The Sabbatical year, a “reset” every seven years

Written by Schalk_and_Elsa on. Posted in Sabbatical Year

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resetThe next Sabbatical year is in 2016, from the first day of Aviv. We plan to keep this commandment. This commandment, to keep the Sabbatical year, is seen by some as quite controversial and one of those commandments which is said not to pertain to us who don’t live in the land. As a result of this mindset, it is pushed aside and not really studied. However, when you start studying this commandment and its significance, you would be amazed at how carefully YHVH has planned this.

YHVH did not miss a single detail when he gave us instructions for living, for that is what His commandments are, instructions for living. These instructions are not burdensome and are to our benefit. Having said this, I think we only have a glimpse of why most commandments were given, some are a total mystery. That is why obedience is so important. We are not to wait until we understand a commandment before we do it, we are to do first, out of loving obedience, and then sometimes YHVH will reveal the why to us. We have seen so many times that YHVH works in this way, once we have put aside our human reasoning and just obey; He shows us why He gave us the instructions.

It is the same with the Sabbatical year commandment. Some will glance over the title of this article without any interest, thinking that it does not pertain to them. Others, who are convinced that this is still for us, will share this revelation with us.

A “reset” every seven years

You may wonder why we titled this “a reset every seven years.” Allow us to explain.

In the previous articles The Sabbatical year, why the land must lie fallow , The Sabbatical year, why the poor remains poor, we have shared with you what we have learned regarding the significance of this commandment. There are three facets to the Sabbatical year commandment, the one is not of less importance than the other. The first is the land, the second the poor and indebted and the third is of spiritual significance to all people. We will explain the third facet in this article. The Sabbatical year is like YHVH gave us an opportunity to “reset” every seven years. The land rests and rejuvenates itself; the poor and indebted are provided for. Slaves are released and could start over, either as a bond-servant or a free person. Spiritually, we are also offered a new beginning. You may wonder how…

The reading of “this law”

We find the answer in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 31:10–13
10 Then Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before YHVH your Elohim at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. 12 “Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear YHVH your Elohim, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. 13 “Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear YHVH your Elohim, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”

Let us first look at the time this is to take place. Reference is made of “the time of the year of remission of debts.” This refers to the Sabbatical year, you can read more about the remission of debts in the article The Sabbatical year, why the poor remains poor.

Furthermore, reference is made to the Feast of Booths. It takes place on the 15th day of the seventh month. This feast is a pilgrimage festival, which means we are to go up to the place which YHVH has chosen, Jerusalem, and celebrate the feast there. You can read more about the pilgrimage festivals in the article titled Pilgrimage feasts and Jerusalem, His resting place forever.

So, at the feast of Booths, also known as Sukkot, during the Sabbatical year, we are to read “this law” in front of all Israel, men, women and children and the foreigner who is in our town. The reason is stated: “so that they may hear and learn and fear YHVH your Elohim, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.” When this law” is read, those hearing it will be inspired to obedience, out of fear for YHVH.

The question is are we to do this too?

Are we to read the law at Sukkot during the Sabbatical year?

The Israelites didn’t each have their own Bibles. This reading of the law every seven years was their opportunity to hear and learn the law of YHVH. We have our own bibles and can read it every day if we want. What you just read is human reasoning, and it is wrong! The important part is YHVH commanded it, and we must obey! He said it, we must do it! For this reason, we are to read “this law” at Sukkot of the Sabbatical year. You will understand how very profound this is once you do it, but we will give you a small glimpse of the significance here.

Reading YHVH’s instructions will inspire us too to fear him and walk in His ways.

Examples from Scripture

There are many passages in Scripture that can attest to this.

Joshua read the book of the law

Moses told Joshua to read the book of the law to the people when they enter the land.

Joshua 8:33–34
33 All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of YHVH, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of YHVH had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. 34 Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law.

In this way, the people would know what YHVH expects of them. They will also understand the consequences if they don’t obey and the blessing when they do.

In 2 Kings 23:2 we read how the book of the law was found and read before all the people.

The reforms of King Joshiah

The book of the law was found by Hilkia the priest and was read to the King. Here is his reaction when he heard the words.

