Lesson Text: Leviticus 25:8-12, 25, 35-40, 47, 48, 55
Background Scripture: Leviticus 25:8-55
Devotional Reading: Nehemiah 1:5-11
Leviticus 25:8-12, 25, 35-40, 47, 48, 55 (KJV)
8And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.
9Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
10And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
11A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
12For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.
25If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.
35And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee.
36Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.
37Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.
38I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.
39And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant:
40But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee.
47And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger’s family:
48After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him:
55For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
To understand the institution and meaning of the Year of Jubilee.
To show why God wanted His people to carefully follow His decrees and obey His laws.
To be faithful to God which encourages us to love others around us.
America’s Emancipation Proclamation is often remembered as the official declaration of Abraham Lincoln to end slavery in America. But things were much more complicated than that. The proclamation was issued not once, but twice (in 1862 and 1863), and only certain states actually were affected by these executive orders. Nonetheless, the Emancipation Proclamation served as a clarion call in its day for the liberation of persons who were deemed to be the property of others.
In Christian memory, human liberation goes back much further. In Exodus 8:1, the Lord issued His famous charge to Moses, “Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me.” Indeed, this prior act of deliverance loomed large in the imaginations of American slaves who sought to be released. Though the similarities between these events should not be overstated, what is important for our purposes is that God did not liberate His people from slavery so they would turn around and enslave one another. To counteract any tendency to do so, God designed an economic framework that corrected the economic practices that could drive people into economic slavery.
Last week we saw this in laws that required Israelites to care for their poor neighbors and leave food in the fields for them to harvest. Yet some people would still find themselves in hard times, needing to take refuge under the care of fellow Israelites. So God erected a giant guardrail within the social and economic vision He had for His people. That guardrail was the Year of Jubilee.
The Year of Jubilee is best understood in light of the broader Sabbath laws, which are rooted in God’s creation of the world (Genesis 1, 2). God created the world in six days, and He rested on the seventh. When God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He gave them a calendar that reflected that rest in concrete ways. The Israelites were to complete all their work in six days so that they could rest on the seventh as God did (Exodus 20:8-11; Leviticus 23:3). The original Sabbath (which means “ceasing”) was thus God’s gift to His people so they could enjoy His gift of life. It was a gift for all Israelites as well as for the animals.
As Leviticus 25:1-7 makes clear, the Sabbath principle was not limited to the seventh day. It also extended to a seventh-year rest. God instructed the Israelites to sow their fields for only six years. He vowed to so bless them on year six that they would have enough to carry them through the seventh year. Under this legislation, all who lived in the land, the land itself, and even the animals rested an entire year. For a full year, the people could enjoy the goodness of life in God’s creation. But God’s Sabbath laws did not end here. We see the Sabbath principle extended to an even greater degree in today’s passage (The Year of Jubilee).
The word "jubilee" is used five times in verses 8-17 and literally means "to sound the trumpet." (The Hebrew word is yobel, which means "a ram's horn.") For the people of Israel, every fiftieth year, at the close of the celebration of the Day of Atonement, the horns were blown again to announce that the Year of Jubilee had begun.
It would require a great deal of faith for the people to celebrate this special year, because the previous year—the forty-ninth—would have been a Sabbath year when the fields, vineyards, and orchards would not have been cultivated. The Jews had to trust God to provide for them for the forty-ninth and fiftieth years, and also during the fifty-first year while they waited for the harvest. God certainly wouldn't fail them.
Time: 1446 B.C.
The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-12)
1. Where did the concept of Jubilee come from (Leviticus 25:8)?
Looking back a few verses to Leviticus 25:1, we see that the Lord made known His will to “Moses on Mount Sinai.”
As noted in the Lesson Background, every seven years the Israelites are to rest for a full year. This is ecologically sensitive insofar as it allows the soil to replenish its natural resources. It is socially sensitive insofar as the poor will not be denied the rest and relaxation that wealth affords the few who possess it. It is spiritually sensitive insofar as God’s people are given more time to worship God, enjoy His gifts, and reflect on His will.
Yet God doesn’t stop here. As we see here in verse 8, He further requires counting off every seven cycles of Sabbath years and sets apart the fiftieth year to be especially significant. The fiftieth year is known as the Year of Jubilee, as we shall see below.
