Recent writings about the Shemitah, the Hebrew name for the Years of Release, or Sabbath Years, which occurred every 7 years, have created the impression that the Shemitah Years are times of fearful judgment. We disagree.
During the Shemitah Years, Hebrews were forgiven from all debts and released from slavery. The land was also to lie fallow as the Hebrews lived off of the prior year crops and the “volunteer” produce. After 7 Shemitahs, or 49 years, the first year of the new 7 year Sabbath (the 50th year) was the Year of Jubilee when slaves were freed, debt was forgiven, and the land was returned to its original owners.
According to Alfred Edersheim’s authoritative book The Temple, the Rabbis held that the first Shemitah Year began 21 years after the Hebrews entered into the land, or 1385 BC. Following through on the math, the last Shemitah Year was 2011 and the next will be 2018. The last Jubilee Year was 1991 and the next will be 2040.
There are a number of significant ancient Shemitah Years which seem to have the common thread of God’s presence in the land. His presence came to Solomon’s Temple in 958 BC and departed it in 586 BC when Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. He came to the Second Temple in 516 BC, miraculously aided its rededication at Hanukkah in 167 BC, and moved on Herod to renovate the Temple in preparation for the coming of the Messiah in 20 BC. Christ came to the Land in 5 BC and returned to Heaven 30 AD. The promised Holy Spirit came to the land, and the believers, in 30 AD, bringing the permanent presence of God indwelling all believers thereafter.
Some have thought that Shemitah Years are flash points for judgment based on the judgment which fell on Jerusalem during the 587-86 Shemitah Year. However, it should be remembered that the 70 years of Sabbaths for the land which followed (See 2 Chr 36:21) represented centuries of increasing apostasy. The cycles of Judgment we see in Israel’s history are the result of denial of God and sin, not a 7 year Shemitah cycle. The same is true in the modern world as the “Business Cycle” is really a cycle of godlessness, sin, and judgment, followed by repentance brought on by the judgment.
Instead, the Shemitah is a time to worship God with our land (or Finances) and receive freedom from financial, personal and other bondage. The Shemitah and the Year of Jubilee were used by Jesus to describe His ministry (See Luke 4:18-19 quoting Is 61:1-2). Shemitah Years remind us of our freedom in Christ and the “Year of the Lord’s Favor”.
As Christians, every year is a year of the Lord’s favor, not just one in seven.
Shemitah Years are times of freedom, release, and God’s favor. They are not times of judgment and fear.