10 "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
12 "Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
1 The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
There are so many dimensions to the above Scriptures that I’m not sure where to start. So I'll just start where my brain lands.
The first aspect of this is being a good steward of our time. Exodus 7:12 mentions the Sabbath day, the day of rest. We all need a day of rest, even the type A’s among us. I’m not really a type A, but I don’t relax or rest very well. God expects us to work, that much is clear, but he also expects us to set aside a whole day to rest and relax. He also expects us to allow the other people in our households to rest. He ALSO expects us to allow any animals we keep to rest. And finally, God expects that we will allow others to rest, even those who are foreigners to our land. Good, creative, productive work doesn’t come out of working ourselves without a break, and we aren’t built to go, go, go without a stop, stop, STOP! I’ll talk more about limits at a later time, but let me just say that if this wasn’t so important to God, it wouldn’t be Commandment Number 4.
Examine Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1-7. These two passages are both talking about the Sabbath year, yet they have very different messages.
Exodus 23:10-11 speaks about helping the poor. Of course, the Israelites were to help the poor anyway, but this Sabbath year they were to go so far as to let the land rest, and whatever the land produced on its own was to be left for the poor and the wild animals. If I’m not working the land, and you’re not working the land, and no one else is working the land, then no one can claim as their’s what the land produced on its own. What belongs to no one can be used by everyone. Economists call this concept the commons, but here, it goes beyond economics in that it allows a whole community to take care of its poor.
Leviticus 25:1-7 looks at the Sabbath year from an environmental point of view. Every seventh day, God tells us that we need to rest so that we can rest from the week behind us and gain strength for the week ahead. The same is true for letting the ground be fallow. When we use land continuously, nutrients in the soil are used up to grow crops. If we use the land too many years in a row, all the nutrients will be leached from the soil and the land won’t be able to produce anything. Letting the land lie fallow for a season allows the nutrients to build back up so that crops will succeed. Don’t believe that this is an environmental mandate? Ask an organic farmer how s/he grows crops. Crop rotation – letting land rest for a season – is a big part of organic farming. In this passage, the land isn’t exactly lying completely fallow, but the farmer wasn’t to do anything to work the land – no sowing, no pruning. Just as the body doesn’t rest itself when you’re resting (you’d be dead if it were), the land doesn’t really rest when we’re not working it. The land, like our bodies, is using its energy to heal and restore what has been lost, without having to expend that energy on something else, like actively growing crops.
Sider says, “God’s law also provides for liberation of soil, slaves, and debtors every seven years. Again, the concern is justice for the poor and disadvantaged as well as the well-being of the land” (70). What would happen if we truly practiced Sabbath today? Not just a day of rest, but a year of rest, of healing for the land, and allowing the poor to benefit from it?