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October 4, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

According to the Jewish calendar we are entering year 5775.  You are likely reading this article on Yom Kippur (October 4 on the Christian calendar).  The high holidays conclude with the eight day festival of Sukkot, or Tabernacles, which begins on October 9 and runs through Simchat Torah on October 17.  This year is a Sabbatical Year on the Hebrew calendar, also known as a Shmita year, or a year of release.

The biblical teaching on the sabbatical year can be found in Exodus 23:10 -11 and Leviticus 25:2-7.  The Sabbatical year, also known as the Sabbath of the Land, is observed every seventh year.  Today this is calculated by dividing the number of the Jewish year by seven.  Thus the year 5775 divided by seven equals an even 825 and is thus a Sabbatical year.

The premise behind the Shmita year is that the land of Israel is uniquely a possession of the Lord God.  It is not as if the whole earth is not God’s creation, but Israel is a chosen land for a chosen people.  So just as the people are to rest one day in seven and give time to the worship of God and the study of his word, so the land is to rest every seven years.  It is not to be tilled or harvested.  What grows by itself is to be used only as needed and to be left available for the poor and even for animals.

The Shmita laws apply only to the land of Israel.  They do not apply to land owned by Jews outside the land.  Although these land laws have an effect on conserving the vitality of the agricultural soil they are not primary laws of conservation, but rather laws of consecration.  By observing them Israel acknowledges that this piece of property is “the land which I (the Lord) give you (Lev. 25:2).  They also prove their faith.  Their confidence was that as God provided extra manna in the wilderness of Sinai on the sixth day to cover their needs on the Sabbath, so he would give ample yield on the sixth year to cover their needs on the seventh.

There is a warning at the end of Leviticus (26:34) that there would be dire consequences for Israel if she neglected the Sabbaths of the Land.  According to II Chronicles 36:21 the Babylonian captivity of Israel was, in part, a time of catching up on the neglected Shmita years.

One other aspect of the Shmita year is of interest.  All payment of debts was released for that year since there was no income from the sale of crops (Dt. 15:1-4).  After the Babylonian captivity Israel solemnly swore to keep the Sabbaths of the land (Neh. 10:31).  Both the Greeks and the Romans exempted Israel from taxes during the Shmita year in deference to this custom.

In modern Israel there is some attempt to keep Shmita on the part of orthodox Jews.  Produce grown in Israel itself is passed by in favor of produce grown outside the “Chosen Land.”  There is an economic burden connected with this decision, but it is a reminder that the land is the Lord’s and for those who choose this path it is a commitment to order life according to God’s will.

The Apostle Paul reminded his fellow believers in Corinth (I Cor. 10:31), “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  All of life comes under the sovereignty of the Giver.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs