The Seventh Year
“And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.
Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee, And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.” (Leviticus 25:1-7)
When they got to the land of Israel where they could, the Jews were to let the land lie fallow every seventh year. During that year they were to live on what they had stored up from previous years. They were not to plow or plant or even to harvest what came up naturally. It was to be year’s vacation, for the owner, his employees, and his working livestock. What ever grew naturally was to supply food for them, their animals, their servants , and those who didn’t have land of their own, but they were only to pick as needed.
Scientific studies have shown that allowing land to lie fallow periodically actually improves it’s productivity. Plants bring a wide variety of minerals and nutrients to the surface, using what they need and leaving the others in the soil. Since different plants have different requirements, what they leave behind varies.
Growing the same crop year after year depletes the soil of the nutrients that crop needs, while leaving a surplus of other nutrients. When the land lies fallow, a great many weed seeds sprout, each with different requirements. Those which need the surplus nutrients and don’t need the depleted ones outgrow the others. Since most weeds have far deeper root systems than most crops, they reach farther down, to bring up nutrients, leaving those the crops need when they die and removing the things which might prevent crop growth. In effect the weeds fertilize the soil with exactly the nutrients that are needed to continue productivity.
Careful pruning of a tree of vine can greatly increase the amount of fruit produced by leaving only branches that are producing fruit, forcing the plant to grow more and larger fruit. Unfortunately, this also limits the tree’s ability to grow and repair itself. By allowing them to grow naturally periodically, the tree is able to grow stronger, ensuring increased output in the future.
Historically, countries that practices such a program have been able to farm the same fields for hundreds or even thousands of years. The lands of those who did not have steadily become less productive. Modern commercial farming techniques require ever increasing amounts of fertilizers to maintain production. By observing these Sabbaths every seven years, they would be able to ensure the productivity of the land and vineyards for centuries with little extra investment. Unfortunately greed frequently ignores long term benefits.
The Year of Jubilee
“And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubilee ye shall return every man unto his possession.
” (Leviticus 25:8-13)
On the day of atonement, in the forty ninth year they were to sound a trumpet and proclaim the following year a year of Jubilee, a year of celebration, marked by blowing trumpets and rejoicing. The entire fiftieth year was to be a holy year, dedicated to God.
All Jewish bond servants or slaves were to be freed and allowed to return to their families and farms. The year was to be considered a Sabbath, and they were not to plant or reap, just eating what they needed from the field each day.
“And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another: According to the number of years after the jubilee thou shalt buy of thy neighbour, and according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee: According to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it: for according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell unto thee. Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 25:14-17)
The land itself was not to be sold, but they could sell the use of it, or lease it. Every lease was to expire on the year of jubilee and the terms of the lease was to be based on the amount of time the owner was giving up the use of it. They were not to try to take advantage of each other in the terms of those leases.
“Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety.
And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.” (Leviticus 25:18-22)
By keeping these statutes, including the Sabbaths, Israel could live in the land without fear of attack, and ensure that their crops would always be productive as God had promised. While they might be afraid to not plant or harvest in seventh year, God promised that he would take care of them in the short term. Not only would they experience the long term benefits of letting the land lie fallow, God promised to intervene to cause the sixth years crop to produce enough for three years. That would give them enough to survive the present year, the entire Sabbath year, and until after the harvest the following year.
Leviticus 26:3-4 promises, “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” God literally promised to intervene in their weather to ensure the crops would grow if they would obey his laws.
I was born in eastern Colorado, near both the Kansas and Oklahoma borders. In that area, records indicate seven year crop cycle. On the average, during the seven years there is one year that produces a bumper crop and farmers get rich, There is a year where almost nothing grows, and farmers lose their shirts because of drought and a depressed market as a result of surpluses from the previous year. One year they about break even, and four years they have good crops, and make a small profit, assuming the market is fairly stable. The cycle has been observed for about a hundred forty years. Since the weather and the fertilization play such a large part in what they produce, one can only wonder what would happen if they were to follow God’s plan.