As of the date I’m writing this down (mid 2015) there is a big buzz about the Shmita year, and how it connects with cycles of economic ups and downs (especially in the USA) and how possibly this is not just Shmita, but next year begins Yovel (Jubilee).
So far, I haven’t really connected with the whole idea, as I feel fairly convinced that we don’t even KNOW what year it is since Israel entered the promised land (and hence the start of the 7 year cycles proscribed by Torah), let alone the years since creation itself. The latter isn’t needed to understand Shmita, but does connect to an overall theme that is similar.
Basic Explanation of Shmita
The main description and directive of the Shmita year is in Leviticus 25, with other references in Exodus, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Nehemia, Chronicles and Kings)
25 The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.6 Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
The Yovel (Jubilee) is the very next section in scripture, and it seems to be a direct repeat of the Shmita that continues without interruption, essentially 2 Shmita years in a row)
8 “‘Count off seven Sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven Sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
By simply reading the text, assuming the translation into English is sound, it is pretty simple
- When the Israelites get into the Promised Land, they start a cycle that mimics the weekly Shabbat they have been observing.
- Every 7th year:
- No one is to sow/plant their fields or their vineyards.
- No one is to prune their vineyards (I would understand this to be orchards too?).
- No one is to harvest their crops.
- Whatever the lands gives (yields) is food for us. Not just the person who “owns the land”, but anyone in the land. Anyone can come and eat of any growing thing.
Harvest vs Yield
I stumble over the phrases that say you cannot harvest, and you may eat what grows from the land! As soon as I feel like “I got it” I feel confused again. Part of why Im writing this out.
Harvest seems to be associated with an intentional, complete reaping of all the product, most of which is sold. Most commercial farmers dont keep all their harvest obviously. Their income is directly connected to the sale of their harvest. They basically convert the capital invested in their work, resources etc… int he form of produce into money (or barter for other goods). They certainly keep some of it for seed to sow next season (and modern, evil organizations are attempting to take that away forever), but the majority of it is used almost as an alternative currency that they sell when they need.
Yield might be very different. The idea here is whatever some out of the field, but not in an organized harvest. Simply what grows out of it. It appears that this is acceptable for people and animals to eat. However I see there might be 2 interpretations…
1. You can eat whatever grows during the Shmita year, you just cannot harvest it i.e. take it all by reaping.
2. Whatever grows during this year you can harvest the next year, i.e. after the end of the Shmita year, you can harvest. For the most part, any fruit wouldn’t be available, it would be gone. But possibly certain crops, like grains in the field, would be there. Barley would be there in Aviv for example.
Because this Shmita year is so connected to the weekly Sabbath, I have to believe there is a connection to the idea of work, harvest, income etc… I believe that many of the concepts in scripture follow a pattern, (Wheels within Wheels), and the pattern is what helps explain the concept, not just some reductionist, specific detail.
At this point, Im “going with” the idea that you dontharvest the land in the classic commercial sense, but you can eat whatever grows by itself. The ideal element is that you had so much harvest int he 6th year, you are only incidentally eating from the land.
There is lots of discussion on what the land means. I think clearly it is the specific land of Israel itself, and this definitely applies there. It could certainly be extended out from there, and lots of people make earnest effort to emulate it. I can;t see how it is a specific commandment, but I do believe the generosity, kindness, and affectionate heart of YHVH clearly answer those who seek YHWH by faith.
An very important element in talking about the land, is the reality that even Israel doesnt own it. Yahweh does. They are blessed to live there, but they can neither sell their allotment of land to anyone, nor can they buy land from another. This same passage goes into the idea that you are essentially leasing the work/labor/product of a specific parcel of land when someone “sells” it to someone else. Therefore, when we refer to land, harvest, reaping, produce etc… it is important to understand it isnt the family who lives on it that owns it, they are the caretakers of it. This is critical, because the above verses explain that the product of the land during the Shmita are allowable for ANYONE (including wild animals) to eat. Obviously, the poor and the stranger would need this more than others, and God is CLEARLY designating them in the many references about this.
This means “your land” is essentially available at any time for someone to walk through and eat. There is other passages that specifically allow this in Torah. They may eat as they pass through, but not TAKE any food with them from your property. Same thing here.
Can you imagine having a piece of land you work you butt off to farm, and every 7 years people just come and walk around and eat. Whole hordes of poor and strangers? What about the wild animals as well? No chasing off wild deer, or any other rodents or anything? Anyone who wants, come to farmer Johns nectarine orchard and eat until you are totally satiated… You could even go to your neighbors land, who you know has killer grapes and sit down and have a picnic right there and eat until you were sick of grapes!
This sounds EDENIC to me. There is a hint of this idea of wandering around, eating and sharing freely. I don’t know if this is what YHVH intended, but I can get there EASILY from just these simple passages. The poor were provided for throughout the previous 6 years, and on the 7th they eat their fill from everywhere int he land. And as a farmer, I would be COMMANDED to let them. In fact, if I had the confidence, joy, and heart of God I would be THRILLED that they all were eating their fill out of our property, and we would all be rejoicing int he goodness of God to provide for all of us.
You MUST release the fellow Israelite from any debt per Deut 15:1-6. They cannot be permanent slaves, nor can they be permanently in debt. I think it might be that they cannot get their land back, as the Yovel seems to be focused on that, but perhaps if a debt was guaranteed by land, you must remit that as well? The point is, personal debt is simply resolved in Sabbath Year. It is done away with by the creditor.You simply release the person who borrowed from you. There is no qualifier that seems to be placed on this. W ether they paid you or not.
To take this further, what kinds of debts? Obviously it is financial in a literal sense, and directly related to being a “slave”. In Israel (and this could be a whole series of articles defining the reality) a “slave” was not supposed to be treated like my western, American perspective would imagine. I see people in chains, sold without thought for their well being, overworked, living on bare subsistence. Objects, not people. This is extremely far from YHVH’s directives in scripture. Yah spends a lot of time defining and instructing the Israelites about what this is to look like. God had to make clear distinctions between what they had seen and experienced in Egypt.
God did not allow Israelites to be permanently in slavery. A slave was NOT to be mistreated, but provided for as a part of the household. A slave could buy themselves out of their status. They MUST have a Sabbath every week, even if they were not Israelites. A slave in a very real sense (especially for a Hebrew) was far more an indentured servant.
It goes much further, but the primary thing to understand is NO ISRAELITE WAS A SLAVE UNLESS THEY DECIDED TO PLACE THEMSELVES IN THAT SITUATION. And it was primarily because of debt. So this speaks as much to the concept of relieving and releasing Israelite brethren. And it is every 7 years.
And as far as debt, look to the concept of debt in general. A 1st century teacher in Jerusalem expounds on this. Forgiveness is the actual “heart” of the thing. When we release a debt from someone, we use the term we “forgive the debt”.
Is there also an application where we release anyone who owes us ANYTHING? The Shmita is as much as a indicator of a bigger picture going on. What are we getting trained for? What is the wheel within a bigger wheel? What is the bigger wheel?
The prescription from Yah about providing for the poor in a regular year is key to a successful rest year. I believe clearly, following Gods commandments prior to the Shmita are the keys to actually having any rest at all.
Not reaping the edges, not going through the field a second time, not picking up what drops is commanded by Yahweh so that the poor could come and have food. IT would be very tempting as a farmer to minimize this, even avoid it. However this part of what creates the abundance for observing the Shmita. Why?
By simply obeying (let alone generously obeying with faithful anticipation, there would be so much seed in the ground the next year would have significant growth. The more you left for the poor, the more you provide for yourself. This makes other scriptures come to life for me.
[Pro 19:17 NKJV] 17 He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, And He will pay back what he has given.
[Psa 37:25 NKJV] 25 I have been young, and [now] am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread.
Righteousness is clearly connected with caring for the poor, widow and alien in Torah.
What is you disobeyed? What if you didn’t give to the poor by the provisions of Yah the 6th year? You would have very little if anything in the 7th.
There is no indication Israel EVER kept the Shmita year. In fact, we know they didn’t from the prophecies of Jeremiah, when the nation was forced into exile precisely BECAUSE they did not keep it!
However, what about the caring for the poor during the previous 6 years? Look at the story of Boaz. His faithful provision for the poor resulted in his marriage to Ruth. That in itself was an awesome blessing. A godly woman (and not an ISRAELITE by birth!) who cared for her mother “in love” would be a catch to any man who knows what is good for him. However it goes deeper, as he becomes not only the grandfather of David, but is essentially in the lineage of Messiah Himself!
The takeaway for me is my Obedience in providing for the poor is KEY to your ability to have rest in the Shmita!
The Shmita as something bigger
From a weekly Sabbath, to a 7 year cycle with a whole year of a Sabbath. Then a set of 7 Sabbath years to a 50th Year (Yovel). Pulling back even further, we see a concept with God where a “thousand years is like a day, and a day like a thousand years”. So a good number of people see in this, along with a long history of rabbinic study that comes to the conclusion that the Messianic Reign, along with the coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth is destined to come at the beginning of the 7th millennium since creation. While I do not believe we can know the literal year number (no matter what anyone seems to say, there is clear evidence we are missing anywhere from a few years to over 100), we know within perhaps a century.
That means that we could be within 100 years, probably much less, of the dawning of the 7th millennium. Would this would be the Sabbath rest of Yahweh?
[Psa 95:10-11 NKJV] 10 For forty years I was grieved with [that] generation, And said, ‘It [is] a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”
This is obviously the Promised Land. But clearly, we await for the Messianic reign of God that totally restores the WHOLE EARTH under the rule and reign of God. The Torah itself is the working matrix of this new system of life. So what is the REST that this verse is thinking of?
It seems as if there is a big large scale picture that each layer of the Sabbath teaches and trains us to enter. As we engage “keeping” Sabbath, then Sabbath years, and cycles, we become aware of, and become prepared for, bigger things than we understand.