Exodus 23:11
But the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie still; that the poor of your people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard, and with your olive grove.
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(11) That the poor of thy people may eat.—For fuller particulars see Leviticus 25:1-7. The owner was to have no larger part of the seventh year’s produce than any one else. He was to take his share with the hireling, the stranger, and even the cattle, which during this year were to browse where they pleased.

Thy vineyard . . . Thy oliveyard.—These would bear a full average produce, and the boon to the poor man would in these respects have been very considerable. Corn, wine, and oil were the staple commodities of Palestine (Deuteronomy 8:8; 2Kings 18:32, &c.).

23:10-19 Every seventh year the land was to rest. They must not plough or sow it; what the earth produced of itself, should be eaten, and not laid up. This law seems to have been intended to teach dependence on Providence, and God's faithfulness in sending the larger increase while they kept his appointments. It was also typical of the heavenly rest, when all earthly labours, cares, and interests shall cease for ever. All respect to the gods of the heathen is strictly forbidden. Since idolatry was a sin to which the Israelites leaned, they must blot out the remembrance of the gods of the heathen. Solemn religious attendance on God, in the place which he should choose, is strictly required. They must come together before the Lord. What a good Master do we serve, who has made it our duty to rejoice before him! Let us devote with pleasure to the service of God that portion of our time which he requires, and count his sabbaths and ordinances to be a feast unto our souls. They were not to come empty-handed; so now, we must not come to worship God empty-hearted; our souls must be filled with holy desires toward him, and dedications of ourselves to him; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.This is the first mention of the Sabbatical year; the law for it is given at length in Leviticus 25:2. Both the Sabbatical year and the weekly Sabbath are here spoken of exclusively in their relation to the poor, as bearing testimony to the equality of the people in their covenant with Yahweh. In the first of these institutions, the proprietor of the soil gave up his rights for the year to the whole community of living creatures, not excepting the beasts: in the latter, the master gave up his claim for the day to the services of his servants and cattle.10. six years thou shalt sow thy land—intermitting the cultivation of the land every seventh year. But it appears that even then there was a spontaneous produce which the poor were permitted freely to gather for their use, and the beasts driven out fed on the remainder, the owners of fields not being allowed to reap or collect the fruits of the vineyard or oliveyard during the course of this sabbatical year. This was a regulation subservient to many excellent purposes; for, besides inculcating the general lesson of dependence on Providence, and of confidence in His faithfulness to His promise respecting the triple increase on the sixth year (Le 25:20, 21), it gave the Israelites a practical proof that they held their properties of the Lord as His tenants, and must conform to His rules on pain of forfeiting the lease of them. Thou shalt let it rest, and lie still, i.e. from manuring, ploughing, tilling, and sowing, and reaping also, by comparing Leviticus 25:3-5. And this God ordained not only for the reason here mentioned, the more comfortable provision of the poor, and for the cattle, but for other weighty reasons; as,

1. That the heart and strength of the land might not be eaten out by continual tillage.

2. That he might both try and exercise, and also secure the obedience of the Israelites.

3. That he might keep them in dependence upon himself, and give to them and all their neighbours a manifest proof of his singular and gracious providence over his people.

4. That by this kind of quit-rent they might be admonished that God alone was the Lord and Proprietary of the land, and they were only tenants at his will.

5. That being freed from their great labours about the land, they might have the more leisure to meditate upon God’s works, and to attend upon the law, which was to be solemnly read at this time, Deu 31:10, &c.

That the poor of thy people may eat.

Quest. What had the poor to eat?

Answ. Not only the fruits of the vines, and olives, and other fruit trees, but also all that grew of its own accord, Leviticus 25:5, from those seeds which in the last reaping-time were scattered here and there, which were much more numerous now than in other years, because God gave a special blessing to the sixth year, whereby it did bring forth the fruit of three years, Leviticus 25:21, and in years of so great plenty men are generally more negligent in their reaping, and therefore the relics are more.

