Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Behar-Bechukkotai:

Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34

"You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)

Israel stands in a unique relationship to the King of the universe. He chose Israel to be his special possession that the nation might be a light to all nations. With great privilege comes great responsibility, “To whom much is given, much shall be required."

Leviticus 25 gives the meaning and instructions concerning the Jubilee in Israel in ancient times. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness; the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). The whole world is the Lord’s but from amongst all the countries of the world he chose one country, and this country he promised to Abraham and to his seed forever.

God gave laws and commandments to his people Israel. The seventh day was sanctified unto God and the seventh year was a Sabbath for the Lord - a sabbatical year in which the land rested; it was not ploughed, nor sown. After seven sabbatical years came the Jubilee, a year of liberty for slaves and redemption of the land. If a Jew became very poor and was sold into slavery, in the Year of Jubilee, he was to be given his freedom again and was to be returned to his family. If a man sold his possessions at a time of distress it was to be returned to him again in the Year of Jubilee. Jubilee meant liberty, freedom! The basis to all this was that the land belonged to the God of the whole earth. Eretz Yisrael belongs to God and he alone determines who shall live there.

Because of this a Jew was not allowed to sell his land for ever. The land did not truly belong to him, which was why the pious Naboth refused to sell his land to the tyrant King Ahab. However, if a Jew could not pay his many debts and was forced to sell his estate, he had to count the years that remained to the next Jubilee, when he could repurchase it.

In the light of this we can understand all the better the history of the Jewish people. In Leviticus 26 God speaks of blessings that will be granted to Israel if they walk in his ways. Then he warns of five degrees of punishment - each one worse than the preceding - if they did not obey him, ending with the terrifying fifth degree of punishment:

And after all this, if you do obey me, but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins… I will lay your cities waste and bring your sanctuaries to desolation, and I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas. I will bring the land to desolation; and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then shall the land rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest; for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when ye dwelt in it. (vv27-35)

If Israel suffered exile and was deprived of land, temple, priest and sacrifice for 70 years for walking contrary to God, what accounts for the Galut that has lasted more than 1,900 years? If the Babylonian exile was a “seven fold” punishment, what can we say about the state of affairs that has pertained since 70 CE? The rabbis say Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed because of “hatred without a cause”. But the last days of the second temple were, according to some rabbis, days of great piety. Who could Israel have hated so much and to what degree could they have hated, that the people have been cut off from land and temple for almost two millennia?

At the end of the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John in the New Testament there is a chilling yet revealing statement by Jesus of Nazareth who said he was Israel’s Messiah. In that chapter, he says, “They hated me without a cause”. What if the judicial execution of Jesus by Israel’s leaders was their verdict against the Messiah? Would not that be Israel’s greatest sin? If not, what else can account for Israel’s long night of exile?


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