10 ” You shall plant on your land for six years and collect what it produces, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it stop producing, lying fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and so that the animals of the field may eat what they leave. You should do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. 12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall stop; so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the visiting foreigner, may be refreshed. 13 “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.
the land Sabbath
If I were ever tempted to add a ritual Sabbath to my spiritual routine, the temptation would come from passages like this one. Here the LORD instructs his people – once they get to the promised land – to let their crops on their land lie fallow one year out of seven. He does not specify the particular year, only it had to be the seventh year from the first harvest. Theoretically, that instruction should have resulted in every community in every location having fields where the poor or visiting foreigners could scrape up food – from the volunteer crops that came up during the Sabbath year.
This regulation tells us a great deal about the LORD. It shows how concerned he is for the poor and marginalized. It also shows that when good is done for anyone, it should be associated with his name. The only people capable of obeying this instruction would be the land owners – those who had enough property to plant several crops. Coming from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites thought of such a situation only happening to the wealthy, but in the promised land, this was to be the norm. And these rich landowners were not to take the credit for this generosity themselves, nor to let it be associated with any of the local pagan deities. The LORD alone was to get the credit for this kindness, as a witness to who he is. He is father to the fatherless, companion to the widow, defender of the downtrodden.
Unfortunately, I own no land. In fact, I own almost nothing. I cannot obey this instruction literally. But I can go out of my way to routinely help the needy. I can give to the person who asks for my help. I can set aside a portion of my income – and fellowship with others who do the same – to help the less fortunate. That is the kind of Sabbath ritual that I can keep in the LORD’s name.
LORD, show us how to demonstrate your compassion to the needy, and to do so in such a way that it testifies of your compassion.