The Shemitah is the seventh year in a seven-year cycle described in the Old Testament. This final year of the cycle is set aside for debt forgiveness and refrain from direct cultivation of the land. The debt forgiveness would break cycles of perpetual debt. The rest for the land would not only be good for the soil but dictated that the volunteer crops that sprang up should be harvested by the poor for their use.
Sometimes spelled Shemittah or Shmita, this special year is described in Exodus 21:2, 23:10–11, Leviticus 25:1–7, Deuteronomy 15:1–11, and 31:10–13. It is patterned after God's day of rest at the conclusion of His creation—the seventh day.
There is little evidence that Shemitah has ever been widely practiced by the Hebrews, Jews, or Israelites. However, in present-day Israel, there is a prohibition on specific kinds of food exports for crops grown within Israel's boundaries every seven years.
Hebrew scholars and religious leaders have created interpretation and religious laws that narrow the Shemitah. One example is defining the debt forgiveness as only applying to private debts and then making all private debts a matter of public record to nullify them from Shemitah. Another example allows Jews to have their land cultivated by non-Jews during the seventh year to escape Shemitah.
The Shemitah seven-year cycle has gained recent interest through a book and teaching by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn. The Mystery of the Shemitah outlines Cahn's belief that all nations, not just Jews, should be following Shemitah and that those who do not will face God's judgement. He writes that a seven-year cycle of judgement can be seen in tragic events, especially in America. For example, he shows that the World Trade Center was conceived in 1945, broke ground for construction in 1966, opened in 1973, was bombed in 1993, and was destroyed in 2001—all Shemitah years. The replacement Freedom Tower opened in 2014, another Shemitah year.
Cahn is careful to say his observations and predictions are not prophesy and should not be counted upon. His claim that nations like the United States would have a similar covenantal agreement with God and should follow the Shemitah law God gave to Israel is questionable. However, Cahn's call to repent and seek salvation in Christ is certainly biblical.
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