2 Kings 22:11
11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes.

The hearing of the law made him tore is clothes. In biblical times tearing of clothes was associated with mourning, it was an expression of deep sorrow and heartfelt grief. It was also a natural reaction at times of great distress and in cases of sincere repentance.2

The book of the law was subsequently read to all the people.

2 Kings 23:2–3
2 The king went up to the house of YHVH and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of YHVH. 3 The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before YHVH, to walk after YHVH, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant.

This reading inspired King Joshiah to enter into a covenant with YHVH “to walk after YHVH, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book” and all the people entered into the covenant also.

Although this seems to take place during the Passover, we refer to this because it shows that if we read the law of YHVH, it inspires and motivates us to want to do it. After having read the law, Joshiah proceeded to rid the land of all idolatry.

There are two other examples of how reading the law inspired the people to do the commandments. It is in the book of Chronicles and Nehemiah.

King Jehoshaphat’s reforms

King Jehosaphat was a righteous King. He followed YHVH’s commandments and rid the land of idolatry.

2 Chronicles 17:6–9
6 He took great pride in the ways of YHVH and again removed the high places and the Asherim from Judah. 7 Then in the third year of his reign he sent his officials, Ben-hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah, to teach in the cities of Judah; 8 and with them the Levites, Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah and Tobadonijah, the Levites; and with them Elishama and Jehoram, the priests. 9 They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of YHVH with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.

We do not read what the effect of this reading and teaching of the law was, but we know that his reign was blessed by YHVH and blessing results from obedience.

The next passage is from the book of Nehemiah.

Reform in the time of Nehemiah

This time the law was read every day during the feast of Sukkot starting at the Feast of Trumpets.

Nehemiah 8:17–18
17 The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. 18 He read from the book of the law of Elohim daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance.

We know that these Israelites returned from captivity in Babylon and settled in Jerusalem. They started reading the Torah on the feast of Trumpets and when the people heard the law read to them, they mourned and wept. Furthermore, when they read that they have to make booths in order to celebrate Sukkot, they did it immediately. They made booths, lived in it and read the book of the law every day.

After the feast, on the 24th day of Tishri, they all assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

This is the purpose of this commandment of reading the law out loud in front of all the people. Hearing or reading the instructions of YHVH brings us to the realization of how we miss the mark. This will cause us to repent and want to improve if we truly love YHVH.

The purpose of the law

This is the purpose of the law, it is to instruct us how to live, at the same time teaching us what we are not to do. The Apostle Paul confirms this.

Romans 7:7
7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

This passage has been used many times as “prove” that the law or Torah is not good. This is what Paul said to counter this.

Romans 7:12
12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

David Stern explained this passage as follows:

So the Torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just and good. Those who think Sha’ul sought an escape from the Jewish Law in order to make Christianity easy for pagan converts must find this verse difficult. It proves that Sha’ul neither had an un-Jewish view of the Law nor desired to abrogate it. The verse witnesses to Sha’ul’s lifelong high regard for the Torah, which corresponds to his lifelong observance of it (see Ac 13:9N, 21:21). This attitude would have been with him from his youth, since his parents were Pharisees (Ac 23:6); it would have been strengthened by his studies with Rabban Gamli’el (Ac 22:3); and there is no reason to suppose that his coming to faith in Yeshua—who did not “come to abolish the Torah” (Mt 5:17)—would have changed it. So many errors about Sha’ul’s opinion of the Law could have been avoided had this verse been understood as constraining everything he writes about it. God’s holy Torah for holy living does not change. Why? Because God himself does not change (Malachi 3:6) and holiness does not change. Moreover, this verse is not alone: vv. 10, 14, 16, 22 and 8:2, 4, 7–8all show that Sha’ul had a high regard for the Torah3

So, YHVH gave us instructions for our benefit. When we read all these accounts, we see that it does have a profound impact to read or hear the law; it “resets” us spiritually. Reading or hearing the law will make us consider our lives and hopefully change our direction where needed. It will also give us a perspective of who YHVH is and what He can do. Reading about the miracles He has done, strengthens our faith in Him. There is an added benefit in the keeping of the law…

The blessing of keeping the law

This is what YHVH told Joshua to do…

Joshua 1:7–8
7 “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8 “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

We can’t be careful and do all the law if we don’t know what is written in it.

Now I am wondering what exactly we are to read. What does “this law” specifically refer to?

What are we to read?

The Hebrew word that was translated as “law” is “torah”torah scroll pink ribbon

9368 תּוֹרָה (tô·rā(h)): n.fem.; ≡ Str 8451, 8452; TWOT 910d—1. LN 33.333–33.342 law, regulation, i.e., a legal prescription of something that should or must be done (Ex 12:49; Lev 6:2); 2. LN 33.224–33.250 teaching, instruction, i.e., information that is imparted to a student (Ps 78:1; Pr 1:8); 3. LN 33.35–33.68 Torah, the Law, i.e., a written code (Ne 8:2); 4. LN 33.35–33.68 unit: סֵפֶר הַ־ תּוֹרָה (sē·p̄ěr hǎ- tô·rā(h)) Book of the Law, i.e., a written code (Dt 28:61); 5. LN 33.35–33.68 unit: תּוֹרָה מֹשֶׁה (tô·rā(h) mō·šě(h)) Law of Moses, i.e., a written code (Jos 8:31); 6. LN 33.35–33.68 unit: תּוֹרָה יהוה (tô·rā(h) yhw(h)) Law of the LORD, i.e., a written code (1Ch 16:40); 7. LN 41.25–41.28 manner, custom, i.e., the usual way of doing something (2Sa 7:19)4

The commandment reads that we are to read “this law,” this may refer to the book of Deuteronomy or it may refer to all the books of Moses. YHVH commanded Moses to write the words in a book, this book is referred to as the book of the law or the book of the Covenant or the law or the instruction/torah. It can’t do harm to read all five the books at Sukkot. It may take you 15-20 hours depending on how fast you read. You could also download an audio of the first five books and listen to it. Here is a useful summary of the first five books of the Bible.

Summary: Key Words and Themes to Remember5

Genesis Beginnings Election of the nation
Exodus Redemption Redemption of the nation
Leviticus Holiness Sanctification of the nation
Numbers Wandering Direction of the nation
Deuteronomy Review Instruction of the Nation

Alternatively, you could read only the book of Deuteronomy, which is like a review of the first four books. You could also read through Leviticus 26, seeing that it is the Sabbatical year, as a reminder of why we are to keep the Sabbatical year.

Be creative! You never know how this may change your life.

Conclusion

YHVH commanded that the law be read at Sukkot during the Sabbatical year. From this study, we have learned what the purpose of this reading is. It is like a spiritual “reset” to us. It is to show us where we fall short and what the consequences will be if we continue in our wrong ways. It will also show us how YHVH will bless us if we follow His ways and give us a fresh perspective of who YHVH is and what He can do. This will cause us to fear Him and turn back to Him. It will motivate us to want to do better. In short, it will change our lives.

We are looking forward to our Sabbatical year experience. We still have lots to learn and will for sure learn a ton during that year. It does feel a bit overwhelming, because it is new to us. There are believers who have done this before. If any of you are reading this, please share your experiences with us.

References

  1. All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Y’shua for Jesus.
  2. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/dictionary-of-bible-themes/5188-tearing-clothes
  3. Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : a companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed., Ro 7:12). Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications.
  4. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. https://bible.org/seriespage/law-first-five-books
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Comments (3)

  • rebekah

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    Shalom!

    I find it interesting that the people of Israel, while in the Land (before the time of Messiah) never kept the Sabbatical year, hence one of the reasons they went in exile – so that the Land would be given it’s rest for 70 years. In the book of Jeremiah, they proclaimed a release to slaves, etc and then they turned around and took them back, which G-d was not at all happy with.

    Beside that observance, taking myself as an example and looking at the Laws regarding the seventh year.
    1) I don’t own slaves, or servants of any kind
    2) I don’t have land to rest (as I live in the city)
    3) Granted the read of Torah could be done

    From what I have studied on the topic, I don’t think there is not an agreement on when the sabbatical year is. There is no laws or guide to the year when one is out of the Land in scripture…

    Just some thoughts I have had on the topic. Thank you for the article.

    Reply

  • The sixth year, a year of preparation | Set Apart People

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    […] Spiritual restoration that takes place during the Sabbatical year. We have written about this also The Sabbatical year, a “reset” every seven years. The Sabbatical year is like a spiritual reset that takes […]

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