Holy Time – Leviticus 25

The idea of holy time might seem a bit odd at first. And yet time was the first thing declared holy in the Bible. Because time is often precious. Many of us have lost loved ones over the years. Family, friends, work colleagues… time takes us all. Some you miss more than others, obviously. You’d give everything just to have them back even for 1 hour. Just to be with them. Nothing material; just time and presence.

For many people not directly affected by Covid, the early lockdown in 2020 was actually lovely in some ways. No traffic; reduced work; family at home. Life simplified. Time and presence, together.

This gives us an inkling of what Leviticus 25 has in store for us: The great gift of God to you.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Holy time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy

Last time, we looked at Leviticus 23 and 24. We read about 7 feasts, holy assemblies.

  • A weekly feast, the Sabbath.
  • 3 Spring feasts and 3 Autumn feasts.
  • All 7 were marked by rest and holy assembly, gathering.

Now in Leviticus 25 we read about a Sabbath for the land every 7 years, and a year of Jubilee every 7×7 years. The word “Sabbath” didn’t appear in the first half of Leviticus at all, then got its first mention in Chapter 16 for the Day of Atonement – and it appears 26 time in chapters 23-25.

So? Remember the flow of the book:

  • Sacrifices have been provided, a priest hood installed, cleanliness laws given – all so that unclean people can approach God.
  • Then a High Priest has entered God’s presence on the Day of Atonement, representing the whole people.
  • They live out God’s holiness every day: work, shopping, family life – and God shines his blessing on them.
  • And it’s only in the context of this every day holiness of God’s people under God’s blessing that the idea of “Sabbath” has any meaning at all.

But the meaning is profound: The Sabbath is holy time with God, and holy time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy. Go back to Genesis 1. In Hebrew, the opening sentence has 7 words. We get the account of 7 days of creation. It’s a beautiful and wonderful part of the Bible.

Humanity in God’s image

On the 6th day, God created humanity. In particular, “God created human beings in his own image.” We often think of the creation of humanity as the peak of God’s work. But it was only Day 6, not Day 7. He created everything and declared it “good”. Then he rested, and declared the 7th day “holy”.

It turns out that humanity is not the goal of creation. In fact, humanity is only properly understood when you see people as creatures made in God’s image. “Humanity was created for the heavenward gaze” (ref). And the Sabbath (which means ‘rest’) is holy time, for humanity to reflect the image of God back in worship.

On the 4th day, God had said: “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years.” But the Hebrew word for lights is highly unusual – and is linked to the word for the lamp in Leviticus’s Tabernacle. And the word for seasons doesn’t mean “seasons” anywhere else: The NIV says it better: “…let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years”. Because the word is the same words as for the feasts of Leviticus 23: Firstfruits, trumpets, Day of Atonement etc.

So far as Genesis 1 is concerned, the sun and moon define sacred times for humanity to come and worship God. Week by week (the Sabbath) and through the year (set times). The whole world was meant to be a meeting place between God and humanity – and time would be specifically set apart as holy to enjoy it, each Sabbath. But people choose their own way, their own life away from God. We sin. We’re naturally far from God.

The Tabernacle reboot

But God stepped in. With the Tabernacle in Leviticus you have a miniature version of the universe.

  • God in heaven / God in the Most Holy Place
  • The heavens of sun & moon / the lamp in the Holy Place

The sin that separates us from God is atoned for. Sinful people can approach the holy God. The society of Israel was entirely the Lord’s own. Bread would be brought to the Tabernacle Sabbath by Sabbath, as an image of how his people would assemble before him Sabbath by Sabbath.

  • God’s people in a holy place (where God is), in holy time (Sabbath, rest from everything else), in holy assembly (all gathered together).
  • And that is a picture of heaven on earth.

And although it sounds lovely, it’s only a 2D shadow of the much better reality in Jesus.

  • Jesus is our passover, our firstfruits, our Day of Atonement, our celebration.
  • Jesus’ sacrifice is the substitution for you and me; God’s anger justly satisfied, now you can come to him yourself.
  • He is ready to forgive and welcome all who ask.
  • And he invites you to his presence.

You can come to God and enjoy him. 

To be a Christian and not spend time with God makes no sense – it’s like getting married but choosing not to be with your spouse. Holy time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy. Jesus said he is the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for humanity, not the other way round. It’s a gift for you to enjoy, and the highest enjoyment is to be in a holy place, in holy assembly, for a holy time.

There are some practical implications, but there’s something we need a quick look at:

Bible economics

Leviticus 25 has a section on the year of Jubilee and things about buying and selling land.

