Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them
What follows, being what the whole body of the people would be under obligation to observe, and therefore must be delivered to them all, at least to the heads and elders of the people, and by them to the rest:
when ye come into the land which I give you;
the land of Canaan, and until they came thither, the following law concerning the sabbatical year could not take place; and as Maimonides F9 says, it was only used in the land of Israel, and no where else, according to this text, and that both before and after the temple was built:
then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord;
a rest from tillage, as it is afterwards explained; and this being according to the will of God, when observed would be to his honour and glory, and show that he was the proprietor of the land; and that the Israelites held it under him by this tenure, that every seventh year they should let it rest, which would be for the benefit of the land, and preserve it from being impoverished by continual usage and hereby they might learn to depend on the providence of God, and to observe that all increase is from him; and to consider the straits and difficulties the poor live in continually, as they in this seventh year; and by this means they would be at leisure to have an opportunity of reading the law, as they did at this time, ( Deuteronomy 31:10-13 ) ; and of meditating upon it, and of giving themselves up to religious exercises, as well as by it they might be led to the typical use of to look for and expect that sabbatism or rest, which remains for the people of God. And now this law did not take place as soon as they came into the land, for it was to be sown six years, and then was the year of rest; and indeed not till after Joshua had subdued the whole land, which was seven years a doing; nor till they were quite settled, and it was divided among them, and every man had his field and vineyard apart, which this law supposes; wherefore the Jewish writers F11 say, they were not bound to tithes until the fourteenth year, and from thence they began to reckon the sabbatical year; and the twenty first year they made a sabbatical year, and the sixty fourth a jubilee, which they make to be the first that were kept: and they reckoned this year to commence, not on the first of Nisan or March, which was the beginning of the year for ecclesiastical things, but on the first of Tisri or September, when the harvest and all the fruits of the earth were gathered in; and when on other years they used to proceed to sowing the next month, but were forbid on this; and so it is said in the Misnah F12, the first of Tisri is the beginning of the year for the sabbatical and jubilee years.
F9 Hilchot Shemitah Vejobel, c. 4. sect. 25.
F11 Torat Cohenim apud Yalkut, par. 1. fol. 191. 1. Maimon. ut supra, (Hilchot Tamidin) c. 10. sect. 2.
F12 Roshhashanah, c. 1. sect. 1.