed to symbolize the hoped-for contributions they will make to their society.

The Lord doesn't discriminate against anyone for their sex or their age. He also doesn't discriminate against anyone for their poverty. We see in verse 8 that the poor are not prevented from making vows of dedication if they can't pay the specified amounts. A person who loves the Lord and wants to make a vow of dedication to Him for themselves or for a member of their household can still go talk to the priest at the sanctuary and have a value assessed according to their ability to pay. The Lord accepts what is in the person's heart even though very little is in the person's wallet. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in 2 Corinthians 8:12, "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have."

Some people are able to give very large amounts to the church. Some people are able to give very little. The Lord doesn't pour out more grace on the wealthy (who gives more) than He pours out on the poor (who gives little). The Lord pours out grace according to the condition of the person's heart. If a person gives a huge amount to the church but has little love in his heart for the Lord, his gift may be a big help to the church but it doesn't "buy" the favor of the Lord. Likewise, a person may love the Lord with all his heart, and he may have a very strong desire to give huge amounts to the church so the church can minister to the community, but this person may only be able to put a small amount into the offering. The Lord doesn't treat this person's small offering with scorn; the Lord accepts this offering in the spirit in which it was given. In Luke's gospel account we find Jesus commending the very small amount a poor widow dropped into the offering plate. He said she had given more than all the wealthy people who had dropped their offerings in because it really cost her something to part with the money. (Luke 21:1-4) 

The Lord knows our hearts. He knows whether what we bring to Him is brought with a sincere heart or whether it's brought out of a sense of obligation or to be seen by others. He blesses accordingly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Leviticus. Day 93, Discipline For Disobedience, Part Three

Today we'll be concluding the remainder of Leviticus 26. The Lord has been warning the Israelites of the discipline they will face if they turn away from Him in the promised land. So far He has outlined the steps He will have to take if they become rebellious and if they continue to grow in their rebellion. We noted that the penalties for rebellion would grow in response to the severity of the rebellion. Now we pick up with verse 30 and we can tell from the Lord's words that He's speaking here of the rebellion of idolatry.

"I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you." (Leviticus 26:30) The high places and incense altars mentioned here are pagan places of worship. Idolatry is an abhorrent sin. The Lord who loves Israel has called her His own, has rescued her from slavery, has provided for her in the wilderness, and intends to take her to a bountiful land where He will continue to provide for her abundantly. If she turns her back on a God like that in favor of useless, nonexistent deities, the Lord considers this to be especially detestable behavior. And Israel will do it---at least some of her citizens will. But we certainly can't point a finger at her because we have all put God on the back burner any time we have chosen our own ways over God's ways. We've committed idolatry whenever we've put ourselves ahead of God and whenever we've put anyone else or anything else ahead of God. The Lord is telling the Israelites that He will see to it that the detestable altars they raise up will be torn down, even if it means the idolaters lose their lives. It would be better for the nation as a whole for idolaters to perish than for the idolaters to lure all the citizens into false worship, for then the entire nation would perish.

If a large portion of the people fall into idolatry and do not repent, the Lord will allow the nation to fall into the hands of the enemy. "I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings." (Levitics 26:31) Later in the Old Testament we'll find the people trying to have their cake and eat it too; they'll be practicing idol worship while going through the motions of worshiping the Lord at the same time. He will be so repulsed by this that He will beg the people to stop bringing meaningless offerings to His house. (See Isaiah 1 for the full discourse.) 

During the reign of King Solomon's son, Rehoboam, the nation of Israel will split in two. The ten northern tribes will retain the name "Israel" and will move their capital to a city called Samaria. The two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, will become known only as "Judah" and this kingdom will still have its capital at Jerusalem where Solomon's temple was built. The northern kingdom will fall into idolatry far more quickly than the southern kingdom, perhaps because they do not have the temple in their midst. As discipline for their idolatry, and for their repeated refusal to turn away from it, the Lord will allow the northern kingdom to fall to the Assyrian army. Those who are not killed in battle are carried away captive by the Assyrians. It will take the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah quite a bit longer to fall to the same level of dissoluteness as the northern kingdom, and during that century the Lord will send Judah prophet after prophet to beg the citizens to repent. When they do not, the Lord will allow the southern kingdom to fall to the Babylonian army. 

The majority of the citizens of Judah will be taken captive to Babylon for seventy or so years, during which time the land of Judah will lie fallow, and this the type of situation the Lord is talking about when He says the following: "I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. 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 26:32-35) Why did the land not rest while it was occupied? Because evidently they failed to observe the sabbath years that the Lord commanded them. We have already seen in Leviticus that the land is to be allowed to rest every seventh year and also every fiftieth year---the Year of Jubilee. The people apparently do not obey the Lord's command and therefore the land will at last have its rest while they are absent from it in the foreign land of their enemy.

