Jubilee means ram’s horn in Hebrew and is defined in Leviticus 25:9 as the sabbatical year after the seven cycles of seven years, which totals to forty-nine years. The fiftieth year was to be a time of celebration and rejoicing for the Israelites. The ram’s horn was then to be blown on the tenth day of the seventh month to start the fiftieth year of redemption.
The Year of Jubilee was to be a year of rest for Israelites and the land. The Israelites were to have a year to rest from their work, and the land was to rest to produce a bountiful harvest after its rest.
Jubilee: A Time to Rest
Got Questions explains in their article how the Jubilee Year involved a release from debt (Leviticus 25:23-38) and all types of bondage (Leviticus 25:39-55). All captives and prisoners were to be set free during this year, debts forgiven, and all property returned to the original owners. All labor was to cease for one year. The point of Jubilee's year was that the Israelites would dedicate a year of rest to the Lord, acknowledging that He had provided for their needs.
There were advantages to this because it not only gave the people a break, but vegetation won’t grow if people overwork the land. By the Lord's institution of a year of rest, the land had time to recover and produce a stronger harvest in the future years to come.
One of the main reasons that the Israelites went into captivity was that they didn’t observe these resting years as commanded by the Lord (Leviticus 26). By failing to rest on the Jubilee year, the Israelites revealed they didn’t trust the Lord to provide for them, so they reaped the consequences of their disobedience.
The Year of Jubilee foreshadows the finished and sufficient work of the Lord Jesus. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He relieves sinners from their spiritual debts and slavery to sin. Today sinners can be freed from both to have both union and communion with God the Father and enjoy fellowship with the people of God.
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Why a Release from Debt?
While Jubilee's year involved a release from a debt, we need to be careful here that we do not read our Western understanding of the release of debt into this particular situation. Art Lindsley of the Gospel Coalition explains that if "Israelite family members have a debt, they can ask the person farming their land for a lump sum payment priced according to the number of years before the Jubilee. The price would then be determined by the projected number of crops to be yielded" before the Jubilee.
Lindsley gives the following example, if you had a debt of two hundred and fifty thousand, and there are five years before the Jubilee, and each crop is worth fifty thousand, the buyer would give you the two hundred and fifty thousand for the rights to farm the land. At Jubilee's time, you would receive your land back because the debt had been paid off. The buyer, then, to be clear, doesn’t own the land but leases it. The debt is paid off by the crops the land produces.
It’s not possible to know how the exact price was determined for each year of crops, but it’s plausible to suggest that the price took into account some years that would be more profitable than others. At Jubilee's time, the Israelites could rejoice the debt had been paid off, and the land returned to full use. Even so, you would not thank the leaser for forgiving your debt. The Jubilee was the equivalent of our “mortgage burning party” today, Lindsley says, "You would celebrate with friends that this significant debt was paid."
The debt is forgiven or canceled because it is paid in full.
But why was the Year of Jubilee every 50 years?
The fiftieth year was a time in which liberty would be proclaimed to all the inhabitants of Israel. The Law was intended to benefit all the masters and the servants. The Israelites owed their life to the sovereign will of God. Only through loyalty to Him were they free and could ever hope to be free and independent from all other masters.
Can Christians Celebrate This Today?
The Year of Jubilee applied to the Israelites only. Even so, it’s important because it reminds the people of God to rest from their labors. While Jubilee's year is not binding on Christians today, it also provides a beautiful picture of the New Testament’s teaching on forgiveness and redemption.
Matthew Henry reminds us in his Commentary Christ that the Redeemer came to set free slaves and prisoners to sin (Romans 8:2; Galatians 3:22; 5:11). The debt of sin that sinners owe to the Lord God was paid on the cross in our place as Jesus died on our behalf (Colossians 2:13-14), forgiving their debt forever in the ocean of His blood. The people of God are no longer in bondage, no longer slaves to sin, having been freed by Christ, so now Christians can enter the rest the Lord provides. Now we can cease laboring to make ourselves acceptable to God by our works because Christ has pardoned and forgiven the people of God (Hebrews 4:9-19).
With that said, what Jubilee's year and the requirements to rest show Christians is that rest is to be taken seriously. Workaholism is a rising problem all around the world. The Lord doesn’t want the people of God to make work an idol, thinking that if they work hard enough at their job or whatever they do that they can provide for their needs on their own.
The Lord, for the same reason, wants people to step away from their devices. Sometimes this can look like taking twenty-four hours away from social media or even the computer or other devices to focus that time on worshiping the Lord. It can further look like focusing on the Lord instead of focusing on our paycheck.
Whatever this looks like, for you, the Year of Jubilee emphasizes the need to trust the Lord each moment of each day, month, and year of our lives. Christians should dedicate our whole lives to the Lord, which is the Jubilee year's larger goal. Each person can find times to rest, forgive others for how they have wronged us, and trust the Lord.
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The Importance of Rest
One of the most critical elements of the Sabbath is rest. On the seventh day in Genesis, we see the Lord resting because He had finished His work (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 31:17). Humanity is expected to rest on the seventh day because it is holy and set apart from the other working days (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 16:22-30; 20:8-11; 23:12). The sabbatical and Jubilee year regulations include rest for the land (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:2-5; 11; 26:34-35). For six years, the land serves mankind, but the land is allowed to rest in the seventh year.
The importance of allowing the land rest lies in the fact that men and women who work the land need to understand they do not have sovereign rights over the land. Instead, they serve the sovereign Lord, who is the owner of the land (Exodus 15:17; Lev. 25:23; Deuteronomy 8:7-18). Psalm 24:1 tells us clearly that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.
Rest is an essential biblical theme in the life of Israel. Rest means that their wandering in the wilderness had come to an end, and Israel could enjoy security despite being surrounded by their enemies. In Psalm 95:7-11, this theme is tied to a warning to the Israelites not to harden their hearts as their ancestors had done in the wilderness. As a result, they failed to enter the rest promised for them.
Hebrews 3:7-11 picks up this theme and gives it an end-times perspective. The writer encourages Christians to enter the place of rest which the Lord had given them. To understand this idea, we need to go to Matthew 11:28-29, which says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Perfect Rest Can Be Found in Christ
Rest may be experienced by Christians today who find rest in Christ despite the uncertainty of their lives. Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 needs to be understood within the whole Bible. Such an understanding is incomplete if it is not mentioned that the city and the land the faithful witnesses of the Old Testament longed for (Hebrews 11:16) is our heavenly place of rest.
The end times rest, explains David L. Baker for the Gospel Coalition, can only become a reality when that gentle and humble Lamb of God becomes “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14), and those who ‘die in the Lord’ can ‘rest from their labor’ for ever” (Revelation 14:13). Indeed, this will be rest. While the people of God await that time, they now have rest in Jesus amid the business of life while we await the ultimate fulfillment of our rest in Christ, in the New Jerusalem.
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Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon.