Key Old Testament passage: Leviticus 25

Key Concepts: liberty, freedom, justice

How: The jubilee was ushered in with the blast of a ram’s horn. In fact, The name jubilee” comes from the Hebrew word yovel meaning “ram’s horn.”*

What happened: A fresh start

  • All Israelite bondslaves (those who had sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts) were freed.
  • Property that had been sold to pay off debts reverted back to the families who were originally to inherit it.
  • The land lay fallow for the entire year.

Why: God was imparting His values by

  • showing mercy to the poor.
  • discouraging an over-emphasis on materialism and the accumulation of possessions.
  • preserving family unity.
  • encouraging trust in the Lord regarding His provision (since land was left fallow for the year).
  • reminding the people that they were temporary sojourners on earth (see Leviticus 25:23) and that God had given them their land (Leviticus 25:38).
  • reminding the people that God had freed them from slavery and that now they were His servants (Leviticus 25:55).

When: Every 50th year was a jubilee year. Yet the jubilee was rarely if ever observed. A rabbinic saying claims that “from the time that the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh were exiled the Jubilees were discontinued.”**

Key New Testament passage: Luke 4:16-21

This passage finds Jesus preaching in the synagogue, quoting from Isaiah 61 to describe His ministry and the messianic age as a great jubilee year. The word “freedom” in Isaiah 61:1 “to proclaim freedom for the captives,” is the same as in Leviticus 25:10, “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.…”

Future fulfillment: Note that the jubilee year was ushered in with the sound of the trumpet and, at that time, property reverted to its “rightful” owner. In Revelation 11:15 we read that “The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.'” A trumpet will also announce the day when everyone will see that all things and all people belong to the Messiah, who will reign as the benevolent Sovereign over all! One commentator observed:

The messianic age brings liberty to the oppressed and release to the captives. This age was inaugurated with Christ’s first coming (Luke 4:21). It will be completed by his second coming (James 5:1-8; cf. Luke 16:19-31). The jubilee, then, not only looks back to God’s first redemption of his people from Egypt (Leviticus 25:38, 55), but forward to the “restitution of all things,” “for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (Acts 3:21; 2 Peter 3:13).
—Gordon Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Eerdmans, 1979), p. 324.

Note: The jubilee observance in 1998 is not necessarily a continuation of the ancient jubilees. It is being called the “jubilee” because it is modern Israel’s 50th birthday. Various celebrations are scheduled in Jewish communities around the world. If you have Internet access and are interested in knowing more about these celebrations, see the web site http://www.virtual.co.il/city_services/holidays/ independence/index.htm located in Israel.

* Shofar is a more widely known word for ram’s horn.
** Encyclopedia Judaica 14:580.