Leviticus 25:1-7: The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai,2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
The sabbatical system is much more than one Sabbath every seven days, it also consists of one sabbath year every seven years, and the Year of Jubilee. By reading the above passage, we can see the complexity of the Sabbath commandment, and God’s intention behind Sabbath.
- Sabbath is “to the Lord”. It is a reminder that the land and its productivity are gifts from God. By dedicating one year out of every seven years or one day out of every seven days to the Lord, we are saying that the entire productivity of the land comes from the Lord.
- “The land is to have a year of sabbath rest.” – it is not only human beings who need rest. The fact that the land need rest means that, like humans, the land is a living system.
- “Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year…” – even if we don’t sow or prune, the land is still productive. This is another trait of living systems, living systems are naturally productive. In fact, living systems that have regular rest are more productive than living systems that are over-worked.
- “for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.” – the land as a living system does not exclusively serve the land owner, instead it sustains both the rich and the poor, both domesticated and wild animals. The land is healthy when the ecosystem living upon it is healthy.
Those who honor God honor God’s creation. To honor God’s creation means that we live in a mutually beneficial relationship with our land and our environment. The land is not a lifeless piece of resource we can exploit.
While we have been following a 7 day week calendar for what seems to be forever, scholars have been trying to find out how did Moses come out with the idea of a 7 day cycle of Sabbath in the first place. For “scholars”, divine revelation is not an acceptable answer, so a hunt for an alternative is necessary. The first theory is that Moses copied it from other ancient cultures, most likely the Egyptians. The scholars tried hard, but could find no records in any other ancient culture of anything similar to either a socially accepted work-rest cycle or the number 7 being somehow special.
The other theory is that 7 has some mathematical or astronomical significant. This theory failed also. The number 10 make sense, because human and monkeys have 10 digits. The number 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, 24, and even 60 have been used as units of measurement of time, mostly because they can be easily constructed with simple geometry (i.e. you can divide a line or an angle using straight lines and a pair of compasses into halves and thirds, thus making the measurement of movement of sun, moon and stars easy). But the number 7 is particularly difficult to construct geometrically. The best theory is that 7 is almost one quarter of the lunar cycle (one lunar cycle = 29.53 days). But 10 days (= one third of lunar cycle) would be a much more convenient and accurate unit for that.
So we are stuck with the theory that either Moses really suck at astronomy or the number 7 comes from divine revelation.
Regardless, the number 7 is the signature of Sabbath. As in the coming weeks we go through scriptures to look for the number 7, we will discover that Sabbath is much more than a weekly religious ceremony but an elaborate system for a sustainable economy.
In New Testament Greek there are two words that are translated into “time” in English. One is “chronos” (from which we get the English words chronic and chronology) which represents “clock time”. Time that can be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, and days.
The other Greek word for “time” is kairos, which may be best translated as “moments”. Kairos represents memorable events, available opportunities, special situations. For example: “It is Tebow time!” (Sorry NY Jets fans, just can’t resist!)
We fill up our space with objects – the car go in the garage, TV, sofa and coffee table fill up the living room. We fill up our chronos time with tasks – commuting, working, cleaning, and church going.
Our kairos time, on the other hand, is filled up with people, especially people we love. Kairos time is your first glance at that special someone, your weddings, birth of a child, graduations, glorious victories and bitter defeats.
As we have been discussing Sabbath, let me ask you this question: Is Sabbath chronos time or kairos time for you personally?
When you walk into a Christian household, it is not uncommon to find Christian decorations hanging on a wall somewhere. Sometimes it is a simple cross, or it might be an inspirational verse. You will also find most probably a copy of the Bible on the bookshelf or at the corner of the desk in the study.
It is not difficult for us to devote”space” to the Lord. We can devote a wall, a shelf, or even build a shrine. After all we have more walls to decorate, more book shelves to fill. After every room has been filled, we can find a bigger house.
We have control over space, so we think. We can travel long distance via planes, trains and automobiles. We pick our devotional space to our convenience. If it is not convenient, we can leave the Bible in its rightful place on the bookshelf without reading it. The rich have more space, the powerful can even invade into other people’s space.
Time is different. No one controls time. The rich and the poor both have 24 hours to a day. It is ultimately fair.
When we observe Sabbath in time, we’ll quickly discover that Sabbath does not come at our convenience. It comes unceasingly, once every 7 days. We cannot control it and tell it to go away and come back when we “have time”. No wonder so many of us have chosen to run away from observing Sabbath!
The true meaning of Sabbath is faith – belief in a graceful God who is in control of our daily lives. May I boldly suggest that you give our Lord the control of your time and really observe Sabbath?