Are the Land Sabbath and the Jubilee Year still to be observed today? (Part 3)


In the last two installments of this series, we discussed the views of numerous commentaries on the issue, and we saw from Scripture that the Sabbatical Year (also referred to as the Land Sabbath and the Year of Release; compare, for example, Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7, 18-22), as well as the Jubilee Year (compare, for example, Leviticus 25:8-14), were laws for the nation of Israel, which were related to the Land of Canaan. The Year of Release and the Jubilee Year included also the cancellation of personal debts and the restoration of all real estate to its prior owner. Land was not to be sold forever.

We noted that these laws and regulations are of course not enforceable today, on a grand scale, as every nation today has its own laws which may quite differ in regard to cancellation of debts, transactions of real property or even the cultivation of farm land. Still, the Church of God has consistently taught that Christians should apply today certain PRINCIPLES, as much as possible.

Before we address in the final installment how this can be done, it is necessary to discuss in this installment two basically opposite viewpoints. Some, especially in the Jewish community, have come to the conclusion that the provisions regarding the Land Sabbath and the Jubilee Year are not applicable today, not even in principle. Others have concluded that the Church of God and its members today must follow and enforce these provisions, literally and in their entirety. Both extreme viewpoints are wrong.

For instance, an article posted by, pertaining to the Sabbatical Year, tells us the following:

“According to tradition, it took Joshua seven years to conquer the Land of Israel, and another seven years to divide it among the various tribes and individuals. The Talmud tells us that only after these fourteen years, when the conquest of the land had been completed, was it endowed with kedushah, holiness, with respect to the observance of the various agricultural mitzvos. Thus, the fifteenth year after the entry into the Land of Israel was the first year counted for the purpose of determining the shmittah and yovel cycles. Every seventh year thereafter was to be observed as shmittah, the sabbatical year, and after seven such shmittos, the fiftieth year was to have special observances as yovel, the Jubilee year.

“Towards the end of the period of the first Temple, ten of the Twelve Tribes of Israel were exiled. The Torah states concerning the Jubilee year, ‘You shall proclaim liberty to the land and to all its inhabitants.’ The Talmud derives from this statement that the yovel laws are binding only when all the tribes are present in the Land of Israel. Accordingly, during the last years of the first Temple period, the special mitzvos of the yovel were no longer Biblically binding (mid’oraisah).

“Many years later, after the destruction of the second Temple, the rabbis of the Talmud had a dispute regarding the interpretation of the Torah passages referring to yovel. If there is neither a majority of the world Jewish population present in the Land of Israel, nor a representation of each of the tribes, the yovel year will not be observed Biblically. Would the Biblical mitzvah of shmittah be similarly precluded? The accepted view is that of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, that the mitzvah of shmittah is Biblically binding only when the majority of the world Jewish population is living in Eretz Yisrael, and there can be an observance of seven shmittos leading to a yovel year. As a result, it is generally accepted today that the laws of shmittah are binding mid’rabonon, according to Rabbinic law, not Biblical law, since we do not yet have the majority of the world Jewish population living in Eretz Yisrael, nor can it be established that there is representation of each tribe present today in Israel.”

However, the Bible nowhere states this; therefore, the Rabbinic view must be rejected as being incorrect and unduly liberal.

But even under “Rabbinic law,” a way was found by man’s “ingenuity” to circumvent the application of the provisions regarding the Land Sabbath. The article, “The Land Sabbath in Modern Israel,” by Doug Ward, P.H., points out (

“The weekly Sabbath is one of the foundations of the Torah, God’s wise and loving instruction for his people. The Torah also makes provision for the land of Israel to ‘rest’ every seven years (see Exod. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:1-7). In a sabbatical year (known in Jewish tradition as a ‘shemittah year,’ from a Hebrew word in Exod. 23:11 that means ‘let drop’), farmers are not to plant seed, prune their trees, or harvest crops. For that year the land becomes public property, and people may take what grows by itself according to their needs. The seventh year is also a time for cancellation of debts (Deut. 15:1-2) and release of indentured servants (Deut. 15:12-18)…

“After the destruction of the Second Temple and the failure of the two Jewish revolts, observance of the land sabbath became a moot point; there were very few Jewish farmers left in the land of Israel. During the Talmudic period, the shemittah year had only a theoretical existence as a topic for rabbinic discussion.