Some of the people will perish by the sword when they are conquered. On the one hand this may seem like the worst fate, but life will be no picnic for those who survive. "As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no one is pursuing them. They will stumble over one another as though fleeing from the sword, even though no one is pursuing them. So you will not be able to stand before your enemies. You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. Those of you who are left will waste away in the land of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their ancestors' sins they will waste away." (Leviticus 26:36-39) 

The lives of those captured by the enemy will be fraught with anxiety. The least little thing will throw them into a panic and they will take off running even though no one is after them. We find the author of Proverbs saying something similar to what the Lord is saying in verses 36-39: "The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." (Proverbs 28:1) The person who knows he is in the wrong must always deal with the stress of keeping his wrong ways hidden. He must always deal with the fear of judgment. But the person whose heart is right with God need not fear the judgment of God and this gives him the bold courage of knowing his God is with him. And if God is with him, what else does he need? "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

All is not lost, however, if the tribes of Israel fall away from God and fall into sin. Their fall is not irrevocable. They have not been abandoned by their God. If they will turn back to Him, He will turn back to them. "But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors---their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward Me, which made Me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies---then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember My covenant with Jacob and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected My laws and abhorred My decrees. 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 26:4-45) 

Even if the people fall into idolatry to the point of being defeated and captured, the Lord will still hear them if they repent and turn back to Him. But here in Leviticus 26 He warns them not to let things ever go that far. It's so much better to do what's right in the first place than to face the chastisement of a righteous God. "These are the decrees, the laws and regulations that the Lord established at Mount Sinai between Himself and the Israelites through Moses." (Leviticus 26:46) 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Leviticus. Day 92, Discipline For Disobedience, Part Two

In Leviticus 26 the Lord spends twice as long talking about discipline as He does about blessing. In the first portion of the chapter He made some beautiful promises regarding the immense blessings He wants to pour out on Israel in the promised land if she will be faithful to Him. But human nature being what it is, we have a tendency to be satisfied with mediocre living. Perhaps the people would have been content with lukewarm worship and average blessings. The Lord wants them to understand that lukewarm worship won't cut it in this fallen world filled with temptations and trials. Lukewarm worship won't make them who they were created to be: victorious, joy-filled, Spirit-filled children of God. Lukewarm worship won't bring into their lives such abundant blessings that their cups run over continually, and God wants people's blessings to run over so those blessings can overflow onto others and help bring them into the family of God. The Lord has to spend twice as long speaking about discipline as He did about blessings because, unfortunately, human beings are often more motivated into right living by a reverence for discipline than by a reverence for God from whose hands all blessings flow.

The Lord has already mentioned several levels of correction that the people will have to pass through if they become unfaithful to Him and continue being unfaithful in spite of the corrective steps He takes. If they continue to resist repenting and turning back to Him, He says: "If in spite of these things you do not accept My correction but continue to be hostile toward Me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. And I will bring the sword on you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in the oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight. You will eat, but you will not be satisfied." (Leviticus 26:23-26) 

The Lord already promised to provide the people with more than they need and to grant them good health and many children and to give them peace from their enemies---if they remain faithful to Him. If they do not remain faithful to Him, He will not abandon Israel but He will discipline her harshly with war, illness, and famine. Though she may break her covenant with Him, the Lord will never break His covenant with her. The discipline itself is a form of faithfulness on His part because its purpose is to turn her back to Him, not to destroy her.

In yesterday's passage the Lord said that if He must send famine they will have to fear the wild animals, for in times of drought even the wild animal kingdom is affected, and in their hunger the wild animals will lose their fear of man in order to fill their bellies and the bellies of their young. If a famine is severe enough, some people will be able to ignore their qualms about eating human flesh. There have been many accounts throughout history of humans resorting to eating their dead when a famine is so severe that nothing can be found to eat. If Israel forsakes the Lord so utterly that He must bring a famine of this magnitude upon her to get her to repent, her citizens will end up doing things they could never have imagined themselves doing. "If in spite of this you still do not listen to Me but continue to be hostile toward Me, then in My anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters." (Leviticus 26:27-29) 

We find this very thing happening in 2 Kings 6 when the king of Haram lays siege to Samaria, the capital city of the ten northern tribes of Israel. Due to the siege no food supplies can be brought into the city, plus there is a drought on so that nothing is growing inside the city walls, and the citizens are suffering from starvation. A woman brings a legal case to the king of Israel and appeals to him to rule in her favor. To his horror, the case goes like this: the woman and her neighbor agreed yesterday to cook and eat this woman's son and that today they would cook and eat the neighbor's son, but the neighbor has hidden her son. The woman appealing to the king wants him to force her neighbor to produce her son for consumption. Scholars are divided in their opinion as to whether these women's sons had already perished from starvation before they decided to eat them or whether the deal was that they would kill their sons and then eat them. The son who is said to be "hidden" may have already been dead from lack of food and his mother may have buried him in a secret location to prevent his remains from being desecrated. The text is not clear and we do not know whether these sons (likely infants or small children) had already perished or if the women's deal was that they would kill their children. 

Another time in the nation's history when some of the citizens eat their dead is when Jerusalem is under siege by Rome in 70AD after the Jewish uprising in which the Jews attempted to free themselves from Roman rule and occupation. During the siege the famine was so great that the historian Josephus states the people were driven to eating their dead. 

There are other times and other places when this type of cannibalism has occurred in the world. If you want to google a list of these cases you will find a list far longer than you might expect. One well known American example of this type of cannibalism involves the group known as the Donner Party. The Donner Party was a group of American pioneers traveling to California who became trapped by heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the winter of 1846-1847. Members of the group of eighty-seven persons began dying off and the survivors resorted to eating first their animals and then later to eating the dead in order to keep from dying themselves. Only about half of them survived the harsh conditions of that winter. Many of them refused to discuss the cannibalism that took place because it is human nature to shrink back from even the thought of such a thing, much less the actual practice of such a thing.