2. What 3 elements were involved in the Year of Jubilee (vs. 9-12)?
The three elements involved in the year of Jubilee were Repentance (v. 9), Release (vs. 10,13), and Rest (vs. 11,12).
Repentance(v. 9). It is significant that the Year of Jubilee started with the Day of Atonement, a day when the Jews were commanded to repent of their sins (16:29-34). They were not to enter the Year of Jubilee without the Lord first cleansing and forgiving them. If their hearts weren't right with God, they could never release their indentured servants or return the land to its original owners. Our relationship with God determines how we treat other people.
Release (vs. 10,13). As the Day of Atonement means a clean slate with regard to sin, the Year of Jubilee means a new start in an economic sense. God’s desire is that Israelite clans and tribes are to maintain possession of the property that God assigns them (Leviticus 25:23; compare Numbers 26:1-27; Joshua 13-21; Judges 21:24; 1 Kings 21:1-3). Even so, some Israelites will fall into hardship and have to sell land to pay off debt or provide for their families. As hardship befalls more families, it inevitably happens that those in a position to buy property end up with more and more land. Many people will find themselves under the thumb of the rich. The debt-slavery this causes will be “Egypt all over again.”
God has a corrective plan. The Year of Jubilee is God’s deliberate strategy for breaking the destructive economic cycle. The trumpet blast signals that whoever has had to surrender land can return unto his possession. Those who have acquired additional land have to let it return to the original owner. But is it really fair to force the new “owner” of the land to give it back without compensation? The details of how this works fairly are given in Leviticus 25:14,15 (not in today’s text).
The people were also commanded to release their servants so that they might return to their own families. A Hebrew servant was to serve for only six years and then be set free (Ex. 21:2). How could the Jews celebrate this special year if some of their people were in bondage and separated from their loved ones and their land?
Rest (vs. 11,12). During the Year of Jubilee, the people were forbidden to carry on their normal agricultural pursuits but had to live on whatever the land produced. This gave both them and the land an extra year of rest, since the previous year would have been a Sabbath Year. They had to rely on the Lord to keep His promises and supply sufficient food for almost three years, since they wouldn't be able to work the land until the fifty-first year; and even then, they'd have to wait for the harvest.
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Property Redemption: The kinsman-redeemer (Leviticus 25:25)
3. What if a poor Jew had to sell his property in order to stay alive during the time between the jubilees (v. 25)?
If a poor Jew had to sell his property in order to stay alive, he didn't have to wait until the Year of Jubilee to regain his property. At any time, a kinsman who was willing and able to pay the price could redeem his land.
If the former owner of the land was too poor to redeem his land, then a near kinsman could do it for him. But if the former owner somehow acquired the necessary wealth, he could redeem it for himself. The price would depend, of course, on the number of years (harvests) until the Year of Jubilee. If the man had neither a willing kinsman nor the necessary wealth, he would have to wait until the Year of Jubilee to regain his property.
Rescue of People (Leviticus 25:35-40, 47,48, 55)
4. How did God want His people to treat impoverished fellow citizens (vs. 35-37)?
When poverty-stricken Israelites are forced to sell their land, they will need a new place to stay. So God calls the other Israelites to open their hearts to those who are waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee (v. 35). Those with land must create space in the property of their inheritance.
The phrase though he be means “as if he were.” To be treated as a stranger, or a sojourner means the poverty-stricken Israelite will have to rent land. For some, this will mean relocating to the land of someone who is hospitable. For others, it will mean continuing to work on their former property while watching much of the land’s produce go to the purchaser. What is most important is that the poverty-stricken family remains on Israelite turf, which is the idea of that he may live with thee.
Some Israelites may be tempted to take advantage of their disenfranchised relatives. So God requires that those who provide relief must not jack up the prices or exact interest (usury, v. 36). The purpose of loans of money or food (victuals) is to help neighbors get through tough times, not to profit from someone else’s misery.
What Do You Think?
What was the most helpful assistance you ever received? What made that assistance more helpful than other instances?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-Assistance from a Christian source that met an immediate need or provided a long-term solution.
-Assistance from a secular source that met an immediate need or provided a long-term solution.
5. As we well know, there will always be some who think they earned everything on their own. What did God say to these people of Israel (v. 38)?
