“Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it" (Leviticus 26:34-35)
Originally posted 2022.
As I write this, I am in Jerusalem. We’ve been in Israel since February 17. This country is absolutely beautiful. Even though it is roughly the size of New Jersey, there is more diversity from north to south than any country of its size in the world. The Golan Heights in the north are lush and green, similar to the Blue Ridge or Appalachian Mountains in the States. The area around the Sea of Galilee reminds me of the Napa Valley.
As we traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem the landscape shifted from green to brown, beginning to resemble New Mexico and Arizona.
Finally, south of Jerusalem is the weird and wonderful landscape of Qumran and the Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on the planet.
It truly is a beautiful land. The Bible is right (of course it is!) when it describes the Promised Land as a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
And I love that God does not bring a curse on His Promised Land when He describes the consequences of not obeying Him in Leviticus 26. People will suffer the consequences of disobedience. They will suffer sickness (v. 16). They will be overrun by their enemies (v. 17). They will be attacked by wild beasts (v. 22). There will be famine (v. 26), so severe that the people will resort to cannibalism (v. 29). Ultimately, the people will be led away into exile (v. 33).
We will see as we continue through the Old Testament that all these things took place. But notice how God protects the land of Israel. In verse 34, God promises that the land will enjoy the rest that the people of Israel refused to give it. Yesterday we talked about how there is no record that the year of Jubilee was ever observed. This was the mandate that every fiftieth year, no crops would be planted and land would revert back to its original ownership. This was in addition to the law of the Sabbath year described in Leviticus 25:1-5, which described a rest for the land every seven years. Was this also neglected? There are some scholars who conclude that since the Babylonian exile lasted 70 years, there must have been 490 years of the people ignoring Leviticus 25. This seems to be what 2 Chronicles 36 implies:
20 He [the Babylonian king] took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. (2 Chronicles 36:20-21)
Regardless of whether you conclude that God’s people ignored the command for exactly 490 years or not, it is clear that they had ignored it for a long time. But it is also clear that God had a special place in His heart for this land.
And having spent this last week here, I can certainly understand why.
Want to go to Israel with me next year? I am leading my church on a ten day tour, from February 22, 2024 to March 2. We will be flying out of Atlanta. Cost: $4000 (all inclusive, including airfare from Atlanta). As soon as I get the itinerary settled, I will get it all to you in a future blog post. If you are interested, please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org.