The Hebrew word for sabbath is sab-bat, and its meaning is ‘intermission.’ The first time the word sabbath is mentioned in the Bible is in Exodus 16:23. After the children of Israel left Egypt and came into the wilderness of Sin, they complained about lack of bread; so God rained down heavenly manna upon them (for 40 years). The people could gather and cook the manna for six days, but not on the seventh. They were told to take enough manna on the sixth day so they could have ‘leftovers’ for the seventh day. The 7th day was to be a day of rest, a sabbath to the Lord.
The first time God elucidated the importance of the sabbath is in Exodus 31:13-17 when Moses physically received the Ten Commandments (two tablets of testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God) on Mt. Sinai. Look at the importance of this fourth commandment:
“Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever does any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:15-17).
The weekly sabbath is a day of rest. If the ancient children of Israel worked on this day, they would be put to death. God was very serious about this commandment, as He is about all of them. The seventh day of the week, the sabbath, is considered a Feast of the Lord, albeit a weekly one and not an annual event. The seventh day of rest, after the six days of creation, is the main reason why the number 7 represents completion and perfection in the Bible.
Throughout the book of Exodus, most of the Feasts of the Lord are introduced, but it is in Leviticus 23 where all of them are given and explained in detail. It is interesting to note that the first Feast mentioned is the weekly sabbath of rest. The remainder of Leviticus 23 is in regard to the 7 annual Feasts of the Lord. The Lord required certain days of these Feasts to be work prohibitive (no servile work therein), but only the three fall Feasts specify they are a sabbath. These fall Feasts are Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) – on the first and eighth day. An informative site for these particular Feasts of the Lord is located at: Ancient Calendars, Feast Days, & Daniel 12:11: Part 3 :: By Randy Nettles (raptureready.com)
In addition to a weekly day of rest for the people and work animals, God also required a year of rest for the land of Israel every 7 years. This is called the Sabbath year or Shemitah (Shmita) year and is described in Leviticus 25:2-7:
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but 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. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.”
Every 7th year, the people of Israel were instructed to grant a release for the debtor (forgive debts owned by fellow Israelites) according to Deuteronomy 15:1-3. Also, Hebrew slaves were to be set free for nothing (Exodus 21:2). The reason for this release of debt and servitude is given in Deuteronomy 15:4, “there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance.” However, this remedy was conditional, “only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 15:5). The reward for this obedience would be a blessing from God, as described in verse 6.
To show how important the Shemitah year and the number 7 were, God went even further by multiplying the Sabbath year (and potential blessings) and creating the Jubilee.
“‘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).
The word ‘jubilee’ (yo-w-bel), interestingly enough, means a ram’s horn, as a shofar, in the Bible. The year of the Jubilee involved a release from indebtedness and bondage. All slaves were set free, and prisoners and captives were released. All property was returned to its original owner. Like the Sabbath year, all labor was to cease for one year. The land would provide for the people’s needs because letting the land rest would result in bountiful crops during the years immediately before the 7th and 49/50th years. Also, the residue of crops and the wild grapes that weren’t cultivated would provide food for the people and animals.
Throughout the years, I have been asked repeatedly what I thought about the Shemitah years (cycles) and the Jubilee and how they relate to the end times; in particular, how they relate to the prophecy of Daniel’s 70th Week/Sevens (Daniel 9:24-27). My usual reply is that since there have never been any biblical or secular sources that confirm that Israel ever obeyed any of these commandments, there is no real prophetic significance regarding them or trying to date them. To have a final future Shemitah year or Jubilee, there has to be a first one.
For the blessings to come true, the children of Israel would have had to keep all of the Day/s of Atonement. If they didn’t keep this holy annual event for six straight years, there would be no Shemitah year in the 7th year. If they didn’t keep all of the Shemitah years of rest for the land and people, there would be no Jubilee; so it is meaningless to try and figure out when these cycles begin and when they end. More on this later. Of course, God would make certain that the land had its 7th (and 50th) year of rest, one way or the other.
The Jubilee and the Shemitah year were to be a time of rest for the people, work animals, and the land. They were meant to be Sabbaths unto the Lord. The promise of God’s blessing for obeying His Sabbaths, as well as His retribution for disobeying, are given in chapter 26 of Leviticus. The curse of not obeying God and neglecting His Sabbaths are discussed in verses 33-35:
“I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest – for the time it did not rest on your sabbaths when you dwelt in it.”
