Behar and Bechukotai are the last Torah portions (parashiot) in the Book of Leviticus (known as Vayikra in Hebrew). The parashiot are read separately in leap years. This is a leap year so Bechukotai is read separately. The Parashah Behar ends with Chapter 27, Verse 34 and says:
Keep my Shabbats, and revere my sanctuary; I am Adonai.
The Parashah Bechukotai also speaks of the Shabbats; however, most of the description here is to warn the people of Israel what will happen if God’s instructions regarding the various Sabbaths described in Parashah Behar are not honored.
There are many Sabbaths in the Torah. The first is described in Genesis 2:2-3 where God rests from all the work of creation necessary to make our world and everything in it. In Exodus 20:10=11 He tells us why He created it:
For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why Adonai blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.
In Exodus 23:12, God says His Sabbath is for rest and renewal, both for animals and people.
12 “For six days, you are to work. But on the seventh day, you are to rest, so that your ox and donkey can rest, and your slave-girl’s son and the foreigner be renewed.
In Exodus 31:15, God says:
On six days work will get done; but the seventh day is Shabbat, for complete rest, set apart for Adonai. Whoever does any work on the day of Shabbat must be put to death.
And in the next verse, Verse 16, He says:
The people of Isra’el are to keep the Shabbat, to observe Shabbat through all their generations as a perpetual covenant.
Exodus 34:21 says no plowing or harvesting on Shabbat.
Exodus 35:1-3 says:
Moshe assembled the whole community of the people of Isra’el and said to them, “These are the things which Adonai has ordered you to do. 2 On six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is to be a holy day for you, a Shabbatof complete rest in honor of Adonai. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. 3 You are not to kindle a fire in any of your homes on Shabbat.”
Exodus 31:16 says it is a permanent covenant for all the people of Israel.
Exodus 34:21 says to keep it even in plowing and harvesting. If you live in an agricultural community you know that these are particularly intense times of the year. It must be hard, sometimes, for a farmer to follow this rule. One farm wife told me the worst thing that ever happened to a farmer was lights on a tractor.
Leviticus 23:3 says keep it even in your homes.
Leviticus 23:24 declares the first day of the seventh month a day of complete rest. It is called Rosh HaShannah or the Feast of Trumpets because the shofar is commanded to be blown on that day.
And Leviticus 23:32 says ten days after Rosh HaShannah, is to be another day of complete rest: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Leviticus 23:29 declares two days of complete rest in the seventh month: on the fifteenth day, the first day of Succot or the Feast of Tabernacles, which is celebrated for seven days. On the eighth day, the day after the week of Succot, we are commanded to rest again. It is a day called Sh’mini Atzeret.
In Deuteronomy 5:14, HaShem declares,
but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your ox, your donkey or any of your other livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property — so that your male and female servants can rest just as you do.
God is pretty emphatic about how He views profaning His holy days. He tells us many times the penalty for this is death and he continually says throughout the Tenach (the Older Testament) we are to observe His Sabbaths.
Regarding the Sabbath of years (every seventh year – the “Sh’mittah”) God has this to say:
10 “For six years, you are to sow your land with seed and gather in its harvest. 11 But the seventh year, you are to let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor among your people can eat; and what they leave, the wild animals in the countryside can eat. Do the same with your vineyard and olive grove. (Exodus 23:10-11)
Also, He says:
But in the seventh year is to be a Shabbat of complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for Adonai; you will neither sow your field nor prune your grapevines. (Leviticus 25:4)
You are not to harvest what grows by itself from the seeds left by your previous harvest, and you are not to gather the grapes of your untended vine; it is to be a year of complete rest for the land. (Leviticus 25:5)
In Exodus the reason God gives us is so the poor can eat. In Leviticus 25:5, the reason for a Sabbath year every seventh year is for the reviving and replenishing the land.
.Regarding the Sabbath years, He is pretty definite about disobedience here as well: If we do not abide by His requirements we are told what will happen.
33 You I will disperse among the nations, and I will draw out the sword in pursuit after you; your land will be a desolation and your cities a wasteland. 34 Then, at last, the land will be paid its Shabbats. As long as it lies desolate and you are in the lands of your enemies, the land will rest and be repaid its Shabbats. 35 Yes, as long as it lies desolate it will have rest, the rest it did not have during your Shabbats, when you lived there. (Leviticus 26:33-35)
Deuteronomy 12:10 says the land and the rest or the peace of the people in the land are intertwined:
…Adonai your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies in the land Adonai your God is giving you as your inheritance to possess …
The Shabbat of the people and the rest or peace they are to obtain are inextricably linked. Joshua 1:13:
Remember what Moshe the servant of Adonai ordered you: ‘Adonai your God has let you rest and will give you this land.’
