“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard [and] your olive grove.”
The Bible includes this concept of the sabbath in various forms. There’s the sabbath day, the sabbath year, Jesus being the sabbath for the believer. Jesus would say that the man was not made for the sabbath but the sabbath for man. Resting. It’s one of the most difficult things for people to do — especially those workaholic types. God, in His mercy and love for us, wants us to rest.
But there’s more to the sabbath year than rest. The sabbath year—every seventh year—was to be a work-fare program for the poor. See, God is not only interested in my well-being, but in the well-being of everyone. He’s not just looking to provide for my needs, but the needs of my neighbors and the poor with me. And He commands that my resources be placed at His disposal for the purpose. I wonder if that last would upset anyone … that God commands that His children—here the Israelites, for me (the adopted child) the Christian—place their resources at their Father’s disposal. I imagine that our sinful nature chafes at the thought that what we “worked so hard for” should be frittered away like that. But there’s something interesting here. God does not tell the Israelites to give what they worked for to anyone, He tells them rather to take a year-long vacation and let others gather the harvest of the fields during that time. He does not say, “Give them what you’ve harvested and labored over and stored up to be able to take that vacation. Free passes for everyone who’s not you!” He does say, “Let them work for what they need. They’re just going to do that on your farmland. You won’t be using it, let someone else.” It’s the old concept of sharing from back in kindergarten. If you’re not using it, then someone else should be able to.
I’m not sure what a modern version of this would look like. But there are a couple principles that I will draw out from this.
First, we need to rest from time to time. In the American culture of workaholics and Status Symbols ‘Я’ Us, taking an actual, legitimate break or vacation is almost unheard of. For the believer, that should not be. We should be absolutely certain that we take the time to rest and disconnect from the stresses of work. We need time to refocus on God and how awesome He is toward us.
Second, we need to give those who are in need a chance and a method of getting what they need. There are plenty of people holding up signs and asking for money. I seldom carry cash any more, in part because I cannot see through the cardboard to know whether the person holding the sign is truly in need or if they’re just playing a part. If time permits, I will often offer to buy a meal for the person. I know there are some who would say, “But that doesn’t help with their need for shelter.” and the point is valid, but I cannot do everything. I do what I am able (my family’s resources can stand buying a meal for someone — they hold up to feeding me, so they’re okay for that) and leave the rest in God’s hands. If the person objecting to the assistance I offer has the time and resource to pay for that person to have a room, then that’s on them. God provides enough for me to do what He has laid on my heart to do. What’s on that person’s heart is between them and God. God’s solution was to make laws that prohibited taking advantage of the poor and mandating that the people take a year-long vacation every so often so that the poor could come work and gather the food they needed. If you read through the book of Ruth, you find out that some folks (like Boaz) really went the extra mile in providing for the poor in the community.
Rest and providing a sort of work-fare program. It’s interesting to me how God gave one person rest while He gave another a chance to work. He’s balanced like that.
How do those principles apply to me? First, I need to take my breaks, days off, and vacations seriously. Those are times to be free of work and to refocus on my God and how He has blessed me. Second, I need to hold my resources in an open hand and to be open to God’s direction in how He wants those resources used. He may point out a person who needs a meal. From time to time, God has given us an abundance that we have been able to use to give assistance to our church family and that is how it should be.