Many are asking questions about the recent Shemitah (Sabbatical—Hebrew שְׁמִטָּה), and possible upcoming Yovel (Jubilee—Hebrew יוֹבֵל) year. This article attempts to explain some of the mysteries and confusion surrounding these biblical events.
The laws of the Shemitah and Yovel are contained within the Mosaic covenant and were given by the Lord exclusively to the nation of Israel. They do not apply to any other nation or people group. The rabbis teach that the law of the Shemitah, its blessings and curses apply to the Jewish people even when they reside outside the land of Israel.[i] These are the laws of the Shemitah and Yovel:
“In the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard” (Leviticus 25:4, NKJV).[ii]
“At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts” (Deuteronomy 15:1).
“And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family” (Leviticus 25:8-10).
There has been quite a stir within the charismatic and evangelical communities over the past several years about a recent tetrad of lunar eclipses, also called blood moons, recent solar eclipses, and this year’s Shemitah cycle. Rabbi Mark Biltz and Pastor John Hagee have helped bring awareness to these events, and Rabbi Jonathan Chan's books “The Harbinger” and “The Mystery of the Shemitah” show an apparent correlation between the Shemitah cycles and drops within the U.S. stock market. Many are also claiming that we have now entered a Yovel year. All these subjects are controversial and wildly debated even amongst the rabbis. Accounts of the Yovel vary, but some estimates place the last observed Yovel somewhere around 150-years before the destruction of the first temple. Therefore, the exact timing is unknown.
Israel and the Covenants
Christians often confuse the New Covenant and its dispensation of grace as a replacement for the Mosaic laws. While the laws of Moses were never intended to be a path to salvation—for salvation is by faith in Christ alone—the laws themselves through biblical Judaism established the nation of Israel and its rich and ancient culture that we cherish to this day. Christ did not abolish the law. He fulfilled the ceremonial law as it pertained to the sacrifice of animals and the atonement for sin.[iii]
Jeremiah’s prophesy gives the nation of Israel a promise that God would make a new covenant with them, and write His law on their minds and hearts.[iv] And, Isaiah’s prophesy further promises that the nations (gentiles) will go up to Jerusalem to learn the law of God, for out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.[v] For this alone, the law is perfect because He who established the law is perfect.[vi] The Gentiles were never under this law, and yet we see that one of Israel’s callings was to obey God’s laws and then teach the nations how to walk in them.
The Hebrew Calendar
Further complications arise from the misunderstanding about the Hebrew calendar. In actuality, the rabbis acknowledge several calendars for the nation of Israel. These include:
The biblical or religious calendar which God initiated at the time of the exodus from Egypt, and which starts in the spring around March or April.[vii]
A civil calendar which mirrors several agricultural calendars that start around September.
And a fourth calendar for the kings of Israel that followed a slightly different cycle.
A Jewish Aggadah in the Talmud as well as another Rabbinic Midrash commentary on the bible show differing opinions about when God created the universe,[viii] and hence also contain varying opinions about which month is the beginning of the calendar. This debate, coupled with a harvest cycle ending in the fall provided rabbinical justification to roll the Jewish calendar back during the first or second century [ix] and establish the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah), as the civil Jewish New Year. To make sure the proper cycle of the Shemitah was observed, the rabbis would require its observance six months prior and six months after the fall date to ensure the proper time was not missed according to the Mosaic Law.
The Shemitah and Yovel, along with the other seven feasts of the Lord are all considered Sabbaths,[x] and for this reason, should follow God’s biblical calendar which starts in the spring. It would also make sense that God would establish the beginning of the year to coincide with the spring, the time of year when we see a new birth and new beginning; life from death, and light from darkness.
America and the Shemitah
If America is not subject to the law of Shemitah, why do we see an apparent correlation in Jonathan Chan's books between the seven-year Shemitah cycle and the U.S. stock market? This can be explained from two verses in the book of Jeremiah:
“For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you; Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, Yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, And will not let you go altogether unpunished” (Jeremiah 30:11).
“Do not fear, O Jacob My servant,” says the Lord, “For I am with you; For I will make a complete end of all the nations To which I have driven you, But I will not make a complete end of you. I will rightly correct you, For I will not leave you wholly unpunished” (Jeremiah 46:28).
Yes, it is true. This great nation will one day come to a complete end. Not necessarily destroyed, but a complete end to its autonomous and autocratic rule as an independent nation apart from God’s covenant nation, Israel. All nations will, in the end, be brought under her dominion, with Israel at the center of God’s earthly kingdom.[xi] And, Jesus Yeshua is the King of Israel and the King of every nation. The Jewish people in America are still subject to the law of the Shemitah, and for this reason, America is also judged according to the law of Shemitah. All nations will eventually be judged for Israel’s disobedience. They will also be judged for how they have treated the Jewish people and their land.[xii]
The symbolism of the Shemitah and Yovel
What do the laws of the Shemitah and Yovel symbolize? The law of the Shemitah requires a release of all debt and a Sabbath rest for the land. The law of the Yovel further requires a release of all slaves and bondservants of the sons of Israel and a return to the land of their inheritance. Since all scripture points to Christ, in His first coming Jesus paid the debt for sin and thereby released the sons of Israel, to those who believe from their debt of sin. God’s first work on the cross was finished as so He declared a Sabbath rest for the land.
The Yovel is the year of return. It is the year of the Lord's second coming when the last trumpet is blown on the Day of Atonement.[xiii] On this day, the Lord will descend to Jerusalem and stand on the Mount of Olives. He will gather all Israel from the nations where He has scattered them, and bring them back to the land of their inheritance.[xiv] All Israel shall all be saved, and as the trumpet is blown, it will announce that God's final redemptive work with the nation of Israel is finished.