I had intended to conclude our study of Leviticus 26 today but we needed to spend some time discussing verses 27-29 and the fulfillment of those verses which occurred later in Israel's history. We needed to see why the famine that results from disobedience could lead to cannibalism. We also need to think about the fact that the depraved actions of man don't start out as unspeakable acts that suddenly occur out of nowhere but that they begin with small acts of disobedience. 

The Lord began Chapter 26 with a reminder to the people that He is the Lord---the only God---and that He alone is to be worshiped. He reminded them that He---and no other God---rescued them from slavery and mistreatment in Egypt by mighty wonders performed by His own hand. If the people start to feel less respect and love for the One who rescued and loves them, they will begin committing acts of disobedience. These acts will start out small but will grow in magnitude as time goes on and as their hearts grow harder toward the Lord. What we are seeing in Chapter 26 is a progression in the severity of sin and a corresponding progression in the severity of discipline. The Lord doesn't discipline minor infractions with war or famine. He disciplines minor infractions with appropriate measures, usually by first appealing to the person's conscience with an intense feeling of guilt which is one of the ways the Holy Spirit ministers to us. But if our resistance to repentance grows, the hardness of our hearts grows, and we can fall into deeper and deeper sin. The deeper the sin, the harsher the consequences. This is why we find the Lord saying in this chapter, each time man reaches a further step down in his sin and depravity, "if you still do not listen to Me". 

The Lord doesn't want to bring discipline on any person or on any nation. He wants us to repent as soon as the Holy Spirit shows us we've gotten off track. If we immediately listen to the Holy Spirit and are sorry for our sin and confess it to God and repent of it, we can often escape God's discipline altogether for the wrong thing we did, although there may be some natural consequences of this world that we'll have to face for our mistake. But if we keep ignoring the Holy Spirit, and if we keep hardening our hearts against the guilt we feel, we'll fall further and further from our relationship with God and we'll fall into deeper and deeper levels of sin. This means the discipline we'll eventually face will be far worse than that which we'd have had to face if we'd repented at some earlier level of disobedience. The Lord, like any good father, wants to reward obedience. He doesn't want to have to administer discipline. But He wouldn't be a good father if He didn't correct us when we go off course. He'd far rather us have to endure unpleasant circumstances than to have us become complete reprobates and ruin our lives and perhaps even ruin the lives of those around us through our actions. God would not be a good father if He didn't discipline His children. He also wouldn't be holy and righteous if He didn't judge the sins of those who are not His children---the unbelievers of this world who have rejected Him and who continue to reject Him. A God who won't stand by His laws and enforce His laws is not a God to be worshiped. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Leviticus. Day 91, Discipline For Disobedience, Part One

In Saturday's study we looked at all the wonderful things the Lord vows to do for Israel in the promised land if the people will obey His laws and commandments. He intends to reward them for faithfulness. But, as we'll see today and tomorrow, He intends to discipline them if they are unfaithful. If they refuse to adhere to what He has said is right and good, misfortunes will come into their lives.

All the things He promised them in yesterday's passage sounded so good that it might be difficult for us to imagine why they would not want to be careful to obey Him so they can receive these huge blessings. I got to thinking about this and realized that there is a tendency for humans to be satisfied with what is mediocre. Perhaps if the Lord had not provided the portion of Scripture we'll be studying today and tomorrow, the people could have said to themselves, "Okay, so if we mess up on some of the stuff in the first half of Leviticus 26, we'll miss out on the really huge blessings, but we'll still have all we need in this good land and we'll still enjoy our freedom from slavery Egypt and we'll still be a sovereign nation that rules itself." But God is going to explain that things won't be okay if they aren't obedient. They might have been satisfied with mediocre faith and with the ordinary blessings of everyday life, but God doesn't think that's good enough for His children. Instead of mediocre faith, He wants them to have exceptional faith. Instead of ordinary blessings, He wants them to have extraordinary blessings. God wants more for mankind than mankind wants for himself, and that's why He has to remind us that we can't just go our own way and wallow in sin and expect Him to bless our disobedience. If He blessed our disobedience we'd never step up our game spiritually and be all we were created to be.

"But if you will not listen to Me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject My decrees and abhor My laws and fail to carry out all My commands and so violate My covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set My face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those that hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you." (Leviticus 26:14-17) He says, "If you reject Me and My commands, I will allow plague to come into your population. I will allow you to be defeated in battle. Your enemies will eat what you have planted. You will not enjoy good health or the fruit of the land or peace from your enemies if you break faith with Me."

If the Lord has to send these bad things into the nation to correct sinful behavior, and if the people don't take His discipline to heart and change their ways, He will have to resort to even harsher measures to turn them around. "If after all this you will not listen to Me, I will punish you for your sin seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit." (Leviticus 26:18-20) Famine will result if the people continue to resist turning back to the Lord. The sky will be like iron; no rain will come through. The ground will be like bronze, so hard and dry that to try and cultivate it will be futile. The trees will be stricken with blight and will bear no fruit. If the loss of close fellowship with God was not enough to change their hearts, and if the loss of peace and safety wasn't enough to change their hearts, and if the emergence of plague into the land wasn't enough to change their hearts, perhaps growling bellies will compel them to turn back to God for mercy.

