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TorahTimes Messianic Ministry

Teaching Truths about Torah, Time, and Messiah


When Does the Sabbath Year Begin?

[Image: Grapes on Vine]

It might seem that the beginning of the Sabbath Year, which is in the fall, on Tishri 1, or Rosh Hashanah as it is called in Israel would not be a matter of dispute. Yet, former remnants of Herbert Armstrong’s World Wide Church of God have continued his legacy of biblical scripture twisting. Many of these groups deny the deity of Jesus (Yeshua), or they have secret theology that teaches they will become gods just like the Mormons. They always try distinguish themselves with the attraction of a truth that they claim to have, and no one else has. Then they mix it up with their heresy. Sometimes, they simply make up the “truth” that no one else has to get people into their corner of the market, because every real truth has already been claimed by someone.

The teaching that the sabbatical year began in the spring is one of these made up “truths”. In order to start a cult, one has to find a truth, or invent one, that no one else has. If everyone else already has it, then what is the attraction to the cult? The potential cultist leader sees no legitimate way to distinguish himself, because he has not really studied to show himself approved. So he finds the opinions of others and invents his new and improved version. After that it’s all marketing and sales tactics. These purveyors of propaganda expend their self-righteous anger and emotion at ideas they disagree with so that people will swallow their ideas and believe them based on their religiosity. Furthermore, they have to make their re-interpretation odious enough so that we who disagree with them have to be treated as enemies. Only by causing division this way can they keep people flocking to their market of new ideas.

[Image: Shofar being Blown]

This is the reason they teach the Sabbath year began in the spring. It is to make enemies out of those who don’t agree with them. They may not even know that is their motivation. But the prince of lies does. Therefore, it is all the more necessary that we know the full truth, and not just half of the truth lest we be exploited by these people or made sport of because we don’t have a full quiver of facts. So, the purpose of this paper is to get to the facts.

The Sabbath Year is an ancient institution in Israel like the weekly seventh day Sabbath. Every seven years farmers would not plant crops because the land was supposed to rest. Also all debts were forgiven at the end of seven years. Knowing when the Sabbath year is, and when it begins is very important because it figures in biblical eschatology, and all Israel also needs to know so that farmers can take the proper year off. If you ever heard of the “seven year tribulation” you will know why. The subject of this paper is to find out when the seventh year begins. Does it begin in the fall or in the spring? The actual year that the sabbath year is supposed to occur in was already determined in the The Scroll of Biblical Chronology. In this article, we are only dealing with the question about which time of the year it begins. If we translate that cycle into the modern period, the current cycle looks like this:

Year No. 1. begins: 2007 c.e. Ends: 2008 c.e.                     
Year No. 2. begins: 2008 c.e. Ends: 2009 c.e. (when I wrote this) 
Year No. 3. begins: 2009 c.e. Ends: 2010 c.e.                     
Year No. 4. begins: 2010 c.e. Ends: 2011 c.e.                     
Year No. 5. begins: 2011 c.e. Ends: 2012 c.e.                     
Year No. 6. begins: 2012 c.e. Ends: 2013 c.e.                     
Year No. 7. begins: 2013 c.e. Ends: 2014 c.e. Next Sabbatical Year

Does the Sabbath year begin in the spring of A.D. 2013 or in the fall of A.D. 2013? The Sabbath year begins in the fall of 2013, at the feast of trumpets and ends in the fall of 2014 at the feast of trumpets (Jews call that feast day Yom Teruah or Rosh Hashanah). There are some people who have been led to believe that the Sabbath year begins in the spring, which is against the historical tradition and contrary to Jewish understanding.

These views are also contrary to agricultural logic when applied to the Scriptures. In Israel, planting the new crop occurs in the autumn, and harvest occurs in the Spring, so the natural cycle of one complete harvesting and planting is from fall to fall. This is how it works with the common grain crops, barley and wheat, which were used to make the main supply of bread.

Autumn/Winter Spring/Summer
Planting Harvest

In order to understand the non-sense of having a sabbatical year begin in the Spring, one only has to show what happens to agriculture under such a system:

A Burdensome Error:

6th Year 7th Year 8th Year 9th Year
Spring/Summer Autumn/Winter Spring/Summer Autumn/Winter Spring/Summer Fall/Winter Spring/Summer
harvest crops planted? harvest ban sowing ban no crops planting harvest
reaping permitted planting permitted crops rot,
land does not rest
crops still rot,
no land rest
reaping permitted planting permitted harvesting permiitted

Each year is divided into two halves. The red zone represents a spring based sabbatical year in which reaping is banned in the spring/summer and sowing in the following fall/winter. The black zone represents the time between harvests, which is 30 months. Even though harvesting would be permitted in the spring ending such a Sabbath year, there would be nothing to harvest, because nothing was permitted to be sown. Also, since planting was permitted in the fall/winter preceding such a Sabbath year, there would be a crop in the field in the spring of the Sabbath year -- a crop that could not be harvested, and the land busily working to bring that crop to maturity, meaning the land itself gets no fallow rest.

