Research notes for the jubilee observance and its advantages

We continue our study on the year of Jubilee. First we look at some information that scholars have provided for its observance, did it take place and was it a full year. Next, we will begin looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this special year. This means, what it took for the people to follow and the faith it required. We will briefly look at why the theology of the land is so important and emphasized for the Israelites.

  • Observance
    • The return of the jubilee year was proclaimed by a blast of trumpets which sounded throughout the land. There is no record in Scripture of the actual observance of this festival, but there are numerous allusions (Isa. 5:7, 8, 9, 10; 61:1, 2; Ezek. 7:12, 13; Neh. 5:1–19; 2 Chr. 36:21) which place it beyond a doubt that it was observed.[1]
    • Many scholars argue that the legislation of the Jubilee year, as well as that of the sabbatical year, is so idealistic as to be impractical. North calls it “hardly realistic” (North, 6.6). Wenham says that “as a social institution the jubilee year remained an ideal, which was rarely, if ever, realized” (Wenham 1979, 318). Admittedly the legislation is exacting, and there is no clear OT acknowledgment that the Jubilee year was ever fulfilled. However, the OT’s silence on this practice need not imply lack of observance. Put simply, we do not know if and when it was observed.[2]
    • While the regulations for the Year of Jubilee are specific, no biblical or extrabiblical evidence confirms that the Jubilee was ever actually observed. Kinship redemption is demonstrated in Ruth 4 and Jer 32. While Isa 37:30 may hint at a Jubilee Year by discussing a double fallow year. The passage may also be the result of invasion—a Year of Jubilee enforced by Yahweh, when Israel would not enforce it themselves.[3]
    • The Israelites were to observe the year of jubilee every fiftieth year, the year following seven seven-year periods. Wenham believed the jubilee was a short year only 49 days long inserted into the seventh month of the forty-ninth year[361] This is a minority view.[4]
    • “The Year of Jubilee is not mentioned in the Old Testament outside the Pentateuch. There is no direct biblical evidence regarding its observance in Israel’s history, but if its practice was normal, there might have been no occasion to mention it. On the other hand, the apparent failure of Israelites to keep the sabbatical years during the monarchial period (cf. 26:34-35, 43; 2 Chron. 36:20-21) suggests that the Jubilee might also have been violated.” [5]
  • Advantages / Significance (part 1)
    • The advantages of this institution were manifold. “1. It would prevent the accumulation of land on the part of a few to the detriment of the community at large. 2. It would render it impossible for any one to be born to absolute poverty, since every one had his hereditary land. 3. It would preclude those inequalities which are produced by extremes of riches and poverty, and which make one man domineer over another. 4. It would utterly do away with slavery. 5. It would afford a fresh opportunity to those who were reduced by adverse circumstances to begin again their career of industry in the patrimony which they had temporarily forfeited. 6. It would periodically rectify the disorders which crept into the state in the course of time, preclude the division of the people into nobles and plebeians, and preserve the theocracy inviolate.”[6]
    • Regulating the value of property See also Lev 25:15-16; 27:16-19,23
    • Underlining the fact that God is the true owner of the land Lev 25:23-24 The restoration of property to those to whom God had originally entrusted it is a reminder that the land belongs to him. See also Jos 21:43; 1Ch 29:15; Heb 11:13
    • A means of preserving the inheritance from God Lev 25:25-28 Families are urged to buy back land assigned to them by God. As a last resort, land is restored in the Year of Jubilee. See also Lev 25:32-33; 27:24; Nu 36:4,7-9; 1Ki 21:3; Eze 46:16-18
    • The release of Hebrew slaves in the Year of Jubilee Dt 15:12-15 The release of slaves reflects God’s redemption and preserves the freedom he has given; Lev 25:54-55 The Israelites may not be held permanently as slaves because they belong to God. See also Lev 25:39-43,50-52; Jer 34:8-9,13-14
    • The Year of Jubilee is the year of the Lord’s favour Lk 4:18-19 Jesus Christ alludes to the Year of Jubilee in proclaiming spiritual release and restoration. See also Isa 61:1-2[7]
    • Theological Significance: Because the sabbath days and sabbatical years are “holy to Yahweh,” they express the conviction that time belongs to Yahweh, who is Lord over it. Furthermore, as we have seen, the *exodus release of Israel from Egypt forms a theological basis for these laws. Thus Yahweh as both Creator and Redeemer provides the theological background to these laws.[8]
    • A theology of the land is also significant. The land is Yahweh’s (Lev 25:23). It is the land of promise, and in this bountiful land there is more than sufficient for all, provided various economic laws are heeded and the bounty of the land is shared. Related to this is the ethical love of fellow people reflected in these laws. In particular, these laws command a concern for the landless classes.
    • Finally, there is an eschatological dimension to these sabbath laws. They anticipate the ideal life in God’s place and under his rule. The emphasis on social concern looks forward to the harmony of God’s people under him. The cancellation of debt and restoration looks forward to the full and final redemption of the people of God. Even the distinctive trumpet sound announcing the Jubilee year, compared to the usual šôpār announcing all other years, can be regarded eschatologically (e.g., Is 27:13).[9]

[1] Easton, M. G. (1893). “Jubilee,” In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[2] Barker, P. A. (2003). Sabbath, Sabbatical Year, Jubilee. In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[3] Babcock, B. C. (2012). Jubilee, Year of. In (J. D. Barry & L. Wentz, Eds.)The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Thomas Constable, “Notes on Leviticus,” Internet, available from http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/leviticus.pdf, accessed 22 November 2014.

[5] Lindsey, F. Duane. “Leviticus.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 163-214. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1985. 211

[6] Easton, M. G. (1893). Jubilee. In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[7] Manser, M. H. (2009). “Year of Jubilee,” Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.

[8] Barker, P. A. (2003). Sabbath, Sabbatical Year, Jubilee. In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[9] Barker, P. A. (2003). Sabbath, Sabbatical Year, Jubilee. In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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