The Mysterious and Intriguing Sabbaticals and Jubilees, Land Rest and Personal Freedom Part 1
One teaching of the Scriptures has been ignored and neglected today more than any other. Can you guess what it is? You’re probably thinking: It’s Yahweh’s Feast days. It’s the seventh-day Sabbath. It’s got to be the sacred Name.
Believe it or not, there is still a biblical truth that is more overlooked than those. The biblical teaching that has been more abandoned by churchianity than all of these is the sabbaticals. The Sabbatical and Jubilee years are the most disregarded of all Yahweh’s special, appointed times even by Sabbath keepers.
And yet, both biblical history and prophecy hang profoundly on these principal times that Yahweh gave us.
The law of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years is one of the more mysterious and intriguing in Scripture. It is like discovering a key that opens up a door to an exciting treasure room.
Most who observe the Bible’s weekly Sabbath are aware that Yahweh gave His Sabbath observances as a special sign to His people. Annual Sabbaths and extra-annual Sabbaths are very important to our Heavenly Father. Key events occurred at those times as well, likely even the coming return of Yahshua.
The Hebrew root for Sabbath (shabath)—Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance No. 7673—means “cessation” or rest. Yahweh’s Sabbaths are a periodic rest, which allow us to draw closer to Him, Ezekiel 20:12. “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Yahweh that sanctify them.”
Sabbaths Are the Sign
Observing His Sabbaths is the obligation of the True Worshiper, a commitment shared with other observers who are sealed in His sacred Name Yahweh by the Holy Spirit. Each weekly Sabbath reminds us that Yahweh set aside the seventh day that we might recall His great creative power as well as the redemption we have through His Son Yahshua.
Fifty-two times a year we take a day away from our weekly activities to join the Body of Messiah to revive and strengthen our faith. It is also when we grow the most spiritually as we commune with Yahweh.
Not only is the seventh day of the week holy and special to our Heavenly Father, but He also gave special Sabbaths every seven years, Leviticus 23. Important events of history and prophecy are tied up in these specially sanctioned years. Yet, the Israelites abandoned the keeping of the sabbatical years and in the process missed out on critical aspects of Yahweh’s prophetic plan.
Deuteronomy 5:15 is the restating of the Fourth Commandment and it gives us additional insights into the broader concept of “Sabbath.” “And you shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and Yahweh your Elohim brought you out thence by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm: therefore Yahweh your Elohim commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”
Why does He bring in the issue of slavery in conjunction with the Sabbath? Because there is a connection to another Sabbath, the 50th year Jubilee, a year of release of slavery and servitude.
Captivity for Disobedience
After wandering in the wilderness 40 years, Israel finally crossed over the Jordan and somewhat conquered the land Yahweh had promised. They had not been thorough in driving out the enemy, however, leaving pockets of heathen culture that proved to be Israel’s downfall when Yahweh allowed them to be conquered by foreign powers, Deuteronomy 7.
The northern ten tribes, often referred to as Ephraim because they were the dominant tribe, were taken captive to the area of present-day northern Iraq by the Assyrians and subsequently moved north and west over the Caucasus Mountains (hence the name “Caucasian”). This occurred in the seventh century BCE.
The southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin were allowed to remain in the land and had the advantage of seeing from a distance the wrath of Yahweh on their 10-tribed Ephraim brethren who were taken captive. Judah was also guilty of ignoring Yahweh’s laws despite the warnings of Elohim’s messengers:
“And Yahweh Elohim of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of Elohim, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of Yahweh arose against his people, till there was no remedy” (2Chron. 36:15-16).
Shrugging off the plight of the northern ten tribes, Judah and Benjamin behaved even worse, according to Jeremiah 3:8. About a hundred years later the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with many of the priests, were taken captive to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar. Only a few farmers and poor folk were left in the land of Israel. This was all because of their refusal to obey Yahweh by rejecting His laws, particularly the land Sabbaths.
“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 fulfil the word of Yahweh 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” (2Chron. 36:20-21).
‘Holy Land’ Takes a Rest
So long as Israel was captive in Babylon, the Promised Land lay idle and desolate to fulfill the neglected 70 Sabbatical cycles, accumulating 490 years. Yahweh’s laws demanded that the land lie idle for a year every seven years. “For thus says Yahweh, 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” (Jer. 29:10).
In addition, every seventh Sabbatical year was followed by the Jubilee year. The word “Jubilee” is derived in the Bible from the Hebrew yob-ale, which means “ram, ram’s horn; jubilee year.” The ram’s horn announced the beginning of the Jubilee year. Whenever a trumpet was used to signal an event, in this case the shofar trumpet, it announced something very significant was about to happen.
Yahshua said He will return with the great sound of a trumpet, Matthew 24:31. Is the trumpet sound announcing the Sabbatical-Jubilee and the return of Yahshua just coincidence?
Notice Leviticus 25:9, “Then shall you cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall you make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.”
Keeping the Sabbatical years of land rest bestowed the designation “Holy Land” to Judea. Israel learned that the Sabbatical-Jubilee was holy both to the land and to Yahweh.
The question for us is, does Yahweh still expect His laws, statutes, and judgments to be observed in our day and age? Does He change His expectations according to the culture or the age, or does the Bible say that He is Yahweh who changes not? Malachi 3:6 confirms that we worship a changeless Mighty One. Obedience has not been reduced, let alone abandoned.
Sabbaticals Are Part of the Covenant
The earliest Bible reference concerning the Sabbatical-Jubilee cycle is found in Exodus 21:2-6, dealing with the release of the slave. Exodus 23:10-12 relates to the land’s rest. Thus, the Sabbatical-Jubilee was part of the Covenant established with Moses in Exodus 24:1-8.
Following the seventh Sabbatical year (or every 49 years) the sounding of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement of the fiftieth year heralded the beginning of the Jubilee.
Atonement itself falls on the tenth day of the month and is a very solemn time, the holiest day of the year. The harvest is in, and early rains soften the earth to allow plowing and seeding for the next crop. But in the Sabbatical year the land is at rest. Both the 49th and 50th years were times of rest for the land.
Most every Israelite would observe at least one Jubilee year in a normal lifespan of 70 years. If a person observed his first Jubilee in his teen years, then he might enjoy another before his normal lifespan ended. It was a special occasion anticipated by the entire, rejoicing nation.
As we will see, the Jubilee has prophetic implications in Yahweh’s dealings with mankind. We are given insight into the grand finale of Yahweh’s redemption of the earth as He establishes the Kingdom under the Messiah.
The Link to Yahshua’s Return
The Sabbatical cycle in certain instances influenced Israel’s daily living. The right of an heiress to marry was restricted so that the law of the Jubilee could be preserved, Numbers 36:4-7. Naboth refused to sell his vineyard so that it would remain an inheritance for his family, 1Kings 21:14.
The Jubilee will be kept in the Millennium as shown by Ezekiel 46:17, where the king is reminded that any property given to a servant reverts to the original owner (the king) at the time of the Jubilee.
Yahshua as our King will take control once again of this earth as its original owner. Yahshua’s return on a Jubilee would be consistent with the purposes of the Jubilee and Millennium.
Other references to the Jubilee are found in Nehemiah 5:1-19; Isaiah 5:7-10; 37:30, and 61:1-2.
The Sabbatical year, we learn from Leviticus 25:4, occurs every seventh year— a Sabbath of rest both of the land and to Yahweh. The fields are not to be sown nor the vines pruned. No crops are to be planted; the vineyards must not be harvested. The produce of the land and vineyard could be eaten, but not stored or preserved. All debts among Israelites were canceled.
After seven of these Sabbatical years (or 49 years), the next year, the fiftieth, is the Jubilee. The following points differentiate the Sabbath year from the Jubilee, which occur back-to-back every 49 and 50 years. The Jubilee year is an intensification of the Sabbatical year.
• Land and vineyards rest, no planting or harvesting
• All voluntary foods can be eaten, but not stored
• Servants receive freedom and debts are canceled
• Land and vineyards rest
• Land reverts to the original owner (as in Yahshua’s return to reclaim earth)
• All Israelite slaves freed. Debts forgiven
The fiftieth year is eagerly anticipated as a time of joy and merriment. Landowners had to give up the lands they had once cultivated, which reverted to the original owner(s). This kept the lands under original ownership.
Idyllic simplicity returned to soften the distinction of rank.
Debts were forgiven, and those having lost their property through accident or poor management were rejuvenated as opportunities brought by the restoration awaited them.
Slaves were redeemed and freed. The Sabbatical-Jubilee years might be called the great “leveler” of Israelite society. Through them everyone was equal before Yahweh as neither the rich nor the poor cultivated his field.
But What About Today?
Living under industrialization and a far more complicated financial system, the laws of Yahweh became lightly esteemed by modern society. Today’s fiscal demands of industry, manufacturing, commerce, and banking are not appeased by fallowed farmland.
Canceling of a borrower’s debts is unheard of. How can the entrepreneur grow and expand if he is required to return legally purchased property every fiftieth year?
These are but a few questions asked today. The farmer has more freedom to apply Yahweh’s laws to his life than most who work for a regular wage. However, the increasingly heavy burdens laid upon him by lenders, plus the pressures inherent in today’s economies, challenge the farmer’s very survival and are detrimental to his obedience to the laws of Yahweh.
The Jubilee is known as the year of liberty. Leviticus 25:12 explains that it is a holy year to Israel. It was because of the Jubilees that the Promised Land came to be known as the Holy Land. However, there is some question whether Israel faithfully kept both the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.
Atonement and the Sabbatical
On the tenth day of the seventh month Israel celebrated the Day of Atonement. The Jubilee was a year-long sabbatical that came after 49 years. The Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 25:9-10. The count toward the next sabbatical also begins on the Jubilee. Just as the weekly seventh day ends at sunset and the first day begins immediately that same sunset, the first Sabbatical ends when the Jubilee’s fiftieth year starts on Atonement, in the seventh month, Deuteronomy 31:10.
The very land was holy to Yahweh and was referred to as the Holy Land. During that year the Book of Deuteronomy was read to the people. The Sabbatical year marked the canceling of all indebtedness. This emphasized the righteousness that was required by Yahweh. On this day the sins of the nation were confessed, which is the first requisite to establish righteousness.
Confession is an opening of the heart, which leads to forgiveness and restoration to Yahweh. Through fasting and keeping the Day of Atonement, Yahweh’s people are reminded of His righteousness and His forgiveness as they accept His grand plan for the forgiveness of sin.
Israel’s sins were brought before them every time they gave a sin offering. But the Day of Atonement was a special day that impressed upon the mind and heart of every Israelite that this day was devoted to a deep introspection of his life.
The Day of Atonement was the only day of the year when the High Priest was permitted to enter the Tabernacle’s Holy of Holies, which was the nearest approach to Yahweh possible through the blood offering. The Day of Atonement pictured the forgiveness of Israel’s sins and the nation’s getting right with Yahweh. Known as Yom Kippur, it was the “day of covering” of their sins, pointing to the true Lamb of Yahweh’s coming to take away the sins of the world, and not just cover them.
Slaves and Land Released
Following the seventh Sabbatical year came the year of the Jubilee, which occurred every fiftieth year (or after the succession of seven Sabbatical years). It has been called the outer circle of the great Sabbatical system, which comprises the Sabbatical year, the Sabbatical month and the Sabbath day.
Just as in the Sabbatical year, the Jubilee also was a time of keeping the land uncultivated. The distinctive mark of the Jubilee year was the liberation of all slaves of Hebrew blood. The blowing of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement also released every bondman.
The Jubilee year was different from the Sabbatical in that the land was restored to the original owners. All land that had been assigned to a family was again returned to that family. This required that the tribal and family registers be carefully kept so that the rights of the people should be protected. It is partly from such records that we know that Yahshua descended from the tribe of Judah.
Jewish writers contend that the Jubilee was observed up to the time of the fall of Judah in the year 586 BCE. References are found in Isaiah 5:7-10; 61:1-2; Ezekiel 7:12-13 and 46:16-18.