“Things changed in the late nineteenth century when there began to be enough Jewish farmers in Israel to make the land sabbath a real issue again. But because these Jewish farmers were very poor, rabbinic authorities feared that they could not survive a sabbatical year. Therefore it was decided that in each shemittah year, the agricultural land in Israel would be temporarily deeded to a trustworthy Gentile, allowing the poor farmers to continue working their land without technically being in violation of the commandment.

“This practice continues today in the modern state of Israel. In the last sabbatical year, which began on Rosh Hashanah in A.D. 2000, the temporary owner of Israel’s land was Hussein Ismael Jabar. Jabar, who also owns all the leavening in Israel each year during the Passover celebration, is a resident of Abu Ghosh, a town about eight miles west of Jerusalem…

“In Jewish tradition (based on Deut. 11:8-11), the land Sabbath is only applicable in the land of Israel. According to this tradition, God has a special relationship with the Promised Land. However, one rabbi [said] that such a relationship might extend to the entire world during the time of the Messianic Kingdom… Sabbatical principles should be of benefit to all followers of the God of Israel by allowing them to periodically rest from their labors and find rest in their Creator.”

The above-mentioned article also reports on experiences of farmers who voluntarily decided to keep the Land Sabbath:

“… since 1972 there has been a growing trend in actual sabbatical observance among Israeli farmers. Some farmers simply let their land go untended. Others harvest a crop but donate it to a central storehouse that sells the food to the poor at reduced prices. Participating farmers are reimbursed for their labor but not for their produce… A number of farmers spoke of the sacrifices they willingly made in keeping the land sabbath. A wheat farmer mentioned that wheat is planted in the late autumn during an ordinary year, shortly before anticipated winter rains. But since the shemittah year begins at Rosh Hoshanah, farmers plant the wheat a couple of months early in those years and hope for the best. This farmer, who participates in the food storehouse program, estimated that his farm loses about 2-2.5 million shekels ($450,000 to $570,000[US]) by observing the sabbatical year.

“Some of the interviewed farmers spoke of miracles and blessings that occurred during a shemittah year. A fruit grower recalled that in one sabbatical year, an unusually warm March had been followed by a late freeze in April, causing damage to that year’s fruit crop. Farmers who had pruned their trees had very little fruit that year, while those who had left their trees unpruned had a nearly normal crop. In another shemittah year, heavy winds had caused damage to the fruit crop, but again those who had left their trees unpruned sustained far less damage.”

Notice however that, in accordance with the Bible [not Rabbinic interpretation], as explained in the second installment of this series, fruit trees are not included in the provisions of the Land Sabbath, anyhow.

On the other hand, as mentioned, some maintain that the Church of God must enforce the Land Sabbath and the Jubilee Year in their entirety, and they are faulting the Church for not doing so. For instance, the following has been stated by one author (Richard C. Nickels, who admits, at the same time, that he does not have the answers as to when or how to apply this:

“… in 1973, the Worldwide Church of God issued a policy on Land Sabbath, stating that it is only a principle. Their… teaching is that the Land Sabbath is not a binding law for which the transgression is sin. Thus, they acceded to the Jewish idea of watering down the Land Sabbath. Jewish Rabbis have abrogated the land rest law. Worldwide Church leaders have loosed members from obeying this law.

“When is the Jubilee year? When is the Sabbatical year? The issue is of major importance. Israel went into captivity for not obeying this law. This is a major area Herbert W. Armstrong never understood. Neither do we understand when we are to begin the Jubilee count. If God will send modern Israel into captivity for the same reason as ancient Israel, knowledge must be increased, and Israel must be warned… We look forward to the time when we will understand, and witness the fulfillment, of the Land Sabbath and Jubilee year.”

As stated, both the extreme “liberal” and extreme “conservative” views are wrong. It also needs to be pointed out that the Jews are in disagreement as to when the seven-year cycle of the Land Sabbath begins, culminating in the Jubilee Year. For instance, some point out that the next Land Sabbath should begin in the autumn of 2013, while others maintain, it should be in the fall of 2014.

The correct view has been taught by the Worldwide Church of God, under Herbert W. Armstrong, and later by the Global Church of God, and is being adhered to today by the Church of the Eternal God in the USA and its affiliated organizations, the Global Church of God in the UK and the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship, in Canada. We understand, among other things, that certain provisions within the context of the Land Sabbath and the Jubilee Year cannot be enforced by the Church, as they would have to be the subject of national law.  On the other hand, certain PRINCIPLES do apply today and can and should be followed. In the final installment, we will show you HOW.

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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