The Real Mystery Behind Shemitah
If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ like I am, the exciting expectation of the day of our Lord’s return is something, well, difficult to express in words. Put simply, I can’t WAIT until the day that Jesus returns. This is something I long for, pray for, and sometimes even find myself weeping about. The reality of this day lives very strongly within me – the promise of resurrection for those who sleep, the conclusive death of death, the eternal glorification of the redeemed, the vindication and justice for those who have suffered wrongly at the hands of evil, not to mention the primary objective of that day which is God’s creation seeing their Creator face to face. This ingathering of the children of God will mark the beginning of the fullness of eternal communion with our Lord, just as humans were originally created for and in the full capacity intended.
While I am no doubt not alone in my excitement and expectation of this future great day of the Lord, one thing that troubles me in these last days is the exploitation of our excitement and expectation to see the consummation of the ages.
It seems as though surrounding the biblical truths of end times, you also have those parasites who would seek to take advantage of our situation and the state of our hearts to turn a profit as well as establish a name for themselves through whatever means possible, including false teachings and false prophecies. The problem is often further compounded by the modern Christian culture we live in, where biblical literacy is very low. This makes it very easy for wolves to enter into the sheepfold of Christ and wreak havoc. The end result is a people who are driven by fear instead of faith. Even more so, some who buy into the lies that are being sold find themselves confused and their faith shipwrecked, especially those who are young in the Lord. Along with them are those who are maybe seeking and merely tasting the things of God and have not yet made a decision to follow Him. Many may never recover from these exploitations. In their confusion and disillusionment, they walk out the back door of the church, so to speak, never to return. All of this lends itself further to an undermining of the church’s credibility as Christ’s representatives on the earth.
Of course, as believers we have been warned of this phenomenon surrounding the return of the Lord by Jesus Himself:
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance.” Matthew 24:23-25
We have been warned. Deceptions, rumors, false teachings, and lies will surround us leading up to the return of our Lord. Unfortunately, it seems as though the church continues to ignore this word of caution.
We’ve Been Conned Again…
Christianity has recently been given another black eye at the hands of another teacher who has duped a large portion of the Lord’s people once again. Hoodwinked, swindled, fooled, misled, cheated, defrauded; call it what you will, but the fact remains that we have been conned again.
In Jonathan Cahn’s book, The Mystery of the Shemitah, a 3,000 year old mystery concerning the future of the world, including America, has supposedly been unlocked for us. Or at least for those who would buy and read his book, if not, you’re out of luck and are destined to remain in the dark.
While I cannot judge Jonathan’s heart concerning his relationship with the Lord or his intentions behind writing this novel, I can judge and test the teachings that are found in it, as all bible believing Christians are supposed to do.
“…do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 (NASB95)
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.” 1 Corinthians 14:29 (NASB95)
The Claims of the Mystery
After reluctantly buying the ebook version and reading through it for what I hope is an accurate and fair assessment, several things stood out that troubled me. Many claims were made or implied that simply do not line up with the bible. Although I came up with a full page of questionable assertions, here are a few.
The first claim that should serve as a warning to everybody is the assertion by the author to be the sole recipient of “special” revelation concerning the end times. This was first announced to us in Jonathan’s first book, The Harbinger and is being carried into this book as well. I wonder how much confusion and disillusionment could be avoided among God’s people when it comes to someone claiming special revelation by just heeding this great big flashing sign with bright luminescent letters screaming, “Danger”?
Second of all, the whole premise of the book is based upon a misconception concerning the status of the nation of America as being the same as ancient Israel. While it can be well argued that America’s heritage is Christian based and founded by those who were seeking religious freedom from a persecuting monarchy, we must remember that Israel was unique among all the nations in it’s establishment and government. God revealed Himself in a very special way to the Hebrews and promised to lead them in a very distinct way so they would be God’s witness to the gentile nations. This form of national government is called a theocracy. America is a democracy.
Along with this claim concerning the status of America is the assumption that we are under the same covenantal requirements found in the ceremonial law as ancient Israel was. If this were so, then keeping the requirements of shemitah is the least of America’s concerns as we have also neglected the Day of Atonement, weekly Sabbaths, temple worship in Jerusalem, the Levitical priesthood and so on.
Furthermore, because of the supposed connection between Israel and America, the book also claimed that America will experience a catastrophic judgment that will parallel the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem thousands of years ago. When will this happen? Well, that seems to be the real mystery. After spending 23 out of 25 chapters detailing the history of the shemitah judgment (including its supposed impact on America through stock market crashes and terrorist attacks) and giving strong arguments for why it will happen during this time frame, at the end of chapter 24 he capitulates by saying that honestly, no one really knows. It seems as though this tactic is similar to the disclaimer at the end of a legal document that is written in fine print which releases the author from any legal responsibility should things not pan out as predicted.
Then of course there is the epilogue at the end of the book which ties his teachings about the shemitah with the four blood moons and solar eclipses of the past year. Evidently, according to Jonathan, it is important for Christians to be like the occultists who actively interpret omens, engage in astrology, and seek after signs.
Another issue that troubled me was the very distinct absence of Jesus Christ. Other than a few verses and a couple of vague references, our Lord seems to be missing from this book. As the author claims to be a Jewish rabbi as well as a Christian, I would have expected more teaching from our Savior in regards to this topic. More on that below.
