"And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years (Leviticus 25.8)."
During the forty years sojourn of the tribes of Israel in the wilderness Jehovah fully instructed them regarding all aspects of their lives. Central among these instructions was the commands to keep various sabbaths. Generally when the matter of a sabbath comes up we think of the seventh day sabbath. However, this was only one of a number of different sabbaths instituted for their benefit. The seventh day sabbath certainly was emblematic of the rest of God after creation, and prefigured the spiritual rest for God's children for all time in the finished work of Christ; a rest from their labors and a rest in His.
There was, as well, the sabbath on the first day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23.24); the sabbath on the tenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23.27,32); the double sabbath of the feast (Leviticus 23.39); the sabbath of the seventh year (Leviticus 25.4). The sabbath mentioned in our text at the heading was to take place on the fiftieth year of reckoning. It appears that the reckoning began in the 21st year after the Israelites entered into the land of promise, for they were seven years in subduing the land and another seven years in its distribution; thus adding another seven years, up to and including the first land rest sabbath, would be 21 years. We can determine then that the first jubilee sabbath was about seventy years after the 12 tribes crossed Jordan with the ark going before. We sincerely believe this time frame of seventy years complements the historical basis to our understanding of the purpose of God for His people in the jubile sabbath. We hope to explain later.
Assuming there will be objectors to our view, we nevertheless state that the directives of our text, Leviticus 25.8, were absolutely predestinated to take place; exactly as God had said they would.
It is to us a very faint, if not contemptible, view of God to read the details and exactness with which He ordered the lives of the Israelites, and then to say this was all left to chance, free-will, the whim of sinners, and the inveterate cunning of Satan to foil this God-established government. Surely the most timid of believers would admit this was more than a wish list for Israel to consider. The sabbaths were periods of rest with paramount meaning and the weight of overwhelming-implied evidence is that God's purpose was for them to be observed without fail. Some soft-shell will no doubt ask, "But did they obey or not?" "Did they not fail to observe the sabbaths of God and bring down judgments on their heads?" For those that hold to a limited view of the government of God these are natural and obvious questions, for it surely appears that Israel did most miserably fail to follow the sabbath directives, as well as most other regulations Jehovah enumerated to them. Predestinarians see a grander unfolding of events, however, that brought compliance and the commandments into harmony with one another.
An example from another period in Israel's travels will, we strongly feel, give us a case in point. Jonah, the son of Amittai, was instructed by the word of the Lord to "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me (Jonah 1.2)." Did he go? Yes! Yes, he went; but not at first, and not as might be expected by the advocates of choice. Because Jonah did not immediately hoof it off to Nineveh does not at all prove the purpose of God was violated. Much to the contrary; it shows us that there was more in God's plan than simply alerting the Ninevites to their wickedness. Jonah had several vital lessons to learn, this was the method God would use to teach him. Going down to Joppa, and paying his fare to Tarshish was Jonah's intended way of fleeing from the presence of the Lord. However, "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jeremiah 10.23)." Again, "A man's heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps (Proverbs 16.9)." If we can believe these two texts, and we do, then Jonah's plan (way) was crossed by God's plan (way).
Among other things, Jonah learned the high cost of low living, the swift retribution for slow service, and the woes of will-worship. But there were greater things to be learned in his circuitous route to Nineveh. And, we may add, greater things for us as well. We will mention only one. Jonah was cast overboard by the frightened mariners, and rather than meeting his expected doom in the deep, he was swallowed by a great fish the Lord had prepared to extricate him from his awful plight. This was no random meeting of fish and man. The fish had been prepared before Jonah needed it. Surely it would have been a pity, and waste of fish-preparing as well, if Jonah had not gone astray. Then too, if Jonah had talked his way out of being tossed overboard, the great fish would have proved useless for the task God prepared him to carry out.
