The Heart of Shemittah

 

Mount Sinai represents God’s most overwhelming display of His presence to the Jewish people, an experience like no other, making His reality clear and immediate. It was a moment when emunah suffused their beings [1] . . . faith . . . conviction of truth transcending, not evading, reason. [2]

It was holy ground. Holy ground moments make you want to take off more than your shoes. Your entire being is so drenched by revelation that you ache for the tired rags of how you do life to fall from you. You are penetrated by life, a God-given, living energy that is utterly loyal and faithful to Him.

Holy ground moments are exquisite but transitory: moments that remain in memory, but whose power fades.

On the holy ground of Sinai, Yahweh gave Shemittah to the Jewish people, commanding that when they entered the land He was giving them, they would give the land a Sabbath rest every 7 years. It is a law forever rooted in their memory, but whose holy intention has faded.

In my quest to understand how we receive God’s power into our lives — as a Christian, whose holy ground is the foot of the cross and the empty tomb of The Son of Man — I was confused why God was drawing me to the law of Shemittah. He has shown me that Shemittah is not just an ancient Jewish law . . . It is a spiritual principle for all men, in all times, that opens our lives to God’s provision.

 

Shemittah

Shemittah are the backbone of Jewish record keeping down through the centuries. This Sabbath rest for the land comes every 7th year, even as the people were to “rest” every 7th day. In this year people were not to sow their fields or prune their vineyards, but to let the land go, depending on what grew from the land by itself to feed them.

Shemittah was God’s challenge to trust Him to provide.  During the Shemittah year, it was prohibited to treat the land as personal property. The produce was to be eaten freely by one and all; it was not to be bought or sold commercially. Additionally, private loans were dropped at the end of the Shemittah year. . . totally let go.

Unwilling to trust God to provide for them, Israel did not observe Shemittah. God’s response was to number their years of exile in Babylon according to the number of Shemittah they had refused to observe . . . 70 years in Babylon for 70 desecrated Shemittah. (Lev 26: 34, 35)

Shemittah targets our fear that God is not going to provide for us, our conviction that we have to take measures into our own hands to be sure that our needs are met, our unwillingness to trust God to do what is right for us. This is the core of all spiritual meltdown, the essence of all sin, the apple in the garden all over again.

Shemittah goes straight to the heart, striking what is wrong in our relationship with God, asking us to believe in His character and ability to provide for us.

Each Shemittah, the Jew was to demonstrate his trust in God, by desisting from the ordinary means by which he would feed himself, in dependence on his creator.  This is the heart of Shemittah, believing that God will provide.

 

This is so important to the never-changing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that He is determined to teach us to trust Him, even if it means closing us in to a Shemittah, whereby He makes it impossible for us to fulfill our needs ourselves.

Every radiant testimony of God’s goodness has come from the life experience of someone, who was brought to a crisis in which they were helpless, forced into a Shemittah. Terrified and unwilling at first, that person experienced — deeply, powerfully — God’s provision for them, when they were powerless.  Their radiance is the unfading revelation that has suffused them with God’s reality and His power.

Shemittah does more than teach us that God is faithful. Shemittah becomes the holy ground where we are engulfed by faith that transcends reason. The widow’s mite was all she had; yet she gave it. Shemittah.

 

Trusting God in Tough Times

The heart of Shemittah, the heart that is going to trust God to provide, comes easier for those who can see God supernaturally moving in their circumstances — directing the unfolding of events to speak to them, moving His agenda forward on their behalf, caring for them even through painful circumstances.

We are passing through uncertain times.  Shemittah is upon us. What will you do?

Are you going to persist in working every last deal and every single day to the max, miserly toward the needs of others, hedging your bets in silver and gold, to insure that you’ll have enough?   Or will you cease from what may be enriching your savings but is depleting your soul?  Will you believe God will provide, even with a threatening stretch before you, when you are going to have to totally depend on Him? In this Shemmittah, can you treat what you own as not your own, but meant to support the needs of others?

During the Shemittah year, it was prohibited to treat the land as personal property. The produce of the land was to be eaten by all. Shemittah challenges our view of what we own; we are meant to see it as coming from God, provided by Him to meet not only our needs but the needs of others.

The church was born in perilous times. To become a follower of Christ meant that you could lose your job and the means to support your family. Persecution was rampant.  It was a season of Shemittah, when believers had to trust God to provide.

We know that the first generation church sold what they had to care for one another. They believed the last hour was at hand and lived in a state of immanency, expecting the Lord’s return. This explains why they didn’t hold on to their personal property, but were so quick to share it with their brethren. But it was more than that . . . it was a season of Shemittah.  God was challenging them to demonstrate their belief that He would provide, so that He could provide.

The heart of Shemittah believes God and experiences His supernatural working that puts bread on the table and food in the mouth.

The heart of Shemittah believes God and sees His supernatural power

 

Do not confuse “trusting God to provide” with personal irresponsibility.  You need to prepare. An ant sees winter coming and gathers her provision in harvest. Diligence honors God, the sluggard does not. Many a Christian has said, “I’m trusting God to provide, “ when they were actually burdening others with the care of their wife and children, because they were unwilling to pay an insurance premium.  This is not the heart of Shemittah.

