Would you please explain the concept of the "Jubilee Year"?


In Old Testament times, God established a system whereby the poor would not be in perpetual poverty. God did this in His great mercy, knowing what human nature is like, and that there are those who accumulate and those who squander. He did not want a few extremely wealthy individuals ruling over the masses who were just getting by, or who became and were poor. In reflecting on the situation of this world, Christ said in Matthew 26:11: “For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.” He knew that as long as Satan rules this world; as long as human carnality exists; and as long as societies work in the way they do; the poor would always be among us.

Of course, this was not what God had intended. He told the ancient Israelites in Deuteronomy 15:4 that if God would richly bless the people, “there may be no poor among you.” But anticipating that ancient Israel would not be obedient enough so that God could bless them beyond measure, He said in Deuteronomy 15:11: “For the poor will never cease from the land…”

Those who were too poor to pay their debts could sell their property and even “sell” themselves to their creditors to work for them. But God saw to it that there would be the possibility of being “freed” from such indebtedness, including by means of the “Jubilee Year.”

When did the Jubilee Year begin and what did it entail?

We read in Leviticus 25:8-14:

“And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field. In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another.”

Notice that the Jubilee Year began on the Day of Atonement. This annual Holy Day points at a future time when mankind will be released from the captivity of Satan and from the oppression of this present evil world. At the time of ancient Israel, the Jubilee Year designated a release from all debts and a repossession of the land which had been initially allocated to the debtor.

Somebody could “buy” or better lease a person’s farmland, and the price was always in relationship to how many years were left before the Jubilee Year. Obviously, if there were only a few years remaining, one would not pay a large sum to use the person’s land. Leviticus 25:15-16 says:

“According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crop he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops.”

The return to a person’s farmland or his rural or suburban residence was a guarantee. Such land returned to the prior owner every fifty years.

Notice what God says about the land, in Leviticus 25:23: “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.”

It is interesting that a person or a family member could redeem his sold farmland prior to the Jubilee Year (compare Leviticus 25:24-28). On the other hand, if a man owned a house in a walled city and sold it, he or his family had a year to redeem it. After that, it was gone for good. Leviticus 25:29-30 says: “If a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year he may redeem it. But if it is not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it, throughout his generations. It shall not be released in the Jubilee.”

If the house and the land on which the house was built were in the country, it was released in the Jubilee Year, as Leviticus 25:31 says: “However the houses of villages which have no wall around them shall be counted as the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the Jubilee.”

As mentioned, slaves and those who “sold” themselves to their creditors for incurred debts were also released in the Jubilee Year. Leviticus 25:50 says: “Thus he shall reckon with him who bought him: The price of his release shall be according to the number of years, from the year that he was sold to him until the Year of Jubilee; it shall be according to the time of a hired servant for him.”

The Jubilee Year was instituted so that a person who sold himself or his land could obtain release, liberty and freedom from debt and servitude, and return to the land. This institution prevented the few from accumulating all the wealth and the poor from being perpetually poor or in never-ending slavery, due to mismanagement or bad circumstances in their lives. Out of love and mercy, and in recognition of man’s human nature and Satan’s rulership over this world, God provided a way to equalize the playing field to give every one a fresh start and hopefully, to allow those who might have acted foolishly, to become somewhat wiser and not make again the same financial mistakes.

We should also note that every seventh year was a land Sabbath, during which no crops were to be sown and harvested, and that the land was also to rest from cultivation on the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25:11).

In a Plain Truth article from February, 1986, titled, “The Debt Bomb–When Will It Explode?”, the following was stated about the Jubilee Year:

“[In ancient Israel, God had provided for] the canceling of short-term debts at the end of every seven years (Deut. 15:1-11) and the return of forfeited real estate every 50 years (Lev. 25:8-17). For example, if through hard times one had to borrow a small sum of money and, through unforeseen circumstances, was unable to repay the sum within the time frame of a seven-year cycle, his debt was to be forgiven him by his creditor. Or if an Israelite mismanaged his family property (farmland and rural or suburban residence), on the jubilee year his property was to be returned to him or his family (Lev. 25:8-10) if relatives had not already been able to redeem the land (see verse 25)…

“God’s jubilee offers humans what they have needed–and what no man-devised system of economics has ever been able to give us–a financial clean slate: the chance men have only dreamed of, to begin anew and learn from past mistakes. The jubilee year will be a cornerstone in the reestablishment of God’s government on earth (Luke 4:16-19). The ‘acceptable year of the Lord’ that Jesus quoted out of Isaiah 61 is the restoration of the jubilee year.”

We find an interesting prophecy, pertaining to the Millennium, when Jesus Christ rules on this earth, in Ezekiel 46:16-18: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘If the prince gives a gift of some of his inheritance to any of his sons, it shall belong to his sons; it is their possession by inheritance. But if he gives a gift of some of his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his until the year of liberty (compare Leviticus 25:10), after which it shall return to the prince. But his inheritance shall belong to his sons; it shall become theirs. Moreover the prince shall not take any of the people’s inheritance by evicting them from their property; he shall provide an inheritance for his sons from his own property, so that none of My people may be scattered from his property.'”

This Scripture addresses issues that will arise in the future and does seem to be an application of the Jubilee Year. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary explains:

“The prince’s possession is to be inalienable, and any portion given to a servant is to revert to his sons at the year of jubilee, that he may have no temptation to spoil his people of their inheritance… The mention of the year of jubilee implies that there is something literal meant, besides the spiritual sense. The jubilee year was restored after the captivity [Josephus, Antiquities, 14.10, 6; 1 Maccabees 6:49]. Perhaps it will be restored under Messiah’s coming reign.”

As stated above, we also read that Christ quoted in Luke 4:17-19 from a passage in the book of Isaiah, dealing with the proclamation of liberty and the “acceptable year of the LORD.” Many feel that this is also a reference to the Jubilee Year. For instance, the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary states that the phrase “acceptable year” is “an allusion to the jubilee year… a year of universal release for person and property.” Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible agrees, stating: “There is, perhaps, here, an allusion to the year of jubilee – the fiftieth year, when the trumpet was blown, and through the whole land proclamation was made of the liberty of Hebrew slaves, of the remission of debts, and of the restoration of possessions to their original families.”

When Christ came and proclaimed the “acceptable year of the LORD,” He made it clear that it was now possible for His disciples to obtain spiritual freedom from Satan’s slavery and release from the captivity of their debts, which they incurred because of sin; i.e., death (Romans 6:23).

At the same time, based on the foregoing, it appears that the Jubilee Year will be enforced quite literally at the beginning of the Millennium. It appears that at that time, release from physical debt and slavery will be proclaimed in all the land, and the individual nations will be restored to their God-ordained lands (compare Acts 17:26). However, it appears unlikely that the aspect of the Jubilee Year will be upheld in the Millennium, which would refer to [renewed] slavery, including slavery because of debt. (However, as expressed in Ezekiel 46:16-18 (quoted above), other aspects of the Jubilee Year will apparently be in force.) Notice what we wrote in a related Q&A on slavery:

“As to the primary reason for slavery–capture in war–this concept won’t exist anymore in the Millennium as there will be no more wars in the Millennium (Isaiah 2:1-4). Also, since all will live in prosperity and there will be no more poverty, that reason for slavery won’t exist anymore, either (Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 3:10). Finally, ‘slavery’ for punishment of crime or debt in the Millennium might likewise be non-existent, as people might not be allowed to actually carry out crimes or go into debt, necessitating that kind of punishment or treatment (compare Isaiah 30:20-21). We should also mention that it was never God’s original intent that men should be poor in the first place (Deuteronomy 15:1-6). Nor was it God’s original intent that men should go to war… God had never intended that slavery should exist at all… Paul also prohibited Christians from becoming voluntarily slaves of men… Based on the foregoing, we feel that it is highly unlikely that there will exist any slavery in the Millennium… it was never God’s intent that there should be any kind of slavery in the first place–had mankind chosen to OBEY God. It is highly unlikely that God will use men to enslave others in the Millennium.”

Man will be taught how to live responsibly, and God will bless man with prosperity and peace. What a tremendous time that will be!

Lead Writers: Rene Messier and Norbert Link

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