We suppose, with some justification, that fish have habits just like other creatures, great and small. Had this fish's peculiar habits inclined him in some other direction than towards the ship, what then would have happened to Jonah, not to mention the plan of God to save him from drowning? Or suppose too that the whale was busy at that time munching on a school of smaller fish and disregarded this castoff. Rather ridiculous isn't it? If God did indeed prepare this great fish to do what it did, then at least two things are clear. First, God had from all eternity purposed to send a fish to rescue Jonah, and second, it could not fail, or God's purpose would fail as well. Unless one believes in a patchwork plan for the government of creation they must admit to predestination, this incident included.
When Jonah had been blessed to sufficiently reflect on matters at hand during his entrapment in the whale's belly, he concluded expressing his ponderings with the following: "But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2.9)." Jonah had now learned that getting into the whale rather than drowning was the Lord's salvation. He as well knew now that getting out of the whale's belly would be the Lord's salvation. He must have also seen the salvation of the Lord in ordering his steps to this place where he could even learn about salvation. It is safe to say, that at that moment, Jonah could see that all that took place, past, present, and future was the Lord's salvation.
Finally, what we have arrived at is the eternal certainty of the whole incident regarding Jonah and his experience, as established by the following New Testament text. "But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12.39,40)." If then, there was to be no sign given but that of Jonah, and Jonah could have done other than he did; specifically, had obeyed at once, rather than deviating as he did, there could be no sign for that evil and adulterous generation. There was to be no bag of assorted signs for the Lord to pull one out of; this was it. Jonah did obey, not as soon as we might have supposed, however, but in a manner consistent with the eternal predestination of God that included the whole episode that led to a sign for the Saviour to speak of centuries later.
Returning then from our example of Jonah and the whale to our subject in Leviticus 25. The Israelites were to sow their fields, prune their vines, and gather the fruit for six years, but in the seventh year all this was to cease; it was to be a sabbath of rest for the land. God would provide an abundance in the six years sufficient for them and their cattle to subsist on in the seventh. This series of years was to be repeated for seven sabbaths of years. On the fiftieth year they would proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25.10). This was the jubilee sabbath.
We will not attempt to cover all the details of that sabbath and how they were to be carried out by the Israelites. We know from the Bible account that, like other arrangements God ordered for the twelve tribes, they in due course departed from the injunctions. What followed in the passing of time was a series of wars with the nations about them, bondage, famines, and other severe trials. Then the tribes divided shortly after the death of Solomon, ten to the North and two to the South. Idolatry abounded, and the stench of their sins stagnated the land. Where bounty was promised in the keeping of the sabbaths, poverty rather abounded. There were brief seasons of repentance and restoration, but the general direction of the tribes was always downward, further departing from the Lord. Finally, the captivities came; first for the Northern tribes, and then for those yet under the reign of the Kings of Judah in the South. The land was ravaged, the cities were sacked and destroyed, including the temple at Jerusalem, and the vast majority of the peoples were either slain or carried away to the lands of their distant enemies. The accounts of this period are vividly recorded in those books of the Bible we call the major prophets.
By now the limited Predestinarians will say that this disproves all we have been aiming at in this article. Not so, however, if one believes God had a plan and a wise purpose for those people above and beyond what only seemed to be a collapse of order with its attending chaos.
God is not on trial for having instructed those tribes to do what they may or may not obey. Neither could it be said He was taken by surprise by their lack of regard for His holy edicts. Who would dare say God did not know from all eternity how matters would fall out? It should be admitted by all that reverence the Bible that the Israelites did not escape the consequences of their actions, for the law of fleshly sowing and reaping is as inviolate as the laws of nature (Galatians 6.7,8). God did bring heavy retributions on His sinning people. The question then, is why did this occur as it did? Put another way, why did God not either give them grace to obey, or just force them to do His will? We say He did bring them to obey, but in His own way, and in His own good time consistent with His eternal predestination. Like the example used earlier of Jonah, the tribes had many lessons to be learned and their God would teach them well. These things were as well to be recorded for our learning today (Romans 15.4).
"Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years (Jeremiah 25.8-11)." It should be clear that the King of Babylon. whom God called His servant, could not execute this judgment on the families of Israel had they not violated the instructions given them. And, it would be preposterous to think Jehovah had to draw up such a plan after the fact. No; consistent with what we learn from every page of the Bible, God had a purpose worthy of Himself in all this being just as it was. The times of their servitude was fixed as well, being seventy years. No more, and no less.
