Thanks, But No Thanks

Personally, I just think that if God told you to take a year off most of us would accept that directive. I mean of all the directives God gave Israel, wouldn't that one be the easiest to apply? It's hilarious to discover it really wasn't all that easy for them to actually do it. When you examine Israel’s celebration of the Sabbath year and Jubilee years a poor track record emerges. In the biblical record there is no evidence Israel ever celebrated a single Sabbath year. Only when we examine extra-biblical records do we discover any evidence that Israel in any way honored the Sabbath years.  In Josephus’ comprehensive history of Israel entitled “Antiquities of the Jews” we find slight evidence of some forms of Sabbath year celebrations. Josephus describes a legal agreement made in 44 BCE between the Jews and Rome agreeing to reduce Israel’s empire taxes every 7th (sabbatical) year due to the Sabbath year. He also describes a Roman decree circa 37 BCE stating that Judea would be expected to pay Roman tribute each year “excepting the seventh, which they call the sabbatical year, because thereon they receive the fruits of their trees, nor do they sow their land.” In addition, legal documents have been dug up at Wadi Murabba near Bethlehem, one from 55 CE and the other from 139 CE describing legal agreements shaped by the cultural realities and requirements of the Sabbath years.What’s interesting to discover is that during the same historical period when there is slight evidence Israel did in some small way honor the Sabbath years, the rabbis were also writing religious provisions for how the people could get around the totality of God’s stated desires in those Sabbath years. Rabbis wrote that it would be acceptable for a Jew to lease their land to a foreigner who could sow and harvest the land in their place during the Sabbath year. In this way God’s people could, according to the rabbis, technically honor the Sabbath year (by not working the land with their own hands), but still receive a harvest from the land. It just felt much safer to depend upon shrewd lease agreements that would provide for their needs than rely solely upon God’s provision by letting the land lay untouched for an entire year. In summary, the only evidence Israel ever celebrated the Sabbath year spans a 263-year period from about 535 BCE to 139 BCE where out of a possible 39 Sabbath years that could have been celebrated we only have evidence for six. When it came to celebrating the year of Jubilee, there is no evidence in the biblical record or extra-biblical record that a single Jubilee year was ever celebrated. Funny, isn't it? A nation telling God, "Thanks, but no thanks!"