As the Lord prepared Israel for their home in the Promised Land, He commanded that they observe sabbath years and a jubilee every fiftieth year when they arrived in the land.
According to the command, farmers could sow seed and harvest crops for six years. Vineyards could be pruned and harvested those six years. The seventh year, the Lord said, “shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord.” All sowing in the fields and pruning in the vineyards should cease throughout the sabbath year.
During the seventh year, the Jews could gather food from the “volunteer” plants that sprang up in the fields, and they could eat grapes from the unpruned vines. There could be no organized harvesting of crops and everything was available to everybody. Animals, domesticated and wild, would eat what was left of the land’s produce.
The people were further commanded to count seven sabbath years, or forty-nine years, at which time a jubilee year would be observed. This year would be observed as a sabbath year, with no sowing, reaping or storing anything that grew. It was also a time of liberty in which servants were released from servitude.
Both the sabbath and jubilee years served as reminders that, as the psalmist wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” God gave Israel the land, but He gave it under certain conditions because it all belonged to Him.
They must be good stewards of the land they would one day hand over to a new generation. The Lord would have them to think of someone other than themselves.
A sabbath year would teach the Jews to trust the Lord, not themselves, to provide for their needs.
The Lord warned that failure to obey His commands would result in harsh punishment. In Leviticus 26 Israel was told that if they were disobedient, the Lord would chase them from the land and “your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.”
“Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it” (Leviticus 26:34-35).
One way or the other, the land would have a sabbath rest, the Lord said.
There is no evidence the Jews observed the sabbath and jubilee years, but the biblical record indicates the land had a rest of 70 years while the Jews were in captivity because of their disobedience.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. He can be reached at [email protected]