God also warned the children of Israel that if they did not obey Him, and did not observe all His commandments, and if they despised His statutes; or if their soul abhorred His Judgments so that they did not perform all His commandment but instead broke His covenant, He would punish them 7 times more for their sins (vs.18). God doesn’t stop there but promises 7 times more plagues in vs. 21, and 7 more times of punishment in vs. 24, and 7 more times of chastisement in vs. 28. The cost of disobeying God’s commandments, including the Shemitah years and Jubilee, add up (or should I say multiply) in an exponential manner. In this case, 7 is the number for complete punishment.
History has shown us that the children of Israel, through the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel, chose to disobey God by transgressing against His commandments; especially the 1st commandment (you shall have no other God besides me) and the 4th commandment (keep the Sabbath day holy), which includes the Shemitah years and Jubilees. The devastating result was exactly what God told them through his prophet Moses, which he recorded in his books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
The northern Kingdom, Israel, was overtaken by Assyria in 722 BC. They were scattered throughout the kingdom of Assyria and would never return as a nation. The southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed in 586 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and its citizens were mostly killed or taken captive back to Babylon.
Jeremiah was a priest in Jerusalem when God called him to be a prophet in the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign. He prophesied mostly about the coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem for their sinful rebellion against the Lord. He prophesied during the reigns of Judah’s last five kings, from 626 BC to 580 BC.
In 605 BC, Jeremiah prophesied about a 70-year desolation and captivity that God would bring about through His vessel, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. These 70 years of captivity in Babylon were to be a judgment and punishment from God because of the Jews’ apostasy against His word and will. The main reason for this judgment is given in Jeremiah 25:6-7, which talks about their worshipping other gods.
It is thought by most Bible teachers that the 70-year judgment started in 586 BC and ended when the second temple was rebuilt and completed in 516 BC. Others suggest the starting point was 605 BC when the first group of Jews (including Daniel and his three friends, Hanniah, Mishiel, and Azariah) was deported to Babylon, and the end was 535 BC when reconstruction of the temple began in Jerusalem.
The 70-year captivity was not to be the Jews’ only judgment, however. There was still the matter of neglecting the 4th commandment and not obeying the Sabbath and keeping it holy. We are not talking about the weekly Sabbath, for the Jews didn’t have a problem with that; but they did have a problem with the Shemitah/Sabbath year and Jubilee.
In approximately 539 BC, Daniel the prophet was still in Babylon and was reading the prophecy of Jeremiah regarding the 70-year captivity. Realizing the 70 years were nearing its completion, Daniel began to pray, asking God’s forgiveness for the sins of his people and pleading for the restoration of Jerusalem and Israel’s imminent return to their land. It was a truly righteous prayer and is found in Daniel 9:1-19. Before Daniel could finish his prayer, the Angel Gabriel appeared and gave him the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks (Sevens) as outlined in Daniel 9:24-27.
By praying fervently to God and asking for forgiveness of Israel’s corporate sins, Daniel was attempting to bring about the promise of restoration found in Leviticus 26:40-42: “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt— then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land.”
However, I believe Daniel forgot the remainder of this chapter. “The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 26:43-45).
The angel Gabriel told Daniel that there was to be an additional 490 years (70 weeks of years) of judgment for the children of Israel because of their disobedience and neglect of the Sabbath years. Evidently, the children of Israel had neglected 70 of them. God was fulfilling his word that was given in Leviticus 21:18, whereas God promised his people that if they did not obey Him, He would punish them 7 more times for their sins. Mercifully, He did not punish them further, as He described in verses 21, 24, and 28. God would punish them by way of subjugation and separation from the promised land of Israel and Jerusalem so the land would get the sabbath rest that it didn’t get while they were in the land.
Here are Gabriel’s words: “Seventy weeks (of years) are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy” (Daniel 9:24).
Gabriel then explained the timing and breakdown of the 490-year judgment. “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times” (Daniel 9:25).
It would begin when a command or decree was issued for the Jews to return to the land of Israel/Jerusalem and restore and build Jerusalem (streets and wall to be rebuilt). After 69 weeks or 483 years, the long-awaited Messiah would come, only to be killed, and then the city and the sanctuary would be destroyed again. Can you imagine Daniel’s shock and dismay when hearing of this heavenly verdict?
In Part II, we will examine the rest of Daniel’s prophecy and how it relates to the Shemitah year cycles and the end times.