The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25): An Overview

Although it is often overlooked, there is certainly a theology of rest incorporated throughout the Scriptures. An example of rest in God’s Word is not necessarily remaining idle, but having a sense of satisfactory accomplishment. Genesis 2:3 states “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” One of the Ten Commandments that God commands to Moses is “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). In Leviticus 25:3-4, God said “For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.” In the same chapter of Leviticus, God gives His commands for the Year of Jubilee. The task of interpreting Leviticus 25 is certainly a tremendous responsibility, but provides valuable insight in relation to the rest of the Scriptures. After evaluating this Old Testament topic, it is essential to determine every aspect of the observance of the Year of Jubilee, the symbolical types pointing to Christ, and the historical nature to grasp the complete value of this beautiful example of restoration and redemption.

The most important step for a correct exegesis of the Year of Jubilee is to carefully study this command of God in detail. First of all, before examining the particular Year of Jubilee, it is necessary to first comprehend God’s commands about the Sabbath Year. Leviticus 25:3-5 states that work must be accomplished for six years, but the people are to be rewarded for their hard efforts with a “year of solemn rest.” The number seven frequently occurs in the book of Leviticus and represents “completeness” (McGee 299). Furthermore, Leviticus 25:8 states that the Israelites should “count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.” During the fiftieth year, occurring at the Day of Atonement, Israel is commanded to “sound the trumpet” to announce the consecrating and beginning of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:9-10). The name “Jubilee” comes from the word “yobel,” the instrument that is played at the inception of the Day of Atonement during the Year of Jubilee (Rooker 303). Mark F. Rooker simply states the “seven years went through seven cycles, the fiftieth year called for a special celebration” (303). However, to specify the counting of years, Dr. A. Noordtzij says it is unlikely that Israel had a “sabbatical year, followed by the Year of Jubilee” (251). Dr. Noordtzij continues by saying “the sabbatical year on which the counting began was the first of the fifty years spoken of, and the seventh sabbatical year would then be the fiftieth year counted” (251). On the contrary, men such as “Josephus, Philo and rabbinical scholars were unanimous in regarding the Jubilee as the fiftieth year,” simply having the Sabbatic year followed by the Year of Jubilee (Alexander and Baker 702). Another view is that the Jubilee was a “short year” of possibly forty-nine days (702). Overall, evidence seems to point to the successive view of a sabbatical year, followed by the Year of Jubilee, but it is not overly significant of an issue.

Not only did the Year of Jubilee include the satisfactory reward of rest, but also redemptions of “property” and “persons” (McGee 306-308). Leviticus 25: 13-16 states the following about redemption of property:

“In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. And if you make a sale to

your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another.  You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.”

God’s commands stay in focus of why He instructs the Israelites to fulfill this procedure when He concludes His instructions in verse 17 by saying, “You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.” Though this procedure looks rather peculiar at first, it is another reminder to the Israelites that the land is not really their possession, but belongs to God (Leviticus 25:23). Also, regarding the redemption of people, there is significant importance. Essentially, this command was for making sure that the poor were helped, and not violated (McGee 308). Additionally, this passage clarifies the potential involvement of a “kinsman-redeemer” (310). However, Leviticus 25:54 states, “If he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee.” Understanding the redemptive commands of God concerning the year of jubilee clarifies proper understanding of not only this passage, but also many other theological considerations as well.

The most significant concepts to draw from the year of jubilee may not necessarily be the physical acts, but the symbolical foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. It is most fitting to start chronologically with the beginning of the year of jubilee, which is marked by the sounding of the trumpet. J. Vernon McGee declares that “the year of Jubilee is likened to this age of grace when the Gospel is preached to slaves of sin and captives of Satan” (304). David Herron agrees by saying, “The blast of the typical jubilee, has slept for ages, in the hills and plains of Judea. But it still lives and extends in its spiritual and higher significancy.” On the contrary, Andrew Bonar reasons that while some believe the sounding of the trumpet represents “the preaching of the Gospel,” he believes that it signifies “the time of the Lord’s glorious Appearing” (186-187). Similarly, Allen P. Ross writes, “Both Jubilee (looking to release) and Sabbath (looking to rest) are types of the rest and release brought in by Christ and brought to fruition in the kingdom” (463). Continuing on, Ross refers to Revelation 21:1-4 by stating, “The church will enjoy the sabbatic glory of rest and release in the world to come,” and eventually an “eternal jubilee” as referred to in Revelation 21:23-22:5 (463). Though there are differing views, there is no doubt that this typifies Christ, whether it is in relation to the Gospel proclamation or the Messianic kingdom. Both still are Christological and point towards the final restoration of eternal jubilee.