If hunger isn't enough to change their minds, the Lord will turn the wild animal kingdom against them. "If you remain hostile toward Me and refuse to listen to Me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted." (Leviticus 26:21-22) I believe what the Lord means is that if He he has to send famine upon the people, the famine would eventually affect the wild animals too. In Genesis 9:2 the Lord put a "fear and dread" of humans into the minds of animals so they would not be prone to attacking and killing humans. The reason we sometimes hear news stories about a person being attacked and killed by a bear or mountain lion is because it's not an everyday happening. Most wild animals obey their God-given instinct to hide or flee when humans appear. But when the wild animals' food sources become scarce they grow bold enough to come close to human habitations to forage for scraps or to attack and eat domestic animals. Hungry wild animals will sometimes dare to kill a human for food, especially someone of small stature like a child. If famine comes and wild animals begin to roam the inhabited areas of the land, it won't be safe for people's children to play outside or perform any outdoor chores. It won't even be safe for humans to travel the roadways unless they travel in groups.

Join us tomorrow as we take a look at the second half of the passage regarding disciplinary actions the Lord will be compelled to take if the things outlined in today's passage aren't enough to change the people's hearts. Until tomorrow let's think about the troubles in our own nation and whether or not at least some of our misfortunes might be the result of us not being faithful to our God. Let's search our hearts and repent of anything the Holy Spirit brings to mind. Let's confess our own sins and the sins of our nation as a whole and ask God to forgive us and heal us. I believe it's clear from our passage today, and from a passage I'm going to close with, that misfortune is often the result of going astray---and not because the world in general has gone astray, but because God's people have gone astray. God doesn't expect those who don't belong to Him to do what's right; He knows they won't. But He expects His own children to do what's right. The health and prosperity of a nation is only as strong and vibrant as the faith and obedience of God's people, so in the verse with which we will close, we find God calling upon His own to repent and pray. If those who belong to Him will do this, He issues a comforting promise: "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Leviticus. Day 90, Rewards For Obedience

Chapter 26 deals with rewards for obedience and discipline for disobedience. Today we'll be looking at verses 1 through 13 that deal with the rewards the Lord promises to the Israelites for their obedience to His laws and commandments. The Bible has many promises in it. Some are unconditional, dependent only upon God's work. Others are conditional and depend upon human beings doing the right things. Today's passage involves promises that will come true if the people do the right things.

"Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down to it. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 26:1) This verse corresponds to the first two of the ten commandments: They are to revere God as Lord and as the only God; they are not to participate in idolatry. 

"Observe My sabbaths and have reverence for My sanctuary. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 26:2) The fourth commandment is to observe the sabbath. If the people stop feeling that observing the sabbath is important and if they stop feeling like assembling in the Lord's house is important, they'll begin to feel like their relationship with Him isn't important and that being obedient to Him isn't important. If there has ever been a time in your life when you've drifted away from your former closeness to the Lord, then you probably could look back and see that it didn't happen all at once. It usually begins with what appears like a very small decision which leads to a series of steps in the wrong direction until eventually there is a large gap between where we're standing and where we've left the Lord. There's a well-known quote that I was unable to find online but it goes something like this: "If you don't feel as close to God as you once did, who moved?"

As we will see in the following verses, if the people will do as the Lord says, He will bless them with bountiful food, with peace and safety, with many descendants, with continued freedom as a nation, and with His presence among them. 

"If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land." (Leviticus 26:3-5) The rains will come at the proper time to make the seeds grow. One harvest will last til the next. This is a picture of a land where everyone will have far more than they need---if they are faithful to the Lord.

"I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you." (Leviticus 26:6-8) Israel will be a superpower if she remains faithful to her mighty Defender. Her citizens will go to sleep at night without fear of anyone breaking into their homes or breaking through the city walls. Her citizens will be safe from both man and beast, for even the wild animals won't dare to pounce upon anyone walking through the wilderness or woods. If anyone dares to threaten the nation, the power of Israel's God will send her enemies running for the hills. 

The Lord promises to be with His people. "I will look on you with favor and will increase your numbers, and I will keep My covenant with you. You will still be eating last year's harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put My dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people. 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 26:9-13)  

Some of the promises of the Bible are specifically intended for the nation of Israel. Other promises are applicable to anyone who loves the Lord and honors Him. I think the verses we've studied today are a combination of both of these types of promises.

I believe the promise of the extended abundant harvests is intended primarily for the nation of Israel when she goes to inhabit the promised land. The land of Canaan was already producing better than average crops before the Israelites took possession of it, for in Numbers 13 we find a group of twelve Israelites returning from a reconnaissance mission they carried out prior to going into the land. They brought back examples of the astonishingly large fruits they found there, testifying that the land did indeed flow with milk and honey just as the Lord told Moses. So we see that the land the Lord chose for Israel was already particularly suited for yielding crops on a level the Israelites had never before seen. But should the Israelites fail to remain thankful to the Lord for His mercy and provision, and should they stop honoring Him as the Lord of their lives, and should they decide to follow after pagan deities, and should they stop feeling any need to obey the Lord who rescued them from Egypt, the Lord reserves the right to withhold rains and send hard times into the land as discipline for faithlessness and disobedience. Though He is speaking to Israel about the promised land when He talks about the abundant harvests, there is a lesson here for all of us. The Lord reserves the right to send some type of famine into any nation that rejects Him. It might be a famine of food or it might be a famine of good leadership or it might be a famine of good economy or it might be a famine of many other types. But the Lord has the right to withhold blessings from any person or any nation that is living in disobedience to His holy word.