And again in Joshua 21:41-43:
41 (43) So Adonai gave Isra’el all the land which he swore to give to their ancestors, and they took possession of it and lived in it. 42 (44) Then Adonai gave them rest all around, according to everything he had sworn to their ancestors. Not a man from all their enemies stood against them; Adonai handed all their enemies over to them. 43 (45) Not one good thing that Adonai had spoken of to the household of Isra’el failed to happen; it all took place.
But, unless His ways are honored and the gifts He gives are respected, this is what will happen:
Among these nations you will not find repose, and there will be no rest for the sole of your foot; rather Adonai will give you there anguish of heart, dimness of eyes and apathy of spirit. (Deuteronomy 28:65)
The Sabbath of years is as important to God corporately as the seventh day of the week is to Him individually. Isaiah 28: 12 and 16 says:
He once told this people, “It’s time to rest,
the exhausted can rest, now you can relax” —
but they wouldn’t listen.
therefore here is what Adonai Elohim says:
“Look, I am laying in Tziyon
a tested stone, a costly cornerstone,
a firm foundation-stone;
he who trusts will not rush here and there.
Rabbi Jonathan Cahn in his book “The Harbinger”, comments on Isaiah 9:10-11 (in English Bibles, verses 9 and 10 in Hebrew bibles) which says:
9 (10) “The bricks have fallen, but we will rebuild with cut stone; the sycamore-fig trees have been chopped down, but we will replace them with cedars.” 10 (11) SoAdonaihas raised up Retzin’s foes against him. He says God is rebuking America. Rabbi Cahan says, the destruction of the Sears Towers in New York on September 11, 2001 was God telling us to change our ways. The rabbi says, seven years later, with the economic crash of 2008, God was again telling us to repent. Each time, the “Sh’mittah” or seven years’ rest God expects as an acknowledgement of Who He is, has been ignored. The response to the rebuke is one that says our own strength can cure the problem. It is this self-reliance and non-reliance on God that is the problem, not the solution. Each rebuke seems to get stronger. Rabbi Cahn believes the next Sabbath (seven years - 2015) will bring another, more profound rebuke. If the discipline of the father has no impact on his children, at what point is it time for “tough love”? We need to repent on a corporate level and a personal level.
When we ignore God’s command to rest, it makes us a little crazy. It affects are total well-being. My attitude used to be, “I’ll sleep when I die.” I was definitely in the fast lane on a bad road regarding the sleep I was avoiding. God was speaking to me and I wasn’t listening.
For this is what Adonai Elohim,
the Holy One of Isra’el, says:
“Returning and resting is what will save you;
calmness and confidence will make you strong —
but you want none of this! (Isaiah 30:15)
In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”, Stephen Covey lays out seven strong activities that characterize people who are successful. One of them he described by telling a story. The story goes that these two men held a contest to see who could cut down the most trees. To avoid keeping you here for too long I will abbreviate the tale and get to the point: the stronger seemingly harder worker furiously chopped away, but eventually lost to the weaker man who seemed to be much less intense in his efforts to beat the other man. After the contest, the loser asked the winner what was it that produced the results that seemed to favor less effort. The winner said, I took the time to sharpen my axe.” The point is you can do more in less time if you rest, recover, rejuvenate, and revitalize yourself. Your land will be more productive in the long run if you give it a rest in the short run.
I believe the people of the first century responded to Y’shua’s Messiahship in the same way they adhered to the instructions God gave them in the Torah. Certainly, most of them didn’t see Him as the suffering servant, the Righteous One of Isaiah 53, although there were estimated to be hundreds of thousands who DID recognize Him. But the Shabbats, as Y’shua said, were made for man, not the other way around. If people were not just adhering to the law but delighting in it, I believe fewer people would have expected an overthrow of the established government and more would have seen the revelation of God in Y’shua.
In Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3, the Apostle John speaks to the Messianic Communities in his ministry. The church in Ephesus is described as doing the work of God as opposed to making the worship of God the priority. This is the same as spinning your wheels spiritually. Y’shua talked about this a lot when He called the Pharisees hypocrites. The Sabbaths are there for us to bring ourselves closer to God and His Kingdom. Maybe if more people in Y’shua’s day were focused on God and not doing the things, the works, He would have been able to fulfill His mission – to bring about repentance of the Jews living in Jerusalem and the dispersed Israelites as yet in exile thereby uniting them in reconciliation and worship of the Father.
