By Sam E. Stone
Last week we learned that the Israelites were required to help the poor and the aliens in their midst. The Lord required fair and just treatment for everyone. This week’s lesson explains an additional unique practice God ordained for his children—jubilee. In our time, “jubilee” often suggests a big party or celebration. To the Hebrews, however, it was “a year of emancipation and restoration provided by Hebrew law to be kept by the emancipation of Hebrew slaves, restoration of alienated lands to their former owners, and omission of all cultivation in the land” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).
Concept of Jubilee
The number seven holds a significant place in Scripture. When he created the world, the Lord did his work in six days and rested on the seventh. From that time forth, the number seven was emphasized. It was not only significant when viewing days of the week, but also when noting years. Every seventh year was to mark an extended time of rest, making it a Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7). The people were told that they, their animals, and their land were all to have a period of rest in this Sabbath year. Then, in addition, after observing seven Sabbatical years, the next one—the 50th year—was called the Year of Jubilee.
The word jubilee comes from the Hebrew yobel, which refers to a ram’s horn. The ram’s horn was sounded on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (v. 9). C. F. Keil explains, “The blowing of trumpets, or the blast of the far-sounding horn, was the signal of the descent of the Lord upon Sinai, to raise Israel to be his people . . . to unite them to himself, and bless them through his covenant of grace” (Exodus 19:13, 16, 19; 20:18).
The 50th year provided help for those Israelites who may have fallen on hard times. Suppose a person had to sell his property to provide for his family. During this year, all property would revert to its original owner. In addition, the land was to lie uncultivated with the crops not harvested. The Lord promised to provide enough in the 48th year to sustain the people for three years. He had previously proven his ability to care for them in this way by giving manna in the wilderness and providing food for the entire nation when Joseph went to Egypt.
Redemption of Land
The law for the Year of Jubilee refers first to its observance (Leviticus 25:8-12) and then to its effects on the possession of property (vv. 13-34), as well as personal freedom for the Israelites (vv. 35-55). The nearest relative was expected to come and buy back what had been sold, and then return it to the original owner. This process is demonstrated by the actions of Boaz in the book of Ruth (see Ruth 2:20-23; 3:12, 13; 4:1-12).
Rescue of People
Leviticus 25:35-40, 47, 48, 55
While the Israelites were to show compassion and mercy to all people (as we learned last week), they had a special responsibility to their countrymen (Leviticus 25:35). To God it was important that his people would remain living together in the land he had provided for them. While the people could loan money at interest to others, when it came to family they were not to lend and make a profit. The Lord reminded them of the fact that the land is actually his (25:23), and the people are his, too. He had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, and did not want them to enslave each other! Compassion was a part of their heritage as the Lord’s people (Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18).
An Israelite was permitted to hire another Israelite, but the person was not to be considered a slave. Instead he should be viewed as a hired worker or temporary resident (Leviticus 25:39, 40). These people must not be mistreated (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). Many of them may have been foreigners who chose to identify themselves with God’s people, as Ruth did (Ruth 1:4, 16).
In every case, the Year of Jubilee was filled with joy and hope for the people. Later the prophets alluded to the occasion as marking the coming kingdom of God (see Isaiah 61:1-3). Jubilee is a celebration of justice!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.