This year, 2008-2009, is a Sabbatical year, according to best scholarship. It is a year when the land is to rest and no planting or tilling is to take place. That includes home gardens as well as farm fields. Read on for an understanding of this most misunderstood and neglected of Scriptural precepts.
The number 7 is the most important number in the Bible. Most scholars say it is Yahweh’s number because so many of His key activities and designs center on it. One of the most important occurrences of seven is in the Sabbath or seventh day, as well as other observances.
Did you know that the sabbatical, that popular leave of absence that college professors and teachers often take every seven years, is a concept taken straight from the Scriptures?
How many today realize that a “land” Sabbatical is a scripturally commanded rest every seven years, during which planting and tilling of the fields is to stop and the soil is to lie fallow for a year? Modern science even validates the Bible by confirming that the land should periodically rest and re-nourish itself naturally for a year.
If you have ever felt “jubilant” or witnessed a crowd filled with jubilation, then you might be surprised to learn that there is another Scriptural precedent at work here, too. These terms and their meanings come right from the Biblical word “Jubilee,” a year that came every 50 years.
At the Jubilee slaves were freed and debts forgiven. The Jubilee is also a year of land rest, but it went beyond that to include the release of land ownership as well. The Jubilee was a more intensified Sabbatical year.
Certain months of the year have special observances that have Sabbaths within them as well.
Most know that the weekly Sabbath is a time to cease from work. But what is the purpose of these other Sabbaths — the Sabbatical every 7 years, and the 50th-year Sabbath, known as the Jubilee?
The word “Jubilee” is derived in the Bible from the Hebrew jobel or more properly, yobel, which means “ram’s horn.” 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 was an alert meaning something very significant was about to happen. Leviticus 25:9 says, “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.”
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.
Sabbaticals a Key to Prophecy
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 a critical aspect of Yahweh’s prophetic plan.
Deuteronomy 5:15, in the restating of the Fourth Commandment, gives us some 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 com-manded 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 the 50th year Jubilee, which is also a Sabbath year. Slaves were to be set free on this 50th year Sabbath.
Persons sold as slaves in order to repay debts had to recover their freedom. An Israelite could not suffer slavery because he was redeemed by Yahweh from Egyptian slavery. He could only lend his services without being treated as a slave, but more like a laborer or tenant, while retaining his dignity as a human. It is much the same way an employee works at the discretion of his employer.
True slaves were only the gentiles who were acquired and sold in the pagan world. These remained the perpetual property of the family, and were treated as slaves in the social sense of the word (Lev. 25:44-46).
Israel was taken into captivity specifically for not keeping the land Sabbath. Not keeping the Sabbaths — weekly and annual — leads to slavery of another kind. Slavery to the world.
The Day of Yahshua’s Return
The trumpet call announcing the Jubilee year directly parallels the trumpet that will announce the return of Yahshua to this earth, which prophecy and Yahshua Himself indicated will occur on a Sabbatical or Jubilee year. Had Israel not lost track of the Jubilee, we could perhaps know with greater certainty the year of Yahshua’s return.
The circumstances of Yahshua’s return are revealed in Luke 4:18, where Yahshua was found in the synagogue reading Isaiah 61:2:
“The Spirit of Yahweh is upon me, because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of Yahweh.”
To “proclaim” means “after the manner of a herald, with formality, gravity and authority.” The terminology coincides with the trumpet sound pro-claiming the all-important Jubilee at Atonement. Here is what some scholars say about the phrase “accept-able year”:
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: “Acceptable year an allusion to the Jubilee year (Lev. 25:10), a year of universal release for person and property.”
Wesley’s Notes: “The acceptable year — plainly alluding to the year of Jubilee, when all, both debtors and servants, were set free.”
Here we see Yahshua rightly dividing the word. In quoting Isaiah 61 He stopped in the middle of verse 2, which demonstrates that He Himself, as the fulfillment of this prophecy, was now calling people out of the world to become His followers. He did not read the rest of the verse, which refers to the future when He returns on the day of judgment. The “acceptable year” is Yahweh’s amnesty year as one translation calls it.
Sabbatical, Jubilee Defined
The Jubilee is couched in a command detailing the Sabbatical year in Leviticus 25: “And Yahweh spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto Yahweh. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in the fruits thereof; but in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto Yahweh: you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.
“That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather: it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. And the sabbath of the land shall be for food for you; for you, and for your servant and for your maid, and for your hired servant and for your stranger, who sojourn with you. And for your cattle, and for the beasts that are in your land, shall all the increase thereof be for food.
“And you shall number seven sabbaths of years unto you, seven times seven years; and there shall be unto you the days of seven sabbaths of years, even forty and nine years. Then shall you send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; in the day of atonement shall you send abroad the trumpet throughout all your land.
“And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a Jubilee unto you; and you shall return every man unto his possession, and you shall return every man unto his family. A Jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of the undressed vines. For it is a Jubilee; it shall be holy unto you: you shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In this year of Jubilee you shall return every man unto his possession…
“Wherefore you shall do my statutes, and keep mine ordinances and do them; and you shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety. And if you shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for the three years. And you shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the fruits, the old store; until the ninth year, until its fruits come in, you shall eat the old store. And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine: for you are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession you shall grant a redemption for the land.”
From this law we see that the Sabbatical year prescribes that:
· Land and vineyards are to rest
· Voluntary crops can be eaten
· Debts are to be canceled
The stipulations for the Jubilee years are these:
· Land must rest
· Land goes back to original owner
· Israelite slaves are freed
In quoting Isaiah 61 Yahshua said, “This day is the Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” He meant that He Himself would be its fulfillment when He returned on a Jubilee year. It was undoubtedly a Jubilee year when He said this. His ministry proper began on this Jubilee year, probably 28-29 CE.