When I am trusting God to provide, I am not neglecting my personal responsibility but carrying it out fully, surrendering it to Him sacrificially . . . without blemish.  Such is the heart that finds holy ground.

 

Shemittah challenges our view of our present circumstances

How are we interpretting unfolding events?  Is the supernatural at work in it or not? Does God bring us to seasons when we are utterly helpless, because we have lost sight of Him, and He desperately wants us to return to the place where we know Him as our provider?

Shemittah challenges our view of God

How we see God is everything. When turbulent, wind-tossed events threaten to overwhelm us, do we believe that He will provide the means to get through every crisis by His supernatural help? When the 7th year rolled around, Shemittah came to reset the people’s default. They were set on depending on themselves. Would they now reset, turning to God, totally dependent on Him as their provider?

 

As God is teaching me how we receive His power into my life,  I see the necessity of a Shemittah heart that trusts Him to provide. This principle plays out graphically in the story of Asa, king of Judah.

Asa was a good king, with a good heart, tearing down every vestige of false worship, setting the example in how to seek the LORD. Everything was going well, and his kingdom prospered. But, then, the Ethiopian army of a million men came against Judah — far outmatching them.

2 Chron 14:11-14

Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

So the Lord routed the Ethiopians, and they fled. Asa purused them, and so many Ethiopians fell that they could not recover. Asa’s army returned with much plunder.

This crisis was a forced Shemittah. When Asa was outmatched by what came against him, he responded with a Shemittah heart, believing that God would provide the defense they needed.

From the very beginning of his reign, Asa had honored God, and things had been going well, but suddenly fell apart . . . not because God had forgotten him, but because it was time for a reset.

In good times our confidence tends to shift to ourselves. In crisis we have to decide:  does our provision come from our Creator or ourselves?

.

Now the Spirit of God came on Azariah, a prophet, and he went out to meet Asa, telling him, “Listen to me, Asa . . .  the Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.”

The prophet was laying down a principle — the dynamic of reciprocity that exists between man and God:

  • the Lord is with you when you are with Him.
  • if you seek Him, He will let you find Him
  • but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.”
  • If you trust God to provide, He will provide
  • But if you do not look to Him, trusting only yourself, you will suffer lack

Azariah pointed out that for a long time Judah did not have a grasp of Who God was. She was not in dialogue with Him. She was insensitive and unresponsive to Him. Consequently, His power and presence were not evident in her life.  Then came a time of distress,

2 Chron 15:5-7

In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for many disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. Nation was crushed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every kind of distress.

But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work.

The prophet was underscoring the crucial principle of reciprocity  — of placing one’s trust in God so that God’s power and presence can come through. He was teaching Asa that when trouble came, he needed to turn to God, resetting his dependence on Him, lest good times cause him to trust himself instead.

It was a time of victory and joy. Asa and all of Judah celebrated greatly, swearing with their whole heart to seek God, and the LORD gave them rest on every side.

Time passed. Trouble brewed. The king of Israel set up a blockade preventing anyone from going out or coming in.  Asa forgot the lesson he’d been given. He didn’t recognize the crisis as a need for re-set. He didn’t turn to God. In desperation he raided the temple treasury to buy the help of Ben-hadad, the king of Aram. It worked, temporarily. With Ben-hadad’s help, the king of Israel withdrew.  Asa thought he had done well.

But, Hananni, the seer, came to set the record straight.

2 Chron 16:7-10

Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians . . .  an immense army? Yet because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand.

For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.

You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.

Asa, unable to handle the truth, put the seer in prison.. He no longer had the heart that would be able to see God’s provision. Despite appearances, he was a defeated man. [3] From then on war would plague him (cf. 1 Sam 13:13) as God’s presence and power faded from his reign

 

How do we receive God’s power into our lives?

By having the heart of Shemittah, that trusts God to provide.

 

God’s presence and power are going to be experienced by those whose hearts are completely His.  Scripture makes it very clear that our heart — by God’s choice — will determine if and how His power is going to come through in our life.

I have learned that Shemittah is a spiritual law that has no expiration date. It asks everything of us. But it’s not so much a test, as the recycling of a season to reset our heart . . .  to bring us back to holy ground, no matter how far away or long ago we left our Sinai behind.

There, on holy ground, nothing can touch the life He gives, the love He infuses into our hearts, the provision He has for us, the confidence He gives, the security He alone can be.

 

But Shemittah demands that we utterly trust Him to provide.

 

 



[3] The New American Commentary, Copyright © 1991-2007 by B & H Publishing Group.

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  1. Anastasia says:

    He is our only hope for security. Your message is thoughtful
    and timely dear friend. Love, Anastasia

  2. Seth Barnes says:

    This is profound. It’s a profound principle and the way you exegete it is profound:

    “Shemittah targets our fear that God is not going to provide for us, our conviction that we have to take measures into our own hands to be sure that our needs are met, our unwillingness to trust God to do what is right for us. This is the core of all spiritual meltdown, the essence of all sin, the apple in the garden all over again.”

    As I disciple others, I talk a lot about the concept of dependence. God wants us to experience it so that we’ll be forced to trust him and so that we can experience his goodness as provider. You’ve given us the theology behind that concept. It’s a beautiful thing – thank you, Valerie.

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