Let’s see what happens when we give the correct biblical view:

Biblical Truth:

6th Year 7th Year 8th Year
Spring/Summer Autumn/Winter Spring/Summer Autumn/Winter Spring/Summer
harvest sowing ban harvest ban sowing harvest
reaping permitted land fallow/rests
aftergrowth eaten
land fallow/rests
aftergrowth eaten
sowing permitted reaping permitted

Now see that the time between harvests is only 18 months. The land actually rests. This may seem trivial to people with common sense, however the human race can no longer be expected to have common sense.The Adversary has taken the spring sabbatical year theory and dressed it up in the garb of false wisdom and confusion and has deceived the ignorant and given the prideful and willful deceivers platforms to propagate error among those who are seeking truth to keep them from finding it. Who are these people? They are among the mass of gentile messianic cults that think they have found the true new and improved sabbatical year that begins in the spring.

Every Year Does Not Begin in Spring

The idea that the sabbatical year begins in the spring starts with the errant assumption that every type of year begins in the spring. However, this is evidently not the case, since the Jubilee year is announced on the 10th day of the seventh month (Leviticus 25:9-10), and that after the close of the 49th year, which was sabbatical (Leviticus 25:8). Also, the end of the seventh year occurs just before the feast of tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10).

The Scripture does define the months of the year to begin with the spring month of Aviv (Exodus 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 16:1), however it does not say that the year which begins in the spring with Aviv is the only type of year. Just as there is more than one type of Sabbath, there is more than one type of year. Just as there is more than one way to count a day, there is more than one type of year. Ezekiel 40:1 shows us that the seventh month is at the start of the type of year used for sabbatical and jubilee years:

In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither.

We know this was the 7th month, because the 10th day of the month pertains to the Day of Atonement, the appropriate day of this great revelation of the new Temple.

We also know that Josiah employed the fall to fall year for his regnal years. For they found the book of the law in his 18th year before the Passover (2 Kings 23:3), yet it was still his 18th year at the Passover (2 Kings 23:22). It defies credulity to think that all the reformative acts mentioned between the finding of the book of the law in the 18th year and the Passover in the 18th year could fit into less than two weeks. In fact it was only 8 days between the spring equinox that year and the Passover. The high places and temple could not be cleansed in so short a time. So the book was found before the spring in his 18th year, and it was still the 18th year when the spring came, showing that the 18th year did not change over in the spring.

Likewise, Solomon commenced building the temple in his 4th year in the 2nd day of the 2nd month, and finished in the 11th year, the 8th month, a period of time said to be only 7 years (2 Chronicles 3:2, 1 Kings 6:38). Clearly Solomon’s regnal years are counted on a fall basis while those 7 years are measured on a spring basis, demonstrating once again the use of more than just one type of year. This is shown in the Scroll of Biblical Chronology.

A Sabbath Year Did Not Begin When They Crossed the Jordan

Another argument is made from Leviticus 25:1-2, but it is an argument made in ignorance of Hebrew:

And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, 2Speak 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.

Leviticus 25:1-2, KJV

One would expect those using English for proof texts to at least check out the Hebrew to make sure the argument is sound. However it is not. Young’s Literal Translation will expose the error to the light of day:

Speak unto the sons of Israel, and thou hast said unto them, 2When ye come in unto the land which I am giving to you, then hath the land kept a Sabbath.

Leviticus 25:1-2, YLT

The key phrase, hath the land kept a Sabbath translates the perfect Hebrew verb, which is used to indicate things that are past, and not necessarily things that are future. Young translates it in the present tense, because it was the 7th year at the time of the entry. But this Sabbath year had begun with the Trans-Jordan conquest the preceding fall, and would end just before the reading of the Torah at the fall festival of tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10; Joshua 8:34-35). It had started in the past, and was ongoing when they crossed the Jordan, so the sense is “then the land keeps a Sabbath”, or then the “land is keeping a Sabbath”; The Hebrew does not indicate that the Sabbath year “shall begin” with the Spring when they actually crossed the Jordan. Also, they crossed the Jordan on the 10th day of Aviv. How, may one ask, does any year begin at this point? Will they say that the Sabbath year begins on the 10th day of Aviv, since that is exactly when they entered the land?

The Spring Theory has no Blessing

Another crafty argument used by the purveyors of the spring Sabbath year theory is to quote Leviticus 25:22 from the King James Version:

And ye shall sow the eighth year [at the end of it], and eat yet of old fruit [6th year] until the ninth year; until her fruits [9th] come in ye shall eat of the old store [6th year].