Without a doubt, the redemption aspects of the Year of Jubilee symbolize the freedom that Christ provides. Clearly, Jesus can be seen in Leviticus 25 as the “kinsman-redeemer” (Rooker 306). The people in the Old Testament who were indebted or enslaved yearned for a male family member to essentially free them of their circumstance with a purchase made by the kinsman-redeemer (Longman III, Ryken, and Wilhoit 501). Jesus fulfills the responsibility as “kinsman-redeemer” perfectly. John 1:14 states “the Word became flesh.” The Apostle John could not be clearer in identifying that God took on humanity. Furthermore, Jesus became the provider of redemption. Romans 3:24-25 says believers “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” It is quite intriguing also to comprehend that the Day of Atonement occurred the same instance as the beginning of the Year of Jubilee. Likewise, Jesus’ atonement paid the debt, and believers can receive the “Jubilee” of salvation. Musician/Author Michael Card rightly states in his song “Jubilee” that “Jesus is our Jubilee.” Overall, Jesus is the kinsman-redeemer who rescues those that are trapped in the bondage of sin and paid for the once unattainable debt with His life. Leviticus 25 captures this picture of Christ in a remarkable way.

While it is good to study the commands of God to Israel, particularly the Year of Jubilee, it is also beneficial to study the historical details of the subject. A question to consider is whether or not the Israelites actually followed this command. In an interview with Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan, he said “the Jewish community, by-and-large, has not observed the Jubilee to ANY extent since Biblical times.” Replying to the question of why and when did the Jews stop observing the Jubilee, he said, “there isn’t any modern-day record of anyone declaring a year of Jubilee and the release of slaves and debts. Why was there a stop to a Biblical action?  Well, MOST Biblical acts are no longer practiced.  This is just another of those that didn’t ‘make it’ into the modern world.  It could have had something to do with calendars shifting, or might simply have been seen as no longer practical in a post-Biblical age.” Aside from the fact that evangelical Christians believe they are “not under the law, but under grace,” there is Biblical evidence to disagree with Rabbi Astrachan’s explanation (Romans 6:14). J. Vernon McGee declares that “the breaking of this regulation concerning the Sabbatic year that sent Israel into the seventy years Babylonian captivity” (301). William MacDonald confirms this in his commentary explanation of II Chronicles 36:20-21 by saying “the Jewish people had refused to keep the sabbatic year for 490 years; now their land would keep an enforced Sabbath for seventy years” (467). Logically, it can understood that if there was a cessation of keeping the Sabbatic years, then from the time of Leviticus to 490 years prior to the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites had been following this commandment. 490 years before 586 B.C. is 1076 B.C. A conservative estimate for the date of Leviticus is between 1450 and 1410 B.C. (MacDonald 135). Mathematically, the Israelites had approximately 300 to 400 years of obedience to the Sabbatic years. Therefore, it would be very likely that the Israelites not only were in obedience to the Sabbatic years, but also the Years of Jubilee as well. Though it is not plainly stated in Scripture, it makes logical sense that Jews underwent the Year of Jubilee multiple times, but ceased in disobedience within a few centuries later.

In conclusion, the Year of Jubilee is absolutely a fascinating topic of research. From its historical and Biblical background to its symbolic significance, God was certainly right for implementing this command. For example, the Year of Jubilee served as a frequent reminder that the land, possessions, and people did not belong to any individual but to God alone (Ross 457). Also, the understanding that “God’s people must rely on Him for provision and safety and not their own efforts” was maintained (460). Finally, the magnificent foreshadowing of Christ as the kinsman-redeemer interconnects the two Testaments of Scripture in such a way that reveals God’s divine plan throughout history in a glorious fashion. God is rightly to be praised for His goodness in provisions of material needs throughout the Years of Jubilee, but especially for the salvation provided through Christ, the Savior and Redeemer. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Works Cited

Alexander, T. Desmond and David W. Baker. Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch.

Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003. Print.

Astrachan, Jeffrey. “Year of Jubilee.” E-mail interview. 4 May 2011.

Bonar, Andrew. An Exposition of Leviticus. Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1971.

Print.

Card, Michael. “Jubilee.” Joy in the Journey. 1994. CD.

Herron, David. “The Jubilee Trumpet.” http://www.pcahistory.org. 2004. Web. 5 May 2011.

The Holy Bible. Crossway. 2007. Print. English Standard Vers.

Longman III, Temper, Leland Ryken, and James C. Wilhoit. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.

Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998 Print.

MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995. Print.

McGee, J. Vernon. Leviticus Volume II. LaVerne: El Camino Press, 1975. Print.

Noordtzij, A. Bible Student’s Commentary: Leviticus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982. Print.

Rooker, Mark F. The New American Bible Commentary: Leviticus. Nashville: Broadman &

Holman Publishers, 2000. Print.

Ross, Allen P. Holiness to the LORD: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus. Grand

Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002. Print.

Advertisements

One thought on “The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25): An Overview

  1. Pingback: Resources for Leviticus 25:9 - 10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s