Shemitah – Hebrew, translated literally as “release.”
I first learned this word through the books “The Harbinger” and “The Mystery of the Shemitah,” both by Jonathon Cahn, a Christian Rabbi. He wrote these books when he realized that the pattern of US history over the last century has a strong parallel to the history of ancient Israel, their national sins. and their Babylonian bondage. This Saturday I’ll start a series about Rabbi Cahn’s book, The Harbinger. For now, let’s just take a look at what the shemitah is. First, a general explanation, then some quotations from Rabbi Cahn’s book, and finally Bible passages about it.
Christians are all familiar with the term “Sabbath.”
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy,” warns the commandment. It was to be a day of rest commemorating God resting on the seventh day of the universe after spending six days creating it. What I didn’t know until a few years ago and reading Rabbi Cahn’s books is that there was also a Sabbath of years.
Jesus also informs the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath when they turned their noses up at His disciples picking grain to eat on a Saturday, which is the actual seventh day and the actual Sabbath.
Sabbath is to be a day of rest, a year of rest, and a year of…release!
I was recently reading back through “The Mystery of the Shemitah” and a passage captured my attention more than it had when I first saw it. Rabbi Cahn made some succinct comments about the Shemitah – the Sabbath Year, which I’ll reproduce below. You’ll see that it isn’t just about resting from physical work, but a rest – a release – from the world, from possessions which encumber. It’s a release to rest in the arms of our God without a care in the world.
The need to work for our food? Released!
The need to collect debts? Released!
The need to pay debts? Released!
The Shemitah strikes me personally as something very much like my bypass surgery in 2003. Was that a scary time? It certainly had its moments! But I remember that entire period from surgery through recovery very fondly. I was released – I was “shemitah’d” from the cares of life to just be. Eat, sleep, breathe…repeat as needed.
The law of Sabbaths from the seventh day to the seventh year to the seventh 7-year cycle was peculiar to the Israelites. Except for the commandment, God did not require these Sabbaths from any other people. However, I can’t help wondering what this world would look like if everyone on earth was “shemitah’d” from every debt and possession every seven years.
What a leveler that would be! There would be no oppression by debts lasting a lifetime, no burdens of a glut of unnecessary wealth. We would do nothing but rest on the grace of God’s providence in those times, a true rest from not just labor, but from the world!
Here are selected portions of Rabbi Cahn’s comments from his book “The Mystery of the Shemitah,” page 31. After reading those, I invite you to slowly, carefully…care-freely read the passages from Exodus and Leviticus describing these Sabbaths, these Shemitah’s, these blessed releases!
‘The Shemitah declares that God is first and above all realms of life, and must therefore be put first and above every realm. During the Shemitah was, in effect, compelled to turn away from these earthly or worldly realms and turn to the spiritual.
The Shemitah cleanses and wipes away, ends imbalances, levels accounts, and nullifies that which has built up in the previous years…It ends entanglements and brings release…The Shemitah requires people to release their attachments to the material realm: their possessions, their finances, their real estate, and their claims and pursuits concerning such things.
The Shemitah is the reminder that God is the source of all blessings, spiritual and physical alike.”
The Law of Sabbaths Exodus 23:10-11
10 “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.
Red highlights are mine.
The Sabbath of the Seventh Year Leviticus 25
25 And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, 2 “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. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; 4 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. 5 What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. 6 And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, 7 for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.
The Year of Jubilee
8 ‘And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. 12 For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.
13 ‘In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. 14 And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. 15 According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. 16 According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. 17 Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.
Provisions for the Seventh Year
18 ‘So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety.
20 ‘And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?” 21 Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. 22 And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest.
Redemption of Property
23 ‘The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. 24 And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land.
25 ‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold. 26 Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it, 27 then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession. 28 But if he is not able to have it restored to himself, then what was sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the Year of Jubilee; and in the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession.
29 ‘If a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year he may redeem it. 30 But if it is not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it, throughout his generations. It shall not be released in the Jubilee. 31 However the houses of villages which have no wall around them shall be counted as the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the Jubilee. 32 Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, and the houses in the cities of their possession, the Levites may redeem at any time. 33 And if a man purchases a house from the Levites, then the house that was sold in the city of his possession shall be released in the Jubilee; for the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel. 34 But the field of the common-land of their cities may not be sold, for it is their perpetual possession.
Lending to the Poor
35 ‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. 36 Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. 37 You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
The Law Concerning Slavery
39 ‘And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. 40 As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God. 44 And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have—from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. 45 Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. 46 And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.
47 ‘Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family, 48 after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him; 49 or his uncle or his uncle’s son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself. 50 Thus he shall reckon with him who bought him: The price of his release shall be according to the number of years, from the year that he was sold to him until the Year of Jubilee; it shall be according to the time of a hired servant for him. 51 If there are still many years remaining, according to them he shall repay the price of his redemption from the money with which he was bought. 52 And if there remain but a few years until the Year of Jubilee, then he shall reckon with him, and according to his years he shall repay him the price of his redemption. 53 He shall be with him as a yearly hired servant, and he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight. 54 And if he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee—he and his children with him. 55 For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.