We are in the process of preparing for the Sabbatical year, which will start in the spring (Aviv) of 2016. As we get closer to the time, we get questions and comments from others who plan to keep, or oppose the keeping of the Sabbatical year. One comment we received was that a family sized vegetable garden would be exempt from the Sabbatical year commandments due to the following reasons. Vegetables tend not to self seed, have a broad growing season and are not harvested in a bulk way.
I value these comments even if they oppose our understanding, because it gives us an opportunity to dig deeper and learn more. In this case I actually want them to be correct seeing that vegetables are more difficult to store and we use so much of it. However, I will remain objective and I believe YHVH will help us find the truth.
So, is our own family-sized vegetable garden exempt from the requirements of the Sabbatical year or are we required to keep these instructions?
Let’s see what is written in Scripture. The first time the commandment was given is in Exodus 23.
10 You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, 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.
When I read this commandment, I noticed the next verse, verse 12 is about the observance of the Sabbath.
12 Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.
You may wonder what the one has to do with the other. Why was this specific commandment repeated here? One reason is because YHVH often works with patterns. A good example of a pattern is the calculation of the Jubilee and the Counting of the Omer. When we count the Omer, we start the count from the day after the weekly Sabbath, we then count seven weeks or forty-nine days and on the fiftieth day, we celebrate Shavuot. This is also the first day of the week. The Jubilee is calculated the same way. The count is started in the first year after a Sabbatical year. Seven weeks of years add up to forty-nine years, then the fiftieth year is the Jubilee while at the same time being the first year of the next sabbatical cycle.
YHVH is an Elohim of order, everything works according to the order He established. He is not an Elohim of chaos or confusion, having two sets of standards. It is the same with the weekly Sabbath and the land Sabbath.
Let’s now look at the similarities between the weekly Sabbath and the Sabbatical year. The weekly Sabbath is on the seventh day of the week and the Sabbatical year is the seventh year in a week of years. That is not where the parallel stops. Both of these commandments are test commandments as well as rest commandments.
When we observe the weekly Sabbath, we are to abstain from all work. Only in case of an emergency, we are allowed to do work on the Sabbath (Luk 14:5.) In the sabbatical year the land must rest in the same way. We are not to sow our land or prune our vineyard or olive grove, the land must rest. To me it means just that. NO sowing, harvesting or pruning. YHVH confirms it with the words “we are to let the land lie fallow”
Fallow the land
We have previously posted an article about why the land must lie fallow The Sabbatical year, why the land must lie fallow. Please read this article, then you will understand a bit more about the science and the necessity behind fallowing the land. Let’s look again what this means.
To fallow the ground means the following:
Farmers, generally do not follow YHVH’s instructions on how to tend the land. The current practice is to use lots of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. These kill the soil and as a result more of these chemicals have to be used. The land is not given the time to rest and rejuvenate. This instruction alone should be enough to convince us that we cannot have our vegetable garden in the Sabbatical year. “you shall let it rest and lie fallow.” In order for the land to lie fallow, we are to leave it. The Hebrew word “shamat” was translated as “rest.”
H8058 sha‚mat shaw-mat
A primitive root; to fling down; incipiently to jostle; figuratively to let alone, desist, remit: “discontinue, overthrow, release, let rest, shake, stumble, throw down.
Here is it defined as in the Dictionary of Biblical languages
It is written that the land must rest (shamat) and lie fallow (natas). We have already looked at the definition of “shamat.” Here is the definition for the word “natas”
5759 × Ö¸×˜Ö·×©× (nÄÂ·á¹ÇŽÅ¡): v.; â‰¡ Str 5203; TWOT 1357â€”1. LN 34.40â€“34.41 forsake, reject, abandon, i.e., cause a relationship or association to cease until a possible renewal (Dt 32:15; Jdg 6:13; 1Sa 12:22; 1Ki 8:57; 2Ki 21:14; Ps 27:9; 94:14; Pr 1:8; 6:20; Isa 2:6; Jer 7:29; 12:7; 15:6; 23:33+), see also LN 39.34â€“39.41; (nif) be deserted (Am 5:2+); 2. LN 16 (qal) spread out, i.e., linear movement of several objects in multiple and different directions (Nu 11:31; 1Sa 4:2+); (qal pass.) be scattered (1Sa 30:16+); (nif) spread out (Jdg 15:9; 2Sa 5:18, 22; Isa 16:8; 33:23+); 3. LN 13.1â€“13.47 (qal) have remain, give an opportunity, i.e., have a state or condition continue (Ge 31:28; Hos 12:15[EB 14]+); 4. LN 68.34â€“68.57 (qal) discontinue, i.e., have a state cease (1Sa 10:2; Pr 17:14+), see also domain LN 13.1â€“13.47; 5. LN 65.30â€“65.39 (qal) abandon, fallow, i.e., not be used for a period of time (Ex 23:11; Ne 10:32[EB 31]+); 6. LN 15.34â€“15.74 (qal) leave, depart, i.e., move out of an area, leaving objects in a certain place (1Sa 17:20, 22, 28; Eze 29:5; 31:12; Ps 78:60+); (pual) be abandoned (Isa 32:14+); 7. LN 16 (qal pass.) be drawn, i.e., pertaining to a non-linear movement of taking an object out of a container (Isa 21:15+); 8. LN 15.135â€“15.140 (qal) disperse, i.e., cause an object to leave an area (Jer 23:39; Eze 32:4+)3
It is almost as if lie fallow was repeated using two different words. YHVH wanted us to understand that the land must lie fallow, not to be used.
This basically closes the discussion for me. However, I was intrigued with the statement that vegetables tend not to self seed. I have seen this, to an extend, in my own vegetable garden. Some vegetables do self seed, but others don’t. I am wondering why this is so. For this reason, we will get some more information on this.
Vegetable volunteer crops
All plants were created by YHVH to propagate on their own without human intervention. This includes vegetables. So, why do we have this notion that vegetables can’t? The propagation of vegetables on their own is referred to as producing a volunteer crop. When we sow vegetables, and leave it to go to seed, they may produce a volunteer crop. I say may, because it does not always happen, it is indeed quite rare. This rarity is not natural, so what is causing this?
Whether vegetable plants produce a volunteer crop or not will depend on the seed we used. If we have used hybrid seeds, we may get a bumper crop the first year, but will either get no volunteer crop if we leave the plant to go to seed, or the plants will most likely be different from the original planted vegetables. The volunteer crop of a flesh tomato may be a cherry tomato or it may produce fruit that doesn’t taste as great. The reason is found in the genetics of the plant which was altered through hybridization.
Hybridization is basically mixing of seed in order to create a plant with a better yield or with different characteristics. A major drawback is that you can’t depend on the plants for seed and you will most probably not have a volunteer crop. The seed is basically “use once only” and we are forced to buy new seed for the next season. Most of the vegetable seeds that are available in stores are hybrids. There is, however, another option: heirloom or open pollinated seed.
You can read more about the difference between open pollination, heirloom and hybrid seeds at this link: http://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/open-pollinated-heirloom-and-hybrid-seeds
The seed of heirloom plants, on the other hand, can be harvested and sown and will continue to give you vegetables with the same characteristics as the original plant. There may be slight variation as the plants tend to adapt, but it does not affect the yield or the quality of the vegetables.
Hybridization is just another example of how we humans thought we knew better than YHVH. We have previously written an article about the commandment not to mix: Mix not-what does this mean? The article is about the commandment in Lev 19:19 and Deut 22:9. Here, YHVH prohibits the mixing of seed.
19 You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.
The New King James version has it translated as follows:
19 You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.
9 You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled.
Here is “two kinds of seed” defined by the Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament
×›Ö´Ö¼×œÖ°×Ö·×™Ö´×: ? ×›×œ×, du., Bauer-L. Heb. 569o; MHeb. forbidden (as in BHeb.) mating or hybridisation of two different species; Ug. klÊ¾t both hands (Gordon Textbook Â§19:1231, not yet dual !), Eth. kelÊ¾Ä“/Ä“tu, Tigr. (Littmann-H. Wb. 392a) kelÊ¾it, Arb. kilÄ, kiltÄ, both; Soq. keÊ¾ala, Akk. kilallÄn, kilattÄn (AHw. 475a;4
What is a hybrid?
In biology a hybrid is a mix of two animals or plants of different breeds, varieties, species or genera.5
In this article, we state that hybridization was basically the mixing of seed and thus, not acceptable according to this commandment. We also wrote that we also understand it to mean that we are to plant the plants in rows. Although planting vegetables in neat rows make identification easier, and it may be a facet of this commandment, this commandment is, according to our understanding, primarily about not mixing the seeds as it is done through hybridization or genetic manipulation. This must be the reason why YHVH prohibited us from mixing seed, He knew if we did this, we would be destroying our own food supply.
As we said before, YHVH created all plants to propagate by themselves. If they don’t, something is wrong. This something is usually caused by human intervention in this case called hybridization and genetic manipulation.
I am so glad there were people with the foresight to preserve heirloom and open pollinated seeds for us. What would we do if all the companies selling hybrid seed can for some reason not sell seed? Most farmers rely solely on these seeds. If they were to stop producing or selling seed, there would be no food to eat. I now understand hybridization as another way we are being controlled without knowing it. We can’t harvest our own seed for planting the next year, instead we have to buy seed every year in order to have success. However, if we were to sow only heirloom or open pollinated seeds, we will have seed to harvest and if we leave the seed on the plant, we will have volunteer crops, but if we use hybrids, we may not.
Here is a quote from a garden forum about the subject.
If the seeds came from hybrid vegetables, there’s no telling what sort of tomato/squash it’s going to be. As I understand it, a hybrid won’t come true from seed. The volunteers may have some or more of the vigor/disease resistance of the hybrid, but also may have none of the taste, or fruit size/shape, or other desirable characteristics. Then again, it may. It’s a gamble because you don’t know what you’ll get until harvest.
If the seeds were from heirlooms then there’s a greater chance they are true, but even then they could be crosses. Seed savers of heirloom vegetables will often eliminate overly vigorous seedlings, just as they do weak and sickly ones: both are signs that it’s not going to be like its parent.6
Hybridization can occur naturally, but to a lesser extend. It also depends on what we sow and how close together we plant different cultivars. YHVH designed plants in such a way that natural hybridization is controlled by different flowering times, different habitats for example. When we interfere with nature, we may upset this balance. So, do take care what you plant together. This may also explain why it is better to have a organized vegetable garden instead of mixing all seed together in one bed.
The volunteer crops that come up in the Sabbatical year may not be as organized as we originally planted them, but that is fine. Let it grow where it sprouted.
There are other advantages to sowing heirloom or open pollinated seeds.
- The fruit is more tasty and nutritious. It is healthier for us to eat vegetables from heirloom or open pollinated seed.
- The flowers are open pollinated so we can save our own seeds and replant. Here is a great article on seed saving : http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/clay56.html
- This also means that we can have volunteer crops if we leave the plant to go into seed.
- Heirloom vegetables are less uniform which means they don’t all ripen at the same time.
- The plants are often more drought and disease resistant
- Sowing heirloom or heritage seed also helps conserve biodiversity. If everybody were to plant only a certain hybrid, it can easily be wiped out by a disease specific to that hybrid. It has happened before and if it happens on a grand scale, our food supply is gone.
YHVH made plants the way He did because He knows what is good for us. We changed it because we think we know better, but we don’t.
If we were to sow only heirloom seeds in the sixth year, we will have volunteer crops during the Sabbatical year. This would answer the question that was asked a long time ago.
20 But if you say, What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we do not sow or gather in our crops? 21 then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years. 22 When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in.
Let’s just have a look what this word “crop” means. Does it only refer to grains only?
9311 ×ªÖ°Ö¼×‘×•Ö¼×Ö¸×” (teá¸‡Ã»Â·Ê¾Ä(h)): n.fem.; â‰¡ Str 8393; TWOT 212câ€”1. LN 3.33â€“3.46 yield, produce, crops, i.e., what is harvested from plants, whether grain or fruit (Ge 47:24; Dt 22:9); 2. LN 65.1â€“65.16 gain, income, i.e., what is valuable (Pr 16:8; Ecc 5:9[EB 10]); 3. LN 33.354â€“33.364 unit: ×ªÖ°Ö¼×‘×•Ö¼×Ö¸×” ×©Ö¸×‚×¤Ö¸×” (teá¸‡Ã»Â·Ê¾Ä(h) Å›ÄÂ·pÌ„Ä(h)) harvest of the lips, i.e., the figurative extension of proper, productive speech (Pr 18:20)3
Hybrid seeds were not available in ancient times. Vegetable plants not propagating on their own was not an issue to them. We created this problem by trying to improve on YHVH’s creation. I wonder how He feels about this?
The statement that vegetable gardens of family sized proportions would be exempt from the sabbatical year commandment is not in line with Scripture. We are not to sow and the land must lie fallow. This alone would prohibit all sowing activities.
The main objection was that vegetables don’t self seed. This is not true. Vegetables can self seed if you use open pollinated or heirloom seed. It would therefore produce a volunteer crop in the Sabbatical year. YHVH created plants to propagate by themselves. We changed plants through hybridization or to put it in Biblical language through the mixing of seed. As a result of this, these plants can’t propagate by themselves or if they do, they do not reproduce after their own kind, but according to either of the plants used to create the hybrid. Those involved in this practice would say they are doing it to help mankind. The motive, in my opinion, is greed and control. This product may yield more, but does not have the same nutritional value as the original created vegetables and may even cause health issues. It also kills bio-diversity and is threatening our future food supply. Hybridization and genetic manipulation is for this reason not only a sin against YHVH, but also against mankind.
The other point was about the growing season of vegetables and how it was harvested. This has nothing to do with the land or the Sabbatical year.
Consider, if you exempt your vegetable garden due to these reasons, to be consistent, you must exempt all vegetable farming. Just think about this logically. In ancient times people did not farm for commercial purposes. They planted for their own consumption. That included all produce: grain, olives, figs, grapes and vegetables. Most people were self-sustaining. The sabbatical year is not only for commercial farmers, it is for each individual. It is a test of our faithfulness to YHVH. If we wanted to, we can reason any commandment away. It is quite easy to do. We each make our own choices.
- 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 Yâ€™shua for Jesus.
- Freedman, D. N., Myers, A. C., & Beck, A. B. (2000). Fallow Ground. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (p. 455). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1999). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 475). Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill.