19 December 2014
Whatever happened to my year of Jubilee?
by Kathy Freeman
The word 'jubilee' comes from the Hebrew word 'Yobel' –meaning ram's horn, as it was precisely this that was blown to signal the beginning of the Jubilee year. The Jubilee occurred once every 50 years, after seven Sabbath years had taken place.
"Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants." Leviticus 25v10 NIV
These Sabbath years followed the same rhythm as the Sabbath day;six years of labour followed by one year of rest. As well as rest for the land, animals and people, all debts were to be cancelled and slaves released. However, this 50th year of Jubilee was special. Almost like a bumper Sabbath, it included all of the benefits of a normal Sabbath year, but with the added bonus that all properties were restored back to their original owners.
It was this restoration of property that made it a significant year, because anyone who'd become poor and forced to sell his land would receive it back at jubilee. It served as a reminder that the land ultimately belonged to God and was merely entrusted to those He'd appointed. Through the jubilee, God's desire for His children not to remain trapped in poverty or bondage would be realised.
Cancelling debts, restoring property, setting slaves free –sound like a good idea? Well it would have been very appealing to the generation of Israelites who'd just escaped years of oppression and slavery in Egypt, to know they would never have to be enslaved permanently again. It would also have been welcome news for the poor to know that any inheritance they'd sold would eventually be returned to their descendants. I imagine it would also probably be very appealing to a lot of people today.
So whatever happened to this incredible provision from God? Sadly, there is little evidence to suggest that the jubilee was regularly observed, if at all. Despite strict warnings of punishment for disobedience–Leviticus 26 –the Israelites seem to pay little regard to God's laws. Why? Well we could come up with lots of possible reasons. For a start, as with any radical idea to reduce the gap between rich and poor, there has to be a cost. It would have meant a loss on the part of the rich, which unsurprisingly would have been met with opposition.
It also required a lot of faith to trust God to provide. For example, when God told the Israelites not to plant, reap or harvest for a whole year, they had to trust there would be enough food from the previous year to see them through the next. I'm sure it would also have been hard for an Israelite to fulfil his duty to lend money to a poor person in the year leading up to the Sabbath, knowing it was unlikely to be repaid.
Just like the Israelites rarely fulfilled their promise, just as we may fall short today, we see time and time again that our faithful God never breaks His promises. Even if the Israelites never observed the jubilee year, God made sure that those years set aside weren't forgotten. Many argue that we can see themes of the jubilee happening throughout the Bible, for instance when Jesus proclaimed 'the year of the Lord's favour' from Isaiah 61:
Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Luke 4: 18 - 19.
This passage highlights messages that are appropriate to the jubilee. And perhaps the greatest expression of the principle of the jubilee was Jesus' death and resurrection, through which our debt of sin is cancelled, we are set free and we are restored.
If God was so merciful that he kept His side of covenant despite their disobedience, should we uphold our side of the jubilee for the sake of those who find themselves enslaved and trapped in poverty today?
Now I am not suggesting we suddenly cancel all debts, release all the prisoners and restore all land because practically that would be impossible. Although we don't live under foreign occupation, our debts are to corporations outside the UK and we don't live in a theocratic society as they did. However, as Christ's followers, we are called to do what we can to help the poor and to proclaim liberty through the gospel. When put into practice, the jubilee speaks a powerful message of forgiveness, freedom and restoration. It points people to Christ and reminds us of the grace we have received from God.
This might mean sharpening up your evangelism skills;it might be supporting an anti-trafficking organisation like Hope for Justice, or it might be freeing people from the burden of personal debt and poverty. It is no coincidence that the headquarters of Christians Against Poverty are based in Jubilee Mill and Jubilee Centre, the place where people's heavy financial chains are broken.
So whatever happened to my year of jubilee? Well Jesus can be your jubilee. If you are willing to put your trust in him, he will forgive your debts and give you back your inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.
Are we remembering
The jubilee is an amazing gift from God. Here are a few questions to think about how you can lead your congregation to celebrate their jubilee:
1.Are you too busy to rest? Sometimes we feel that if we stop, everything in our life will fall apart. However, God did not design us to be machines and we need times of rest. The Lord encourages rest –Mark 6:31.
2.Are there any debts you haven't cancelled? Jesus didn't just mean money when he spoke of debt - as we know from the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. God calls us to forgive one another, just as He has forgiven us.
3.Do you have any debts still outstanding? God's greatest expression of jubilee was proclaimed through Jesus on the cross. No sin is too great for our glorious God to forgive, if you just ask Him to.
4.Are you proclaiming liberty to the captives? Did you know that over 20 million people around the world are trapped in modern-day slavery? Join the movement of Christians who are already fighting against this massive injustice. And captivity isn't just physical. Too many people live as slaves to sin because they don't know God's true freedom. We have a responsibility to share God's truth so they can be freed and receive back their inheritance.
5.Are you encouraging restoration of God's property? Just like the land
was entrusted to the Israelites, we need to know that all of our money and
possessions belong to God. We are called to be stewards of what He has
temporarily lent us, and to give generously to the poor.