This week’s parasha, Behar, means “on the mountain” and covers Leviticus 25:1-26:2. Here are more laws God gave to establish the new nation of Israel. The people promised to obey the instructions God gave through Moses. This was their part in the covenant God made with them, but they broke that covenant. We read and understand these laws in the context of the rest of the Bible. They point to Yeshua’s commands that the Holy Spirit would write on our hearts.
Every seventh year the land was to enjoy a full year of rest. No planting, no harvesting. Notice it’s a year of rest for the land, whereas people rest every seventh day. The community eats whatever grows on its own. Now that we know about genetic diversity and principles of soil conservation, we see the wisdom of this. God wanted Israel to continue being a land flowing with milk and honey.
Tragically, many Israelis decided that the way to keep their land productive was to imitate the horrible fertility cults of Baal and Ashtoreth. Israel didn’t know about genetics and soil conservation but God did—He invented it. They could have learned from God. But we humans prefer to do things our own way, thinking we know better. We’ve been that way for a very long time.
Now imagine you work a farm you own that’s been in your family for generations. Things start going badly. Crops don’t do well. Prices for your produce fall. You have other setbacks. As a result, you have to sell everything. You and your family have to find work wherever you can. You’re mistreated and you’re barely making enough to survive, but there aren’t any options. You and your family are stuck in a miserable life of working poverty with no hope for your or your children’s future.
How would you feel?
Well, God had you in mind when he gave Moses the next set of laws. Every fifty years everyone’s farmland was to be restored to them if they’d had to sell it. And if they had to sell themselves as slaves, they’d be freed. They’d get fresh starts, able to work the land once again that belonged to their family and now is restored to them. Until that 50th year, land owners were forbidden from treating slaves ruthlessly. God intended that people impacted by economic disaster would have hope, and would be treated with dignity.
God gave special laws concerning aliens, temporary residents, and those too poor to support themselves. God commanded the Israelis to show kindness and help these people as a condition of living in the land. He said, “Don’t charge them interest when you lend them money and don’t sell them food at a profit.”
In these laws we see things God cares about.
- The Land. Genesis 1 says “God saw that it was good” five times before He created humans. God will liberate all of Creation.
- Poverty. When He returns to earth, Yeshua will say, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father;…For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me…whatever you did for the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”
- Inequality. “Woe to those who join house to house and merge field to field, until there is no room, and you live alone in the midst of the land!”.
God and His Word aren’t confined to a little box people call “religion”.
There’s a part of today’s reading in which God permits people to own foreign-born slaves without restriction. As recently as 250 years ago, slavery was a legal and commonly-accepted practice worldwide. Not anymore. How did it happen that the most powerful nations on earth declared slavery illegal and almost all nations followed?
Some historians say they don’t know. But we know, right? Christians like William Wilberforce and many others saw how the institution of slavery was used to destroy people. Led by the Holy Spirit, they saw this destruction as so contrary to God’s love for all people, that the best way to stop it was to end the institution of slavery. That’s what they worked for, and God blessed their efforts. This was part of the revival in Europe and North America in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
God defines what’s good and what’s evil. Where someone is doing something good, Yeshua’s disciples help, as we’re led by the Holy Spirit. Where people are hurt by something evil, we care for them, heal and restore. Where people are doing something evil, we confront them and stop them. And as we do, we tell them why. “We’re Jesus’ disciples. Jesus cares about this situation and about you. By the way, what do you think about Jesus?”
The land, poverty, inequality, slavery. Are we social justice warriors? Yes. But we don’t follow Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. That just makes everything worse. Rather, led by the Spirit, we work in good faith.
But, before you go out to change the world, first be sure you’re joined to Messiah.
If you’ve never done it before, say to God, “Father, I’ve been doing things my own way, thinking I knew better than You. I’ve offended You and hurt people. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I don’t want to live that way anymore. I believe Yeshua died so I can be forgiven and that He arose and is alive now. Yeshua is my King. I want to be His disciple. Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Teach me. Direct me in the way You want me to live.”
Please do that, and mean it, and keep asking God for wisdom about everything.