Last time we saw the decline of man into sin and what happened when man made himself king in God’s creation. We saw how God set about putting things right by calling out of fallen humanity a people for himself , a kingdom of priests. A kingdom once more established where God would be king and a nation that would do things God's way.
The Perfect Storm of Sin
When Israel eventually entered the land of Canaan they came up against a society that was as far from God's original plan as it was possible to get. City-states, a feudal society with a powerful and wealthy ruling class. Canaan was the perfect man-as-king, corrupt society; the perfect storm of sin.
God warned his people, “You must not do as they do in Egypt,where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev.18:3-4)
God listed the sins of Canaan and said:“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is the way the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and laws.” (Lev.18:24-26)
God's commandments to Israel describe a reversal of man's tragic decline into corruption.
Where man had made himself king, God said, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Where man had rebelled against his parents God said, “Honour your father and mother.”
Where man had acted violently to kill his fellow man God said, “You shall not murder.”
Where man had used and exploited his fellow man God said, “Don't bear false witness, don't steal, don't covet what isn't yours, don't commit adultery.”
This was to be an egalitarian society in which all citizens enjoyed the same fundamental rights and privileges. Each was to have their share of God's provision and was not to be robbed of it. Individuals were not to get rich at the expense of others. Of course, with the best will in the world, Israel were still a fallen people who made sometimes foolish, selfish and destructive decisions and when sin raised its ugly head inequities and injustices still arose in Israelite society. It is these inequities that Jubilee was designed to eradicate.
Jubilee follows a cycle based on them number seven. You will be familiar with the biblical principle that we should treat the seventh day as a day of rest. How much we have lost of what was meant to be natural for mankind in our 24/7 society. It also followed that the land should lay fallow in the seventh year and get its rest. Then, on the seventh cycle of seven years, the 49th year, Jubilee was observed, a year marked by rest, restoration and release.
You see, during that half-century bad fortune may overtake a man and his family. They may make unwise decisions, fall into debt and sell their land in order to settle debts. If they have no land left to sell they may even sell themselves into service to pay a debt over a period of time. But here you would not sell your land outright because it belonged to the family and the tribe, to more than one generation and ultimately to God.
Since Israelite society was based on a fair apportioning of the land between tribes and then families within tribes it was important that God's provision in the land should be fairly distributed and any inequities corrected. If someone “bought” your land they were effectively buying the use of it and its yield over a specific time, that is between the time of purchase and the time of Jubilee when the land reverted to its original owner.
This was so important that God's prophets sounded stern warnings, “Woe, to those who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land” (Isaiah 5:8)
“Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellow man of his inheritance.” (Micah 2:1-2)
The word Jubilee derives from the clamour of trumpets, jobel, that announced throughout the land the beginning of Jubilee. At Jubilee the land got its rest, it reverted back to its original owner, family and tribe, and any sold into servitude for debt were released back to their families. A time to remedy the evils which accompany human society and government, to set a limit on unjust social relations, a time of great celebration and the reason why we use the term Jubilee today to mark significant, celebratory occasions.
This is why some Old Testament books are full of tedious lists of who was related to whom and where they lived.
What does this have to do with us today, apart from being a lesson in historic Israel and a brief explanation of the word Jubilee?
The Year of the Lord's Favour
Jubilee always had a future element to it, there was always a greater future hope in its promise of liberty, rest and restoration. Isaiah spoke of a messianic figure who would bring justice:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations... In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42: 1-2)
Later he describes this servant's mission:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour...” (Isaiah 61:1-2a)
Next we will look at this servant and discover why we have every reason as Christians to thank the Lord for Jubilee.
Previously: Jubilee – Man as King
Next: Jubilee: The Year of the Lord’s Favour