This was not the only time God had pronounced this time of sore visitation on His nation. "For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place (Jeremiah 29.10)." Now it might be suggested by some that all God was telling them at that time was a result of His learning of their failings and He was thus responding to their wickedness with this punishment. To hold such a shallow notion of God is the same as saying, among other things, that what God does is contingent on what takes place in time. Is not God wiser than to be continually crossed by His creation? Has He not declared the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46.10)? We believe He has, and hope to say so, even if the tribes of conditionalism do cry us down as an antinomian or worse.
Let this matter not rest on our poor opinions, though. The revelation of God about this affair is quite clear to those that fear His name. "And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: To fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years (II Chronicles 36.20,21)." The three-score and ten years in II Chronicles 36.20,2 1 are the seventy years spoken of by the prophet in Jeremiah 25.11, and 29.10. This was the appointed time prescribed by God to rest the land by sabbath years as seen in the text at our heading, Leviticus 25.8. From this we can positively determine that, first, the land would enjoy its sabbaths, just as God had determined despite the failing on the part of the twelve tribes, and second, the period of time they did not observe them was a total of 490 years. How marvelous it is to see the directives of God carried out even when it would appear that failure was stamped on them all. God's great predestination assured the fulfilling of every jot and tittle.
So we see that there was a fulfilling of the words that came from the mouth of Jeremiah, mentioned above, (Jeremiah 25.8-11; 29.10). Where did Jeremiah then get these words? Were they spoken at some impulsive moment by an over-zealous prophet? Were they the utterings of a man harboring ill will towards those that had done him numerous injustices? Let us see! "Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth (Jeremiah 1.8,9)." God declared that He put the words in the mouth of His prophet Jeremiah. Neither were these newly contrived words God delivered to Jeremiah's mouth. No; they were the eternal verities suited for this very occasion. "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven (Psalm 119.89)." "Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever (Psalm 119.152)." "Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever (Psalm 119.160)." Each of these three texts assure us that the words in the mouth of the prophet were of no timely origin.
Surely then the words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah concerning the seventy years captivity, words put in his mouth by God Himself, were as old as eternity. David knew this when he wrote the 119th Psalm. Jeremiah knew this, for God told him as much when he commissioned him from his mother's womb. God's little children know this too (Matthew 11.25). What limited Predestinarians know about this we leave for them to unravel.
From all this we must conclude that if the words of the captivity were forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119.89), just as Jeremiah prophesied them, then the captivity must as well have been certain, or he could not certainly speak of it. Consequently, the events that brought about the captivity must as well be certain (predestinated) or the words God sealed on the lips of the prophet would be meaningless and mere confusion. Our text in Leviticus 25.8 demands no more fulfillment than that of which was stated. But it does demand that much. The 490 years the Israelites desecrated those sabbaths would not make void the word of the Lord, for as Jeremiah prophesied, and as came to pass, the land did, at the appointed time, enjoy her sabbaths, though without the Israelites in occupancy. Every event necessary to cause this to come to pass was unfailingly in place by the irrevocable decrees of the Almighty. Surely when we see the grand story told in the Bible as a whole, and not as simple isolated events held together by "who knows what?" the doctrine of the absolute predestination of all things sweeps across the whole, binding it together in one uniform testimony of the grandeur and majesty of God, who sovereignly rules over His creation. That most definitely includes the substance of Leviticus 25.8.
There was, as we pointed out previously, seventy years after entering the land of promise before the sabbaths of land rest would begin. Then there was the Israelites occupying the land, attended with their neglect of the appointed sabbaths, followed by the captivity of seventy years to reclaim by God the rest for the land. Could all this exactness be mere chance? To us it speaks volumes about God's predestination. When scripture after scripture blends together in a perfect harmony, and that, often spanning centuries, there can be no other conclusion drawn by those that trust God and His Word than the fact of all things being governed by a wise and holy plan far superior to our limited understanding. Indeed, God does reign supreme over all.
J. F. Poole
Volume 8, No. 6