After our previous article about preparing for the Sabbatical year, a very thought and study provoking question was asked by a friend. The question prompted us to want to investigate if fruit trees were included in the Sabbatical year commandment, specifically regarding pruning and harvesting. The answer to this would also affect if we could buy fruit during this time.
We understand, after this study that fruit trees are included in the sense that we are not to prune our fruit trees or harvest fruit during the Sabbatical year. Let us present you our findings.
The first commandment we find regarding the Sabbatical year, gives the following instruction regarding the land.
11 but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
The focus of this commandment is to let the land rest and lie fallow, and very importantly, to leave whatever is on the field for the needy. This includes the vineyard and olive grove. No harvesting is to take place; nothing is to be sold in the marketplace.
When we read this literally, it would seem that other fruit trees are excluded from this commandment. It seems contradicting, because later we are instructed to leave all crops.
6 ‘All of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you. 7 ‘Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat.
Let us just briefly look at what is meant by “all crops.” It is important to understand this correctly, so we shall look at the Hebrew words that were used.
What does the hebrew word “crop” mean?
9311 תְּבוּאָה (teḇû·ʾā(h)): n.fem.; ≡ Str 8393; TWOT 212c—1. LN 3.33–3.46 yield, produce, crops, i.e., what is harvested from plants, whether grain or fruit (Ge 47:24; Dt 22:9); 2. LN 65.1–65.16 gain, income, i.e., what is valuable (Pr 16:8; Ecc 5:9[EB 10]); 3. LN 33.354–33.364 unit: תְּבוּאָה שָׂפָה (teḇû·ʾā(h) śā·p̄ā(h)) harvest of the lips, i.e., the figurative extension of proper, productive speech (Pr 18:20)2
From this definition, we see that it could include fruit. Let’s look at the word “all ” The Hebrew word “kol” was translated as “all”
Leviticus 25:6-7 also reads “all”
3972 כֹּל (kōl): n.masc.; ≡ Str 3605; TWOT 985a—1. LN 59.23–59.34 all, every, any, i.e., the totality of any object, mass, collective, extension (Ge 1:26; 3:17); 2. LN 59.23–59.34 any, i.e., any one of a totality (Ge 2:16); 3. LN 78.44–78.50 completely, i.e., with a degree of totality (Ge 20:16; Job 21:23; Jer 13:7, 10); 4. LN 63.1–63.4 total, i.e., pertaining to being entire or whole, with a focus on the totality of the object or idea (Ex 29:18; Nu 5:30); 5. LN 58.21–58.30 every kind of, every sort of, i.e., a totality of kinds or sorts (Ge 7:2)2
So, from these words, we may conclude that all produce was included, the yield of the field as well as fruit. Would that exclude fruit form other trees? Does this only include the grapevine and olive tree? Let’s see if we can find another witness. Let us look at this phrase “vineyard and olive grove” and see where else in Scripture it was used, as well its context.
Vineyard and olive grove
The phrase “vineyard and olive grove” is used in a few places.
It is used twice in Deuteronomy. In the first reference, YHVH is giving the Israelites a warning not to forget Him when He prospers them. When they entered the land, YHVH gave them everything they needed.
11 and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied,
The question is did YHVH only give them vineyards and olive groves? Before we answer this question, let’s look at some more references.
19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that YHVH your Elohim may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 “When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.
In these few verses, instruction is given to leave a little for the poor. Once again, would this strictly apply to only olive trees and grapevines?
Next, the phrase is used in the book of Joshua.
13 ‘I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’
This verse repeats what was said in the first reference from Deuteronomy. Did they only eat of the vineyards and olive groves? We know from Scripture, that when the spies brought back produce of the land, they brought back other fruit as well.
323 Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs.
From this, we know that other fruits were also cultivated in the land, not only grapevines and olive trees. The phrase “vineyard and olive grove” is used as a collective term which includes all fruit, fruit from vines and fruit from trees. Just like vegetables would be included when we speak of the produce of the field, so would we include raspberries and blackberries when we speak of vines and apples, pears and other fruit when speaking of olive trees.
Let’s look at a few more examples. This next reference confirms what we just said. Read this carefully. The context is as follows: Israel wanted a king and here they are warned that the king would take the best of the fields, vineyards and olive groves.
1 Samuel 8:14
14 “He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants.
Once again, we see fields, vineyards and olive groves being used as collective terms to refer to three kinds of produce, those from the fields, from the vines and from the trees.
The next reference is about the healing of Naaman. Gehazi went back and asked for silver and clothes. This was Elisha’s response.
2 Kings 5:26
26 Then he said to him, “Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?
Did Naaman give him olive groves and vineyards? Here, is refers to wealth, once again used as a collective term.
We find similar examples in the book of Nehemiah.
11 “Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.”
25 “They captured fortified cities and a fertile land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing, Hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, Fruit trees in abundance. So they ate, were filled and grew fat, And reveled in Your great goodness.
This refers to their prosperity. Then, in Nehemiah 9:25, the term vineyards and olive groves is qualified with “fruit trees in abundance.” In Nehemiah 5:11, we have seen a reference to grain, new wine and oil.
Grain, new wine and oil
We find yet another reference to new wine and oil, once again linked to prosperity. We read in Deuteronomy 7:13 that covenantal faithfulness will result in blessing. Read this blessing and see how it is said.
13 “He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you.
Would this mean that YHVH would only bless the grain, grape and olive crops?
Here is another example, this time of YHVH bringing a curse on the people.
11 “I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”
We know that drought would affect all crops, not only grain, grapes and olives. From all these references, it is our understanding that the commandment not to prune the vineyard and olive grove, and not to harvest its fruit also pertains to other fruit-bearing plants. Grape vines refer to other vines like raspberries and the like and olive grove to fruit-bearing trees.
What further strengthens this point was when we looked into the purpose of pruning.
The Purpose of Pruning
What is the purpose of pruning? Y’shua gave us the answer; the context of His words are spiritual, but it is true physically as well. Pruning is done in order for a tree to bear more fruit. Any fruit-bearing tree benefits from pruning.
2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
Here is an explaination from a horticultural point of view.
Fruit tree pruning is the cutting and removing of parts of a fruit tree. It covers a number of horticultural techniques that control growth, remove dead or diseased wood, and stimulate the formation of flowers and fruit buds. Pruning often means cutting branches back, sometimes removing smaller limbs entirely. It may also mean removal of young shoots, buds, leaves, etc. Careful attention to pruning and training young trees affects their later productivity and longevity. Good pruning and training can also prevent later injury from weak crotches (where a tree trunk splits into two or more branches) that break from the weight of fruit, snow, or ice on the branches.3
Fruit trees benefit from pruning; it stimulates new growth and fruiting. However, fruit trees also benefit from leaving them every so often in order to increase its fruit-bearing capacity. To prune or not to prune seems to be a fine balance. Here is a good explanation that helped me understand pruning a bit better. This was quite a wow-moment when I read this.
As an expert puts it:
In fruit trees there has to be a good relationship between growth of the branches and the formation of fruit buds. As a rule you can say: Less pruning promotes the formation of fruit buds, while pruning promotes the growth of new branches.
It may sound contradictory, but if you have a tree with lots of sprawling branches, the best way to get rid of it is to stop pruning! In this way the tree will settle down and it will proceed to develop fruit buds.
The other extreme is a fruit tree that is not pruned. These trees are filled with plenty of fruit buds, flowering is lavish and there are lots of fruits, however there is often no growth. In itself, there seems to be nothing to worry about; lots of fruit is fine, you might think. The problem is that when the tree is in this state, it gradually goes into the dying phase. The excessive fruiting year in and year out, makes the tree to age rapidly. This kind of trees you have to prune! 4
This seems tricky to know exactly when to do what, especially if you are no horticulturist. This made me think, maybe YHVH in His great wisdom provided the answer for us by commanding us not to prune every seventh year. It is a fine balance and just maybe; that balance is found in the Sabbatical year.
We have presented to you why we understand the Sabbatical year commandment to include fruit trees both in pruning and harvesting. Not pruning once in a while (every seven years) benefits a tree like letting the land lie fallow benefits the soil. This is truly incredible!
So, in the Sabbatical year, we are not to prune our vines or fruit trees. We are not to harvest the fruit either. We are to leave it on the tree; we may eat of it, and others may as well. This means that we are to prepare in the same way we prepare for other crops. We are to store up enough in the previous year, either by canning, drying or freezing. We won’t be buying any fruit either, because when we buy fruit from trees that were pruned and harvested in the Sabbatical year, we partake of the sins of others. We are to do to this to the best of our ability.
We need to be creative and think of ways to make this work as our bodies need vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables. Please share your ideas with us via the comments or e-mail, then all can benefit from it. May YHVH bless you in your pursuit to be obedient to His commandments.
- 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.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Trackback from your site.