In Leviticus 25 (you know, the book of the Bible that even Christians tend to avoid reading), there is this pretty strange passage about how the Jews were commanded to give their land (and themselves) rest from pruning and tending every 7 years, and simply trust God to provide wild and un-managed food for them, and probably learn a little contentment and planning, along the way. Immediately following this command for a “Sabbath rest” for the land, is instructions about “the year of Jubilee”.
The year of Jubilee is a really wild thing. God commanded that every 50 years, whatever land was sold in the past 49 years was to be returned to the original owner (in case you don’t know Old Testament or Jewish history, this was the Promised Land and it was given to specific families of the 12 tribes of Israel… and God wanted it to stay in the family, I guess). So, when Jews bought land from one another, they were supposed to buy it based on how far they were from the year of Jubilee. If they had 45 more years to go, they’d buy it for a lot more money, than if they bought it 3 years before the jubilee… and it was to be calculated based on the number of years of crop harvests (vs. 15). Land is only worth what it will produce for sustaining, I guess.
This year of release was also a safeguard for those suffering with poverty. “If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property… then what he has sold shall remain in the hands of its purchaser, until the year of jubilee, but at the jubilee it shall revert, that he may return to his property.” (Lev. 25:25 and 28). No one who found themselves bankrupt would ever have to be homeless beyond the year of jubilee, according to this command.
Also, part of the Jubilee was the release of all indentured servants. From about verse 39 on through the rest of the chapter, it speaks of how to treat folks who have sold themselves into servitude to another, and of their release when the jubilee comes!
Maybe the wildest part about this passage is that the Jews never, ever celebrated it!
I have to wonder why? It seems like such an incredible thing. (In fact, if you actually read the Old Testament, you’ll notice that a lot of God’s commands were things like ‘Throw a party to celebrate your ancestor’s deliverance’. Passover. Purim. Etc.).
My suspicion is that the Jews were reading this commandment upside-down. They were reading it “When the year of Jubilee strikes, you have to give back everything. You have to give away your land, your servants, etc. You don’t get to keep what you feel so entitled to.”, rather than the way God wrote it: “You receive back your land and your freedom!”.
I watch this all the time in the world around me, and even in my own heart. We tend to think of God’s wise and wonderful commands, as restrictions on our lives, obstructions to our freedom…. rather than liberation from the damage we incur when we imagine that we are wiser than He is and attempt to do things our own way and on our own terms.
Before I got saved, I lived a life of complete darkness and tried to do everything opposite of what I knew the Bible said was wise and right. And what happened? I almost died under the weight of the pain I incurred. All of my sexual immorality, that I imagined was freedom, put my soul, mind and body into extreme bondage and anguish. All of my alcohol abuse and drug use made me miserable (and eventually cost me quite a few teeth).
Now, I don’t say all of this to leave you hopeless if you have been doing the same thing. Because here’s the good news…
The year of Jubilee is not just a physical thing, but a metaphor for what Christ does for the soul. Even if the nation of Israel wouldn’t celebrate Jubilee, Christ celebrates it each and every single day, as He liberates souls and gives people their inheritance back, their dignity, their worth, their sanity, their joy! He certainly has for me! In fact, the liberty and joy that He has transfused into my soul so far outweighs the temporal damage that I created that I’d never wish it any other way.
Only someone who has experienced Jubilee recognizes the immensity of the freedom that they’ve received! And for those who still think they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or think themselves too unworthy for release, give it up. The Jubilee has come!