Typically a person will experience at least one Jubilee year in his lifetime. As prophetically important as the Jubilee year is, it would be surprising and uncharacteristic for Yahshua, our liberating Savior who alone fulfills the Jubilee prophecy, not to have experienced a Jubilee himself while on earth. And this one would have been it.
The Jubilee is all about freedom —for the land, for the slave, and for the debtor. Yahshua’s ultimate liberating act dying on the tree was in releasing us from the death penalty if we repent and follow Him. His triumph began with the start of His ministry and ended with His impalement.
Just as He was cut off in the middle of the week and died on a Wednesday, so Yahshua left unread the rest of Isaiah 61:2, which tells of the vengeance that would follow His return at the end of the age. Note the latter part of this verse: “…And the day of vengeance of our Elohim; to comfort all that mourn” (Isa. 61:1-2).
Jubilee Soon Neglected
“And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: to fulfill the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths: for as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years,” 2Chronicles 36:20-21.
Daniel 9 begins with a reference to the 70 years of Judah’s Babylonian captivity. The Jews were sentenced to a captivity of 70 years because they had not kept 70 sabbatical years.
After the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were exiled, tradition says, the Jubilee was no longer in effect, being specifically for “ . . . all the inhabitants thereof,” Leviticus 25:10 (see Encyclopaedia Judaica, article “Sabbatical Year and Jubilee,” pp. 579-580). Jews began to believe that the Law of Jubilee did not apply to them because they did not fully occupy the land ofIsrael. In addition, rabbis relaxed the Sabbatical year because of “eco-nomic hardship.”
The last time we see an attempt to apply the principles of the Jubilee is after the return from the Exile in the time of Nehemiah (Neh. 5:1-11).
When Does the Jubilee Occur?
Is the Jubilee the 49th or 50th year? Isaiah 37:30 holds the key:
“And this shall be the sign unto you: you shall eat this year that which grows of itself, and in the second year that which springs of the same; and in the third year sow, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof.”
Here are two Sabbath years in a row. Sabbatical years by definition are spaced seven years apart. This can only refer to a Sabbatical year followed immediately by a Jubilee year, just as 49 is followed by 50. Counting to the Jubilee year is just like the count to Pentecost. You count 49 days (7 weeks) followed by the 50th day.
The Power of Seven
The weekly Sabbath every seven days, the Sabbatical year every seven years, and Jubilees coming after every 7×7 years as well as the 1,000-year reign of Yahshua following 6,000 years of man’s rule are each a part of Yahweh’s great Sabbath system. Yahweh marks weeks, holy days, years and millennia in increments of seven. The word ‘week’ in Hebrew is the same as the number 7, shabua. It literally means “sevened.”
Weeks are determined in cycles of seven days, just as Yahweh’s Word established them, and the month (“moonth”) is based on the moon phase beginning with the new moon. Shabua has a dual meaning, also signifying oaths.
What is Yahweh telling us by this word with dual meanings? Simply this: there is a powerful relationship between the number seven, representing Sabbaths, and an oath. Is it any wonder then that the Sabbath is THE sign between Yahweh and His people? “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am Yahweh that does sanctify you,” Exodus 31:13.
Sabbath Lessons Taught
With many important meanings and lessons, His Sabbaths are also great equalizers. On the 7th day, for example, both the powerful and the powerless become irrelevant, as even the ox is liberated and given the same day of rest.
To counter any predatory greed, on the Sabbatical year debts are forgiven. And to counter over-farming, the land rests on the seventh year. After 7×7 years all debts are forgiven and lands are returned to the original owners. That insures that property rights remain in a family and the land specially given by Yahweh to the various tribes remained with them.
The Jubilee marks a return to origins, when everyone in Israel had his own property and hence his freedom and equality as well as dignity. It was a safety against tenureship and poverty. It allowed for economic equilibrium, whereby everyone enjoyed at least the minimal economic independence and liberty.
The Sabbatic plan teaches us that land belongs to Yahweh. No one could appropriate land as personal or hereditary property in perpetuity. For this reason, the buying and selling of land was only a temporary transfer and never to be permanent. Even the price of a tract of land was estimated on the basis of counting the years from the Jubilee. The land was more highly valued if it had had more years of production behind it.
The gift of the land was made on the basis of equal distribution to the needy families on the part of Joshua (Josh. 13-21). All were treated fairly. This is the answer to the promises made to the Patriarchs through an oath made by Yahweh (Gen 12-50).
Sabbaticals Prepare Us
In ancient times Yahweh sent prophets to warn the people of their backsliding, but their pleading fell on deaf ears. There were brief revivals, such as with King Josiah, but after his death the people continued their obstinacy. Ancient Israel was punished for neglecting the Sabbaths and Holy Days of Yahweh.
There is good evidence that Yahshua’s ministry began on a Sabbatical/Jubilee, in the year 28-29 CE. If we count forward from that time, we find that 2008-09 is the next Sabbatical year where we don’t plant or harvest. That means starting this Atonement, October 11, the land Sabbatical begins.
It just so happens that Sabbatical years in our Gregorian wall calendars are divisible by 7.
In 1973 Ben Zion Wacholder published a table of sabbatical years called, “The Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and the Early Rabbinic Period,” published at Hebrew Union College. His Sabbatical dates coincide with what we have found.
The second great principle, deriving from the first, is: “You are strangers and sojourners with me.” You are only passing through as pilgrims, heading toward an infinitely greater life. This life is schooling for the life to come, so don’t get wrapped up in the material things around you and live for them. I want you to know that you are strangers and sojourners with me.”
By getting in line with the Sabbath design and learning to follow the Biblical calendar, we learn how Yahweh’s government will run when Yahshua’s rule goes forth out of Zion to all the earth.
by Alan Mansager
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