Leviticus 25:22, KJV

Let’s return to the spring theory chart. From this interpretation, the following chart comes. I have conceded to this theory for the sake of argument to call the 5th year planting the 6th year eating, even though a crop planted in the 5th year is really a 5th year crop. You will see that I also call the 8th year planting the 9th year eating by this concession. It cannot be otherwise with this view, because they have have defined the sabbath year so that it falls into two agricultural years. Please notice, then that there is no eating that can be exclusively called the 8th year! It is entirely missing.

False System:

6th yr eaten 9th eaten
6th Year 7th Year 8th Year 9th Year
Spring/Summer Autumn/Winter Spring/Summer Autumn/Winter Spring/Summer Fall/Winter Spring/Summer
harvest crops planted? harvest ban sowing ban no crops planting harvest
reaping permitted planting permitted crops rot,
land does not rest
crops still rot,
no land rest
reaping permitted planting permitted harvesting permiitted
[…] and ye have sown the eighth year [at the start of it], and you do eat of the old increase [6th yr]; until the ninth year, until the coming in of its increase [9th yr] ye do eat the old [6th yr].

Leviticus 25:22

The True Way to Figure:

8th eaten
6th eaten 9th eaten
6th year 7th Year 8th Year 9th Year
Aut/Win Spr/Summer Autum/Win Spring/Summer Autum/Win Spring/Summer Autum/Win Spring/Summer
sowing ban harvest ban sowing harvest sowing havest
land fallow/rests
aftergrowth eaten
land fallow/rests
aftergrowth eaten
sowing permitted reaping permitted sowing permitted reaping permitted

Here is the blessing, where the sixth year crop lasts during the 8th year harvest, and the 9th year planting, until the 9th year harvest comes in.

Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.

Leviticus 25:21, KJV

You shall eat the old harvest, and clear out the old because of the new.

Leviticus 26:10, NKJ

We see that there is no superabundance in the false view. There is nothing abnormal to throw out, just the normal quantity for all other years. However, in the biblical view, there is a double abundance for a whole year.

The Time for Eating the New Crop does not define the Agricultural Year

The new crop cannot be eaten until the day after Passover (Leviticus 23:11-14). The old crop from the previous summers harvest must be eaten until the day after Passover, and then the new crop may be eaten. The new crop may not be eaten until then. The Passover must occur in the new year, which begins at the spring equinox. The Passover may be on or after that day, i.e. the equinox must fall at least in the day part of the 15th of Aviv. If it falls afterward, then the month must be postponed because Passover would be too early—still in the old year. Permission to eat the new crop in the new year, as defined by the spring equinox, however, does not define the agricultural year for the sabbatical or jubilee years. It only says that the crop of the agricultural year (fall to fall) cannot be eaten until the natural year begins at the spring equinox half way through the agricultural year. Remember that we have already demonstrated more than one type of year in use in the Scripture.

The Sabbath Years from 200 BC to AD 400 where counted from the Fall

This is admitted by some of its opponents, i.e. in Josephus and Maccabees and the Wadi Murabbat Papyri.

Famine in Sabbath years was not due to fall reckoning

I proved above that the time between harvests in the errant view was 30 months, whereas in the biblical view it is only 18 months. The difference is a whole year. Even if the harvest that ripens in the sabbatical year under the errant view is illegally harvested, there is still 18 months to go after the end of that summer until the next harvest! And the land gets no rest. It is preposterous that the spring theorists claim that their view is less susceptible to shortages than the biblical view. The reason they boldly make this argument is that it takes intelligence to refute it, and most people now days would rather listen to authorities than use their intelligence. The devil loves such mental laziness and exploits it to his advantage where he can. That’s how cults work.

The famines recorded in Josephus for the post-biblical Sabbath years were due to either wars or lack of blessing on the people due to other sins. It was not due to the manner of observance of the fall sabbatical year.

A Standing Crop in the Spring of the spring type “Sabbath” Year is not Rest, nor an Advantage

We must remember that the crop of the sixth year was promised to be good for three years if the people obeyed God’s commandments. Therefore, in the biblical theocracy, planting in the fall before a supposed spring “Sabbath” year reckoning would be more a sign of a lack of faith than anything else in God’s promise, and in fact, it would be breaking the commandment! For the commandment is not just for people to rest from sowing and harvesting. It is for the LAND to REST from all growing except after growth that grows of itself. There has to be a distinction between what grows of itself and what grows because it was planted the previous fall. For the Scripture says it is permitted to eat what grows of itself. The Harvest of that which was planted is not permitted. That is why planting is not permitted in the Sabbath year.

The sort of argument that seeks an advantage from a standing crop during the Sabbath year is based on humanism and not the divine promise. It is the thinking of liberalism and not obedient Spirit filled due consideration of God’s commandments in the Scripture. And as we have pointed out, it is actually the errant spring theory that is burdensome because there are 30 months between harvests instead of 18.

Josephus does not show a spring “Sabbath” year at Herod’s conquest of Jerusalem

Some supposing that the fast in Josephus (Ant. 14:487) was the Day of Atonement and the Sabbath year being mentioned both before and after this fast (Ant. 14:475 and Ant. 15:7) necessitates a spring Sabbath year. Even proposing this argument is highly deceptive and downright shameful since it is built on a house of cards. Josephus says, the fall of city happened in the “third month, on the solemnity of the fast” (Ant. 15:487). It is well known that the Day of Atonement is not in the third month, but in the seventh month, so this becomes a severe problem to interpreting the ‘fast’ as Yom Kippur.

If we are to correct the month, then it could just as well be the 9th day of the 5th month, the fast of Tish b’Av. Also Bishop Ussher interprets it to be the 2nd day of Kislev, the 3rd month of the civil year (Annals 3967b AM), which is Jan. 1., and the fast as the fast of “Jehoiakim” in memory of Jeremiah’s burned scroll. So at least Ussher gives meaning to both ‘fast’ and ‘third month’. This also satisfies the fall sabbatical year.

Against Ussher, however, the city fell in the summer and not the winter (Jos. Ant. 14:473) in the second half of the Sabbath year 39/38 B.C, by Dio Cassius dating. Josephus assures us that the siege was renewed in the spring (Ant. 14:465), lasted till summer (Ant. 14:473), and lasted “five months” (Wars 1:351).

The comments of Schurer (Vol 1, div. 1, pg. 398note) are helpful, since he mentions everyone’s views, except we must correct his dating of Pacorus’ death in favor of Ussher’s date of June, 39 B.C. and reject his criticism of Dio Cassius, and put the fall of the city in the summer of 38 B.C. with Dio. The “third month” was Sivan. This only leaves “the fast” unexplained, however, if we follow the precedent that the Sabbath could be called a fast—as suggested by Schurer’s sources, then the third month was Sivan, and the facts fit perfectly. For if the siege was begun Feb 1-12 (the end of the 11th Jewish month), then it would have been finished between May 12 and June 11, 38 B.C. (Sivan, the 3rd month). It would not be impossible for Josephus to call the Sabbath a ‘fast’ because he had made trial of the Essenes way of life, who fasted on the Sabbath. Schurer writes, “The phrase ‘feast of the fast’ [trans. from Greek], which Josephus met with in his pagan sources, may therefore refer, as in the case of the conquest of Pompey, not to the day of atonement, but to an ordinary Sabbath” (pg. 399, A History of the Jewish People in the Time Of Jesus Christ). And some Jews and Greeks of that time were not the only peoples to consider the Sabbath a fast. So also did the Church of Rome, and even in Col. 2:16 we have evidence that some wanted to treat it as a fast day, who were ascetics, just like the Essenes. This view of “the fast” is much better as it absolves Josephus from putting too many things on unique days of the year. It is much more likely the Sabbath that the city fell, because the besiegers knew the customs of the Jews, and no doubt would use the psychological advantage to discomfit them by launching their major assault on the Sabbath.

The Famine Argument Refutes the Conquest argument

To argue for a spring Sabbath year on the basis of a mistaken chronology of Herod’s taking of Jerusalem in a Sabbath year, and then to turn around and say that the Sabbath year was on a fall basis afterward, and was responsible for the famines later in his reign vitiates any historical or witness value of the argument for the spring year at the conquest. It is self contradictory. For was it right before Herod or after Herod?

The Famine of Herod’s 13th Year

Herod took Jerusalem in May or June 38 B.C. This is his accession year, so his first year begins in the spring of 37 B.C. (reckoning from Nisan 1), 4104 Year of the World. His 13th year, then is 4116 of the World. 4116-4104 + 1 = 13. The second half of Herod’s 13th year (Tishri - Nisan) overlaps the beginning of the Sabbath year of 25/24 B.C. (Remember that 39/38 was the Sabbath year also 39-14/38-14 = 25/24). If they had disobeyed God and planted in the 2nd half of Herod’s 13th year (spring reckoning), then God may have punished the land with a famine, and in the second year also, which was a Jubilee (24/23 B.C.) per the record in Jos. Ant. 15:299-304. The mention of seeding in the second year is then merely a record of disobedience in the early part of Herod’s reign before he suddenly got religious and decided that he had better honor the God of the Jews by expanding the Temple instead of forcing the country to sow because he was an Edomite.