SABBATICAL YEAR

A sabbatical year was a year when all farming land was given rest from agricultural activity. It was supposed to occur every seventh year throughout Israel’s history. There was also to be release for debtors and a public reading of the Mosaic law every seventh year. Although these latter two functions were not specifically connected with the year of rest for the land, they were probably arranged to coincide with it.

Rest for the land

Just as people and their working animals rested one day in seven, so the land was to be rested one year in seven. By ceasing agricultural activity during this year, the Israelites had the opportunity to recognize in a special way that God was the rightful owner of the land. They were merely tenants, and could not treat God’s land as they wished. Also, the rest from farming gave the land the opportunity to clear itself of pests and restore its natural powers of production (Exod 23:10-11; Lev 25:1-7,23). The people had no reason to fear a shortage of food during the sabbatical year. God would bless every sixth year with double the normal produce, so that people could store up food for use the next year. In addition there would be enough natural growth during the sabbatical year for people such as the poor who could not store up in advance. There would also be enough for the flocks and herds (Lev 25:6- 7,12,18-22). If the people disobeyed God’s laws and did not rest the land one year in seven, God would force them to rest it by driving them from it (Lev 26:34-43; cf. 2 Chron 36:20-21; Jer 34:13-22).

Release for debtors

At the end of every seven years, Israelites were to forgive any debts owed them by fellow Israelites. They were to consider themselves one big family, where those who had money helped those who were in need. They were not to refuse anyone a loan, even if the year of release was approaching. However, in the case of foreigners who owed Israelites debts, normal business procedures applied (Deut 15:1-11). Israelites who were slaves of their fellow Israelites were also released in the seventh year. Foreigners who were slaves of Israelites apparently did not enjoy this privilege (Deut 15:12-18; Lev 25:44-46; see SLAVE).

Reading of the law

One duty of the priests in the year of release was to gather the people together for a public reading of the law, to remind them of their responsibilities as God’s people. This reading was to take place at the central place of worship when the people assembled to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 31:9-13).

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