(Please read Leviticus 25:8-22. I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)
Message – God commanded a Year of Jubilee as a special Sabbath. We can do this in our own way.
- What the Year of Jubilee meant to Israel.
It meant freedom for indentured servants with the forgiveness of debts (39-43). God did not free His people from slavery to the Egyptians (see the book of Exodus) only to make them slaves to one another.
In this culture, the “safety net” for poverty was for the head of the household to sell himself and/or family members into slavery. We might call it “indentured servitude” to differentiate is from the other kind of slavery. Indentured servants were countrymen and were generally assigned household chores. Slave were Gentiles, became slaves by being conquered in war, and were not freed by the Year of Jubilee. This allowed the man to work off his debt and when that was accomplished, everyone regained their freedom.
While this system his may sound cruel to our ears, I think it has some points to commend itself versus our system of welfare. The indentured servants were provided a home, food, and work to do to restore their homes. They were to be treated respectfully – as fellow countrymen – by their masters. Our system creates a cruel dependency and a massive bureaucracy, both of which have been proven to be toxic to our social and political life.
While each approach to poverty has its strengths and weaknesses, the point is that the exception to this rule was the Year of Jubilee. In this case, the debt that created indentured servitude was simply forgiven.
It also meant a second consecutive year of rest for the land (11-12; see Exodus 23:10-11). It can be a little confusing because the term “Sabbath” is used in a variety of ways.
– The seventh day of the week was designated as the weekly Sabbath.
– The seventh year was designated as a Sabbath Year.
– I suppose you could say the Year of Jubilee was to be a “Sabbath of Sabbaths;” observed every 50 years, occurring after seven Sabbath Years were held (8).
In every case, however, a Sabbath is a rest from work, replacing work with worship and prayer. The term literally means “solemn rest.” As God rested from His work of creation, so are His people to rest from their works. But this was also a rest for the land. The people were not to raise crops, but to trust God that He would provide for their needs through what grew on its own. Imagine an entire year devoted to God! What would 365 Sundays feel like?
I’m no farmer and have a black thumb, but I understand that land which is tilled and planted loses its vitality. That’s why crops are rotated and occasionally land is left idle; to renew it.
The Year of Jubilee also required restoration of lands to their ancestral owners (10, 13).
This means that the land – the PROMISED Land – could not be sold permanently. V. 23 = THE LAND MUST NOT BE SOLD PERMANENTLY, BECAUSE THE LAND IS MINE AND YOU ARE BUT ALIENS AND TENANTS. This is the true theology of stewardship; everything belongs to God and He has appointed us as caretakers over it. Our possessiveness, materialism, and pride are false and sinful because we don’t truly own a single thing. How wonderful that every seventh year the people of God would get a powerful reminder not to put their hopes in money or earthly goods of any kind, but to trust in God instead.
The Year of Jubilee had practical as well as spiritual benefits.
– It emphasized the ties of family and brought them back to their origins: EACH ONE OF YOU IS TO RETURN TO HIS FAMILY PROPERTY AND EACH TO HIS OWN CLAN (10).
– It controlled inflation by resetting real estate prices every 50 years. (Today we use dollars in the way we used pennies 50 years ago and our purchasing power is diminishing. Imagine how much better off we’d be with a 50 year reset!)
– It kept people from getting too far in debt. We know debt is hard on relationships. (These days people are taking EIGHT YEARS to pay on a car, say nothing of 30 and 40 year mortgages!)
– Most importantly, it reinforced the essential truth that THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S (see Psalm 24:1). This stops us from being selfish & materialistic.
By now you may be thinking of the ways in which the Year of Jubilee might be abused. Notice that this passage required scaling prices according to the number of years until the next Jubilee (14-16). This was a practical way to avoid abuse of the system.
Verse 17 provided a theological way to avoid abuse by forbidding abuse in principle: DO NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF EACH OTHER, BUT FEAR YOUR GOD. I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD. This is exactly what GRACE is all about. It risks abuse and misuse in order to make exceptions and aid others.
– The Year of Jubilee was to be 365 days of GRACE! WOW!!
– It was to be a whole year of trusting God to provide for you, not you busting your chops to grab all you can for yourself; a year of FAITH.
This sounds like crazy talk to worldly ears; utter foolishness. Faith and grace have that effect on worldly-minded folk. Grace is impractical and risky. It has its own kind of logic that frequently opposes what the world says is reasonable. The Year of Jubilee was also a practice run for the Kingdom of God, the ideal situation that will exist after the Day of the Lord.
The sad fact is that there is no biblical record of a Sabbath Year being observed, let alone a Year of Jubilee. Apart from it being commanded in Leviticus and Numbers, it is never mentioned again in the Bible. What a shame! This wonderful command of God, so full of grace, was never adopted by the people of God. What an opportunity wasted!
- What this Year of Jubilee will mean for us.
Freeing the captives and forgiving debts can be accomplished in our lives by our forgiveness of grudges and reconciliation of persons. Forget about monetary debts; let us solve the relational problems in our lives by forgiveness. We don’t need “drama and trauma” in our relationships. God has called us to something far better: love.
One gauge of your spiritual life is the number of relationships that bring you joy compared to the number that are associated with negative emotions. The more joy, the more spiritually mature you are.
An equivalent to resting the land can be taking rest from the tyranny of the ordinary and familiar. Traditions and rituals exist to provide context, not constraint. Spiritually mature people balance context with creativity and flexibility to follow the Spirit’s leadership. Changing everything and changing nothing are ridiculous extremes and are scarcely worth mentioning. Again, balance is key. As human beings, we find joy in variety and familiarity. This should balance should be sought as we make decisions together and live with one another.
In this, we can take as our example Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath. God created the institution for people, not people for the institution.
Being restored to our ancestral lands can take place by the restoration of our church’s place in our neighborhood and our attitude toward the people who live next to the place we call home. I realize that the so-called experts say that neighborhood churches are a thing of the past, that everyone drives to church these days. So what? Be a neighborhood church! Should any one of our neighbors die without receiving Jesus as Savior, let it not be because we failed to reach out and share the Gospel.
HOW WE GOT HERE – Pastor Dwayne and I were having a staff meeting, conversing about how difficult 2015 has been. We decided to claim 2016 as a year of grace, of fruitfulness, and the fullness of God’s blessing. “Let’s call it a Year of Jubilee,” we decided. Something about that struck a chord, and we googled it. We were surprised to find out that Pope Francis had already had this idea and announced it as such!
But we were even more surprised when we found that it we are already in an official Year of Jubilee according to the Hebrew calendar. That is the traditional lunar calendar that is currently in year 5776! According to that calendar, the Year of Jubilee began on September 23 of this year and will continue until the Day of Atonement next year.
SO, even though we’re a little late to the party, we’re going to adapt this biblical command to our church in the coming year! I mentioned this later that day at the Nehemiah Prayer Group and we ran with it there too. Since there are nine months left in the Year of Jubilee, we’ll emphasize one of the nine Fruits of the Spirit each month. We pray that this emphasis improves church life and extends our outreach to our community.