Biblical references for the Year of Jubilee

This is the next to last article of the Year of Jubilee research. Today’s post will focus mainly on Biblical references to this year, what else is mentioned outside of Leviticus, and are there any New Testament references to it. For the NT references, it can be seen as a fulfillment in Jesus as the Messiah and the eternal liberty that is found in Him.

  • Summary of Leviticus 25
    • Ross suggests the following as a summary of the Jubilee regulations in Leviticus 25: “The acceptance of God’s sovereignty over his people and all their possessions leads to the magnanimous and compassionate treatment of the poor and the destitute, because at the end of the age everyone will be released from bondage.”[1]
    • The Ross statement excludes the crucial component: the centrality of the covenant. The reason that Israel was to treat the poor among them with compassion was not simply out of magnanimous spirit, but as a demonstration of their loyalty to YHWH, their understanding of their own place as his redeemed people, and their trust in his care for them.[2]
    • With respect to the Jubilee, Eugene Merrill concludes, “No clearer statement could be found to affirm the role of Israel as the blessed, if undeserving, vassal whom God had graciously brought into covenant fellowship with himself.” [3]
  • Other references in OT
    • In its original context, the proclamation refers to the restoration of property and persons as well as giving the land its rest. Later references refer especially to the restoration of property and persons. In Jeremiah 34, a command is issued for the release of Hebrew slaves, but is ultimately disobeyed. In Ezekiel 46, there is a reference to the continued practice in the Jubilee laws in the restored or idealized Israel. In this case, when the “prince” gives some of his lands to his servants, the land is returned in the year of Jubilee. Finally, in Isaiah 61, YHWH’s anointed one proclaims “liberty” as part of the restoration of Israel. Here, the release is specifically related to captive persons and seems to point forward to YHWH’s permanent restoration of his people and covenant.
      • Bergsma argues that in its OT development, the Jubilee, which was originally a legal stipulation, took on an eschatological/messianic significance.[4] The legal/economic significance of the Jubilee in Leviticus 25 certainly has an eschatological flavor in Isaiah 61 and perhaps Ezekiel 46.[5]
    • Luke 4
      • Therefore, it is quite clear that in Luke’s account of this event, liberty is emphasized. Given the links to the Jubilee year in Isaiah 61, it is quite likely that Luke’s emphasis on liberty has a similar link to the Jubilee. Finally, the quotation in Luke 4 ends with the mention of the Lord’s favor and omits the parallel reference to retribution from the Lord found in Isa 61:2b. In short, the anointed one in Luke 4 is to bring good news of to the poor, blind, captives, and oppressed. [6]
      • Jesus’ claim to “fulfill” Isaiah 61 must be seen as a claim to inaugurate the eschatological Jubilee of God’s people, the time when their freedom from captivity and oppression would be permanent. Jesus stops short of mentioning both the retribution of YHWH and subsequent comfort for those who mourn in the midst of that retribution as found in Isaiah 61. Therefore, it seems that the fulfillment of the Jubilee through Jesus’ ministry was an inauguration, but not completion, of the eschatological Jubilee. The main feature of Jesus’ fulfillment of the Jubilee in Luke 4 is the proclamation of liberty, which in Luke-Acts probably refers mainly to forgiven sin and secondarily to release from physical/economic oppression. [7]
      • In the NT, the economic aspects of the Jubilee, although not altogether absent, are of a piece with the forgiveness of sin. In this way, Jesus’ claim to fulfill the Jubilee is closely connected to the eschatological reality of the Jubilee in Isaiah 61. He claimed to fulfill the role of YHWH’s anointed agent, and perhaps, in his authoritative proclamation of the year of God’s favor, claimed to fulfill the role of YHWH himself. While other aspects of Jubilee, particularly physical and economic relief, are present in the ministry of Jesus, they are pointers to a greater reality, namely, the forgiveness of sin and the restoration of the relationship between God and his people. [8]

[1] Allen P Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) 463.

[2] Chris Bruno, 88-89

[3] Eugene Merrill, “Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament” (Nashville: B & H, 2006) 373.

[4] John Sietze Bergsma, The Jubilee from Leviticus to Qumran: A History of Interpretation (VTSup 115; Leiden: Brill, 2007) 2-3.

[5] Chris Bruno, 94.

[6] Chris Bruno, 97.

[7] Chris Bruno, 98.

[8] Chris Bruno, 99.


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