“You are not to harvest what grows by itself from the seeds left by your previous harvest, and you are not to gather the grapes of your untended vine; it is to be a year of complete rest for the land. But what the land produces during the year of Shabbat will be food for all of you — you, your servant, your maid, your employee, anyone living near you, your livestock and the wild animals on your land; everything the land produces may be used for food.”-Leviticus 25:5-7
We are deep in the thick of studying the commands governing how Israel was to care for the land once they inherited it.
We’re told that for 6 years Israel is to till, sow, and care for the land.
However, every 7th year was to be a Sabbatical Year.
During this 7th year, Israel was to have nothing to do with the land.
Not only were they not allowed to sow new grain crops, they weren’t even allowed to prune their vineyards.
In order to maintain the health and productivity of the grapevines, pruning was very important.
Normally, pruning took place twice a year, once in the summer and once in the winter, but during the Sabbatical year it was not to take place at all.
What’s interesting is that although the Jubilee cycle is the main subject of this chapter, a foundation for understanding is first established by connecting it the Sabbath pattern of six days of work followed by one day of rest.
Now verses 5-7 trip a lot of people up.
First, it says that during the Sabbath year, the people are prohibited from harvesting and eating what naturally grows up from the untended fields.
But then it says the people can harvest whatever the land produces by itself?!
Alright, I know some folks are gonna disagree with me but too bad.
This is one of those places where we have to go to the oral law written by the ancient sages to find the answers to this seeming contradiction.
The ancient sages inform us that there were two different situations.
One situation is that it was common for grain to have seeds naturally fall off when they ripened and later for those same seeds to grow and put out shoots of their own after a period of dormancy.
The other situation is that it was common to cut the grain stalks.
What happened when the grain stalks were cut is that it caused them to send up new shoots from their roots resulting in more grain stalks being produced.
In fact, this situation was so common that specific terms were given to the 2nd and 3rd growths that came from the same plant.
In Hebrew the second growth was called SAFIACH and the 3rd growth was called SHACHIS.
Now here’s the thing.
In the first situation, this was considered NEW GRAIN because this grain came from seeds.
However, in the second situation, it was considered OLD GRAIN because that grain came from already existing plants.
NEW GRAIN=What Comes from Seeds
OLD GRAIN=What Comes from Existing Plants
Okay, so the rule being set down in Leviticus 25 is that one is prohibited from harvesting and eating plants that come from the SEEDS from the previous crop.
This is what is being referred where it says “You are not to harvest what grows by itself from the seeds left by your previous harvest.“
On the other hand, it was perfectly fine to harvest and eat the 2nd (SAFIACH) and 3rd growths (SHACHIS) that sprang up from the ROOTS of the previous crops.
This is what is being referred to where it says “But what the land produces during the year of Shabbat will be food for all of you.“
Understand that although it was okay for the Israelites to go and gather the grain, they couldn’t do anything else in terms of tending the fields.
So this is a perfect example of a part of Scripture where we have to and I mean absolutely have to go to the oral law written by the ancient Rabbis to understand what’s being talked about.
Let’s close by having a good look at verses 6 and 7.
“And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.”
The principle that there are to be no second class citizens in Israel is brought to the fore here.
The Scriptures make it clear that all who live in Israel (think “or are grafted into Israel”) are to share alike what the land produced on its own during the Sabbatical year.
It didn’t matter whether one was a foreigner, or a slave or whatever.
Now I mentioned earlier that the whole purpose of the Sabbatical year was for the benefit of the land and not the people.
While this is true, there was another important principle being communicated here.
During the Sabbatical Year, since the Israelites were prohibited from tilling the ground for crops, during this year they were fully dependent on God to meet their sustenance needs.
What was being demonstrated is that it was not their labors that had brought forth life-sustaining food from the ground.
It was all a gift from YHWH.
Just as the Israelites were fully dependent on God during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness when He fed them daily with MANNA, so to inside the Promised Land, they would be reminded of their dependence on Him during the Sabbatical year.
Let me make this very clear.
For an agricultural society to not till the ground for an entire year required a tremendous amount of faith.
If God didn’t provide, they would literally starve.
However, God did provide and it served to build the people’s trust in Him as the one and only ultimate Provider.
Let this be a lesson to all of us.