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The Shemitah: Mystery or Mischief?

Does an ancient Jewish practice point us today towards a “3,000-Year-Old Mystery That Holds the Secret of America’s Future, the World’s Future, and Your Future?” So reads the subtitle to a book written by messianic Jewish pastor, Jonathan Cahn, The Mystery of the Shemitah.

Here is a one minute, partial interview with the author:

My first encounter with Jonathan Cahn’s first book, The Harbinger, was when I was on my way out of a restaurant, where a very nice yet persistent couple proceeded to talk my ear off about the supposed “revelations” discussed in that book. That one-time New York Times bestseller has made its way onto coffee tables across America over the past few years. As American culture continues to become more biblically illiterate, books like The Harbinger demonstrate a growing interest to better understand the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. What better way to learn about some of the teachings in ancient Judaism and its relevance for today than from a man who grew up ethnically Jewish, embracing atheism as a child, only to finally encounter Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth as the true Messiah? Admittedly, it peaked my curiosity.

In this follow-up to The Harbinger, Jonathan Cahn suggests that he is revealing to the reader The Mystery of the Shemitah and its contemporary implications. The shemitah, transliterated from the Hebrew, refers to the early Jewish practice taught within the first five books of the Bible regarding a command about observing the “sabbath.” Just as the Jews were commanded to work six days and then take a day of rest on the seventh to focus on worshipping God, the same logic was extended towards a sabbath of years. The shemitah principle, particularly in an agricultural context, teaches that the people in covenant with God are commanded to work the land for six years and then give the farm land a rest on the seventh.

For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard (Exodus 23:10-11 ESV).

Furthermore, the shemitah, literally meaning “release,” also calls for the cancellation of debts in that seventh year:

At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release.And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed (Deuteronomy 15:1-2 ESV).

The Mystery of the Shemitah, a concept first mentioned in a chapter in Cahn’s fictional work, The Harbinger, now takes on a “non-fictional” literary approach, exploring how this ancient observance of the Sabbath every seven years has direct implications for today’s world. But is what Cahn laying out for the reader a “revelation” of mysteries… or is he playing mischief with his handling of the God’s Word?
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