What Is A Sabbath Year?

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land from Egypt, God set down some very specific rules concerning the land. It was to be a holy land. That is why we call it “The Holy Land.” This land was to be treated very differently than any other land on the earth. This was to be God’s special place on the earth from which He would proclaim His presence to the whole world.

Keep in mind that these rules did not apply to any other place on the earth. They were only for His special piece of land and for His special people.

A Seven Year Cycle

This command was given to Moses shortly after the Israelites were freed from their captivity in Egypt. They had already traveled some distance from Egypt and were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. God then called Moses to go up on the mountain so He could speak with him.

When Moses was on Mount Sinai, God told him: Leviticus 25:2-4 (NKJV): “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.’”

In other words, for six years, they were to work the land, gather the crops for their own use and even store any excess for future years. However, every seven years, they were forbidden to plant or gather any crops during that year. This included gathering any crops that voluntarily grew. They could eat any crops that did grow, as could their livestock. But they could not harvest and store anything during that seventh year. This was to be a Sabbath year.

What was the purpose of this seventh year? It was a continuation of the 4th commandment. Exodus 20:8-11 (NKJV): “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

This six day motif is found throughout the Bible. Many times God said to do a certain thing for six days and then rely on God on the seventh day. Do a word search for “six days” in the Bible and see what I mean.

The Israelites who lived in the Holy Land were to do what they needed to do for six time periods. Then spend the seventh time period depending on God. God set the pattern by working for six “days” to bring His creation into existence, then resting on the seventh “day.” God said that they were to follow the same pattern. But He extended this concept to “years” for the land.

It was to be a time for the people to rest and reflect upon their dependence on God. It was also for the purpose of allowing the land to rest.

How Could This Work?

God told them that He would do His part. However, the people would have to do their part as well. Leviticus 25:18-19 (NKJV): “So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety.”

This was not a “promise” that God gave to them. Rather, it was a “covenant.” A covenant is a binding agreement that must be kept by both parties in order for it to be valid. In other words, if one party did not keep the covenant, the covenant is broken and the other party did have to keep his part either.

It is true that Leviticus 25 deals mainly with the year of Jubilee, but parts of it speak specifically to the Sabbath year. You see, being able to observe the year of Jubilee depends upon observing the Sabbath years.

God was telling them that if they would faithfully observe the laws concerning the land that He had given them, they would be able to live peaceably and safely in the land. In other words, God was making a covenant with the Israelites. If they would keep their part of the covenant, God would keep His and they would live in safety. The implication was that if the people did not keep their part of the covenant, God had no obligation to keep His part.

What Happened?

The people did not keep their part of the covenant. They only partially kept their part of the covenant. But we need to understand that a covenant cannot be only partially kept. It is either kept or it is not. And this was the mistake that the Israelites made.

They did keep their part of the covenant for many years. It is most commonly understood that the Israelites entered the Promised Land around 1450 B.C. They were deported to Babylon around 600 B.C. This is about 850 years. They were exiled for 70 years. Why 70? According to Leviticus 26, this was the number of Sabbath years that they had not observed. This meant that they observed the Jubilee for only 360 years of the last 850. They had ignored 70 Sabbath years.

God was very patient with the Israelites. He waited many, many years for the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant. However, the time came when His patience gave out. The land would be allowed to rest. The covenant was broken so God allowed the Babylonians to invade the land and take the people back to Babylon.

However, God Kept His Promise

But again, God did not go back on the promise that He had made to Abraham. Genesis 12:2-3 (NKJV)
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Notice that this was not a covenant that two parties would have to keep in order for it to be fulfilled. This was a direct promise that God gave to Abraham. God would keep this promise, no matter what the descendants of Abraham did. So, to keep this promise, God caused something new and special to happen.

Up until this time, whenever a nation invaded another nation and took the people captive, they would spread the people throughout their own territory. This was so that they would not be able to rise up against them in their new location.

However, this is not what Nebuchadnezzar did. He relocated them all in one area. This tells me that this was not something that Nebuchadnezzar decided to do on his own. This was not logical for him to do this. They could very easily gather their strength together and rise up again him (Nebuchadnezzar). But God performed a miracle. Nebuchadnezzar allowed God to direct him. God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish Israel, but not to destroy them as a nation.

God’s Promise

After the people were exiled to Babylon, Jeremiah sent a letter to the elders of Israel. In it, he told them what God had told him. In this letter, he said: Jeremiah 29:10-11 (NKJV) “For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

This is exactly what happened. Exactly 70 years after they were led away into captivity in Babylon, the first of the Israelite people were allowed to return to their homeland. God always keeps His word.

The Importance Of The Sabbath Year

So we see that the Sabbath year was a special year that God established for the Holy Land. Yet, as we will see in my next article, it is much more important than just a year set aside to allow the land to rest. The year of Jubilee is based on the Sabbath year. And the Jubilee year is the most important event in the history of the Holy Land and the Israelite nation.


One Response to “What Is A Sabbath Year?”

  1. “What Is A Sabbath Year? | bibleanswerstodayblog.
    com” ended up being a marvelous blog, can’t wait to examine more of your articles.
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