"Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, 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. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed. And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth" (Exo. 23:10-13).
Not only were the Israelites to rest every seventh day (as they had been previously instructed), they were also to let the land rest every seventh year. This would have been a test of dedication to God and trust in His provisions. Sadly, we learn hundreds of years later that they failed miserably, trusting in their own labor and power instead of Almighty God (cf. II Chr. 36:21)! Although it was designed for the good of the land, for the good of the poor, and for the good of wild animals, one can imagine the challenge it would be to obey the Sabbatical year law. No doubt God intended for the Sabbatical year to allow more time for devotion to Him and to remind Israel that it was He who provided for their needs.
"Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field" (Exo. 23:14-16).
At least three times a year each Israelite male was to appear before God. These feasts had significance both historically and agriculturally for the people. Furthermore, each feast was a reminder of God's rich blessings. He had favored them with freedom from Egyptian bondage and continued to provide their needed sustenance. There was certainly a need for them to praise and thank Him regularly. Some of these feasts are referred to elsewhere by other names. For example, the Passover is the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (cf. Exo. 12). Pentecost or Feast of Weeks are more commonly used terms than Feast of Harvest (cf. Deut. 16:16). The Feast of Ingathering is elsewhere called the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Deut. 16:13). More information is revealed about these special feasts elsewhere.
"Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; and do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries" (Exo. 23:20-22). I believe this Angel is actually a reference to God Himself (as we have explained in detail in the archived lessons from 01/17/07, 01/18/07, & 01/19/07). The Angel's role here is significant. He would lead them and protect them--if they were faithful.
God then goes on to explain how He will give them the Promised Land of Canaan one step at a time:
"I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little, I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land" (Exo. 23:27-30).
These verses should have encouraged the people greatly. Jehovah is a wise and gracious God who keeps His promises and wants Israel to be His covenant people.