Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath to the LORD.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)When ye come into the land.—Better, When ye be come into the land, as the Authorised Version renders the same phrase in Leviticus 14:34. (See Note on Leviticus 19:23.) This is the fourth instance in Leviticus of a law being given prospectively which had no immediate bearing on the condition of Israel. (See Leviticus 14:34; Leviticus 19:23; Leviticus 23:10.) According to the authorities during the second Temple this law came into operation in the twenty-first year after the Israelites entered Canaan. As the conquest of the promised land occupied them seven years (Joshua 14:10), and as the division of it between the different tribes took seven years more (Joshua 18:1, &c.), the real cultivation of the land only began at the end of the second seven years. Hence the first seventh year in which laws of the sabbatical year came into operation was the twenty-first year after their entrance into Canaan.
Then shall the land keep a sabbath.—For which the marginal rendering is “rest,” i.e., a sabbath. For the import of this phrase see Note on Leviticus 23:32. The septennial sabbath is to be to the land what the weekly sabbath is to the whole earth. Just as the seventh day is dedicated to God in recognition of His being the Creator of the world, so the seventh year is to be consecrated to Him in acknowledgment that He is the owner of the land. Hence, like the weekly sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:14), the seventh year sabbath is belonging “unto the Lord.” (See Leviticus 25:4.)Leviticus 25:2. When ye come into the land — So as to be settled in it: for the injunction neither could nor was intended to be observed during the time of the wars, nor till Joshua’s distribution of the land among them. The land shall keep a sabbath — That is, enjoy rest from ploughing and tilling; unto the Lord — In obedience and unto the honour of God. This was instituted, 1st, For the assertion of God’s sovereign right to the land, in which the Israelites were but tenants at God’s will. 2d, For the trial of their obedience. 3d, For the demonstration of his providence, as well in general toward men, as especially toward his own people. 4th, To wean them from the inordinate love and pursuit of worldly advantages, and to inure them to depend upon God alone, and upon God’s blessing for their subsistence. 5th, To put them in mind of that blessed and eternal rest provided for all good men.
the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord—This was a very peculiar arrangement. Not only all agricultural processes were to be intermitted every seventh year, but the cultivators had no right to the soil. It lay entirely fallow, and its spontaneous produce was the common property of the poor and the stranger, the cattle and game. This year of rest was to invigorate the productive powers of the land, as the weekly Sabbath was a refreshment to men and cattle. It commenced immediately after the feast of ingathering, and it was calculated to teach the people, in a remarkable manner, the reality of the presence and providential power of God.When ye come into the land, so as to be settled in it; for the tithe of the wars was not to be accounted, nor the time before Joshua’s distribution of the land among them, Joshua 14:7,10.
Keep a sabbath, i.e. enjoy rest and freedom from ploughing, tilling, &c.
Unto the Lord, i.e. in obedience and unto the honour of God. This was instituted partly for the assertion of God’s sovereign right to the land, . in which the Israelites were but tenants at God’s will; partly for the trial and exercise of their obedience; partly for the demonstration of his providence as well in the general towards men, as more especially towards his own people, of which see below, Leviticus 25:20-22; partly to wean them from inordinate love, and pursuit of or trust to worldly advantages, and to inure them to depend upon God alone, and upon God’s blessing for their subsistence; partly to put them in the mind of that blessed and eternal rest provided for all good men, wherein they should be perfectly freed from all worldly labours and troubles, and wholly devoted to the service and enjoyment God; see on Exodus 23:11; and lastly, that by their own straits in that year they might learn more compassion to the poor, who were under the same straits every year.
when ye come into the land which I give you; the land of Canaan, and until they came thither, the following law concerning the sabbatical year could not take place; and as Maimonides (i) says, it was only used in the land of Israel, and no where else, according to this text, and that both before and after the temple was built:
then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord; a rest from tillage, as it is afterwards explained; and this being according to the will of God, when observed would be to his honour and glory, and show that he was the proprietor of the land; and that the Israelites held it under him by this tenure, that every seventh year they should let it rest, which would be for the benefit of the land, and preserve it from being impoverished by continual usage and hereby they might learn to depend on the providence of God, and to observe that all increase is from him; and to consider the straits and difficulties the poor live in continually, as they in this seventh year; and by this means they would be at leisure to have an opportunity of reading the law, as they did at this time, Deuteronomy 31:10; and of meditating upon it, and of giving themselves up to religious exercises, as well as by it they might be led to the typical use of to look for and expect that sabbatism or rest, which remains for the people of God. And now this law did not take place as soon as they came into the land, for it was to be sown six years, and then was the year of rest; and indeed not till after Joshua had subdued the whole land, which was seven years a doing; nor till they were quite settled, and it was divided among them, and every man had his field and vineyard apart, which this law supposes; wherefore the Jewish writers (k) say, they were not bound to tithes until the fourteenth year, and from thence they began to reckon the sabbatical year; and the twenty first year they made a sabbatical year, and the sixty fourth a jubilee, which they make to be the first that were kept: and they reckoned this year to commence, not on the first of Nisan or March, which was the beginning of the year for ecclesiastical things, but on the first of Tisri or September, when the harvest and all the fruits of the earth were gathered in; and when on other years they used to proceed to sowing the next month, but were forbid on this; and so it is said in the Misnah (l), the first of Tisri is the beginning of the year for the sabbatical and jubilee years.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2. keep a sabbath unto the Lord] The land shall rest in the seventh year, as man rests on the seventh day, the sabbath. This idea is not expressed in Exodus 23:10 f., but may be implied there in the command immediately following with reference to the sabbath in Leviticus 25:12.Verses 2-7. - The sabbath of the seventh year could only be observed when ye come into the land which I give you. The habit of making no distraction in the seventh year during the whole of the life in the wilderness may have led to the neglect of the law after the settlement in Canaan. Another excuse for the neglect may have been a difficulty which would have presented itself of fixing the date from which to count up to the seventh year, as different parts of the land were conquered at different times. According to the law, from New Year's Day of the seventh year (the 1st of Tisri, which occurred about the middle of September) to the following New Year's Day, there was to be neither sowing nor pruning, reaping or gathering. The expression, Neither shalt thou gather the grapes of thy vine undressed, would be more literally rendered, the grapes of thy Nazarite vine, the vine with its unpruned tendrils, being likened to the Nazarite with his unshorn locks. As to sowing and reaping, an exception was made with respect to the barley sown and reaped for the Passover sheaf, and the wheat sown and reaped for the Pentecost loaves. The spontaneous fruits of the earth, and they were very large in the rich fields of the valleys and plains, were to be the property of all alike, whether the owners of the land or not, "that the poor of thy people might eat" (Exodus 23:11). And what was left by man was to be food for the cattle and beasts of the field. The cessation of agricultural labours must have served, and may have been intended to serve, as an encouragement to mercantile pursuits, as well as to the study of the Divine Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). The Feast of Tabernacles of the seventh year was specially appointed by Moses as a day for reading the Law to the assembled people (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). And the Mishna appoints the following passages of Deuteronomy to be read on that day: - Deuteronomy 1:1-6; Deuteronomy 6:4-8; Deuteronomy 11:13-22; Deuteronomy 14:22; Deuteronomy 15:23; Deuteronomy 17:14; Deuteronomy 26:12-19; Deuteronomy 27, 28. ('Mish. Sotah.,' 7:8). The other ordinance connected with the sabbatical year, the release of debts to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1-6), was, like the fifth commandment, made of none effect by rabbinical traditions - notably by one which required a debtor, when his creditor said, "I remit," to insist that nevertheless he should accept payment. The moral purpose of the sabbath of the seventh year is well drawn out by Keil: - "In the sabbatical year the land which the Lord had given his people was to observe a period of holy rest and refreshment to its Lord and God, just as the congregation did on the sabbath day; and the hand of man was to be withheld from the fields and fruit gardens from working them that they might yield their produce for his use. The earth was to be sacred from the hand of man, exhausting its power for earthly purposes as his own property, and to enjoy the holy rest with which God had blessed the earth and all its productions after the Creation. From this, Israel, as the nation of God, was to learn, on the one hand, that although the earth was created for man, it was not merely created for him to draw out its power for his own use, but also to be holy to the Lord and participate in the blessed rest; and on the other hand, that the great purpose for which the congregation of the Lord existed did not consist in the uninterrupted tilling of the earth, connected with bitter labour in the sweat of the brow (Genesis 3:17, 19), but in the peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, which the Lord their God had given them and would give them still, without the labour of their hands, if they strove to keep his covenant and satisfy themselves with his grace." Exodus 21:23.).
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