Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Exod. 23:10, 11
10. And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof:
10. Sex annis seres terram tuam et congregabis fructus ejus:
11. 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. Anno autem septimo omittes eam, et quiescere sines, ut comedant pauperes populi tui, et residuum comedant bestiae agri. Ita facies vineae et oliveto tuo.
10. And six years shalt thou sow. Another Sabbatical institution (Sabbathismus) follows, viz., that of years, in reference to the cultivation of the land; for as men and cattle rested on every seventh day, so God prescribed that the earth should rest on the seventh year. According to the fertility or barrenness of the soil, fields are fallowed every third or fourth year, lest they should become altogether unproductive through exhaustion. Indeed a soil can hardly be found of such fecundity as to be fitted for continual productiveness. Some relaxation is therefore given, until the land recovers its vigor; but this only pertains to wheat, barley, pease, beans, and other pulse, and seeds. As to meadows and vineyards the state of things is different, since, when meadows are mown every year, the fertility of the soil is not weakened; whilst vines degenerate unless they are cultivated. It was a sign of extraordinary and exceeding fertility that the land of Canaan could bear six years’ sowing following, without being worn out. God honored it with this privilege in favor of His people; nor did He indeed ordain the rest from necessity, since on the sixth year He doubled the power of His blessing; but in order that the sanctity of the Sabbath might be everywhere conspicuous, and that thus the children of Israel, as they looked upon the land, might be the more encouraged to its observance. The nature of the rest was that they should not sow anything, nor prune their vineyards in the sacred year; and if anything should spring up from the scattered seeds of last harvest, it was the common property of the inhabitants of the land and strangers, although He peculiarly bestowed whatever grew of itself, whether corn or grapes, upon the poor, as a kind of gratuitous present for the relief of their wants. And this kindness and liberality was a kind of incidental adjunct to the performance of the religious duty. It was not indeed mainly or chiefly God’s purpose to give relief to the poor, but, as we said before, there was nothing strange in it that the offices of charity should be consequent upon God’s service.
If ungodly men should foolishly object that there is no connection between the senseless soil and a spiritual mystery, we have already answered, that although the Sabbath was deposited with believers only as a pledge of an inestimable blessing, still tokens of it appeared both in the flocks and herds, as well as in dead creatures, in order to renew the recollection of it, lest the people should grow cold, and their devotion should become languid. But if they mockingly persist that the Jews were finely dealt with, 341 when in their highest privilege they had asses and oxen, as well as the fields themselves, for companions; I answer, why do they not apply the same scoff to a commoner matter? For since the doctrine of salvation is committed to paper or parchment before it comes to us, why do they not laugh with all their might at the obedience of our faith? since in our silly credulity we embrace the promises transmitted to us by a stinking skin or some other filthy material? God would have the observation of the Sabbath engraved on all creatures, that wherever the Jews turned their eyes they might be kept up to it. Why, then, should not the earth be a conspicuous and impressive sign (character) for the rude inculcation of this doctrine? When it is said, “What they leave the beasts of the field shall eat,” the injunction does not extend to wild and noxious animals which they might drive away from their property; but God merely commands that whatever the earth produced should be exposed promiscuously for the food both of man and beast. And this affords an indirect answer to a question that might occur for God shews that the grass would not be lost, although there should be no hay-making; for the grass would be instead of hay for the beasts, so that they might feed abundantly in the fields and meadows.
Another question, however, arises from the passage in Leviticus, where God permits the owners of the land and their families to gather for food whatever shall then grow of itself. But there was nothing to prevent them, like the strangers, and anybody else, from eating of the fruits which were common to all, provided they did not defraud the poor by their covetousness. 342 The same thing is soon afterwards added in the description of the Jubilee; for although that year, which completed seven times seven years, was more holy than the rest, still God allows all to eat in it the fruits grown of themselves. He speaks more restrictedly in Exodus, in order to inculcate greater liberality upon them; but in Leviticus He shews that there is no danger of any of the produce of the land being lost, because permission is given both for themselves and their servants and cattle, besides the hireling and the stranger, to partake of it. Where He says, “that which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest,” I understand it of the land which they usually reaped; as also a little further on He calls their peculiar right of ownership in their vines “their separation.” 343 Although, therefore, the possessor might boast that the property was his own, and consequently that the harvest should be left entirely to himself, God reminds them that its fruits were nevertheless common to all during the Sabbatical year. The word “harvest,” therefore, is applied to the land which was sown, and “separation” to the private vineyard, or its fruit. The old interpreter has translated them “the grapes of first-fruits.” If it is preferred to adopt this sense, Moses would expressly declare that no oblation of them conferred on the owners of the property a right to claim as their own what grew in their vineyard (during the year;) 344 else it would have been a good excuse to offer to God the first-fruits of the vintage, and under this pretext for the Jews to contend that they had consecrated the whole produce in the first-fruits. But God anticipates this gloss, by shewing that what was said respecting the ordinary cultivation was improperly turned aside to the extraordinary year of rest. But since the word נאזיר, nazir, means “separation,” I do not see why we should change what accords very well. Still commentators differ as to the meaning of this word; some understand it “relinquishing,” because every owner resigned his private property, so that the vintage might be common. Others explain it as expressing that they had abstained from its cultivation for that year. My own opinion, however, as I have said, is simply that the peculiar right of the possessor is called his “separation;” so that it was not lawful for others to touch the vintage except in the Sabbatical year. Thus separation is opposed to common fields free to the public.
“La condition des Juifs n’a gueres este honorable;” the condition of the Jews was hardly honorable. — Fr.
Addition in Fr., “et que chacun en preint ce qu’il pourroit, comme d’un bien commun;’ and that each should take what they could of them, as of a common property.
See Margin, A. V., Le 25:5, ענבי נזירך, “grapes of thy separation.” S.M., “uvas a te derelictas.” S. M. says in his note, “We follow the Chaldee interpreter, who renders these words The grapes of thy relinquishing; but others render them the grapes of thy separation, (that is, which hitherto thou hast separated or set apart for thyself,) thou shalt not suffer to be common property.” — W. The translation of V. is, “uvas primitiarum tuarum."
Addition from Fr.