It is a very good year to review the law of God

The writer is a former rabbinical student and longtime teacher and elder among the Churches of God.

By Mark D. Kaplan

ANAHEIM, Calif.--Shortly after they received the Ten Commandments, the ancient Israelites were told to observe a year of rest for the land every seven years: a sabbatical year (Exodus 23:10-11). Further instructions can be found on this and related subjects in Exodus 21, Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15.

Rabbinic authorities do not believe the seventh-year rest for the land applies outside of the land of Israel. Some believe legal technicalities can be utilized to avoid fulfilling this obligation even in contemporary Israel.

Many Orthodox Jewish farmers do rest their land according to the Scriptures. During the sabbatical year they receive financial support from Jews in the Diaspora.

Ambassador College, Big Sandy, had an agricultural program and decided that its seventh year would begin in the fall of 1972. The college later discovered that Israel would observe its land rest that same year.

In 1979, at the start of another sabbatical year, Herman Hoeh of the Worldwide Church of God presented a Bible study that reminded his audience of another important aspect of the land rest.

The reading of the books

God commanded the Israelites to use the seventh year in each cycle to gather the nation together for a reading of the five books of Moses. The occasion for the reading was the Feast of Tabernacles.

"And Moses commanded them, saying: 'At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing'" (Deuteronomy 31:10-11).

It is possible to differ as to whether the commandment intends the reading to take place at the beginning or just after the seventh year. Nowadays many Israelis assemble shortly after the end of the seventh year. The gathering takes place at the Western Wall, and many prominent figures publicly read portions of the Pentateuch.

The original commandment states: "Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess" (verses 12-13).

Taking up the challenge

In 1986, at the Feast of Tabernacles in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., I recommended that the brethren use that year to read the first five books of the Bible.

Some in attendance successfully took up that challenge. Seven years later, in the sabbatical year of 1993-94, our family observed the Feast of Tabernacles in Lowell, Mass. Many of those who attended that Feast site wrote us throughout that year about having completed a reading of the law. They received a special certificate acknowledging their achievement.

During the same year, the Worldwide Church of God published a brochure, Exploring the Word of God. It was part of a Bible-correspondence-course project.

In magazine format Exploring the Word of God thoroughly covered the portion of Scripture that is known in Hebrew as the Torah, the law. How inspiring to know that this Church of God organization was expounding God's ancient, but timeless, law during a sabbatical year!

As the Church of God observes the autumn festivals this year, Jewry will begin the observance of another sabbatical year. What an excellent time to begin a personal spiritual project.

How about beginning in Genesis and continuing to read to the end of Deuteronomy before next year's season?

This suggestion is presented as spiritual food in due season (Matthew 24:45). It is just a suggestion. In any case, may your personal Bible study be richly rewarding in the weeks ahead.

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