The Lord doesn't promise wealth to everyone who follows Him, contrary to what some of the "prosperity preachers" of today would have us believe. But He does promise to provide all the necessities for anyone who loves and obeys Him, just as we see Him in our text today promising to provide the needs of Israel. Two other examples of this promise come immediately to mind, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. King David testified to the faithful provision of the Lord for those who love Him, saying, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." (Psalm 37:25) The Apostle Paul, a man who endured more opposition and hardship than anyone in the New Testament other than the Lord Jesus Christ and who personally witnessed the faithful provision of the Lord in his life time and time again, reminds us that the Lord is responsible for those who are His and that the Lord will see to it that we have everything we need: "And my God will meet all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

The Lord promises Israel will have peace from her enemies if she continues to be faithful to Him. This is both a promise specifically for Israel and also, in a sense, a promise for all who trust in the Lord. The Lord doesn't promise that everyone will like us, and He doesn't promise that no one will ever hurt or betray or defraud us, but He promises peace of mind and heart to all who trust in Him. The prophet Isaiah was a man most of his fellow countrymen didn't want to listen to, for he was issuing a warning from God that they needed to turn back to the living God or else their nation was going to fall. They preferred listening to false teachers who said, "You are fine just as you are! Peace and prosperity will be yours. There are nothing but good times ahead. We know it looks bad right now but everything is going to turn around any day now, just wait and see. We don't have to change a thing; it will all work out." Isaiah had to endure his words being rejected time and time again but he kept going because he had the peace of mind and heart that belongs to those who are focused on the Lord, so he made this beautiful statement of faith to his God: "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You." (Isaiah 26:3) 

The Lord promises to be with Israel if she will remain faithful to Him. We are going to see episodes in the Old Testament when the Lord does not go out with Israel's armies due to the people's disobedience. We are going to see times when the Lord does go out with Israel's armies because the people are depending on and trusting in Him for everything. We can apply this to our own lives as well because the Lord is not obligated to make our bad decisions work out. He'd be doing us no favors if He did; He'd be rewarding bad behavior and reinforcing it. While the Lord never abandons us, He sometimes has to let us experience the consequences of our disobedience. The lessons we tend to remember the most are the lessons we learned the hard way. We naturally don't want painful experiences to be repeated and sometimes the best thing God, as a loving Father, can do for us is to let us experience the painful consequences of disobedience so we don't make that same mistake again. The Lord, like any good Father, prefers to be able to bless us, and He does bless us for doing what's right. 

He may not give us wealth but He will see to it that we have food in our bellies and clothes on our backs. He may not cause everyone around us to like us but He will shower us with His love and comfort and encouragement, plus He will put people in our lives to love us and encourage us in the faith. He may not give us perfect health or all the material things we could ever want or popularity or fame, but He promises us the same thing He promised ancient Israel: "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people." (Leviticus 26:12) He promises us: "Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20b)

Friday, November 20, 2020

Leviticus. Day 89, The Year Of Jubilee, Part Five

We are concluding our study of Chapter 25 today. We've been studying the Year of Jubilee and it's important for us to keep in mind that it's not only a year of reverence and thankfulness but also a year of mercy. We've already seen that lands are to be returned to their original owners during the Jubilee. The Lord has been very clear that people are to help their neighbors during the Jubilee (and always) by being generous even in a year when they are forbidden to plant and harvest. Today we learn that Israelites who have become indebted are to be set free of indebted servanthood during the Jubilee. 

Continuing with the theme at the end of yesterday's study, the Lord talks about what is to happen if a person falls so deeply into poverty or debt that he must become what we'd call in more modern eras an indentured servant. "If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are My servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God." (Leviticus 25:39-43) An Israelite is not to be considered the property of a fellow Israelite. If a man becomes indebted to his neighbor in this manner, his neighbor doesn't own him and can't sell him. Also, no matter how much the indebted person owes, he is set free from his debt at the Jubilee whether or not he has worked enough years to make up for what he owes.

Israelites were not allowed to make their fellow citizens into slaves but they were allowed to own foreign slaves. You'll recall that Abraham and Sarah were given Egyptian slaves by Pharaoh, one of whom was Hagar who temporarily became a secondary wife to Abraham for the purpose of becoming a surrogate mother due to Sarah's infertility. We are not going to get into any kind of debate here about why God allowed Israel, and the ancient nations around them, to own other human beings. For one thing, I don't feel we're given enough information in the Bible to come to any firm conclusion as to why God didn't forbid it (at least to the Israelites; the heathen people wouldn't have obeyed Him anyway) and I am not comfortable trying to guess what was on His mind. The only thing we know for certain is that in the ancient world slavery was a common practice and although the Lord didn't forbid the Israelites to own slaves, He did forbid them to mistreat them.