God gives us free will. We can do what we want. But God will have His way in the end. When the twelve “spies” checked out Canaan the people were ready to stone Caleb and Joshua upon the return of the twelve. This was because two of them (Joshua and Caleb) spoke out against the lack of faith displayed by the ten others. The fearful ten infected the rest of the people with their unbelief. God waited forty years until that generation had died (except for Caleb and Joshua) before He allowed the people to enter the land.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation;
I said, ‘This is a people whose hearts go astray,
they don’t understand how I do things.’
11 Therefore I swore in my anger
that they would not enter my rest.” (Psalm 95:10-11)
Paul repeats this passage in Hebrews 3:10 & 11 and concludes with this in Verse 12:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
“Enter my rest.” As a parent, how do you respond when you offer your children good things that you know will make them happy and they refuse?
Here is what Adonai says through Jeremiah the prophet:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask about the ancient paths,
‘Which one is the good way?’
Take it, and you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not take it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16)
But God’s response is that of a patient, loving parent. In the end, God will bring us back to him if we are open to it. We have free will, but His ways are higher than our ways and His will be done.
“So don’t be afraid, Ya‘akov my servant,”
says Adonai, “or be alarmed, Isra’el;
for I will return you from far away
and your offspring from their country of exile.
Ya‘akov will again be quiet, at rest;
and no one will make him afraid. (Jeremiah 30:10)
Many people who profess a belief in Yeshua he Messiah adhere to a supercessionist or replacement theology: that the Jews killed Christ, that God has turned His back on the Jewish people, that the curses are theirs, and that the blessings of the Tenach have been given to those who embrace Jesus, that the “Old” Testament is not relevant, that Jesus came to abolish the law, that the Torah is a burden, that God’s grace is only made manifest in the “New” Testament.
Clearly, this is heresy. The arrogance of this kind of thinking is becoming clear and the truth of what the bible says is discrediting this theology making it possible for all believers of all denominations to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. The presence of grace in the above passage is just the tip of the iceberg. Grace abounds in the Older Testament just as it does in the Newer Testament. The burden of the law and the curse of the law rests on the disobedient, the rebellious, the prideful, the faithless, and the unrepentant.
When we turn from God, our path leads to our self-destruction. Those who go this way bring down the curses on their own heads. Those who strive to follow God will not suffer these things. Yes, we are human beings and we make mistakes. But a mistake, by definition, is an acknowledged error. God is the God of time as well as the rest of creation. He knows the beginning from the end and He has the patience to wait for us to admit our mistakes. Some things have time limits. How long do you think you can keep smoking or overeat before suffering irreversible, chronic health problems? But Our Father in heaven wants what’s best for His children and that starts with learning and accepting His will. See Psalm 37: 3-4:
3 Trust inAdonai, and do good;
settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness. 4 Then you will delight yourself in Adonai, and he will give you your heart’s desire.
Our haftorah portion for this week speaks of our human tendency to sin and ends with a clear picture of redeemable people for whom God has patience, grace and mercy, and those who are committed to a life without God:
9 “The heart is more deceitful than anything else
and mortally sick. Who can fathom it?
10 I, Adonai, search the heart;
I test inner motivations;
in order to give to everyone
what his actions and conduct deserve.”
11 A partridge hatches eggs it did not lay;
like this are those who get rich unjustly:
in the prime of life their wealth will desert them;
in the end they will prove to be fools.
12 Throne of Glory, exalted from the beginning! Our Holy Sanctuary, 13 Hope of Isra’el,Adonai! All who abandon you will be ashamed, those who leave you will be inscribed in the dust, because they have abandonedAdonai, the source of living water. 14 Heal me,Adonai, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved,
for you are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:12-14)
God is working on us. The first generation refused to rest in HaShem. He accomplished his purposes without them. He wants our participation, but he doesn’t need it. What was forty years in the desert to God?
11 “‘For here is what Adonai Elohim says: “I am taking over! I will search for my sheep and look after them, myself. 12 Just as a shepherd looks after his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so I will look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. 13 I will bring them back from those peoples, gather them from those countries and return them to their own land. Then I will let them feed on the mountains of Isra’el, by the streams and in all the livable places of the land. 14 I will have them feed in good pastures; their grazing ground will be on the high mountains of Isra’el. They will rest in good grazing grounds and feed in rich pastures on Isra’el’s mountains. 15 Yes, I will pasture my sheep; and I will let them rest” says Adonai Elohim. 16 “I will seek the lost, bring back the outcasts, bandage the broken, and strengthen the sick. But the fat and the strong I will destroy — I will feed them with judgment.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16)
If Jesus came to find the lost sheep and was denied the opportunity the first time, the Father can wait - 40 years, a thousand years, or more - to send His Son again to accomplish His purposes.
He tells us to take time to smell the roses. This also allows us to regain our vitality so we can be even more productive! This means that Shabbat –God’s rest – is designed to revive and renew us. I sacrificed sleep for whatever my ego required me to do. I now know that a bad attitude born of fatigue is destructive to my mind, body and spirit. I should have been listening sooner, but at least I finally got the message.
22 For what does a person get from all his efforts and ambitions permeating the work he does under the sun? 23 His whole life is one of pain, and his work is full of stress; even at night his mind gets no rest. This too is pointless. 24 So there is nothing better for a man to do than eat, drink and let himself enjoy the good that results from his work. I also realized that this is from God’s hand. (Ecclesiastes 2: 22-24)
Here is a way to determine the significance of your labor: make a fist, stick it in a glass of water. Now pull it out. The hole you leave in the glass will tell you how important your presence at work will be when you terminate. When you are at the end of your life looking back, it won’t be the extra hours you spent at the office that you will remember. It will be the relationships you have with your friends, family, and God. When they asked Billy Graham what he would do differently over his life if he had the chance, he said, “Pray more.”
We can enter God’s rest – His Shabbat – any time we choose.
28 “Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.[f]30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)
“Rest for your souls.” Same thing Jeremiah said in 6:16.
You can choose to extricate yourself from the Sabbath requirements. You can say, “These laws were made for the people of Israel. I’m a Gentile.” As I said before, you have free will. My understanding is that if you are grafted in or a “fellow sojourner” with God’s people, you are included. If you disagree, that’s okay. It is between you and God.
There is one more Shabbat we need to include. It is the “Yovel” in Hebrew which is the Jubilee year. “Yovel” means ram’s horn and the term is used because a ram’s horn is blown to announce it. The Yovel is the year after counting seven Sabbaths of years – the fiftieth year. We are now counting the Omer which is seven Sabbath weeks plus one day. On that fiftieth day, we celebrate the giving of the Torah to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, the giving of Y’shua, the Living Word, to Messianic believers, and the giving of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Y’shua’s sacrifice to Christians. The Festival of Weeks (Shavuot) and Pentecost are celebrated in this day. The Sh’mittah (the Sabbath Year) is observed by some in Israel today. The Year of Jubilee, the Yovel, has not been observed for many centuries.
The Year of Jubilee is a reminder that all we have is not ours but is given to us by God to take care of. The Sh’mitah and the Yovel are reminders that we are renters and not owners of the land. The Yovel tells us it is not just land that is God’s, but EVERTHING, especially, money, land and, most importantly, people.
Our disobedience in honoring both of these Shabbats has already had a telling effect. One of the characteristics of an antique oak desk is its weight. Modern day oak is not nearly as dense as old oak. Organic foods are healthier (and more expensive) than those grown with pesticides and other supplements, but are they any more nutritious? The answer is a definite “no.” Had we left the land fallow every seventh year as instructed in the passages we read this week, maybe we would still have the vitality of the soil that we once enjoyed. Today, the only way to regenerate the land is to “mineralize” it. God is sending us a warning. The land is not lost to us yet. Will we hear God’s message?
The Liberty Bell was rung in 1776 to summon the people for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. On the bell is inscribed Leviticus 25:10:
"And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT [ALL] THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family."
In 1835, approximately 50 years later, the bell was rung and cracked, never to be wrung again. It was widely believed that the crack was due to the fact that America had not followed the Jubilee law.
About two Jubilees later, around 1935, Hitler and the Third Reich was rising to power and initiated what would become the Second World War, the Holocaust and the moral corruption of much of Europe. The United States was aware of the rise of this terrorist state but did nothing about it until it was too late. It could have prevented Hitler from coming to power. Why didn’t they? One very strong reason was the huge debt that Germany owed the United States and was threatening to default on. Had we been practicing the Law of Jubilee, maybe we would have avoided Hitler’s coming to power by canceling Germany’s debt sooner or interrupted Hitler’s rise to power by more strongly opposing his policies once he was handed the reigns of government by an impoverished Germany. God doesn’t like greed. To me, our country’s greed made things much worse than they needed to be in the 1930s and early 40s.
