Year of Jubilee
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In the Bible Leviticus 25 describes the Jubilee year, which occurs after seven sets of seven complete years are finished. This proclamation of the fiftieth "liberty" year occurs with the sound of a trumpet on the Day of Atonement, so that all know this holy period has begun. God owns the land, and in this special time, He wants the return of every man to his possession.
When the year of Jubilee arrives men, who have worked as a servant to pay off their debt, must be set free and allowed to return to their own land and to their families: "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. . . . " (Leviticus 25:8-10)
The Bible's discussion of this topic continues a few verse down in chapter 25: "If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you — he and his children with him — and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers." (Leviticus 25:8-10, 35-41)
Leviticus 27:14-34 describes the redemption of gifts and tithes, which are calculated based on the number of years to the next Jubilee. Numbers 36:1-9 says that the purpose of the time is to keep the inheritances separate, preventing dispossession. Ezekiel 46:16-18 states that even the prince of Israel is not to dispossess people of their inheritance.
Why did Israel go into captivity?
Leviticus 26 tells us plainly that one of the main reasons Israel went into captivity was for not letting the land rest:
"And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
"I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste. Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall rest — FOR THE TIME IT DID NOT REST ON YOUR SABBATHS WHEN YOU DWELT IN IT.
"The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes." (Leviticus 26:27-28, 33-35, 43)
Jeremiah 34:8-17 informs us that because Israel reneged and did not free their Hebrew servants, God would proclaim "liberty" unto these cruel taskmasters to the sword, pestilence, famine, and captivity. 2Chronicles 36:14-21 describes how Judah mocked God's prophets and so were carried away captive to Babylon, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. Israel rested seventy years before the Jews returned from captivity.
Did Jesus give a Jubilee message?
Isaiah 61:1-11 compares the Millennium with a Sabbatical period. In Luke 4 our Savior began His ministry by preaching a "Jubilee" message:
"So He (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, TO PROCLAIM LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. TO PROCLAIM THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.'
"Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' " (Luke 4:16-21)
Some have concluded that Jesus gave his message in the Jubilee year of 27 A.D. Achieving true liberty is only possible by accepting our Savior as Master and Lord.
The Year of Jubilee and the United States
America's Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell, initially cast in 1752 A.D. and currently located in Philadelphia, is an iconic symbol of American independence.
The bell's first inscribed line quotes part of the verse found in the King James Bible version of Leviticus 25:10. The entire text of the verse, with the part inscribed on the bell's top line in capitals, is:
"And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT [ALL] THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family."
On July 8th, 1776, the bell rang out summoning the people to hear the reading of America's Declaration of Independence.
Unfortunately, the United States has not obeyed the Jubilee Law. It is widely believed the bell cracked in 1835 A.D. while being rung. The crack, which occurred roughly fifty years after America's War of Independence ended in 1783, was severe enough to cause the bell never to ring again.
History of the Jews
In his book Antiquities (History) of the Jews Josephus describes historical events in relation to the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. It was in a Jubilee year that Antiochus besieged Judas Maccabeus and Jerusalem's Temple. The war between Ptolemy and Hyrcanus, as well as the plundering of the wealthy and dead for either silver or gold by Herod to give to Anthony, occurred in a Sabbatical year. In the thirteenth year of Herod, there was a great famine and pestilence. In Whiston's footnotes to Josephus, he says this famine was worse than the famine of the days of Ahab, and even worse than the days of Jacob, and that it was a Jubilee.
What is its meaning?
The significance of designating every 50th year as a Jubilee is not limited to the rest of the land and rejuvenation of the soil. It is to remind us, as does the weekly Sabbath, that the Eternal is the Creator. Just as it took faith for Israelites not to farm during these special times, so today it takes faith to trust Him for sustenance. Man is not the sole owner of the soil, and he does not hold property in perpetuity but only under the Almighty's trust (Leviticus 25:23). We own nothing by inherent right, for like the children of Israel, we were slaves in spiritual "Egypt" (Deuteronomy 15:15). Out of gratitude to the Eternal for our liberation, we must extend liberty to our debtors and servants.
The word translated "release" in Deuteronomy 15:1 can also mean "dropping." The cancellation of all debts occurs in the seventh year. What better time than to settle debts with people and to move on! We were on spiritual death row, waiting for execution in the lake of fire. God in His great mercy then calls and forgives us. All charges against us disappear through His Son the Messiah. This should be a cause for rejoicing.
Any nation would receive a tremendous blessing if they observed this part of God's law. There would be no crushing debt nor an imbalance of the very rich and the very poor. Land values would be relatively stable, and inflation and depressions would not occur. The teaching of all God’s laws would occur every seventh year, which would result in good government and prosperity. However, we will have to wait for the millennium for the good results of national obedience to the Almighty's laws.
When will the next one occur?
According to William Whiston's footnotes to Josephus, 23 B.C. was a Jubilee year. This would also mean A.D. 28 was also one. If this is true, then the next year of Jubilee is set to occur in 2028 A.D.
Someone wrote around 153-105 B.C. an apocryphal book called the Book of Jubilees. It divides the history of the world into 49 yearlong periods. As an article in the New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1962) admits, this so-called book completely disregards the truth:
". . . in the official count of Sabbatical Years in the Maccabean and post-Maccabean periods the Jubilee Year was omitted entirely and the Sabbatical Years followed each other in uninterrupted succession every seven years. Moreover, certain later, rabbinic authorities likewise reckoned a Jubilee period as of only forty-nine years, although a majority adhered, quite naturally, to the biblical reckoning of the period as of fifty years."
Why is the Jubilee year important? It is because it offers a warning to the modern-day children of Israel (Amos 3:7, Daniel 12:4, John 7:17) not to commit the same mistakes as their ancestors in the Bible.
Written by: Richard Nickels