The Year of Jubilee
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, He also gave him commands as to how the Israelites were to manage their farms and vineyards, their businesses and their real estate. If God gave these commands to us today we would have to forget everything we know about business, farming and real estate and start all over again! What God commanded His people to do is mind blowing!
First of all God promised to generously and continually give material blessings to His people if they would try to obey His commands. All He asked them in return was to trust Him with all of their needs and to follow His example and give generously to the needy in their midst. God’s generosity to His people would set them free to pass on that generosity to everybody around them and especially to those in need.
First of all God commanded His people to rest from all of their work every seventh day. Not only were the Israelites to rest, but their workers and their animals were to have the day off too. Notice how God cared about how they treated the animals too! One of the Ten Commandments reads: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. …” (Exodus 20:8)
In that agrarian society 3,500 years ago, most of the Israelites were farmers. God instructed the Israelites to work on their farms and vineyards for six years and then to take a years’ vacation the seventh year and let the land rest. This is what the Lord ordered. “When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather your crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.” (Leviticus 25:2b-5)
I can just imagine that if God instructed all of our farmers to stop farming one whole year out of every seven we would have a fit. “Surely we won’t have enough to eat,” we would insist. And I think the Israelites wondered if they would have enough to eat if they took the year off work. But God wanted His people to let go and trust Him to provide for their needs. Here is what God told Moses to tell the people: “You may ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops? I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.” (Leviticus 15: 20-22)
God added: “But during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” (Exodus 23:11b) God would bless His people so abundantly that they could feed the poor among them and the wild animals. Also God’s people were instructed during harvest time to leave a portion of their crops for the poor and the hungry to take. They were to look after each other, give to anyone who asked for help. They were to have time to rest and recharge, listen to God and enjoy life. No tight penny pinching folks in God’s group!
And if these amazing commands weren’t enough, God commanded His people to proclaim the Year of Jubilee every fifty years. Every fifty years trumpets would sound and liberty would be proclaimed throughout the land. All debt would be canceled and all the slaves would be freed! All land that had been sold would be given back to the original owner. If the Jewish nation obeyed God and observed the Year of Jubilee, the poor would be given a fresh start and those who had been forced to sell their land or their homes would get them back. The rich wouldn’t become richer on the backs of the poor in God’s economy.
And real estate was conducted differently than it is today. God instructed them: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine.” (Leviticus 25:23) God’s people were given the use of the land. They were managers of the land but not owners. God was the sole owner and landlord of all the land.
If a Jewish person fell into hard times and had to sell his land, the price would be calculated on how many seasons were left for growing crops until the Year of Jubilee. No real estate sale was ever permanent since Jubilee cancelled all sales. The land would be worth much more if thirty years remained before Jubilee than if just ten years were left. The land was valued by how many years were left to plant and harvest crops before the land would be returned to the original owner!
God continued to remind His people to take care of the poor and sick and disadvantaged in their midst. He warns them that He will not bless them it they forget the poor. “Cursed be he who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 27:19) And God forbids His people from charging interest when they loan money to one another. “Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, …You must not lend money at interest or sell him food at a profit for I am the Lord your God,…” Leviticus 25:36-37)
Life for us today in this global economy is vastly different from what it was for the ancient Israelites of Moses’ day. For one thing ancient Israel was supposed to be a theocracy. All of the Israelites were supposed to worship the one true God, whereas in our democratic society we have freedom of religion and all religions are represented. We are an individualistic society whereas ancient Israel was very communal. God’s instructions for those ancient people would not speak to how we do business today. But what lessons can we take from those ancient commands? And how does God want us to do our business today?
For one thing God wanted justice and equity for ancient Israel and He wants that for us today too. God wanted a kinder and gentler society then and He wants that for us today. We live in a competitive and individualistic culture today where there are winners and losers. Even our games are highly competitive. God never encouraged His people to be competitive or to try to get ahead of the pack. Instead God taught His children to work for the common good, and to take care of one another.
We live in a materialistic culture today where the gross national product is valued above everything else. We will sell our souls for the bottom line. The productivity of the average worker has been pushed to the breaking point so that maximum profits can be earned. Frantic workers are often stressed to the breaking point trying to reach their quotas. Employees work harder and longer with less time off. Cut throat tactics are regularly used in the workplace and loyalty is a thing of the past. Jobs are sent overseas and faithful long term workers are fired and replaced with cheaper labor in order to save a few bucks. And some even dare to call these maneuvers Christian!
So we may feel a tinge of jealousy when we read God’s ancient commands in Scripture calling His beloved children to celebrate the Year of Jubilee! Instead of pushing His people for more production, God instructed them to leave part of their harvest for the poor and the wild animals. Instead of teaching His children how to manipulate the stock market, God commanded them not to charge interest when they made loans and to cancel all debt every fifty years. Instead of working them harder, God told His children to take a year off, celebrate and trust Him to provide for their needs.
Maybe in our rush to get ahead, we have done it all backwards after all. We think we are better off financially but we may have paid a price spiritually. Perhaps we can stop and ask God to lead us back to a kinder and gentler way of living. And perhaps we can learn something after all from those lessons given so long ago concerning the Year of Jubilee.