Then of course there are some more minor yet sensational assertions thrown in that distort reality. For instance, the premise that every tower and skyscraper over a certain height is a manifestation of idolatry, although once again we are left in a mystery since that exact height is never given.
Finally, the claim that should catch our attention the most when reading this supposed prophetic book is the fact that the dates given for the shemitah and the impending judgment on America, September 24, 2014, to September 13, 2015, have come and gone without the unfolding of events as he predicted they would (hence the need for the fine print disclaimer).
On and on we could go. While all of these stated claims are problematic and any single one could be used to discredit the teachings of The Mystery of the Shemitah, I believe the one that deserves our attention the most is the false teaching concerning the shemitah itself and it’s corresponding principle of Jubilee. This is the most serious mistake for several reasons, most significantly, because it undermines the sufficiency of the work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, we need to take up a defense of the faith in this matter by destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God because, as we will see, the reason nothing happened the way the self-proclaimed rabbi predicted is because of a simple misunderstanding concerning the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Shemittah is Biblical
First of all, I think it is important to note that shemittah is biblical. This is a Hebrew word (שמט) that refers to the sabbatical year that Israel was commanded in the law to keep. Similar to the sabbath cycle of working six days and resting the seventh, Israel was also commanded to work the land for six years and let it rest on the seventh year. Furthermore, the shemittah carried implications for Hebrew slaves as well.
First, we see the sabbath year being used in Exodus referring to rest for the land and provision for the needy.
“You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest (shemittah) and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” Exodus 23:10-11 (NASB95)
Just as the Hebrew people were to rest from their labors on the seventh day, the land was to rest on the seventh year. The produce of the land became food for the needy along with the beasts of the field.
Second of all, the sabbath year meant freedom for debtors and slaves.
“At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission (shemittah) of debts. This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because the LORD’s remission has been proclaimed.” Deuteronomy 15:1-2 (NASB95)
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him.” Exodus 21:2 (NASB95)
Often in ancient Israel, if a person became indebted to someone and were unable to pay them back, that person would be forced into slavery to pay back what was owed. But because of the commandment of the shemittah, it was a limited sentence. The longest term that a Hebrew could be considered a slave was six years because on the seventh they were to be given back their freedom. This was good news for those facing the consequences of financial hardship.
So to sum it up in our short observation of what the bible states concerning shemittah, we find that it was a period of rest, a time of mercy for those in need including animals, and liberation for those in financial bondage. The sabbath year was intended to be a year of joy and celebration and blessing because of the Lord’s favor upon His people.
As wonderful as the sabbath year was, it paled in comparison to the year of jubilee. The year of jubilee was a special shemittah year. God proclaimed that after a cycle of seven sabbath years, or 49 years, the following year was to be a year of jubilee. The 50th year marked an extra sabbath year.
“You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years. You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you…” Leviticus 25:8-10 (NASB95)
This year of jubilee not only meant another year of rest and freedom but also was the year of redemption. If land had been sold or lost for some reason, during the jubilee it was to be sold back to its original owner at an affordable price.
Now, if we stop for a moment and reflect, it seems obvious to me what the rich imagery of the shemittah and the jubilee is pointing to. Unfortunately, the teaching found in The Mystery of the Shemitah bypasses the obvious for the sake of sensationalism and supposed prophetic speculation. So let’s not assume anything but instead turn to the scriptures as we connect the dots.
Jesus is our Jubilee
As we ponder the sabbath year and the corresponding jubilee year, three themes easily come to the surface – rest for the weary, freedom for the captive, and redemption of what was lost.
One day, Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth on the sabbath and as was His custom, He entered the local synagogue. While He was there, He was handed the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and was asked to read. So He opened up to the section of Isaiah where it says this:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.” Luke 4:18-19 (NASB95)
This passage in Isaiah is a clear reference to the sabbath year and particularly to the year of jubilee. After Jesus read this passage, it says He sat down and as everyone in the synagogue was looking at Him, He said,
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21 (NASB95)
What did Jesus mean by this? He was stating that in Him, the year of jubilee has come and is being fulfilled. The messianic reign of Jesus Christ points to the fact that in Him the weary have rest, the captives are given freedom, and the lost are redeemed. Jesus is our Year of Jubilee. Just as He is the substance of the shadow of the sabbath day, so He is also the substance of the shemittah. What the sabbath year pointed forward to has now been manifested once and for all in the Son of God. And that is good news!
Unfortunately, the teaching in Cahn’s book is mostly empty. Worse than that it detracts from the sufficiency and deity of the Son of God, it promotes fear instead of faith among God’s people, and it cheapens the soon coming return of our Lord.
Do I believe worldwide judgement upon the wicked is imminent? Do I believe the systems of this world, including our financial institutions, are going to fail? Do I believe worshippers of idols will have their shame exposed? Do I believe that those who continually turn their back on God will lose out with Him for eternity? Yes, but not because of some supposedly hidden but now unlocked prophetic mystery that failed to transpire on the dates predicted. I believe because God’s holy, inspired, inerrant, infallible word tells me so. The same word that tells me I can rest in the jubilee of Jesus Christ, who is the true mystery of the ages which has now been revealed so all men everywhere may repent and find peace.
So there you have it, the real mystery behind shemittah…and it cost you absolutely nothing!
“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause in his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head…”
Colossians 2:16-19 (NASB95)