Article Preview: The Scriptures explain that: “When you come into the land that I give you, then the land will keep a sabbath to Yehovah [God].” Are the Anglo descendants of Israel still required to practice this land sabbatical (shemitah)? What about the incredible blessings that Yehovah promised would accompany this practice? Might all twelve tribes of Israel have to return to “the land ” of Israel before the blessings resume?
The “Land Sabbath” is an aspect of the Jubilee cycle that is seldom explained. It is a fascinating sidelight.
[Introductory note: The WCG tried to get “a sabbath of solemn rest for the land” to “work” for them, but gave up on the project in I believe 1974, concluding that today, the “land Sabbath” is strictly an agricultural practice that would give the soil a rest, but that it is not binding on believers today. Their farmers had been going bankrupt! One factor that they never carefully considered was that their farmers were using the year of their baptism to determine “their” Land Sabbath. But there were always some farmers “resting” their land on the actual seventh year. This was the equivalent of saying that Yehovah wants His people to keep the weekly Sabbath, but that any day of the weekly cycle that an individual chooses will do! If there are any growers out there getting four full sized ears of corn from a stalk, on seventh years, from a normally “two banger” variety, please let me know! They also tried a variation of an associated practice—“the year of tithing” in a randomized third and sixth year of what might be considered their “personal sabbatical cycle”. That was based on the head of household’s baptism date as well. This was a separate tithe of everyone’s income—not just farmers. They had claimed that Yehovah would bless the givers in that instance. I practiced “land sabbaths” and “third tithe” for 28 years.]
The law of the Land Sabbath is not new to most students of the Bible, but many questions we receive in the Agriculture Department indicate that it is only vaguely understood. These questions demand answers and in our efforts to find them we have been forced to embark on a rather searching study of this particular part of God’s law. It has been most rewarding and in this edition of “Your Living Environment” we want to re-state some old conclusions and give additional information on this somewhat enigmatic law. We don’t put them forward to you as “final”, but promise that you will find them interesting and stimulating.
Most converted farmers read the Bible with one eye always searching for instruction from God about food production. Imagine their chagrin when, having read through the entire Bible, they discover that God’s specific instructions to food producers appear to be little more than a few notes on firstlings, a few verses on mingled seed, the Land Sabbath and the jubilee! Beyond these points God appears to have considered it unnecessary to offer anything very much in the way of specific guidelines for producing man’s most important physical commodity—FOOD! But is that really the situation? Why would the all wise Creator God choose, in writing the Bible, to be so specific and detailed about such things as sacrifices for example and so seemingly nebulous about agriculture? God wasn’t nebulous at all. In fact, He did give man agricultural guidance, but he gave it in such a way that it could not be neglected by an obedient nation! God did not have to expound principles of food production in the Bible. His law of the Land Sabbath appears to do the job for Him. It forces the people in an obedient nation to learn the following points by virtue of sheer economic necessity:
1. That they needed a cheap and effective source of feed for their meat-producing animals, (but NOT GRAIN)!
2. How to prevent soil erosion and the formation of deserts, (the curse of modern Palestine).
3. How to avoid water pollution.
4. How to overcome the problem of huge grain surpluses.
5. To know what constitutes a logical approach to laying out cities, towns, villages and farms.
6. The true value of long-term highly mechanized farming.
7. The general implications of protein quantity and quality in a good diet for both animals and humans.
8. That factory farming won’t work—economically.
9. The importance of an efficient system of producing and marketing vegetables, fruit, milk, meat and eggs.
10. The importance of livestock in any permanent system of agriculture.
11. That soil fertility cannot be maintained without a regular return of organic matter to the land and that ultimately each acre must be the source of its own fertility.
12. That there is a definite limit to the amount each acre can produce and that this level will be reached only if man is prepared to limit the amount he takes for his own purposes. That may appear to be reading rather much into one single law of God!! If so, then read on and see for yourself.
As Mr. Armstrong has often said, the best way to discover the purpose and meaning of any of God’s laws is to put the particular law into action in your own life. He has repeatedly mentioned that he and his wife had to keep the annual festivals for many years in total faith before they were able to discern the true purpose of the annual Holydays! The same principle seems to apply to the Sabbatical Year. Only by keeping it can we learn the meaning, the intent and the full importance of God’s command to man to rest his land, etc, every SEVEN years. Ambassador College in Bricket Wood has done this, (22 years ago). But many of you however, have not had such an opportunity. Imagination will therefore be required as we walk through a Land Sabbath on paper, to help you consider its implications for individuals and whole nations in the near future!
The main details were covered in the April 1969, “Good News”. Briefly however, the Land Sabbath imposes the following conditions every seventh year:
1. No grain may be harvested for commercial purposes.
2. No crops may be sown specifically for harvesting.
3. No vineyards, or orchards may be pruned.
4. No fruit, vegetables, or grain may be stored.
5. No hay, or winter fodder may be collected in barns.
6. No fresh fruit, or vegetables would be available for sale.
7. Pasturing cattle, sheep and poultry is NOT restricted.
Visualize yourself now as an adult male with a wife and three children. The Civil Government of your country has made the Sabbatical Year part of the enforced law of the land as God intended. Your responsibility is to provide food, clothes, shelter and a good way of life for your family. The provision of clothes, shelter, fuel and recreational amenities would be unaffected by the Sabbatical Year. How might we provide ourselves with FOOD? Every SEVENTH year one could expect a temporary shortage of certain basic commodities, even if there had been a surplus the previous year, (as Leviticus 25:22 indicates). MILK and EGGS would be even more plentiful than normal, because under God’s civil government the Sabbatical Year applies to ALL food producers in the same year—Leviticus 25:9-10. This type of production is in fact encouraged—and at the specific expense of commercial crops, (Leviticus 25:7). GRAIN could be available to all, because it stores easily and MEAT would also be plentiful. VEGETABLES and FRUIT would be a different matter! Undoubtedly some could and would be stored by drying, freezing, or bottling. But it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to effect national bulk storage, sufficient to last at least a year, (until the next harvest season). Even if it could be done, the cost would be high and the food much less nutritious and less enjoyable than fresh fruit and vegetables. The ONLY families, (other than the poor and the travelers, Exodus 23:11,12) who could have fresh produce, would be those who have their OWN orchards and gardens! For them, fresh fruit and vegetables WOULD be available in season.
During the strawberry season of the Seventh Year for example, those people who have been growing THEIR OWN PLANTS would be able to have fresh berries right through the strawberry season. God does not approve of storing these away, but He does approve of eating them FRESH, that is while they are in season, (Leviticus 25:6).
This could mean that only a portion of the total strawberries would be used and the rest would return to the soil, but people WOULD have fresh fruit. This would be a big incentive to grow your OWN strawberries. The same principle would apply to all berry, stone, pome and citrus fruits. Notice the incentive for DIVERSIFICATION. This would lengthen seasonal production of fresh fruit available to each SELF-SUPPORTING family. Amazing isn’t it? God, by giving Israel the Land Sabbath law, appears to have made it far more profitable for each family to produce their own fruit and vegetables than rely on the efforts of someone else! God’s Sabbatical Year makes it economically and nutritionally unattractive to rely on a few specialist producers selling to millions of non-producing consumers, (like we have today)! Maybe everyone won’t be producing their own in the future, but the only system that harmonizes with the Land Sabbath is simply one of self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables via homegrown production! Under God’s system, there would be NO local [fresh fruit and vegetable markets] operating anywhere in the nation during the year of rest. The law would prevent anyone selling produce to a [market] during this time, but people can have a FREE supply direct from their OWN garden, (Leviticus 25:6). Even here God has seen the necessity of forestalling human nature. Many people, left to their own devices, would plant a garden ONLY in the SEVENTH YEAR and buy their requirements from someone else during the other six years!! But in order to have any garden produce in the SEVENTH Year a family must have a garden in at least the sixth year too! God makes this mandatory by limiting the available produce to that which volunteers in the Seventh Year. You can quickly appreciate that volunteer growth in vegetables COMES only where they have been planted in a previous year! (That cleverly rules out vegetable retailers in the SIXTH year!)
A properly managed garden will have a surprising amount of vegetables that will volunteer in the seventh year. Ambassador College is perfecting a method of potato growing that, among other benefits, enables a family to have fresh potatoes from July to December with no digging, weeding or seeding. A similar system for carrots, cabbages, sprouts and other vegetables is being tested.
Therefore, the Sabbatical Year benefits the family as follows:
1. Consumption of animal protein is encouraged by making it the most plentiful food every Seventh Year.
2. By forcing man to be self-sufficient, God is encouraging us to dwell under our own vine and fig tree. (Micah 4:4)
3. Being the source of produce, the garden keeps the family together and occupied at least every sixth and seventh year. Though more work than most city dwellers are used to, benefits for adults, children, the local community and the entire nation are undeniable.
1. The Land Sabbath discriminates severely against landowners who rely on CROPS for their income. Our modern animal-less farms would be totally out of business every seventh year, while those who pasture stock would be unaffected! Growing of crops is all right, but if not strictly limited it becomes man’s most lethal weapon for soil destruction! This single God-given law hedges the obedient nations about with protection for its most precious physical commodity—FERTILE SOIL.
2. Today’s system of marketing produce would be uneconomic. The nation’s MARKET GARDENERS would be totally out of business in both the sixth and seventh years of every seven year cycle. GREENGROCERS would be out too in the seventh year and limited to sales of fruit during the sixth and ORCHARDISTS would have no income in the seventh!
3. As today’s miles and miles of monotonous grain fields become a memory, more cattle, sheep and poultry will be bred.
4. Huge and embarrassing grain surpluses would also cease because monoculture would be discouraged.
5. Less bare ground through reduced cultivation would greatly decrease the hazards of erosion and desert formation. Land well covered with grass is nearly immune to damage from wind and water. In a world that is observing the Land Sabbath no man-made deserts like the Sahara would occur, (other than by over-grazing with livestock).
6. Factory farming would be ruled out through a lack of cheap grain. GRASS would be the cheapest and best feed, (and it probably is, even today). Regular years of rest would raise soil fertility and grass quality would improve to the point where protein supplements of grain would be UNNECESSARY.
7. The ramifications of increased SOIL FERTILITY could be easily traced, (if space permitted) through plant, animal and human HEALTH. This fact alone would save every modern Western nation millions of pounds annually for pharmaceuticals, chemical sprays and dusting agents. In conclusion then it is obvious that in the Sabbatical Year, God gave Israel a VAST amount of agricultural and environmental guidance. Indeed, had the Israelites kept this law, it is difficult to see how they could have AVOIDED health and prosperity. The Land Sabbath appears to be one of the most rejected of all laws by Israel of old, right from the very beginning. But we hope that this report helps to show how vital it will be for a FUTURE Israel to avoid the same mistake.
YOUR LIVING ENVIRONMENT, September 1970, Vol. I, No. 9 Ambassador College (UK) Agriculture Department [The format was changed, along with minor editing, to conform to our other articles.]
More from YOUR LIVING ENVIRONMENT can be found here: