Leviticus 25: 8-22
Picture yourself a child at school. The teacher is about to ask you a question. You already know what the question is, and you haven’t the foggiest idea how to answer it. You might even have studied the issue. You just couldn’t quite wrap your head around the answer so as to be able to give a decent answer. The person two chairs ahead of you answers a different question correctly. The person one chair ahead of you is asked a question, and you start to really sweat. The person answers it correctly. And now it time. The teacher calls your name, but as you rise to answer the question, the bell rings, telling you that class is over, and you won’t have to answer the question. “Saved by the bell” you were.
Now imagine yourself an ancient Israelite. You have had to sell your land, your goods, and now even yourself, since you had a whole string of bad farming years. You must think by now that God hates you, since He has unleashed so much bad luck against you. Just as you are about to give up everything as a loss, the horn sounds in all Judea. Jubilee! The year of redemption is here, and you are saved by the ram’s horn. You are set free from your slavery, and given your land back. The slate is wiped clean, and you have a completely fresh start. That is the idea of Jubilee.
The idea of the Jubilee year is based on the telescoping pattern of sevens that we find in Holy Scripture. The most basic pattern of seven is the Sabbath, where one day in seven is sacred to the Lord. The Sabbath was based on creation and salvation, if you look at the two different accounts of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In Exodus, the reason is that God created the world in six days and rested the seventh day. In Deuteronomy, the reason is that God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, and so they wouldn’t have to work as hard as they did for Pharaoh. Because the Israelites have been redeemed, therefore they should obey the Sabbath.
The next element in this telescope of sevens is the Sabbatical year. Every seven years, the land was supposed to have a rest. This was so that the land would not get worn out. The Lord promised that He would provide for the people of Israel during the year before the Sabbatical year, the year of the Sabbatical year, and the year after. The Lord promised three years’ worth of farming to carry the Israelites through the lean time when there were no crops growing. The Lord had regard not only to the people of Israel, but also to the land, you see. Even the land was to follow the work patterns of the Lord God in creation.
That brings us to the final segment of seven: Jubilee. The name Jubilee refers to the ram’s horn that was blown at the beginning of the Jubilee year. The purpose o the Jubilee year was to ensure that no one Israelite would become so impoverished that he could never get out of the hole into which he had dug himself. There was always to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It was plain, however, that this command of the OT was not always obeyed. In fact, there is no record that it was ever obeyed. The Israelites became greedy for land and gain. And so they would make deals that got around this law. The words of this law, you see, were such that no land in Israel was ever regarded as permanently sold. Instead, it was a calculation of the number of crops, as it says in verse 16: “it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.” Land was never to be permanently sold to someone, since the land belonged the Lord. It was the Lord, you see, who had apportioned the land to the twelve tribes, when they came into the land of promise. It was not land that belonged ultimately to the Israelites. The same promise that was made for the Sabbatical year was also made by God for the Jubilee year. The Lord would honor the keeping of the Jubilee year by a very good harvest the year before the Jubilee started. It was definitely a move of trust on the part of the people of Israel to actually do this. There was no human tangible guarantee that the Lord would do this. There was only the Word of the Lord. That is all they had.
Notice then, that the three patterns of seven that we have seen telescope into each other. It’s like those nesting dolls, which fit one inside another, inside another. The Sabbath points to the Sabbatical year, which in turn points to the year of Jubilee. But there is more. The year of Jubilee points to a time when there shall be no more slavery to sin. Just as God freed the Israelites from the oppression of slavery to Pharaoh, so also the Lord delivers His people from their slavery to sin and death. The real Year of Jubilee starts with the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were in slavery to our own sin, and willingly so. We loved it, contrary to the Israelites loving their oppression. But Satan and our flesh blinded us to the fact that we were slaves. It is only when the Lord opens our eyes to see what was unclear before, that we come to realize that there is no way out of this slavery, except through Jesus. We have bet set free from the law of sin and death, if we are of Jesus Christ. That is, we must have faith in Him as Lord and Savior.
It is quite common to have New Year’s resolutions. The very best resolution that we can have is that we will live like free people. That means that we live as people free from sin and death. We cannot do this on our own strength, of course. However, the Lord wants us to press on toward this goal. In this New Year, will we live as children of the King, heirs to the entire kingdom?
You see, the problem is that we like to live our old lives over again. We love going back to Egypt, just like the Israelites did. We love to revel in our old life of sin. Instead of doing that, we should break free from that.
This applies especially well to those old sinful habits that we hate to give up. There are probably one or two sins in our lives that seem to have us in their grip. We seem enslaved to it, unable to break free. We have to understand that the Lord allows us to struggle with sins so that we will rely more completely on the Lord’s strength in the Holy Spirit. But the Lord will break us of those old sins. We should not give up the struggle. Many people come to the conclusion that those sins cannot be gotten rid of, so therefore they should give up trying to get rid of them. That is the path of despair, which Paul explodes in Romans 7. After describing the struggle that he goes through all the time, he says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory.” Victory? What victory? Struggle doesn’t sound like victory to me. But that is exactly what Paul is saying. The struggle does avail. The very fact that you have a struggle inside you is proof positive that the Holy Spirit is working. Unbelievers have no such struggle. They have an easy time with sin: they just give right in, as the father says in “My Fair Lady”: “When temptation comes, I’ll step right in.” But when believers are faced with temptation, there is a struggle. What we must remember in that time of temptation is that we have been set free from sin and death. So therefore, that slavery is supposed to be a thing of the past. We should not live in it any longer, therefore. That is the ultimate meaning of the Jubilee year. It makes a much better New Year’s resolution than is normally the case. Happy New Year.