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Vayikra/Leviticus 25:2 When you come to the land that I am giving to you ...
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This phrase precedes, in particular, the instructions for the sabbatical year: that the land must be allowed to rest every seventh year, without cultivation or harvesting. The word has a range of meanings such as 'for', 'that', 'because', but is best translated 'when' in this context. This is not a conditional command in the sense, "if you ever get into the Land then you shall ...", but a firm instruction that is currently not yet applicable because the Land hasn't yet been taken and occupied.Rashi is concerned to point out that although this commandment was not to have any effect for forty years, it was given at Mt. Sinai because all the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai. Although expanded and reiterated on the Plains of Moab, before the children of the generation who heard it at Sinai actually enter the Land, Rashi stresses that this is an instruction from Sinai.
Rabbi Samson RaphaelHirsch explains that the onset of the command to count in seven year cycles would be in the fifteenth year after the Israelites crossed the Jordan, so that the first sabbatical year would be the twenty first year after formal entry into the Land. Hirsch says that the first seven years are allowed for the conquest of the Land, and another seven years are set aside for division and allocation of the Land to the tribes, clans and families, so that it is only after fourteen years that all the people will have their individual inheritance and can together observe six years of planting and reaping, followed by the seventh year of rest. For Hirsch, while the weekly day of Shabbat commemorates G-d as Creator and Master of the world, the one-in-seven sabbatical year commemorates G-d as Owner and Master of the Land.
Nechama Leibowitz quotes an earlier question by Alshikh - "When you come into the land which I give you: There is none who does not know that it is G-d who gives, for the earth is the L-rd's, and the fullness thereof, and this is also stated several times in the Torah. It seems superfluous here - why does the Torah mention it?" - before providing her answer. "Man is possessed of a strong feeling of proprietorship. It is perhaps most strongly rooted in the peasant who dwells and lives on his own land. The sensation of 'mine' is fraught with danger. It is to counter it that the Torah emphasises that the land is a gift from G-d to Israel, and in order to remind him that it is not the power and the might of his hand have got him his wealth." We need to be constantly reminded that everything we have is a gift from G-d and comes from His hand, so that we don't think that we have provided or earned it ourselves. So not only the sabbatical year that is about to be commanded, but the prologue or reason for that command, is a reminder that it is G-d who gives the Land, the means of production, the resources and the growth on which we depend.
Without making a specific comment of his own, the Sforno draws a far-reaching connection between this phrase and the words of the prophet: "beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Nations" (Isaiah 8:231). The Sforno sees the Land that G-d will give to the Children of Israel, that territory over or beyond the Jordan, being particularly the area of the Galilee, rather than the Judean hills, opposite Jericho, where the actual crossing took place. Seeing, as it were, the Land as G-d's gift and the fulfillment of G-d's promise, he points to but fails to grasp that the verse he is using - "But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time He brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Isaiah 9:1-2, ESV) - is used by the Spirit as a prophecy of Messiah, to be fulfilled by Yeshua in the gospel: "And leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 'The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned'" (Matthew 4:13-16, ESV). Not only were our people given the Land, but also the Messiah, as Rav Sha'ul wrote: "They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ" (Romans 9:4-5, ESV). This too was a certainty, although neither Isaiah or his first hearers could have recognised it when it was first spoken.
The same kind of conditional certainty is spoken of by Yeshua: "On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as a testimony to them and to the Goyim. But when they bring you to trial, do not worry about what to say or how to say it; when the time comes, you will be given what you should say" (Matthew 10:18-19, CJB). Notice the 'when' in the middle, as it appears in the text from the Torah; believers will find themselves in court and before rulers on account of their faith in Yeshua and, when that circumstance applies, the Ruach will give them the words to speak. Luke's parallel is even more pointed: "they will arrest you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons; and you will be brought before kings and governors ... So make up your minds not to worry, rehearsing your defense beforehand; for I Myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that no adversary will be able to resist or refute" (Luke 21:12-15, CJB). This has happened on countless occasions in the millenia since Yeshua said the words; it will continue to happen until He returns. Not 'if' but 'when'.
Other great promises that we have in the Bible are expressed in similar terms - "When that day comes" - Yeshua's return, the resurrection, the messianic age, the last great battle on the hill at Meggido. They are all in our future, so at a human level we cannot be certain that they will happen. G-d, of course, being outside time, can be perfectly certain since He sees the beginning from the end. G-d's promises are then to be taken in faith by those who believe, who have seen Him act in their lives, in the lives of others and in the pages of the Scriptures. We know that He is faithful and will keep His promises because He has consistently always kept His promises in the past. Keeping faithfulness and consistency is a fundamental part of G-d's character and can be relied upon to the very end.
1 - The Hebrew and English verse numbers differ here, with the Hebrew text retaining this verse in chapter 8, while the English numbering moves this verse forward to be the first verse of chapter 9.
Further Study: Joshua 6:5; Ezekiel 28:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:54
Application: Are you at an "if/when" moment? You're sure G-d has said "when" but your circumstances are screaming "if"; you want to move forward but the timing never seems right; you have all the vision but none of the resources. Relax and take it back to G-d. His timing is always perfect and He will supply the resources when then are needed. "When" not "if"; take it from Him!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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