Yahshua and Year of Our Release
A number of Bible scholars point out that Israel was delivered from both the Babylonian and Egyptian captivity at the time of the Jubilee. The pattern for us as believers in the Messiah is that He is the one who sets us free.
The bondage of Israel was cruel, enforced servitude. Yahshua frees us from the bondage and shackles of sin. “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed,” John 8:36. This key purpose of the Sabbaticals and Jubilees dovetails with Yahshua’s purpose of coming to earth, even up to the timing of His return.
How ancient Israel must have thrilled to the sound of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement announcing their actual release from slavery. Of how much greater joy will it be when the trumpet announces Yahshua’s return to this earth. All tears will be dried, and the brokenhearted comforted. The meek and the poor in spirit will be exalted and the thirsty and hungry filled.
The first trumpet is blown on the first day of the seventh month, which is the new moon day. Then follows the blowing of the second trumpet on the Day of Atonement, heralding Yahweh’s release, redemption, and deliverance.
Hebrews 4:1-11 summarizes the Sabbaths Yahweh has given us to remember His great plan of redemption of mankind. We are told that there remains a Sabbath of rest for the people of Yahweh (Heb. 4:9 — “rest” is the Greek sabbatismos, meaning a Sabbath keeping).
There is the weekly Sabbath which is set aside for the people of Yahweh. Also there is the Sabbatical rest for the land around Jerusalem. Finally, the rest and redemption for the elect people of Yahweh who will reign with Yahshua when He returns to set up the Messianic Kingdom:
“Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of Elohim and of Messiah, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6).
But not all will attain that rest because of unfaithfulness. The faithful will have rest from their enemies, no drought, sickness, sin or hindrances to happiness.
Counting the Jubilee
A long-standing debate is how to compute the Jubilee year — in segments of 49 or 50 years. The Jubilee year is the year following the seventh Sabbatical year. It is the 50th year, but not the year coming after 50 years. It is the year following 49 years.
From the beginning of one Jubilee year to the beginning of the next Jubilee is 49 years. The 7 times 7 years of Sabbatical cycles may not be broken any more than can the 7 times 7 weeks in computing Pentecost. Furthermore, the 50th year is also year one in the count toward the next Sabbatical year 7 years later.
To prove that the Jubilee immediately follows the Sabbatical year, note the prophecy of Isaiah:
“And this shall be a sign unto you, you shall eat this year such as grows of itself: and the second year that which springs of the same; and in the third year sow, reap, and plant vineyards and eat the fruit thereof” (Isa. 37:30).
“This year” refers to the Sabbatical year. The “second year” refers to the Jubilee year, and the “third year” one can sow grain and reap and plant vineyards. The day after Atonement, which ends the Sabbatical-Jubilee year, farmers can again plow the ground for planting wheat and barley that fall.
Our Savior’s Return
If the Sabbatical-Jubilee cycle was important to Israel, then it is all the more important to us looking for the return of the Messiah. A central key is in Yahshua’s quoting of Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The Spirit of Yahweh Elohim is upon me; because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of Yahweh” (Luke 4:18).
Yahshua stopped in the middle of verse 2, where Bible scholars contend He was now calling people out of the world to become His followers. The “acceptable year” is understood to refer to the beginning of the Sabbatical year. He came to preach the Good News to the meek and humble, those whose hearts were open and teachable.
With those of kindred mind He would build His Assembly. He would now choose those who would become the nucleus of His body of believers, the “ekklesia,” the assembly. He told Peter this group of “called-out ones,” would never die out, but would always exist on this earth, Matthew 16:18.
Just as the Savior was cut off in the middle of the week and died on a Wednesday, so He left unsaid the rest of Isaiah 61:2 which tells of the vengeance yet to come. Note the latter part of this verse: “And the day of vengeance of our Elohim; to comfort all that mourn.”