Ibn Ezra translates Yovel as “sending away,” which refers to the sending away of slaves.[xv] Nachmanides translates it as “freedom,” which likewise refers to the freeing of the slaves.[xvi] Rabbeinu Bechaya translates it as “rivulet,” meaning a small stream of water, and which refers to the idea that during the Yovel, everything flows back to its source.[xvii] Unlike the Shemitah, which did not apply to the Levites who could not own property, and the slaves who remained with their master, the Yovel was celebrated by the entire nation of Israel.[xviii]
We can observe a shadow of the Shemitah in the Feast of Passover, and another shadow of the Yovel in the Feast of Weeks. Just as the Feast of Weeks comes forty-nine days after the Passover, so the Yovel comes forty-nine years after the Shemitah. The Passover and Shemitah represent the release of debt or Christ's payment for our debt of sin, while the Feast of Weeks and Yovel represent the promise of entering and receiving His inheritance. The token of this inheritance is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Weeks, and the final inheritance being our entering the kingdom of heaven into the presence of God in the Yovel year.
Until this appointed time, the sons of Israel remain slaves to the nations and bondservants of God. Jesus told His disciples that He no longer called them slaves, but now called them friends.[xix] Therefore, all who are in Christ are the seed of Abraham. We are free sons and daughters of God, and like Abraham are called His friends.[xx] But Israel apart from Christ remains enslaved.
If this next year is indeed a Yovel year, we could see a great return of Jewish people to their Messiah and their land. While this is neither the final Yovel nor the final harvest at the end of the age, it none-the-less could yield a significant harvest for the kingdom.
The Solar and Lunar Eclipses
There has also been much confusion and even fear about the recent tetrad of lunar eclipses, with rumors of wars and judgment against Israel and the nations. From scripture, we see these celestial signs declare God’s blessings contained in His covenant promises towards the nation of Israel:
“My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; It shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky. Selah” (Psalms 89:34-37).
Historically, the Shemitah has often coincided with judgments against Israel. The exile of the ten tribes and the destruction of the first and second temples all occurred in a Shemitah year. Also, Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years for not observing the Shemitah. In contrast, many of the tetrads in recorded history have followed a great advancement for God’s kingdom, and blessings for the Jewish people.[xxi] The exodus from Egypt, the writing of the Psalms by King David, the printing of the first Bible, the discovery of the American continent as a place of refuge for the Jewish people during the Holocaust, the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948, and the recapturing of Jerusalem in 1967 all occurred around the timeframe of a tetrad.
The recent signs in the heavens are simply God’s reminder to Israel and the nations of His covenant promises towards them; these promises being through the nation of Israel of their Messiah who is Christ the Lord. Who can fathom what God will do after this current tetrad? And, as God's enemies see His redemptive plans, they will likely try to thwart God's blessings through war and other destructive means.
In conclusion, we see that the laws of the Shemitah and Yovel contain blessings and judgments for Israel and the nations where God has scattered them. The lunar tetrad, in contrast, speaks to God’s covenant blessings for the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. These blessings are also given to the Church and the Gentiles who are in Christ since they are sharers of the same promise with Israel and fellow heirs with the saints of the kingdom of God.[xxii]
Because the Shemitah and tetrad are coinciding this year in a very rare celestial occurrence, it is likely we could see over the next several years a dichotomy of both God’s redemptive (disciplining) judgments and blessings poured out upon Israel and the nations. We are also likely to see Satan's wrath poured out on Israel and the nations that support her. All this as we enter the time of sorrows and the last days before the return of Christ.
The gentiles have been called to provoke Israel to jealousy.[xxiii] This next outpouring of the Holy Spirit will be carried at the hands of His faithful servants, the Church, moving in all signs and wonders through the power of His Spirit. For the Jews request a sign.[xxiv] As the Jewish people come to salvation in their Messiah, provoked by the Gentiles, they fulfill their calling to bring God's covenant to the nations and to be a light to the gentiles.[xxv] Joining with their Christian brothers and sisters as One New Man in Christ,[xxvi] we collectively will be sent into the nations to complete the great commission; not apart from Israel, but through Israel for salvation is of the Jews.[xxvii]
Jesus said He would not return until the Jewish people cried out for their Messiah[xxviii] and the message of the gospel was preached in every nation as a witness.[xxix] Only then would the end come, and the Lord establish His kingdom forever in Jerusalem.
[i] Rav Grossman, Yonatan. The Covenant of Bechukotai and the Mitzva of Shemitta.
[ii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[iii] Matthew 5:17-18.
[iv] Jeremiah 31:33.
[v] Isaiah 2:3.
[vi] Psalm 19:7.
[vii] Exodus 12:2.
[viii] Rabbi Reiss, Yona, and Grill Dean, Max and Marion. When Was the Universe Created?
[ix] Alperin, Michele. How Rosh Hashanah Became New Year’s Day.
[x] Leviticus 25:8.
[xi] Isaiah 60:12.
[xii] Joel 3:2, Matthew 25:31-46.
[xiii] Leviticus 25:9.
[xiv] Jeremiah 12:15.
[xv] Leviticus 25:10.
[xvii] Leviticus 25:8. Hakesav Vehakabalah (Leviticus 25:10-13) offers a few more interpretations.
[xviii] Rabbi Levi Avtzon. 10 Jubilee Facts to Know. Chabad.org.
[xix] John 15:15.
[xxi] O’Dell, Bob. Blood Moons God’s Gift to Jews. Root Source.
[xxii] Ephesians 3:6.
[xxiii] Romans 11:11.
[xxiv] 1 Corinthians 1:22.
[xxv] Isaiah 42:6.
[xxvi] Ephesians 2:15.
[xxvii] John 4:22.
[xxviii] Matthew 23:39.
[xxix] Matthew 24:14.