“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.” Exodus 23:10-12
There were three sabbaths claimed by God and commanded to be kept by the children of Israel. Our focus text talks about two of these sabbaths and I’ll list all three in order of the frequency of celebration. The first was the Sabbath Day which came on the seventh day of the week. The second was the sabbatical year which came every seventh year. The third was the Year of Jubilee which occurred every fiftieth year.
We consider these to be sabbath commandments but in reality they’re life organization commandments. God stipulates regarding the six weekdays preceding the sabbath and the six non-sabbatical years preceding the sabbatical year that his people are to work. If their granaries and barns are going to be filled it will be as a result of work they’ve done on the six days of labor and the six years of sowing and reaping. If houses are going to be built, wood cut for building, or burning it will be done during the days of labor.
We need both the days of labor and the days of rest. And God has promised that if we will keep his sabbath days, not doing any kind work or any kind of business on the sabbath day, that he will bless those days of labor and they will be enough to sustain us and to prosper us.
Some may be thinking, what about the sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee. Unlike the Sabbath day, which God claimed as his day at creation and gave as a blessing to all people, the sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee were both instituted by God within the context of establishing the children of Israel as a nation. Being out of that context, these would fall into the category of laws and festivals not required to be kept in the Christian Era.
However, the needs God sought to address with these laws are still present in the world and the reality that God took the steps he did tells us that he would have us order our lives so that we too will give proper consideration of these needs.
What were the needs? The oppressive poverty of the poorer classes and the evils associated with the great accumulation of wealth. Both extremes tend to either lead or drive people to evil; either because of despair and anger on the part of the poor or because of selfishness and pampered avarice on the part of the wealthy.
By setting the slaves free and returning the property to the families God had given it to, and assigning the produce of all the fields to the poor, God instituted a periodic redistribution of wealth. By their obedience the people acknowledged that God was the true owner of it all and that they were his stewards, each one working to bless him and his house.
Just as surely as God has called us to himself on his sabbath day to worship him and celebrate our dependence on him, he calls us to acknowledge and celebrate our dependence on each other and to honor that mutual dependence by treating each other accordingly.