We see in our next paragraph that a foreign slave does not go free in the Year of Jubilee. "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly." (Leviticus 25:44-46)

An Israelite who becomes indebted to a foreigner is not doomed to lifelong slavery. They can buy back their freedom if they earn enough money. In some nations of the ancient world, slavery was not like in America where the masters thought they owned every minute of every day of their slaves' lives. In the ancient world it was allowed in some cultures for the slaves to still maintain their own occupations while not on the clock for their masters. Any money they earned on their off time was their money to keep, not the money of their master. So an Israelite might be able to earn enough to buy back his freedom or a relative could pay his debt off for him and he would be set free from slavery. "If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of a foreigner's clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. They and their buyer are to count the time from the year they sold themselves up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for their release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired worker for that number of years. If many years remain, they must pay for their redemption a larger share of the price paid for them. If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they are to compute that and pay for their redemption accordingly. They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly." (Leviticus 25:47-53)

If the Israelite can't earn enough money to purchase his freedom, or if none of his relatives can afford to redeem him, he will be set free at the next Jubilee. "Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, for the Israelites belong to Me as servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 25:54-55)

Spiritually speaking, my Year of Jubilee was 1992, for that was the year that the Lord Jesus Christ, my Kinsman Redeemer, bought me out of slavery to sin. It was that year that I gave my heart to Christ and He released me from bondage. I could never have redeemed myself. No mere human being could have paid my debt for me and redeemed me. But Jesus, who was fully man and fully God at the same time, was able to pay my debt in full and bring me out of slavery into the glorious and eternal freedom of the children of God. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Leviticus. Day 88, The Year Of Jubilee, Part Four

The Lord is discussing the way real estate deals are to be handled in the promised land and how the Year of Jubilee affects them. Yesterday we took a look at what happens when a person had to sell land due to hardship. His nearest relative was to buy it back for him if he could, but if there was no near relative who could do this, the land would automatically revert back to him during the Year of Jubilee if he didn't come up with enough money in the meantime to buy it back himself. Today we begin by looking at how sales are to be handled when they involve houses in cities. Houses in cities would be on small lots and were to be treated differently than deals involving large tracts of land or houses that sat on large tracts of land.

"Anyone who sells a house in a walled city retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time the seller may redeem it." (Leviticus 25:29) It appears from yesterday's passage that a person was not to sell family property unless he fell into hardship. (See Leviticus 25:25) Otherwise I believe each family was to retain control over their allotment to ensure that the territory the Lord gave each tribe would remain with each tribe.

A person who owned land had his livelihood tied up in the land. He would work the fields or maintain flocks and herds. Or he might do both. But a person owning a house in a city likely had a type of employment that didn't require land ownership, so after a year has passed the person he sold it to does not have to allow him to buy it back. "If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and the buyer's descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee. But houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as belonging to the open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee." (Leviticus 25:30-31) A house in the open country would probably have at least enough land around it for gardening and the house might even be sitting on several acres. These sales are to be treated like the sales of large tracts of land; there is no one-year time limit upon the redemption of the land and in the Year of Jubilee the land reverts back to its original owner.

The Lord is going to give land territories to eleven of the twelve tribes of Israel. He will give towns to the tribe of Levi instead of large tracts of land for farming or herding. This is because the tribe of Levi is the priestly tribe and they are to occupy themselves primarily with the Lord's work and not with agriculture. Pastureland may be attached to some of these towns and cities and the open pastureland is not to be sold if a Levite sells a house. We are going to see the Levites are an exception to the rule that a person has only a year in which to redeem a house he sold in a city. "The Levites have always the right to redeem their houses in the Levitical towns, which they possess. So the property of the Levites is redeemable---that is, a house sold in any town they hold---and is to be returned in the Jubilee, because the houses in the towns of the Levites are their property among the Israelites. But the pastureland belonging to their towns must not be sold; it is their permanent possession." (Leviticus 25:32-34) Since towns are the portions of the promised land the Lord will give the Levites, houses sold in these towns are returnable to them in the Jubilee because their portion of the promised land is to stay within their tribe just as the land tracts given to the other tribes are to stay within each tribe.

A person in ancient Israel selling land or a home is doing so because, as verse 25 said yesterday, he has become poor. Some type of hardship has come into his life that has caused him to have to part with property in order to get hold of cash. The Lord knows that people who are in dire need often get taken advantage of so He warns the Israelites not to cheat them in these property deals or in any other type of deal. They are to reach out to the needy with compassion to help them. "If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you." (Leviticus 25:35) The Lord already instructed the people to never oppress or mistreat foreigners and to always remember that they were once foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34) Foreigners could convert to the God of Israel and live under the same laws and commandments as a native Israelite. These foreigners were to be treated with the same respect as those who were native born. If the Israelites are forbidden to mistreat a foreigner, then certainly they are forbidden to mistreat anyone from among their own tribes. 

"Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit." (Leviticus 25:36-37) If a fellow Israelite or a convert to the God of Israel is in need and asks to borrow money, the money is to be lent without charging any interest on it. The Lord wants the person to be able to pay back the loan but if they are charged interest (and especially if they are charged an exorbitant amount of interest) they may be prevented from doing so. Food also is not to be sold to the needy at a profit. If a man's neighbor comes over and asks if he can buy a bushel of potatoes from him, the neighbor is not to take something in trade that is worth more than the food is worth. A man with hungry kids at home might be willing, in his hour of need, to trade almost anything in order to put food on the table. The Lord knows this and orders the Israelites not to cheat the man and He backs up this order with the authority of His name and power. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God." (Leviticus 25:38)

They are to take heed to His words because He is the Lord. He didn't withhold compassion from them but instead rescued them from oppression in Egypt and is giving them a good land in which to dwell. How then can they rightfully withhold compassion from others and refuse to help them in their time of need? We could say the same of ourselves; God has been merciful to us and we have no right to withhold mercy from others. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Leviticus. Day 87, The Year Of Jubilee, Part Three

In our portion of Leviticus 25 today, the Lord provides instructions for how to handle territory in the promised land. He will be assigning land portions to each tribe (cities to the Levites, since they are to be priests and not farmers) and no one is to permanently sell any land out of his family line. If a man encounters hardship and is forced to sell some land, then his nearest relative is to buy it back.

"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) The Lord is giving the Israelites the use of the promised land, but in actuality it belongs to Him. Everything belongs to Him and He could say to each of us about anything we own or use in this life: "It is Mine. You reside in My land as foreigners and strangers." We wouldn't even exist if it were not His will. We wouldn't have breath in our lungs right now if it were not His will. If we can cultivate the attitude in our minds that we are just temporarily using the things of this world then I think there would be less temptation for us to feel selfish or stingy. I think it would also help us be better stewards of the things the Lord has blessed us with. The money in our bank accounts? It's the Lord's. The house we live in? It's the Lord's. The car we drive, the clothes on our backs, the job we go to---these are all the Lord's and He has graciously blessed us with the use of them. 

"If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold." (Leviticus 25:25) A person might fall upon hard times and need to sell some land to pay off debts and keep a roof over his family's head and food on the table. If this should happen, when the man's nearest relative (the Hebrew "goel", his "kinsman redeemer") is to come and purchase the land back for the family. When we reach the book of Ruth we'll see this process in action. The book of Ruth, which revolves around the duties of the kinsman redeemer, is not only a love story between a man and a woman but is also a love story between Christ and the church.

If a man has no relative who can buy back the land, but if he saves enough money over the years to buy back the land himself, the person he sold it to is not to refuse to sell it back to him. But even if he never acquires enough money to buy the land, it reverts back to him in the Year of Jubilee. "If, however, there is no one to redeem it for them but later on they prosper and acquire sufficient means to redeem it themselves, they are to determine the value for the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom they sold it; they can then go back to their own property. But if they do not acquire the means to repay, what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can go back to their own property." (Leviticus 25:26-28) In the Year of Jubilee, which takes place every fifty years, the land reverts back to its original owner whether he can pay to redeem it or not. The Lord declares the debt paid and the land redeemed.

The Lord Jesus Christ, our Kinsman Redeemer, bought back for us what we had sold. We had sold ourselves out to sin. We all, like sheep, strayed from the Lord our shepherd and went our own way, as the prophet Isaiah put it (Isaiah 53:6a) but God laid on Christ the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6b). Because of Christ we are set free from our debt of sin and have been redeemed (bought back) and have been restored to a right relationship with our God and have become His children. "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith." (Galatians 3:26) "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!" (1 John 3:1a) "I will be their God and they will be My children." (Revelation 21:7) Our redemption is the work of the Lord, the Kinsman Redeemer, who purchased our souls back from the dead. In this same way the redemption of land here in Leviticus 25 was the work of the kinsman redeemer. The original owner of the land owed a debt he could not pay, but someone came alongside him and said, "I will pay. I will buy it back for you." The Lord Jesus Christ, when He gave His life on the cross, was saying, "I will pay. I will buy you back from sin and death."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Leviticus. Day 86, The Year Of Jubilee, Part Two

We are taking a look at the jubilee year. The Israelites were to count off forty-nine sabbath years and then the fiftieth year would be celebrated as a jubilee. No planting was done in that year and any land that had been leased out or sold to an Israelite outside the family would revert back to the original owner.

The people must be careful to follow the Lord's instructions and they will be blessed for their obedience. "Follow My decrees and be careful to obey My laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety." (Leviticus 25:18-19) I know the Lord is speaking specifically to Israel in this passage but I believe His words can apply to any nation: if we follow His decrees and obey His laws, He will protect us and provide for us abundantly.

In a jubilee year, and in every seventh year (a sabbath year), the people are not to plow their fields and plant crops. Over the weekend we talked about how they are not to pick the grapes or the olives and they are not to harvest grain-bearing plants that come up on their own such as wheat and barley. Their human nature makes them wonder whether there will be enough to eat during a sabbath year or whether they will have to ration food and feel hungry part of the time. The Lord knows their thoughts and says, "You may ask, 'What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?' I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in." (Leviticus 25:20-22) 

You'll recall the way the manna from heaven worked when we talked about it in Exodus. The Lord would send enough manna on the day before the sabbath to get the people through until the day after the sabbath when He would send fresh manna. He is using the same principle for the sabbath years and for the jubilee year. He will bless their harvest so abundantly that the food they preserve and the fruits and vegetables that voluntarily come up will be enough to see them through until they can plant and harvest again. 

