Was the Year of Jubilee Ever Observed?

We continue our look at the Year of Jubilee to discuss if it was ever observed. There has been some controversy on this subject of not only observance, but the length.

Observance

The Israelites were to observe the Year of Jubilee on the fiftieth year, the year following the seven sabbatical-year periods. Some scholars have argued that the Jubilee year coincided with the seventh sabbatical year counting the years inclusively (e.g. Chirichigno).[1] However, the provisions for Jubilee, the specific instructions in Leviticus 25, and historians such as Josephus and Philo all point to the Year of Jubilee on the fiftieth year.  Similarly, “Leviticus 25:21 seems to say that one year’s harvest would suffice for three years, implying that the Jubilee year was successive to a sabbatical year.”[2]

Moreover, controversy has risen over the length of the Jubilee year as some scholars (such as Chirichigno and Wenham) have suggested that this year was a short year, possibly only 49 days long.[3] This view is in the minority and appears to take away from faithfulness and provisions of God. Some have argued that the Year of Jubilee was never actually realized or practiced citing a lack of biblical and extra-biblical evidence to confirm the observation of the Jubilee year.[4] Conversely, “if its practice was normal, there might have been no occasion to mention it.”[5] With the Israelites failure to keep the sabbatical years during other time frames, like the monarchial period (2 Chron 36:20-21), it would suggest that the year of Jubilee was not enforced.[6] However, while there is no clear evidence of it ever being observed, there are allusions to it in other parts of the Old Testament (Isa. 5:7-10; 61:1, 2; Ezek. 7:12, 13; Neh. 5:1–19).[7] Simply stated, we do not know if the Year of Jubilee was ever observed.

[1] P.A. Barker, “Sabbath, Sabbatical Year, Jubilee,” 702.

[2] P.A. Barker, “Sabbath, Sabbatical Year, Jubilee,” 702.

[3] Thomas Constable, “Notes on Leviticus.”

[4] B.C. Babcock, “Jubilee, Year of,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. J. D. Barry & L. Wentz, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), under “J,” sec., “Jubilee, Book of”, Logos Bible Software.

[5] F. Duane Lindsey, “Leviticus,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1985), 211.

[6] Ibid.

[7] M.G. Easton, “Jubilee.”

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