Are the Land Sabbath and the Jubilee Year still to be observed today? (Part 4)


In the previous three installments, we discussed the biblical regulations of the Land Sabbath (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7, 18-22) and rejected extreme viewpoints which hold that either these regulations must be enforced today, literally and in their entirety, by the Church of God and its members, while others hold that they are no longer applicable today, not even in principle.

We concluded the last installment by pointing out that the correct view has been taught for many years by the Worldwide Church of God, under Herbert W. Armstrong, and is being adhered to today by the Church of the Eternal God in the USA, the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada, and the Global Church of God in the UK.  We will now explain what this correct view is, and how it relates to us today.

In a letter by the Personal Correspondence Department of the Worldwide Church of God, the following was stated:

“The question naturally arises, then, how can a Christian apply these laws of God now? Obviously, an individual cannot observe all the details of these laws, since they would require national legislation. An individual cannot release his own debts, and there is no divinely appointed inheritance for each family today. But these laws are all for man’s good, so we ought to observe them to the extent that this can be done in the present system. Even where a law cannot be practiced in the letter, it should be kept in the spirit…

“A farmer who owes money to banks probably cannot let all his land rest every seven years, since he owes mortgage and other loan payments that must be made each year. In such a case, it is suggested that the land be rested in rotation so that each field receives its rest sometime during a seven-year period. If one is able to rest the whole farm at once, so much the better. He can reckon his seventh year from the time of baptism or from the time that the knowledge comes to him regarding the land rest…

“Virtually all agricultural colleges know the benefits of crop rotations and of ‘resting’ land by putting it in pasture or cover crops periodically. Good soil conservation measures should also be practiced.”

In a letter by the Global Church of God to a reader in the UK, dated September 10, 1996, the following was stated:

“Since God’s laws are not being observed nationally, there is no set year in which the land Sabbath is observed today. Can anyone today prove conclusively that he knows the original cycle which began the 7th year after Israel entered the land in about 1400 B.C.? But an individual can obey the biblical directive by resting his land one year out of every seven. The land sabbath is a wonderful law which teaches stewardship, ecological principles, economics and social responsibility, as well as lessons in living by faith (by trusting God to perform a miracle in the sixth year so that there would be sufficient bounty to carry over the rest year, and on until the new crop comes in after that).

“The Global Church of God believes, as did the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s leadership, that a person should rest his land, whether he is a farmer with acreage or a backyard gardener. However, few of God’s people ‘work the land,’ as many more did just a few decades ago, and so, today, there is little discussion of such matters. Even without a national observance, the land Sabbaths can be observed on one’s own seven year cycle, just as brethren pay their third tithe on their own cycle (from the date of baptism or from the feast [of tabernacles] nearest to their baptism…

“Even though the land Sabbaths are important and should not be diminished by omission or neglect, they are not the primary focus of God’s Word…”

This is indeed correct. “For the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking [or physical matters related thereto], but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). For example, the laws pertaining to clean and unclean meat, as well as to the Land Sabbaths, are dealing first and foremost with physical matters. They are physical injunctions for our physical good and for our health. They DO become spiritual, however, when we refuse to obey those laws and principles, although we know better, because we don’t care for God’s Word, or because we want to live in defiance and rebellion against Almighty God.

In a subsequent letter, dated April 16, 1997, Evangelist Colin Adair wrote the following for the Global Church of God:

“It is simply not possible for the Church as a whole to impose the seventh year land Sabbath on its members. We are not living in a physical nation today as a Church. For instance, farmer members come into the Church at different times. If the Church imposed a particular year on everyone, then some farmers would be keeping a land Sabbath any time in a series of seven years.

“The Church is a spiritual body today, not a physical nation under a physical government. However…the Global Church does teach that farmers and gardeners should keep a land Sabbath because it is a physical law of God. Land does need rest… the general principle is that we obey the physical laws given to Israel as much as we can, living under our circumstances. But there are some laws God gave Israel which we cannot follow because they need a priesthood.”

In addition, ritual laws and certain national laws need not to be followed today. For more information and a thorough discussion, please read our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound…” 

Since it is our teaching and understanding that the principles of the Land Sabbath ought to be adhered to today, as much as possible, how are they to be applied in particular?

In the April 1969 edition of The Good News, the following was explained in an article, titled, “A Sabbath Rest for the Land!”:

“Many think the word ‘REST’ means let the soil lie IDLE! Some have even wondered if the farmer should sell his stock (if he has any), padlock the gates and either go for a long holiday, or get himself a job. This is a totally WRONG impression!!

“The seventh YEAR of rest is typified by the seventh DAY of rest, and you know that you are NOT commanded to observe the weekly Sabbath by climbing into bed and lying perfectly still for the 24 hours!… Likewise a YEAR of rest is the time when we physically recharge our soil and lay the foundation for success during the coming six years!…

“HARVESTING is the key to the Sabbatical Year! Crops are NOT to be planted for harvesting. Lev. 25:5 shows that the principle involved is not one of refraining from planting or growing. The growth of plants is actually encouraged during the Sabbatical Year!… the command is only against the harvesting of commercial crops. We are told that the poor can come and take whatever their immediate needs may be…

“Then what is the specific PHYSICAL purpose of the Sabbatical Year? It refers to the principle of building up large reserves or organic residues, both in and on the soil. The diligent farmer will take full advantage of his one-in-seven-year opportunity… if you’re just a home gardener, the principles outlined here are as applicable to you as to any farmer with a large field…

“The most efficient way to GIVE the maximum amount of dead plant matter to the soil is certainly not by refraining from planting crops during the seventh year. We should refrain from planting anything we INTEND TO HARVEST… harvesting of crops [is] the focal point behind the Sabbath Year…

“If this extra plant growth is not to get widely out of hand and produce a massive seeding of less desirable plants, it must be ‘topped’ regularly with some type of mower. THIS IS NOT HARVESTING! No, not even if you take some of it away to compost it – providing it is returned to that area. We left the ‘topped’ portions of our pastures to decompose right where they fell from the mower…”

The Bible also speaks of cattle or livestock and beasts in the land grazing the ground during the Land Sabbath (Leviticus 25:6-7). The ensuing manure contributes, of course, to soil fertility.

There may be many more questions arising as to the practical application of the Land Sabbath provisions, but we hope to have given you a general overview in this series of articles. The principle should be clear. Let the land “rest” (understood in the right way) the seventh year as best as you can, by refraining from harvesting commercial crops (recall for example that fruit trees are excluded, but vineyards and olive yards are included), while using the time to build up large reserves or organic residues.

As we have pointed out, in this day and age, the regulations of the Land Sabbath and the Jubilee Year can only be applied in principle by the Church and its members, as the Church has no legal authority and jurisdiction over many of these provisions. However, when Jesus Christ returns and RULES, the provisions of the Land Sabbath and the Jubilee Year will be restored and literally applied within the spirit of the Law. Man will be taught what is best for him and, in time and for the most part, he will accept God’s truth.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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