In 2012 I had the opportunity to return to Britain for a few weeks to participate in the weddings of two close friends from Oxford. My visit happened to coincide with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. It was only the second time throughout the history of the monarchy that a 60th anniversary jubilee could be observed and the island was in party mode. Streets, shops, and homes were festooned with blue, red, and white bunting. The Union flag was everywhere to be seen, an unusual expression of patriotism for the reserved Brits. Regardless of your affection or disdain for the monarchy, did you know that a jubilee was first seen in ancient Israel? Besides denoting special anniversaries the English word jubilee also means a time set apart for happy celebration (hence the related word jubilation). And this brings us closer to the biblical origin of the word. We find the term jubilee in Leviticus 25, our text for this Sunday, and it is a rough transliteration of the Hebrew word Yobel. A yobel was a ‘ram’s horn’, and it was used as a kind of trumpet to sound the beginning of the Jubilee year. The laws and observances relating to the jubilee echoed the blessings and theological significance of the Sabbath. Just as God laboured in creation six days before resting, so also was man to rest every seventh day. Similarly, the land was to be worked six years, then lie fallow for the seventh – a Sabbath rest for the land. Finally, after every seventh sabbatical year was Israel’s year of jubilee. The sounding of the ram’s horn trumpet heralded a time of joy and liberation. Well, at least it would be a time for thanksgiving and celebration for those who had come upon difficult times, those left behind in the worlds of farming or business. The sound of the ram’s horn would be a sweet sound of salvation to the farmer unable to recover from drought or pestilence, or the businessman drowning in debt. In general, it offered the poor a ‘refresh button’ once in a lifetime.
But would the sound of the jubilee horn be welcomed by all? What about those who had been, at least in their estimation, more responsible with their resources and more successful in their business endeavours? Had they not worked hard for the sake of the well-being of themselves and their families? Perhaps they had started from nothing and worked diligently to yield the fruit of their land. Was it fair to loose what one had developed over, possibly, several decades? I think if we are honest the practice seems very unusual, socialistic, and impracticable. I can easily imagine that Israel’s prophets and leaders faced stiff resistance from well-to-do land owners when they called for observance of the jubilee and, perhaps, preached against self-centred greed.
“Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land. (Isaiah 5:8)”
The Sabbath and Jubilee laws reminded God’s people that he was their Sovereign King. The land was the Lord’s, and they were collectively His people – rich and poor alike. God expected his people to trust Him; and it would certainly require faith to trust the Lord for sustained provision through Sabbath and Jubilee years. And it would take humility to accept that the land upon which one works is only yours for a season – for ultimately all is His!
Jesus himself preached themes of Jubilee in the synagogue (cf: Luke 4:14-30). Citing Isaiah 61 he claimed to be the very embodiment of Jubilee. His life and purpose represented a Jubilee release for captives, good news to the poor, healing for the broken-hearted, and freedom to the imprisoned. In short, “the year of the Lord’s favour. (Is 61:2)” The Jubilee is really a model to us of God’s relationship with the world. We see God’s initiative to help us deal with the reality of sin, injustice, and brokenness. He shows particular interest in the weak and marginalized, and calls all of his people to obey his commands and trust in his providence. The liberty he calls us to in Christ is both a present practical reality, and a future sure hope. That call, when accepted, takes us away from frail self-reliance to confident humility trusting all in our Sovereign Christ!
Hope to see you this Sunday.
As we gather for Sunday worship, we want you to meet with God and be transformed by the Word. Prepare your heart by reading the passage and listening to the songs for Sunday.