Exploring the Law of the Jubilee
How would you like to have a job where you had every seventh year off?
That was the law for ancient Israel.
Let’s take a look at Leviticus 25:
The Lord then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying,
2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the Lord.
3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop,
4 but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
5 Your harvest’s aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year.
6 All of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you.
7 Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat.
18 “If you want to live securely in the land, follow my decrees and obey my regulations.
19 Then the land will yield large crops, and you will eat your fill and live securely in it.
20 But you might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’
21 Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years.
22 When you plant your fields in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the large crop of the sixth year. In fact, you will still be eating from that large crop when the new crop is harvested in the ninth year.
You may be wondering: What is this all about?
Biblical Scholar & Commentator Robert Jamieson says this:
“This was a very peculiar arrangement.
Not only all agricultural processes were to be intermitted every seventh year, but the cultivators had no right to the soil.
It lay entirely fallow, and its spontaneous produce was the common property of the poor and the stranger, the cattle and game.
This year of rest was to invigorate the productive powers of the land, as the weekly Sabbath was a refreshment to men and cattle.
It commenced immediately after the feast of ingathering, and it was calculated to teach the people, in a remarkable manner, the reality of the presence and providential power of God.”
This custom was not only good for the land, as the Sabbath was designed for the good of humanity, (as Jesus made clear in Mark 2:27), but it showed in a special way the acknowledgment of God as the Provider for His people. Whatever grew wild in that year was available for anyone to eat, including the landowner. It was not permissible to harvest and store the produce. It was there to be consumed on the spot.
This was in keeping with the law of provision for the poor and the stranger given to the Israelites through Moses in Leviticus 19 which says:
‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.
10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.
In addition to the weekly Sabbath (1 day of rest each week), a principle we violate at out peril due to the fact that bodies and minds and spirits need that rest or “down time”, and in addition to the “Sabbath Year” which we have just looked at, there was we could say a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” called the year of Jubilee. Again drawing from Leviticus 25 we read:
8 “In addition, you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all.
9 Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land.
10 Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan.
11 This fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you. During that year you must not plant your fields or store away any of the crops that grow on their own, and don’t gather the grapes from your unpruned vines.
12 It will be a jubilee year for you, and you must keep it holy. But you may eat whatever the land produces on its own.
13 In the Year of Jubilee each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors.
What this means is that land could not be sold permanently out of the family. Every 50th year it returned to the family who originally owned it. The people of Israel were aware of this, and the price paid for land was to reflect how long it would be owned by the purchaser. God, through Moses gave the following instructions:
14 “When you make an agreement with your neighbor to buy or sell property, you must not take advantage of each other.
15 When you buy land from your neighbor, the price you pay must be based on the number of years since the last jubilee. The seller must set the price by taking into account the number of years remaining until the next Year of Jubilee.
16 The more years until the next jubilee, the higher the price; the fewer years, the lower the price. After all, the person selling the land is actually selling you a certain number of harvests.
17 Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.
Notice verse 16:
The more years until the next jubilee, the higher the price; the fewer years, the lower the price. After all, the person selling the land is actually selling you a certain number of harvests.
This was done for a number of reasons. First it was one of the ways God had put in place to minimize the number of poor in the land of Israel as He made clear in Leviticus 15:
“At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money.
2 This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the Lord’s time of release has arrived.
3 This release from debt, however, applies only to your fellow Israelites—not to the foreigners living among you.
4 “There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.
5 You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today.
6 The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you.
7 “But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.
8 Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.
9 Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin.
10 Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.
11 There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.
12 “If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free.
13 “When you release a male servant, do not send him away empty-handed.
14 Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you.
God’s people are to always have a loving care for each other, irrespective of time or location. We too are called to be loving and generous, with people as a whole, but especially to brothers and sisters in Christ. As Paul put it in Galatians 6:10
10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
A second reason for the land reverting to the family who originally owned it was to impress upon and reinforce to the Israelites was the fact that ultimately the land all belonged to God. This was made clear to Israel before they ever entered the Promised Land. We see this in Exodus 19 where we read:
3 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine;
6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
The obvious question is: What if Israel did not take these commands of God seriously? What if they did not obey them? God is His wisdom answered that question for them before they could even ask it. After making it clear that there would be warnings and opportunities to turn back to Him God said this:
27 ‘Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, 28 then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins.
31 I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your soothing aromas.
32 I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it.
33 You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.
34 ‘Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.
35 All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it.
Next Weeks Topic: What does the Jubilee Principle mean to the Nation of Israel?