It’s hard enough to work 6 days and take the 7th off. Ok, so it’s not hard. We just don’t do it. I actually do try although it is tricky to figure out what one is to actually “do” on the Sabbath. Read books? Watch TV? That’s fun for a bit but then gets boring. Regardless, God says rest. I rest.
But now the harder challenge. Can you imagine gaining your income from farming and told you were to work the land 6 years and then let it rest for 1 year? A whole year?! How would you eat? How would you pay bills? How would you provide for your family? God says we need rest. And also the land. Rest.
I wonder how this worked. Did they save up double in the 6th year like they did with the manna that fell from heaven? How would provision come for year #7? Did they find other work? If so what did they do? I don’t really know and neither does Google. Now that’s a real crisis.
But there’s another reason for letting the land rest. It was not just for the Sabbath. It was also for the poor.
Ex 23:10 “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
The land would produce a little based on what accidentally fell in the soil. And vineyards and olive groves would continue to produce. This is what belonged to the poor.
It may be worth mentioning that the farmer did not do all the work and then give it directly to the poor (although we will read later that there is this kind of provision as well), but the year of the Sabbath rest made provision for the poor to find work. This preserves the dignity of the poor and that is priceless.
So how does that look today? We don’t exactly know how to make bread from grains and if we did, not all of us have a grain mill on our kitchen counter. Nor is our sustenance mainly from farming anymore. We are more of an industrial culture.
One way that has grown tremendously that carries this same sort of spirit is making provision for the poor to find work is microfinance. It is about empowering those who need hand up with a small sum of money to develop a business. Microfinance, although slower than direct hand-outs is having tremendous payout. Here is the story of one ministry and how it works for them:
Or how about this story from the book I’ve been reading, “Hole in Our Gospel”:
“I met this remarkable woman named Lida Sargsyan a few years ago in Armenia, a country still recovering… A talented seamstress, she had approached World Vision several years earlier for a loan of a few hundred dollars to buy a sewing machine. She repaid that loan quickly and took additional loans to buy more equipment and supplies, each time a bit larger and each time paying them back with interest. She was building and growing an apparel business specializing in tailored suits for men, women, and children.
As we walked into her factory, I was astonished to find large sewing and cutting machines, a warehouse full of supplies, a shipping room filled with orders soon to be shipped, and forty employees! She was virtually bursring with pride as she showed me what had been able to create with her own talents–and a few strategic loans form World Vision.
We ended the tour in her office, where she pulled our printed proofs of her fall catalog. In it were photographs of all of her new styles and products for the coming season. This catalog would be distributed not only throughout Armenia but also in several neighboring countries–she had gone international. The point is, years earlier, World Vision could have simply given her handouts to address her poverty, but instead we chose to believe in her–and to give her a hand up. As a result, she and forty others were drawing paychecks to support their families.
As I was leaving, I told her that while I had been the CEO of two American companies, I had rarely met anyone as talented as her in business. Obviously delight, she smiled at me and said, “Not too bad for a woman, eh?”
Empowering the poor to provide for themselves is what I believe we can take from this text. The poor aren’t dumb or all lazy as we would like to believe, but some just need an an opportunity. In an agrarian society, this was one system in place that provided opportunities for the poor to find work.