God now provides some perspective. Any Israelite who starts to get miserly and cold-hearted toward someone in need should pause and think of what God himself has done. It is He who has brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan. The Israelites must not forget that their hard work does not make the land theirs. It remains God’s property (Leviticus 25:23).
God does not free the Israelites and grant them land so that they can build miniature kingdoms for themselves. Rather, He does it in order to create a people whose life together will reflect His justice and compassion. This is their heritage as God’s “peculiar people” (Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:18).
If God has been gracious to us, we ought not be rigorous with our brethren.
Providing Employment (Leviticus 25:39,40)
6. What employment plan did God set up for the poor to prevent the Israelites from falling into the pattern of the nations around them (vs. 39,40)?
Leviticus 25:39 discusses a situation in which destitute Israelites sold themselves to one of their fellow citizens in order to payoff outstanding debts. God prohibited His chosen people from forcing impoverished Israelites to work as slaves and be treated as mere property as the nations around them did. Instead, the indigent were to live within the faith community as hired workers or resident foreigners. That said, once the Jubilee year arrived, any remaining balance owed by the poverty-stricken was to be forgiven (v. 40). At that time, those who were destitute, along with their children, would be able to return to their clans and ancestral property (v. 41).
Providing Personal Redemption (Leviticus 25:47, 48, 55)
7. What laws concerning servitude were designed to preserve the honor of the Jewish nation as a free people (vs. 47, 48, 55)?
Leviticus 25:47 raises the issue of Israelites becoming indebted to prosperous resident foreigners. This is a situation in which the destitute become indentured servants to the immigrant or to a member of the immigrant’s family. The Mosaic law declared that those who were impoverished still kept their right of redemption. So, even if they could not redeem themselves, a close relative could buy them back (v. 48). Of course, if Israelites who were indentured servants obtained the means to payoff the remainder of their debt to a resident foreigner, they were allowed to do so (v. 49).
The Israelites were not to be enslaved by resident foreigners because the Israelites already have a master (v. 55). The Lord who delivered them from Egypt possesses sole rights to them.
Jubilee Ideal and Practice
Jubilee was to be the year in which (1) liberty was proclaimed for all Israelites who were enslaved for debt; (2) the remission of debt occurred; (3) land was restored to families who had sold it in the previous 49 years; and (4) the land had to lie fallow. This is described in today’s text and referred to in Leviticus 27:16-25 and Numbers 36:4.
We may wonder if Israel ever practiced jubilee as a nation. We don’t really have any firm evidence that they did (Isaiah 37:30 is a possible reference to jubilee ideas). We know that the generation that followed Moses rebelled against God (Judges 2:10-13). The lack of reference to jubilee in the historical narratives of the Old Testament does not mean that jubilee was not practiced. That would be an argument from silence. We simply do not know.
After Solomon’s reign, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were ruled by many kings who would not have welcomed the practice of jubilee. Other ancient Near Eastern kingdoms did practice the remission of debts at the accession of a new king, but nothing exactly like jubilee. Despite its possible disuse, the prophets appealed to the jubilee ideal metaphorically as part of the coming kingdom of God (example: Isaiah 61:1-3).
New Testament Jubilee
Jesus launched His public ministry with His own emancipation proclamation: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19; quoting Isaiah 61:1, 2). This year of the Lord’s favor is nothing less than jubilee. Christ frees those held captive to sin. He calls His followers to announce this freedom.
God’s freedom call in Christ must never be ignored. It is central to the identity of Christians. As the church proclaims the eternal jubilee available in Christ, she needs to discern whether she is practicing an earthly jubilee ideal as Jesus would have us do. Yet as we engage in prayer and soul-searching in this regard, we will be careful not to “read into” the New Testament an Old Testament law that was operative only for ancient Israel.
The jubilee principle as stated by Paul to the Corinthians is this: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little’” (2 Corinthians 8:14, 15; quoting Exodus 16:18). Practicing this ideal will be easier when we come to grips with the fact that we are “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11).
Lord God, we thank You for redeeming us through Christ. We sometimes forget what is good for us as we enslave ourselves to “things” and to our own selfish desires. Please give us the boldness to name slavery when we see it, to assist one another when we need it, and to proclaim Your freedom at all times to all people. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Live freely and free those in bondage.