The Sabbath Year

"2 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. 3 Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; 4 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. 5 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. 6 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, 7 And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat" (Leviticus 25:2-7).

Most of us are familiar with the 4th Commandment. One of the reasons why some of us left our former churches to constitute PCC is the conviction that the 4thCommandment is part of the Moral Law of God as well as a Creation Ordinance, and therefore is still applicable to both believers and unbelievers today. The church therefore has an obligation not only to teach the 4th Commandment, but also to strive to keep the Sabbath holy as a day belonging to the Lord.

Now, it is true that some of us did not join PCC for this reason at all, and may even have considered the need to keep the Sabbath holy as being legalistic; but over the years we have come to see the value and wisdom, if not the moral responsibility, of keeping the Sabbath. And the Lord, has, I believe, blessed our meagre effort.

But now we have come to our 6th Anniversary. The 6th Anniversary, you may realise, marks the end of six years of our existence as a congregation; and we are entering into the seventh year. Now, the seventh year was a very significant year during the days of the Old Testament. It was known as the Sabbath Year (Lev 25:4). We say that it was significant in the Old Testament days and not today, because it is not part of the 4th Commandment, which has to do with days, notyears. It was an extension or application of the 4th Commandment, no doubt; but it is not part of the perpetual Moral Law. It was part of the Civil and Ceremonial Law, which the people of God who lived in the Promised Land were required to observe.

Today, we are no longer required to observe the Sabbath Year—though we are enjoying, I believe, the things typified by the Sabbath Year. What did the Sabbath Year typify? I believe, it typified the entire period of the last days which begun with the fullness of time (Gal 4:4) at the incarnation of Christ, and will be perfected with the fullness of time (Eph 1:10) at the Last Day, or the Day of the return of Christ when we shall be assembled as the Church of Christ to worship the Father forever and ever (cf. Deut 31:9-13). As New Testament believers we are tremendously privileged to be enjoying fellowship with God in Christ in a way that the Old Testament believers never had the opportunity to. The Church has, as it were, begun to enter into her Sabbath rest; and when the full number of God’s elect has been brought into this fold, and every member of the Church has been perfected then shall the church and the world which God created for her begin to fully enjoy the perfect rest which the Sabbath year pointed to.

But these typological reflections apart, the ordinance of the Sabbath Year carries a number of practical lessons for God’s people in all ages. And these reminders are, I believe, especially relevant to us as we enter into our ‘Sabbath Year.’

Rest Unto the Land

In the first place, let us be reminded not to overwork the land. "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" (Lev 25:4) says Moses. The people of God were required to leave the land to fallow for a year every seven years. In this way, the people were reminded that the land was not theirs to do, as they like. Though the land was appointed to their care, they remained stewards of God. God as their Master and Owner of their land had the right to require of them to cease working on His land. And as they ceased to work on it, they learned to rest in the Lord and to depend upon Him, for they were required to live on the produce of the land which grow untended (Lev 25:6), but they were forbidden to harvest or reap (in an organised way) whether for storage or for economic purpose (Lev 25:5). In this way, they must learn that God is able to provide for their needs without their needing to exert much effort.

Today, as we enter into our Sabbath Year, let us remind ourselves of the same lesson. Let us remember that the things that we possess which we depend on for our day to day existence belong to God. Our families, our jobs, our material wealth, etc, all belong to the Lord. We are His stewards of these things. Therefore while we may use these things with thanksgiving, we must never abuse them or begin to depend on them, "for the fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Cor 7:31). While the Lord permits us to ‘work the land’ so that we may have sufficient to provide for our families, as well as to give to them that are in need (Eph 4:28), we must remember not to labour to the point of exhaustion to support a worldly and luxurious life. Let us learn rather to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, believing that God will provide for our needs and therefore not worrying about the future unnecessarily.

The Poor of Thy People

Secondly, the people of God were especially required to remember the poor during the Sabbath year. The reason why they were not allowed to gather more then they needed for their daily sustenance was so that the poor in the land could also have a share of what grows of itself in it:

But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat (Ex 23:11a)

I believe what the Lord is showing by this instruction is that He cares for the poor and that the poor are in His eyes no less deserving of His providence as the rich. Though by His providence, He ordains some to be poorer and some to be richer, those who have material wealth must not imagine that they deserve to be treated with greater dignity as compared to the poor. No, no; on the Sabbath Year, the people are reminded that they are equal in God’s eyes. Land owners and paupers alike had an equal right to the produce of the land for the whole year!

What shall we learn from this lesson but to consider the poor in our midst? Some of us are poorer materially, some are poorer spiritually, and some are poorer in terms of circumstance in life. Let us learn to esteem one another better than ourselves, looking to one another’s needs (Phil 2:3-5). Let us distribute to the necessity of the saints and give ourselves to hospitality (Rom 12:13). Let us condescend to men of low estate (Rom 12:16); and let us bear with one another where we differ from one another in our opinions on disputable matters (Rom 15:1). We must never discriminate against one another on the basis of wealth, education, social background or even depth of conviction. We must remember that none of us deserve anything good from the hand of God, and yet He has blessed us abundantly so that we may live grateful lives for His glory.

Let us bear this lesson in mind as we enter into the seventh year of our fellowship that this year we may enjoy each other’s friendship more than the years before.

Year of Release

Thirdly, let us remember that the Sabbath Year was also the ‘year of release’ (Dt 15:9; 31:10). It was the year of releasing slaves, and the year of cancelling debt. It was a year, when what was owed could no longer be pursued. It was a year of forgiveness.

What shall we learn from this provision of the Sabbath Year? Shall we not learn to forgive? Shall we not learn to set things right so that we have no aught one against another?

I am sure that some of us have over the years collected grievances and complaints against one another. What I am not sure is whether you have cleared all your aught against one another. Have you sought forgiveness? Have you forgiven? Have sought clarification? Have you clarified? Or is there still something between you and some other person(s) in the church so that Satan can easily take advantage of the situation to cause disharmony and division in the church (Eph 4:26-27).

Why not make use of this our Sabbath Year to get things right? Today is an opportune time to make a resolution to release all your bitterness against anyone—especially as we will be renewing our covenant before the Lord this day. As the Lord has forgiven you, learn for His name’s sake, to forgive those who have wronged you.

Appear Before the LORD

Finally, the Sabbath Year would end with a great assembly of all the people to worship the Lord:

"10 And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, 11 When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: 13And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it" (Deut 31:10-13).

Therefore as we enter into our Sabbath Year, let us earnestly look forward to the day when Christ will return and we shall be able to worship the Father in perfect unity and holiness. Oh what a glorious day that will be!

But as we look forward to that day, let us not neglect congregation worship Sabbath by Sabbath. The church on earth must be a reflection of the church in heaven. The Sabbath worship of the church must be a reflection of the eternal worship that we shall enjoy forever and ever. As we worship the Lord together with our children as done at the last day of the Sabbath Year, we shall hear the Word of God and we shall learn to fear Him in order that we and our children may be readied for the eternal Sabbath.

Oh beloved brethren, let us make this year, a year in which public worship has great priority in our lives. Let us put it first and everything else second. Oh how the Lord will surely be pleased if at every one of our public meetings, the whole church is found gathered, for we are told that "The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob" (Ps 87:2).


We are entering into our 7th year. The shadow of Old Testament Sabbath Year has been chased away with the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. But the great lessons that can be drawn from this sacred appointment of the Lord are still applicable to us. May the Lord grant us that though we are not bounded by the Old Testament law, our hearts may rejoice to do what Christ was pleased to enjoin His children to do on the Sabbath Year. To Him be the glory. Amen. W

—JJ Lim