Behar (On the Mount) – Bechukotai (By My Decrees)
Leviticus 25:1–27:34; Jeremiah 16:19–17:14; Matthew 21:33–46
Last week’s Parasha (Emor) emphasized that the Cohen (priests) are called to a greater measure of holiness. It also described seven essential festivals that are fundamental to Israel’s walk with the Lord.
Orthodox Jews praying at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem
This week, Parasha Behar–Bechukotai outlines a Sabbath rest for the Land in the seventh year. This Sabbatical year, which God gives to Moses for Israel, is called Shemitah (release).
“For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 25:3–4)
Every seven years, the Land wasn’t to be worked in any kind of way. It wasn’t planted, pruned, or harvested.
Israeli agriculture: God commanded Moses that the fields were to lay
fallow every seven years in Israel.
You may wonder what the people ate. While the land lay fallow, fruits growing on their own could be eaten by anyone (Leviticus 25:7).
And though this sabbatical year may seem like something of a fast, it was actually more of a feast since God promised that in the sixth year of the seven-year cycle, the land would yield enough food to last for three years.
“I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” (Leviticus 25:21)
This abundance of crop in the sixth year very much resembles the double portion of manna (the miraculous food found on the ground each morning in the wilderness) that God provided on Friday so that His people would have enough for Shabbat.
Gathering of the Manna
Seven Times Seven Sabbatical Years
Seven is a significant number in the Bible. It symbolizes wholeness, completeness and rest.
This pattern of seven has been evident since God created the world.
After He was finished creating, He set apart the seventh day and rested. The Jewish People are commanded to commemorate this by resting on this seventh day as well.
Similarly, God further commanded the Israelites to allow the land to rest every seven years.
They were also to celebrate a year of Jubilee after seven times seven years.
“Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years.” (Leviticus 25:8)
A 13-year-old Jewish boy prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall
The Year of Jubilee
“Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee [yovel-horn blast] for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.” (Leviticus 25:10)
In the 50th year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, which is Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the shofar was to be sounded, announcing the Year of Jubilee.
This year was sanctified, set apart, and holy (kadosh) to the Lord, much the same as the Shabbat and the Shemitah Year.
The laws of the Shemitah applied during the Year of Jubilee.
This Jewish man, who has his head covered with his prayer shawl (tallit),
is blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) on Yom Kippur.
Additionally, slaves were to go free, people were to be released from debts and mortgages, and lands outside wall cities were to revert to the original owner, even if that owner had sold the property because of misfortune or poverty.
“The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Leviticus 25:23)
Ultimately, both the land and the people belong to God, and He instituted a just system, which if kept according to His commands, prevented land and wealth from accumulating in the hands of a rich few, while the majority languished in poverty.
In God’s system, everyone can and should live a blessed life.
A street market in the non-Jewish quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Rewards for Obedience to God’s Commands
“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.” (Leviticus 26:3–4)
In the Parasha Bechukotai portion of today’s reading, which completes the Book of Leviticus, God promises to reward Israel for obedience.
Those promises include the following (Leviticus 26:3–13):
- Rain in its season;
- An abundant, fruitful cycle of planting, harvesting and threshing;
- Safety and peace;
- Security from threat of wild beasts and military aggression;
- Victory over enemies;
- The presence of God’s dwelling place; and
- Freedom from bondage.
The teeming fruit stalls in this open-air market in
Jerusalem are evidence of God’s blessing upon
Israel. For many years, the Holy Land lay desolate.
Consequences of Disobedience
Scripture makes it plain that if Israel refused to give the land its required rest during the seventh year, the land would fall desolate, and the Jewish People would be scattered to the nations to make up for the years that it was denied rest.
“Then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.” (Leviticus 26:34–35)
Disobedience brought about other consequences. Those consequences include military defeat, lack of rain, failed crops, disease, fever, plague and terror.
“IF you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and IF you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength.” (Leviticus 26:14–16)
“IF” is a tiny word with enormous ramifications.
IF we listen to the Lord and keep His commandments, then we don’t need to fear terrorism, plagues or any evil thing. God will keep us safely under the shelter of His wings (Psalm 17:8).
Many animals and birds fiercely protect their young. Here we see one
sheltering a chick under her wing. God is also fiercely protective of His
people, and He shelters those who trust in Him!
Today, terrorism is such a concern everywhere in the world, but especially here in Israel. And yet, the reality is that God promises to keep us safe from terror if we will obey Him.
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)
Israel Defense Forces soldiers welcome a child in their midst.
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8)
Suffering is not always brought about by God’s judgment, so we must be careful not to fall into simplistic thinking.
Take, for instance, the example of Job. Although he was a righteous man, he suffered the loss of family, finances and health.
Job linked his suffering to fear, which perhaps indicates Satan’s root of access.
“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:25)
His friends were convinced that he was guilty of secret sin and was, therefore, responsible for the suffering that came upon him. Job denied this, and God eventually vindicated him.
Job’s suffering actually came about because he was righteous. God blessed him because of that righteousness, and Satan targeted his blessings thinking that they were the very reasons Job served God.
But even with everything stripped away from him, he still served God.
An open scroll of Job on display in a museum
Sometimes the reasons behind a person’s suffering are surprising.
In John 9, Yeshua (Jesus) came upon a man who had been blind since birth, and his disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
Yeshua said that neither were the cause. The man’s blindness was not due to anyone’s sin. The purpose of the blindness was to reveal the glory of God!
“This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:3)
If we jump to conclusions about the source of someone’s suffering, we risk losing an opportunity to pray for that person and to see the glory of God manifested before our very eyes.
A beggar on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem
God’s Faithfulness Is Unconditional
Although God’s rewards for obedience may be conditional, His covenant with Israel is most definitely unconditional.
“When they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God.” (Leviticus 26:44)
Even when the people of Israel suffered because of their sin in the nations where they were persecuted, tortured, and killed, God did not reject them. Neither did He destroy His people completely, nor forget His covenant with Israel.
We can look at the example of Israel and gain wisdom for our own personal lives and for future generations.
There are so many areas where we might actually be disobedient and, therefore, not experiencing everything God has for us; for example, harboring anger, unforgiveness, hatred or anti-Semitism, and ignoring the plight of the poor may be robbing us of His blessings.
Lifting the Torah (Hagbah): It is considered an honor to lift the Torah so that
the entire congregation can see it.
In this Parasha, the Book of Leviticus ends with an important source of divine blessing—to give the ma’aser (tithe), which is holy, to the Lord.
“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30, see also Numbers 18:21–26)
Failing to contribute financially to the Kingdom of God can have undesirable consequences in our lives.
We must never forget that everything we possess belongs to the Lord, and that we honor him by giving a portion back to Him. This includes giving to those who have less than us (Deuteronomy 26:12).