Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you …
The recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations reminded me that jubilee is a Bible idea. Buried in Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament (probably somewhere we don’t often tread!) we find mention of both the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee. The main theme of Leviticus is God’s holiness, and ways in which the Israelites, God’s chosen people, should worship and live so that they keep their relationship with Him alive. God promised that if they followed the commands He’d given them, then they would know His blessing. But He also warned them that if they were disobedient, then things would go badly wrong.
One of the Ten Commandments is about keeping the Sabbath holy, a day of rest that mirrors God Himself resting after His creation, and a day blessed by Him. The Sabbatical Year was a year of rest for the land, with no planting, pruning or reaping, accompanied by God’s promise that what He provided in the sixth year and what grew of its own accord in the seventh year would provide enough to eat. The Year of Jubilee, coming after the seventh of a series of Sabbatical Years, in other words every fifty years, was rather like a super Sabbatical Year! As well as no planting, pruning or reaping, all property would revert to its original owner, and those compelled by poverty to sell themselves into slavery would regain their freedom.
Part of the reason things turned sour for the Israelites was that they failed to keep instructions like these. And while the details don’t easily read across to today’s world - and indeed don’t need to because of what Jesus has done since to put us right with God - they contain some principles that are important to hold onto.
We live in a very driven culture, which values things like achievement, efficiency and personal success. It’s very self-sufficient and self-confident, and if others miss out because of how I live, then that’s just the way things are. But jubilee directly challenges this. It’s a reminder that, ultimately, all we have comes from God, and He’s the one in whom we must place our trust. It’s a reminder that we have a responsibility towards those who are weak and vulnerable, rather than just looking out for ourselves.
The Year of Jubilee also foreshadows what Jesus would do. At the start of His ministry, He points to Himself as the one who will fulfil Isaiah’s great prophecy
The 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)
Through His life, death and resurrection Jesus brings jubilee to us, releasing sinners from their spiritual debts and their slavery to sin. And despite all the blessings and opportunities we enjoy in life, our trust must be in Him above everything else. However counter-cultural or wordly-unwise it may seem, we need our eyes to be fixed on Him and our hearts to be reaching out to others.
Lord, help me to live out the spirit of jubilee, placing my trust in you above all other things and showing a heartfelt and practical concern for the weak and vulnerable. Amen