In like manner thou shalt deal, i.e. thou shalt not prune nor dress them, nor gather and appropriate to thy own use what they shall produce, but shalt leave them to the poor. But the seventh year thou shall let it rest, and lie still,.... From tillage, and make its fruits common, as the Targum of Jonathan; the note of Jarchi is, "let it rest", from perfect tillage, as ploughing and sowing; "and lie still", from dunging and harrowing, or weeding: this law was intended to show that God was the original proprietor and owner of this land, and that the Israelites held it under him; and to teach them to depend upon and trust in his providence; as well as that there might be both rest for the land, and so it became more fruitful afterwards, having by this rest renewed its vigour, and also for servants and cattle; and that the poor might have an equal share in the fruits of the earth, and appear to be joint lords of it with others under God, as it follows:

that the poor of thy people may eat: that which grows up of itself, of which there were great quantities; for the sixth year bringing forth for three years, a great deal of seed fell, which grew up again; and especially, as through plenty they were not so careful to gather it all up; and besides this, there were the fruits of trees, of vines, olives, &c. which brought forth their fruit in course as usual, and which were all this year common to poor and rich; so that the former had an equal propriety and share with the latter:

and what they leave, the beasts of the field shall eat; signifying that there should be such plenty that there would be enough for all, and to spare; that there would be much left, and which should be the portion of the beasts of the field, and who would also be sufficiently provided for by the produce the earth brought forth of itself, as herbage, &c. and the fruits the poor left:

in like manner thou shall deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard; that is, these were not to be pruned, nor the grapes and olives gathered, but were to be in common with all: a larger account is given of this law in Leviticus 25:2.

But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.
11. thou shalt let it drop and abandon it] viz. the land, less probably the increase: RV. (substantially = AV.) is a paraphrase. The word rendered let drop means properly to fling or throw down (2 Kings 9:33, of Jezebel). In Deuteronomy 15:2-3 it is differently applied; and is used of letting a debt drop every seventh year, in the ‘year of dropping’ or of ‘release’ (Deuteronomy 15:1-2; Deuteronomy 15:9); and the rend. release in RVm. here brings out this connexion—though, it is true, it is not more than a verbal one—with the law of Deuteronomy 15:1-6.

abandon] or leave, let go; rendered ‘forgo’ in Nehemiah 10:31.

that the poor, &c.] contrast Leviticus 25:6-7.

In Lev Exo 25:1-7; Leviticus 25:20-22 (H), the fallow year, whatever may be the case in Ex., becomes, as has just been remarked, a fixed year for the whole country; and the motive is no longer exclusively a philanthropic one, but a religious one, viz. that the land may ‘keep a sabbath to Jehovah’ (whence the term ‘sabbatical year’): in Deuteronomy 15:1-6 it receives an entirely different application, and becomes a fixed septennial ‘year of release,’ applied for the relief of the poor debtor, by the exaction of debts being prohibited in it. Whether however even the present passage gives the original motive of the institution may be doubted. Analogous usages in other countries (see Maine, Village Communities in the East and West, pp. 77–79, 107–113, &c.; Fenton, Early Hebrew Life, 1880, pp. 24–26, 29–32, 64–70) suggest that it may be a relic of communistic agriculture, i.e. of a stage of society in which the fields belonging to a village are the property of the villagers collectively, individuals only acquiring the use of particular portions for a limited period, and the produce, at stated intervals, reverting to the use of the community generally. The fallow year of Ex. and Lev. is similarly an institution limiting the rights of individual ownership in the interests of the community generally: in Ex. the institution is applied so as to minister to the needs of the poorer classes; in Leviticus 25:1-7 the prominent idea is the benefit which the land would derive from remaining periodically uncultivated.Not only was their conduct not to be determined by public opinion, the direction taken by the multitude, or by weak compassion for a poor man; but personal antipathy, enmity, and hatred were not to lead them to injustice or churlish behaviour. On the contrary, if the Israelite saw his enemy's beast straying, he was to bring it back again; and if he saw it lying down under the weight of its burden, he was to help it up again (cf. Deuteronomy 22:1-4). The words וגו מעזב וחדלתּ, "cease (desist) to leave it to him (thine enemy); thou shalt loosen it (let it loose) with him," which have been so variously explained, cannot have any other signification than this: "beware of leaving an ass which has sunk down beneath its burden in a helpless condition, even to thine enemy, to try whether he can help it up alone; rather help him to set it loose from its burden, that it may get up again." This is evident from Deuteronomy 22:4, where התעלּמתּ לא, "withdraw not thyself," is substituted for מעזב חדלתּ, and עמּו תּקים הקם, "set up with him," for עמּו תּעזב עזב. From this it is obvious that עזב is used in the first instance in the sense of leaving it alone, leaving it in a helpless condition, and immediately afterwards in the sense of undoing or letting loose. The peculiar turn given to the expression, "thou shalt cease from leaving," is chosen because the ordinary course, which the natural man adopts, is to leave an enemy to take care of his own affairs, without troubling about either him or his difficulties. Such conduct as this the Israelite was to give up, if he ever found his enemy in need of help.
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