He comes with anger and vengeance for the wicked, but comfort and help to those who revere Yahweh’s Name and are submissive to Him. This ties in with Revelation’s prophecy:
“And the nations were angry, and your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that you should give reward unto your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear your Name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). See also Luke 20:16; 2Thes. 1:8; 2:8; Heb. 10:27.
The Sabbatical-Jubilee cycle pictures the grand finale of the believer’s earthly sojourn. It represents the fulfillment of the promise made to the redeemed which will be done when He returns in the day of vengeance.
Although we are not sure exactly when His return will be, it will likely be on a Feast day within a Sabbatical or Jubilee year. That is the most appropriate time, the appointed time. Daniel 11 says the end shall be at the appointed time, that is, a moed or Feast. None of the Feasts of the seventh scriptural month have been fulfilled as far as we know.
Can We Pinpoint the Jubilees?
Studies to determine the secular dates of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years rest heavily on the Savior’s beginning ministry, which appears to be 27-28 CE.
The Jews were so determined to keep all of Yahweh’s law after their return from the Babylonian captivity that allegedly they believed that there was no reason to keep the Jubilee years, as they would not have reason to sell themselves into slavery or be redeemed. Therefore, records of these years are sparse.
An interesting discovery is that the Gregorian calendar years on which the Sabbatical cycle falls are evenly divisible by 7. The year 2023 is evenly divisible by seven, meaning that this fall begins the Sabbatical which runs through 2023 of next year.
What About This Year?
No planting or harvesting of crops is to be done after Atonement, 2022, until the fall Atonement of 2023.
Certainly a study of this neglected cycle will bring many obscure Bible truths to our attention and make the Bible become clearer as we draw nearer to our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son who make it all possible.
Key to Puzzling Passages
The Sabbatical years solve a puzzling statement Yahshua made in John 4. While traveling with His disciples to Galilee, He struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. He said in v. 35: “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest. Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”
Clearly this was a Sabbatical year when Yahshua began His ministry, 28 CE. It was also in May-June when grain harvests occur. But the Sabbatical didn’t end for four more months when harvesting could begin again.
This explains the four additional months of waiting for the harvest that Yahshua talked about.
Proof of Sabbaticals
Ben Zion Wacholder of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, a scholar on the Sabbaticals, wrote several books on the subject of the Sabbaticals and Jubilees: The Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and the Early Rabbinic Period (1973), The Timing of Messianic Movements and the Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles (1975), and The Calendar of Sabbath Years during the Second Temple Era: A Response (1983).
Wacholder’s proposed set of Sabbatical years are offset by one year later than Benedict Zuckerman’s set of years, which is the other popular timing. Wacholder had access to legal documents from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt that were not available to Zuckermann.
Only within the last 50 years has it become possible through archaeological discoveries, etc., to determine with an almost certainly what the exact Sabbatical years’ sequence was and is.
Two brilliant historical studies by Prof. Wacholder have solved the riddle of when the Sabbatical years occurred in ancient times, and when they are observed today.
The following historical events reveal the Sabbatical year sequence, with the year 2022-2023 being one of them:
• The recital of Deuteronomy 7:15 by Agrippa I in a post-Sabbatical year, making the Sabbatical year 41/42.
• A note of indebtedness from Wadi Murabba’at in 2nd year of Nero, 55/56 CE, indicating 55/56 as a Sabbatical year.
• Rental contracts of Simon bar Kosiba indicating 132/133 as a Sabbatical year.
• Three fourth- and fifth-century tombstones near Sodom indicating 433/434 and 440/441 CE were Sabbatical years.
(When farmers are keeping Sabbaticals by letting their fields rest, they are free to do building projects. And so…)
• CE 41–CE 42: King Agrippa I started building the expansive third wall around the northern parts of Jerusalem.
• CE 62–CE 63: Agrippa II started to rebuild Caesarea Philippi.
And then there are key historical events that hinge on Sabbath years:
• CE 69–CE 70: Destruction of Jerusalem in the latter part (motsae, “going-out”) of the Sabbatical year 69/70.
• CE 132–CE 133: Bar Kokhba revolt of the Jews against the Romans.
In part 2 we will further show the proper timing of the Sabbaticals both anciently and today.