Paul says in Hebrews 3:18:
And to whom was it that he swore that they would not enter his rest? Those who were disobedient.
Therefore, let us be terrified of the possibility that, even though the promise of entering his rest remains, any one of you might be judged to have fallen short of it;
And Hebrews 4:3:
For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest.
And Hebrews 4: 9-11:
9 So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for God’s people. 10 For the one who has entered God’s rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Therefore, let us do our best to enter that rest; so that no one will fall short because of the same kind of disobedience.
Some say the Yovel is not to be practiced now since Israel is not fully occupying its biblically mandated land. Some say it cannot be calculated. Most economists say it is “Utopian” and impractical. What does God say? That is what we must follow.
If you say, “I worship on Sunday because that is the day I was taught to make holy.” I understand that. However, whether you choose to worship at a service for an hour or two on Sunday or Saturday is not the point. It is a DAY of rest. It is a YEAR for the land to rest. It is a year to look forward to and know that you will be free. Today’s slavery is personal debt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that we could look forward to freedom from debt and a return of our land if we had to sell it to survive and the freedom from any kind of indentured existence?
The Sabbath was made for man said Y’shua. God’s rest was made for man. Ultimately, God’s rest is not the Shabbats we are talking about here. God’s rest is in the Olam Haba – the world to come. This is the world where bride and groom – God’s sons and daughters and God’s only begotten Son, are together in spiritual union.
We have lots of passages that tell us how we are to prepare ourselves to enter into God’s rest. If your Sabbath is Sunday, I will tell you that it is better than no Sabbath at all. If it is the day you sanctify to the God in Heaven because you want to separate yourself from what the bible says (and what Jewish people practice) and celebrate your Sabbath on Sunday because the Jews killed Christ and you believe your religion places you in God’s particular favor because you didn’t kill the Messiah, I have news for you: you are not a true believer.
You can follow the traditions of your religion, but when you see that they conflict with God’s word, you have a choice: follow God or follow the “traditions of man” as Y’shua put it. The Sabbath is God’s way of making us sanctify time. It is His way of giving us a taste of the next world – a world in which we will be at peace, at rest.
At the very least consider that the day you sanctify as your Sabbath is committed to revival and renewal. Not just a worship service. Do the best you can to be obedient to what God is telling you and let the Holy Spirit convict you of what is the right path to take. It used to be easier for believers. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s there was more of a cultural respect for a complete day (Sunday) set aside for this. Stores were closed on Sunday. No major sporting events were held on Sunday. Okay, it wasn’t Saturday, but it was easier to approach and participate in a day that was carved out from the rest of the week as special. (Frankly, if we lived in Israel, it would be much easier to observe the biblical Sabbath because everything IS closed on Shabbat.) To me, sanctifying a day is the most important part of the Sabbath. After that, you can work on whether you want to take the big step and do what the bible says: make it Friday night to Saturday night. As God says in many places, “Little by little.”
God knows your heart. He is the only one you need to please. Pleasing Him means loving and worshipping Him and loving each one of His children.
Hopefully, in our striving to follow God, we learn and grow. This happens when we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us to bring us to a greater understanding of what God wants for us. I Peter 2: 1-2 says:
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, of all deceit, hypocrisy and envy, and of all the ways there are of speaking against people; 2 and be like newborn babies, thirsty for the pure milk of the Word; so that by it, you may grow up into deliverance.
Do I do everything that God wants me to do? The answer is probably not. But if I am doing something that God shows me is an act of rebellion and that it displeases Him, I do the best I can to change. I’m sure he wants me to lose weight. This is certainly for my own good. I am sure it would please him because it is good for me. I am doing the best I can. Does he want me to wear fringes or wrap t’fillin (which is the praying while wearing a leather box on my arm and on my forehead which contain Deuteronomy 6:4-9)? Not so I can tell. Does He want me to eat Kosher meat to avoid any biblical prohibitions? He has convicted me to refrain from the eating of those things he says are not food: pork, catfish, shellfish and most insects. I am doing the best I can to listen to Him and hear what He has for me to learn.
I pray that you, too, are striving to hear what God is telling you and to take action when He gives you instruction and direction.
We are all at different places in our walk with God but if we are allowing Him to direct our paths, we will be walking in the same direction. Let us encourage each other to continue on the path God is leading each of us. As we walk this path, others will join us until the culture changes and we experience the corporate repentance that will have to come before Yeshua returns.
Let us consider how each of us can better implement the Sabbaths of God as one way to hasten Yeshua’s returning to inaugurate and establish the New Jerusalem, the Messianic Kingdom.