The Lord faithfully reassures the people because He knows their concerns. He knows it makes them uncomfortable to skip a year of planting and reaping. Pretty much anything that helps our faith to grow is going to make us uncomfortable, isn't it? It's going to take a leap of faith for the people to refrain from working their fields in a sabbath year or jubilee year. But their faith will be strengthened when the see the abundant provision of the Lord. As time goes on, and sabbath years continue to be observed every seventh year, their faith should grow stronger and stronger as they receive the Lord's bounty time after time after time.

Our faith should grow too as we live year after year in this world. How many times has the Lord provided for us when we couldn't see how He was going to do it? How many times has He answered prayers? How many times has He turned situations around that looked impossible? It would behoove us to meditate regularly on the things the Lord has done for us in the past because that helps us to have the confidence that He will keep on helping us. In a jubilee year the people could look back and say, "The Lord has provided for us during the past forty-nine sabbath years. He will provide for us this jubilee year as well. He will provide for us during all the sabbath years and jubilee years to come." When we think back over the things the Lord has done in our lives, we can say, "The Lord has provided for me thus far. I've had food in my belly and clothes on my back. He's going to keep on seeing to it that I have something to eat and something to wear. He's answered many prayers for me. I can keep going to Him with my requests in the confidence that He hears me and that, even when He doesn't answer my prayers in the way I want, He answers them in the way that is best for me."

The Son of God tells us not to fret about whether His Father is able and willing to supply our needs. The God who created us knows what it takes to sustain us. He urges us to take a leap of faith and trust that He will provide what is needed to sustain us, and we close with the beautiful and comforting words of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you---you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or, 'What shall we drink?' or, 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:25-34)

Monday, November 16, 2020

Leviticus. Day 85, The Year Of Jubilee, Part One

Today we begin the portion of Leviticus that describes an event that is to take place every fifty years.

"Count off seven sabbath years---seven times seven years---so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land." (Leviticus 25:8-9) We studied the sabbath year in yesterday's passage. A sabbath year was to occur every seventh year.

After the sabbath years are counted up to forty-nine, the fiftieth year is a year of jubilee. "Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and it is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property." (Leviticus 25:10-13) \

The Lord gave territories to each tribe in the promised land, with the priestly tribe inhabiting cities and not cultivating farmlands. During a jubilee year, every person was to return to the territory given to his tribe, no matter where he currently dwelt in the promised land or outside of it. According to my background study, all twelve tribes of Israel must be living in Israel in order to meet the regulations for observing the jubilee, which is why it has not been observed in the full and traditional manner since about 150 years prior to the destruction of the first temple, for this is when the ten northern tribes were conquered by Assyria and sent into exile. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were wholly left in the land until they too were conquered, by Babylon, and the first temple destroyed. The jubilee year is still noted and observed in other ways, but it has been several thousand years since every member of all twelve tribes have inhabited the promised land together.

The Israelites could lease out portions of their land to others but in the jubilee year the land would revert back to them. The Lord is about to provide regulations for determining a fair price to charge for the lease. The terms of a lease of land, and the price for the lease, was determined by how many years remained until the jubilee year. In a jubilee year the land reverted back to its original family line. "If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you based on the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am your God." (Leviticus 25:14-17) 

When a person leased land from another, he only paid the price it was worth for every harvest year until the next jubilee. This means every sabbath year (every seventh year) is deducted from the total. He will not be charged for the sabbath years because he cannot plant and harvest during those years. If many years remain until the next jubilee, the total amount of the lease will necessarily be larger. If few years remain until the next jubilee, the total lease price will be smaller.

It is a sin to defraud others. It's wrong to defraud those who are not fellow citizens of our nation or community or family line. It's also wrong, and especially shameful, to defraud our own people. If an Israelite defrauded a fellow Israelite it was the same as cheating one of his own family members, for though Israel is made up of twelve tribes, they are one nation and one family. 

To think of it in modern terms, it's a shame and a crime if someone unrelated to us cheats us out of money. But it's especially hurtful when the person who cheated us is related to us. Believe me, that is something that happened to my husband and me when we were building our house. A close family member of my husband's fleeced us out of an amount somewhere between $4000 and $5000. I won't go into the details of how he went about it, but believe me, it's far more shocking and hurtful and hard to accept when a relative defrauds you than when a stranger or casual acquaintance does it. The Lord warns the Israelites not to engage in this type of behavior with one another, and He backs up this warning with all the authority of His name by saying, "Fear your God. I am the Lord."

If we maintain a healthy fear (reverence and awe) for the Lord, we'll be far less likely to consider wronging someone. Even if the temptation comes upon us, our respect for the Lord will be stronger than the temptation. A Jew must not defraud a Jew, for they are all of one family. A Christian must not defraud a Christian, for they are all of one family. And, to sum it all up, a human being must not defraud another human being, for we are all of the same species and we all inhabit the same world. God does not look favorably on cheating and stealing. If we defraud our neighbor, our neighbor may not be able to prove it in a court of law and our neighbor may not be able to recover from us what we stole from him. But we'll have to answer to a holy God for our actions, and that's a sobering thought.