  • The land belonged to God; it wasn’t yours to buy or sell.
  • When they entered the land, it was divided up and allotted
  • You could sell a field to someone, but they’d have to give it back in the year of Jubilee – every 49 years.
  • So if the year of Jubilee was 40 year away, a field would be worth more than if it was just 2 years away. Fair.

The idea of the year of Jubilee was very simple:

  • You would remember that the land was the Lord’s, that he was the king, and that tribute was due to him.
  • It would also mean that anyone falling into poverty wouldn’t necessarily bring destitution to generations to come; land would be restored eventually.
  • It also meant that no-one was able to accumulate land and wealth without limit.
  • With the year of Jubilee, God is demonstrating great care both for the rich and the poor.
    • The rich would be protected from greed and lust
    • The poor would be protected from abuse and permanent destitution.

Money can’t buy the gift God gives freely: Time with himself.

Why is this stuff here at this point in Leviticus? Because good society isn’t to be founded on economic grounds; a holy people will have God as king – caring and providing all that is needed. 

Money can’t buy the gift God gives freely: Time with himself.

What will you do with the Lord’s Day?

The Old Testament weekly Sabbath was a clear public statement of a community and society under God’s rule. In the New Testament and through to today, God’s people are dispersed across the world (not a geographic people), and the role of the Sabbath as it was in the Old Testament has gone.

But still, the New Testament does have references to “the Lord’s Day” – when his people would gather for worship, to break bread, to sing, hear Scripture read and preached. Even the day to collect offerings to help other Christians. It’s not exactly the same as the Old Testament Sabbath, and yet there is clear continuity too. And Christians have regarded Sunday as the Lord’s Day from the very beginning – the day Jesus rose from the dead.

If you think of a Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” you might well want to rethink what you do with it. Is it really “me time” if it’s “the Lord’s”? And yet it is a gift. The Sabbath was made for you; you’re not a slave to it.

You have 6 days to do stuff; but God calls you to a holy time, a holy place, a holy assembly  – we come together to him. Some have jobs that require you to be elsewhere. But even so, the year of Jubilee reminds you that the economics of the Bible sees time with God as the highest treasure. 

Keep Sunday special?

What about moves to “keep Sunday special” by reducing retail hours and closing businesses on Sundays? Is that a good thing for Christians to get involved in?

  • At one level, it’s missing the point if the primary message is the need to keep Sundays special.
    • The Lord’s Day is just that – time to enjoy the Lord’s presence.
    • To people whose god is their stomach, or their bank balance, or their leisure time, Sundays are just another day to worship those gods.
    • Such people need to hear the Good News of the Bible that God loves them despite their offence to him, and that he longs for them to turn in repentance and faith.
  • And yet, when you look at the legislation in Leviticus 25 (and later in Deuteronomy) it’s clear that rest on the Sabbath is for everyone – the slave, the worker, animals
    • When a Christian campaigns for shops to shut on Sundays so that lower-wage earners can spend time with their families – they reflect God’s own concern for the poor.
    • And it’s good to do good, always.

But for Christians, we need to say it again: Holy time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy. It’s your destiny, if you’re a Christian. A destiny of eternal bliss. This is something we can do every moment of every day. Jesus is with you; all of every day. You can pray, and you’re in the Most Holy Place with God. You can open your Bible, and year him speak his holy words.

Holy time in a holy place in holy assembly

And yet, throughout the Bible, there is an emphasis on God’s people assembling together to be with him. Leviticus 23 had those particular times in the calendar – weekly, and seasonal.

Holy time, in a holy place, in holy assembly. That is what we’re doing when we go to church. The bricks aren’t holy. But the place is holy because Christ is there by the mediation of the Holy Spirit. He is in you; he is among his people when they gather. You spend time in his presence, listening to his word, singing his praises. And, in Christ, you’re simultaneously in heaven itself, joined with countless millions who entered that eternal rest, the Sabbath rest that awaits all God’s people.

Use the day wisely. Do rest! Enjoy the time as a gift, not an annoying limitation. If you run out of milk, go get some. But you honour the Lord well if you don’t plan a “big shop” on a Sunday!

Spend time with your family; be hospitable to others.

The Sabbaths of Leviticus 23 were often joyous celebrations, as God’s people enjoyed the Lord’s blessing together.

Holy time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy.

Holy time with God is the gift you were created to enjoy.

He has given you Christ himself to bring you to the Most Holy Place; let’s continue to gather in holy assembly, dedicating holy time, prioritising God’s great gift of holy time above all else.