About a month ago, in our Bible reading plan at church we were reading Leviticus. I admit I was behind so I did one of those fell swoop moves and spent about 4 hours one morning catching up. It was fascinating to read most of that book in one sitting. God did not leave out any details in His instructions for the Israelites.
I’ve had notes written down since that day for a blog post and they don’t necessarily go together….but – in fear that I won’t have time to write another blog post for a long stretch, I’m going to try to put them all in.
A good chunk on Leviticus 23 talks about the days God marked as sacred. These include the Festival of Weeks, Jewish New Year, and the Day of Atonement. They are also known as Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. First, I would just like to point out how old these festivals are. What is the oldest holiday we celebrate? Not even close. These celebrations are thousands of years old. And they are still celebrated today by the Jewish people.
In between the instructions for the ritual of the Festival of Weeks (or Harvest) and the instructions for Rosh Hashanah, there is verse 22. It was a verse that popped out at me when I read it – “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.”
Whoa. Makes you think of your own life right away, doesn’t it? How many times do you take leftovers home from the restaurant and forget about them until you clean out your refrigerator two weeks later? How much do we hoard to make sure we get every last bite/second/space? What if we lived in a way in which giving part of what you get wasn’t even a second thought? And I don’t mean taxes.
There’s another ritual that God prescribes in Leviticus, called the Year of Jubilee. First, the Israelites are instructed to sow their land and prone their vineyards for six years, but then give the land a Sabbath the seventh year. Interesting. The people are instructed to make sure they have enough to feed themselves and their entire camp for that year. They are also to plan for seven Sabbath years, so they have a calendar laid out for those 49 years. They are then instructed to sound a ram’s horn on the 10th day of the seventh month, or Yom Kippur. (I only add this detail because I’d like to point out that a ram’s horn is what we know now as a shofar. The shofar is most commonly known in Scripture as a trumpet. When Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho, they weren’t using trumpets that you and I know of now. They used a shofar. That’s my music nerdiness coming out. Back to the post)
In the 50th year, the Year of Jubilee, God instructs something fascinating. During this year, everyone was to return to their original property. So in a way, everyone leased their property for 50 years, and then had to give it up. This was to show that it was God’s land and it prevented anyone from taking over all of the land. Can you imagine if we actually practiced this today? I feel that something most of us take for granted is land. With our advanced technology and globalization, land doesn’t seem like much of something to own, but back in the day, land was a BIG DEAL. If you owned land, you were somebody. This was especially true when the US was first established. Before George Washington was a General in the Army, he was a surveyor. He was responsible for a lot of the lines drawn on our maps today. He knew the significance of land. (Cue the Tara theme.) I digress…so for God to tell everyone that they were going to give up whatever land they had acquired in 50 years was a big deal. And oh so generous.
Why is being generous so hard? Why do we only restrict it to winter holidays? Why are we so reluctant to give? Why are we so skeptical of those who are in need? Today I was on my way into the city, and at a stoplight a homeless person was walking up and down the median with a cardboard sign. I hesitated, as I always do, but decided to give him some cash. I rolled down the window and gave him the money as he thanked me and wished me a great day. Please don’t get the wrong idea – I am not trying to glorify myself, but simply make a point. I gave him 2 dollars. That’s it. Two bucks. But the feeling of gratitude I had after rolling up the window was overwhelming. God programmed us this way. When we bless others, we have touched the very heart of God. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love people. It’s so easy. So why is it so hard? Now I know there are people who exploit people’s generosity. Those who are generous have definitely been taken advantage of. But why in the world would you let that stop you? Have you ever gotten food poisoning? Has that stopped you from eating altogether?
Generosity is not a luxury that people acquire when they become prosperous, generosity is meant to be part of the core values in each one of us. God built in generosity in his commandments. Jesus is the epitome of generosity – he gave up his LIFE for us. Be generous. Bless others, and not only because it’s what we’re supposed to do, but I believe, deep down, it’s all what we want to do.