The Silent Fields

 “. . . this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”  I John 5:3

The more I learn about God, my Creator, my Father, the more I am amazed at how deep his love is for his Creation.  Every growth step I take has come from his patient guidance through difficult times so I can see a little more clearly how he sees and learn to love at a deeper level, less selfishly, more broken yet stronger.  Following his commandments is not burdensome.  “The Silent Fields” is another chapter of Sweetwater Journey that is written to increase our awareness of how deep his love is and how amazing his design is for living in his Kingdom here and now.  Come with me on this Journey as we mount up on eagles’ wings to expand our understanding of him and catch his firey anointing and passionate intention into our spirits! Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive. Serve the Lord. When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful.  Share with God’s people who are in need. Welcome others into your homes.” Romans 12:11-13

 The first four of the Ten Commandments gave the Israelites some basic principles upon which to build their relationship with God –don’t worship any other gods or take God’s name in vain and the need to make time for him on the seventh day, a time for rest as any good father would model for his children. What a concept that is, especially today.  It is about a level of devotion where God is saying to his people that “All I will give to you on the condition that you put me first.”  Slow down and rest, take stock of who you can be with God as your partner and what your purpose is.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”  From Ex 20 & Deut. 5

When we put God first, we are actually putting both ourselves and God first, our relationship with God – appreciating what he is teaching us to appreciate – quiet time focusing on the spiritual aspects of our relationship to God and each other.

He took a day of rest and commanded us to do the same.  Today in our 24/7 world, that is radical – taking an entire day to rest from the week’s responsibilities, not working, just pondering our spiritual priorities. If we are serious in our faith journey, we need to see the value of it through spiritual eyes.  

Then, God introduced another commandment about resting that was important to their spiritual stewardship regarding the care of the earth and their relationship to it.

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.  But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.”  Leviticus 25:1-4; Exodus 23:11

That Sabbath year was given the Hebrew name “Shemitah”. This singular commandment was meant to dynamically shape the soul of this planet in disciplining our natural impulses toward the sins of greed and selfishness. Every guiding, soul-shaping commandment that God gave to his people Israel was meant for all his creation.    

In the book by Messianic Jewish Rabbi Jonathan Cahn “The Mystery of the Shemitah” he writes: “During the Sabbath year the people of Israel were to leave their fields, vineyards, and groves open for the poor.  For the duration of the year the land belonged, in effect, to everyone. And whatever grew of its own accord was called hefker, meaning, “without an owner.” So during the Sabbath year the land, in effect, belonged to everyone and no one at the same time.”

In the Israelite’s minds the obvious next question was beginning to form and God responded to this through his prophet, Moses:

You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.” Leviticus 25:20-22

This new commandment covered two aspects of stewardship. It not only covered the care of the earth but the care of each other – making sure everyone has opportunity to have their best life. The Sabbath Year or the Shemitah, worked in a very specific way according to God’s rules.  Rabbi Cahn describes it as “a year of cessation, release and rest – the ceasing of what has not ceased up to the time of its coming. It specifically touches the financial and economic realms. The last day of the Sabbath Year is called the Day of Nullification, when all debts are canceled and all credit released, and the nation’s financial accounts are transformed and wiped clean. It is sweeping, radical and extreme. Its effects, consequences and repercussions bear key similarities to that of a financial collapse”.

The Shemitah, similar to the Sabbath Day was intended to bless Israel and all who would seek the living God.  Cahn writes: “The Shemitah was a sign of the nation’s covenant with God. Everything they had, the land and all its blessings, was dependent on that covenant and their relationship with God.  It was all entrusted to them, but it belonged to God. If they turned away from God, then their blessings would be removed, or rather they would be removed from their blessings. So for the people of Israel to keep the Sabbath year was to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over their land and lives. It was also an act of faith. It required their total trust in God’s faithfulness to provide for their needs while they ceased from farming. In the same way, to cancel all the debts owed them was to sacrifice monetary gain and, again rely on God’s providence. Lastly, the keeping of the Shemitah was, above all, an act of devotion and worship, to put God above everything else in one’s life. But for all this, a blessing was promised. If Israel would keep the Shemitah, God would keep and bless Israel with all that was needed and beyond.” Rabbi Cahn

This was the case God made for the Sabbath Year in which debt was forgiven and slaves who were their Hebrew brethren were released. God, through the prophet Ezekiel, saw the treatment of the helpless, the sick and injured and chastised the ones he had put in charge of benevolence:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds (pastors/priests) of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.” Ezekiel 34:2-4

As well as the positive ways in which the Shemitah blesses it is also connected to judgment.  This was a commandment, not a suggestion and if they were to take God’s commandments lightly and allow them to gradually fade away by the ways they only symbolically kept them – lip service only – well, then consequences would come to them and to their nation.

As the nation spiraled further down into greed and selfishness, God sent the prophet, Jeremiah.

“And he cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD, “O altar, O altar, this is what the LORD says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David, and upon you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense upon you, and human bones will be burned upon you.'” I Kings 13:2

This prophecy would be one of many as Jeremiah warned the people over his lifetime of impending judgment that was coming as several in the line of Israel’s kings who had proceeded down through history would break the laws and covenants God had given – covenants that were intended to keep them from falling into the ways of the pagan world all around them that worshiped idols not the one true living God. This was Israel’s purpose – to be a Light to the world in the way they lived to glorify God and to also bring forth the Son of the living God – Jesus.

For nearly five hundred years, God endured the downward spiritual descent of Israel as each king introduced more and more of the pagan beliefs into their culture and disregarded Shemitah.

It is important that we know at this point the ways in which the Sabbath Year or Shemitah was systematically being broken down and disregarded to the point that it had become inconsequential and not a blessing. 

Writer Michael Hudson writes in his book, “. . . and forgive them their debts”: “Cancelling debts owed to wealthy headmen limited their ability to amass power for themselves. Private creditors therefore sought to evade these debt jubilees. . . These proclamations enabled society to avert military defeat by preserving a land tenured citizenry as the source of military fighters, *corvee labor and the tax base.” This is similar to what our lower and middle socio-economic classes provide our nation today. At that time in history, the Shemitah and Jubilee Year- every fiftieth year – kept a level playing field where everyone had a chance to regroup after having their debts wiped clean.

“The most archaic land tenure was intended to enable families to feed themselves and produce their basic needs while providing *corvee labor not to concentrate property in a few hands. Deuteronomy-Isaiah decries Judah’s falling away from social equity in its prevalent greed for money: ‘Some pour gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it.’” Isaiah 46:6-7 Michael Hudson

Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.” II Chronicles 36:14

*a day’s unpaid labor owed by a vassal to his feudal lord; forced labor exacted in lieu of taxes, in particular that on public roads.

In my research, I tried to find the incremental ways in which the Israelites hierarchy attempted to negate the covenant of Shemitah but couldn’t find a clear enough example from that period of time except that we know it happened because of the captivity and the resting of the land for seventy Shemitahs.  In the “desert period” with Moses, social issues were better dealt with when Israel knew that everything was God’s and there is little doubt that this is what God intends for the inhabitants of earth today. 

At long last Jeremiah gave this one last warning “And the Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets. . . but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear. They said, ‘Repent now everyone of his evil ways and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers forever and ever.” Jeremiah 25: 4-5

God had already allowed the Israelites to be under the yoke of the Babylonians but at this point they were allowed to stay in their homes and on their land.  God was still trying to get them to come around and restore themselves back in his favor by keeping his commandments.  Our understanding of Jeremiah’s role during this crucial time is important. Rabbi Moshe Reiss refers to him as a “very inner-directed and private man marking the beginning of the possibility of an inward and personal relationship with God – independent of Jerusalem and the Temple.”

 “The ultimate survival of Judaism can be attributed in no small measure to Jeremiah’s presentation of the catastrophe. He stated that the judgment ultimately came from God.  Jeremiah who recognized that the current order had ended, did not engage in defining a future world order as did Ezekiel. Jeremiah marks the beginning of the possibility of an inward and personal relationship with God – independent of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jeremiah can well be regarded  as a  very inner directed and private man. The rituals of the Temple – when unaccompanied by appropriate faith and ethical behavior appeared empty to him and he therefore rejected them. No prophet before Jeremiah had been so daring and revolutionary to declare that God ‘did not need’ the Temple. The evil he decries so eloquently focuses on disobedience to basic social ethics; failure to protect the poor, the orphans and widows. He is preoccupied and obsessed with social justice.  . .  ‘To whom should I speak and testify, in hope that they might hear? Their ear is uncircumcised and they cannot listen, the word of God is to them an embarrassment and they have no respect for it’ (6:10). When we review Jeremiah’s very personal ‘prayers’ or ‘confessions’ we read of a man who believed that the covenant between God and H/his people had been broken. He felt most isolated as one still connected to the covenant. In that sense his plea is highly individualistic. In this sense today he would be considered a fundamentalist, because he believed in the absolute   truth of his path. Hence inasmuch as he chose the only correct path, it followed that the people were on the incorrect path. He criticized the priests who led the Temple, the Monarchy and thereby the  ‘nationality’ of the Judean state. He said the covenant was personal and each individual was personally responsible for his own behavior. In retrospect we now know that he was indeed correct.”  Rabbi Moshe Reiss “Jeremiah the Suffering Prophet” online

Jeremiah was beaten and put into stocks; he was lowered into a cistern and sunk into the mud and left there to die; he survived a death sentence and was continuously called a liar and a traitor. He had no family like other prophets did. His singular purpose was being a voice for God.  

Finally, Jeremiah proclaims:

“. . . Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard my words . . . this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.’” Jeremiah 25:8-11

Hudson describes King Zedekiah’s final assault on the Shemitah:  “Zedekiah’s debt cancellation when Babylon attacked Jerusalem was simply a tactic to hold the population’s loyalty in a military emergency – one which showed that the promises of rulers could not be trusted.”  As he was taken to Babylon in chains he was blinded by his captors. The prophet Ezekiel prophecies Zedekiah’s end:  “My net also will I spread upon him, and he shall be taken in my snare; and I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there.” Ezekiel12:13.

“ He (King Nebuchadnezzar) carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power.  The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” II Chron 36:20-21

Rabbi Cahn poetically describes what it must have been like when Jeremiah walked through the deserted land after the remnant was taken captive:

 “The prophet walks in the midst of the ruins of the fallen city. What was once the capital of his nation, the city of kings and princes, now lies in ashes and rubble the streets are desolate.  The city upon which rested the name and glory of God is destroyed. The land of Zion is left desolate.  He had not been silent.  He had sounded the alarm and warned his nation, over and over and over again. But they had rejected the warning and the bearer of that warning.  They persecuted him and placed him in prison. And then the calamity of which he had long prophesied finally happened.  The kingdom was no more.  Gone was the Temple. Gone were the priests. Gone was the nation he had known and loved.  The year was 586 BC. The city was Jerusalem. The kingdom was Judah.  And the prophet was named “Yirmayahu” or, as he would later be known to much of the world, Jeremiah. He wept not only for the city and the land but also for his people. The city was desolate. Its fields were abandoned. Men, women, and children were taken captive into exile in the land of those who had wrought their destruction . . .”  J.C.

More than 400 years later, the story continues as the Son of God, our Rescuer, finally arrives on earth and begins His ministry.

When Jesus stood in the synagogue after completing 40 days of fasting and prayer on the mountain, He read from Isaiah stating that He had come to declare the Year of the Lord.  Commentaries tell us that He is speaking about restoring the Shemitah/Jubilee covenant, a statement that would make the rich and powerful leaders in the church seething angry.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”  Isaiah 61:1-3

That day, when He left the synagogue, many in the audience, were so infuriated by His bold words of describing their failings as a nation after He rolled up the scroll that they rushed Him and tried to push Him over an embankment. We can understand that a little better now, how reinstating the original intent of the Shemitah and the Jubilee would have effected them financially and why they would react that way. It wasn’t His time yet and He escaped harm.

This covenant of Shemitah was to create a deeper understanding of how it would have changed the generational outcome on earth – creating a sacred stewardship over the earth and for each other – two of the largest social and environment issues we face today.  What many may call political issues are very plainly what God has called us to do for our own best good.  He is not a political.

Hudson states: “Today’s legal system is based on the Roman Empire’s legal philosophy upholding the sanctity of debt not its cancellation. Instead of protecting debtors from losing their property and status, the main concern is with saving creditors from loss, as if this is a prerequisite for economic stability and growth.  Moral blame is placed on debtors, as if their arrears are a personal choice rather than stemming from economic strains that compel them to run into debt simply to survive. . . The economic laws of Moses and the Prophets which Jesus announced his intention to revive and fulfill, are brushed aside as anachronistic artifacts, not the moral center of the Old and New Testaments, the Jewish and Christian Bibles. The Jubilee Year is the ‘good news’ that Jesus announced that he had come to proclaim. ”

We wonder today how different our Judeo-Christian culture would be if we would have kept the Sabbath/Jubilee Years and allowed everyone to have a chance at a better financial and spiritual future. 

“During the Shemitah everyone who owned a vineyard or a grove had to open it up to those in need – every field accessible to the poor. The gates of walled and fenced lands were unlocked and left open the entire year.  In the destruction of 586BC the gates were opened by force, walls were broken down, fences were destroyed, vineyards were exposed, groves were left unprotected, and private land became public and accessible to all. In 586 BC the nation’s financial accounts were, likewise, transformed in a massive wiping away of the nation’s financial realm. The calamity canceled and wiped out debt and nullified credit by force.” Rabbi Jonathan Cahn “The Mystery of the Shemitah”

 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings.  I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled.  I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.” Leviticus 26:30-35 

Seventy Sabbath Years were owed the land to rest. God gave them every opportunity to repent and turn back to him for nearly 500 years.  The silent fields were deafening in their declaration of God’s judgment and the way in which he consistently and patiently works with us to get us to take care of one another and the environment – and most of all declare him as sovereign and recognize that everything belongs to him. When the remnant reached Babylonia as captives, their state of sadness and remorse is best described in this reference: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Psalm 137:1-3

God, as the ever loving Parent continues to encourage and recalculate their way forward through his servant, Jeremiah, during this very difficult exile for his children who had broken the covenants:

“Jeremiah instructs the exiled Jews to submit and moreover declared the exile God’s will. This statement is both political and religious in nature. In the letter to the exiles in Babylonia Jeremiah says ‘build houses . . . plant orchards . .  take wives and have children . . . pray for the [Babylon] for with its welfare is yours. . .  When you pray for Me I will hear, when you seek Me you shall find, when you seek with all your heart I will reveal Myself to you’ (29:5-7,12-13). ‘Do not live your days moping for Jerusalem. Live your lives there, in Babylon and live them fully and learn a new prayer, Pray for the peace of Babylon instead of the old prayer Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’. The notion to pray for your capturers instead of Jerusalem is a new theology. Inherent in this   is the idea that exile is not death, it is the new path for Judea. Citizenship and the following of God’s commandments are not intertwined. God is as near to you as you are to Him. Hence Sinai is in a desert, unlike Zion. It is not the Temple or its geography that is important, rather, ones closeness to God. A spiritual encounter may indeed be easier in a desert.   ‘The people . . . found grace in the desert . . . again I will build you and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel you shall be adorned . . .  Come back, O virgin of Israel to these  cities return’ (31:2,4,22). Spiritual return may be easier on virgin ground which for Jeremiah means righteous. Can you only become virgins as a citizen of a different country, as a servant of God’s servant? In the face of the death of the Davidic line some viewed the exile as a question of the survival of the people; Jeremiah calmly declared that the People of Israel can rest assured that deliverance would come. . . Jeremiah was a prophet endowed with monumental faith. Despite opposition from all camps he was convinced that he was right and that only he spoke God’s truth. He argued with God because of his suffering and he did not want to take on the mission. But he never disputed God about the need for the mission.   By still seeking the restoration of his people and by creating a new covenant he is indeed a true believer and a true man of faith.”  Rabbi Moshe Reiss “Jeremiah the Suffering Prophet” online

To the inmates I work with: When you are imprisoned, much good can come from your “silent fields” as God intervenes in your lives and gives you a brief or long Shemitah.  Remember it is a time of cessation, release and rest, the ceasing of what has not ceased up to the time of its coming and may leave you in financial ruin but it will be a time to think and reassess your life’s journey with God. God’s love and provision is perfect. When we are keepers of his commandments and actively disciplining ourselves to keep our lives and thoughts free from excessive self-indulgences that harm us in our body and spirit, the blessings are beyond what we can imagine. When the prophet Daniel along with three other young Israelites were taken into captivity in Babylon during this same time, they were taken to the king’s palace because of their appearance and intellect to be mentored and shaped into Babylonian wise men. Daniel refused to eat the rich food and wine in the lavish palace life because he felt it would take away his self-discipline and the simple way he lived his life for God.   With God’s help and their chosen disciplines, the Israelite youths in Babylonian captivity became great.

God’s commandment to observe the Shemitah was meant to dynamically shape the soul of this planet in disciplining our natural impulses toward the sins of greed and selfishness and to see God as sovereign, the giver of everything and so trust him for everything. Every guiding, soul-shaping commandment that God gave to his people Israel was meant for all his creation, including us today. 

 

I hope you will read the books from which I have quoted, also Jonathan Cahn’s “Harbinger” which is about September 11, 2001. Rabbi Cahn makes the case that America is the second Israel and how the Shemitah, it’s blessings and judgments, are still in play today. The Scriptures back up these writings and further remind us as Christ’s followers of the Work we should be about. The next Shemitah is scheduled to begin Sept. 7, 2021 and go through Sept. 26, 2022. Today, Shmita (another spelling) challenges all who learn about it to think about what our obligations are to land and people in general, and to land and people within the Jewish world and in Israel, in particular. In recent years, a growing movement of thinkers and activists has pointed to Shmita as a means of addressing the global environmental problems and economic instability of the 21st century and of challenging contemporary expectations of continual economic growth, development, and individual gains.” My Jewish Learning – online site

We are to live a disciplined life that honors the great sacrifice Jesus made for us to enjoy the abundant life. Remember how God promised in Leviticus 25 that he would make sure the crops in the sixth year would be so bounteous, it would take care of them in the seventh year during the Shemitah and the eighth year until their harvest was once again gathered.  “All I will give to you if you will put your relationship with me first.” This is how God is in all things.

 In this stage of my life with issues of aging, I praise him every day for his abundant care and the promises he keeps especially if I trust him for everything and bring honor and glory to him. Some days are better than others but with the abundance in the sixth day, I can make it through the seventh and eighth day until everything is replenished once more.  My “silent fields” are an amazing blessing to me.  “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4   “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:16

 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let Israel say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say: ‘His love endures forever.’ Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures forever.’ “ Psalm 118:1-4

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