The laws of the Sabbath day, Sabbatical year, and Jubilee year give shape to our total existence as humans interdependent with the land, animals, and plants. Setting aside one day out of seven, one year out of seven, and one year out of seven times seven years to rest from labor, allowing even the land to rest, declares the sovereignty of God and the primacy of worship. Productivity in labor, when elevated to the highest value, tends to reduce the laborer and the earth to machine-like objects.
Worship ennobles the human person made in the image of God without any loss of “productivity” which is ultimately the gift of God. By letting go of the plow and raising our hands in benediction, all results are surrendered to the Lord.
The Jubilee year proclaims liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. The land is left fallow, inherited property is restored to families, and Israelite slaves are set free. The earth and its people belong to God alone. Every child of God is cared for under the divine lease. In an oracle of salvation, the prophet Micah declared:
They shall all sit under their own vines,
under their own fig trees, undisturbed;
for the Lord of hosts has spoken. Micah 4:4
With liberty comes restoration of all relationships between God, humanity, and the earth, and parents, children, and families. Freedom is fundamentally relational.
The Jubilee year may be an ideal that was never realized in Israel, as documentary evidence is lacking. However, the law sets forth transcendent, theological principles that are universally valid. Jubilee concepts and imagery vivify Messianic prophecies in the Old and New Testaments concerning the kingdom of God.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,Luke 4:18-19 (cf. Isaiah 61:1-3)
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
With the coming of Christ, the divine inheritance transcends property and family.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.Matthew 19:29
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”Mark 10:29-30
You shall count seven weeks of years—seven times seven years—such that the seven weeks of years amount to forty-nine years. Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month let the ram’s horn resound; on this, the Day of Atonement, the ram’s horn blast shall resound throughout your land. You shall treat this fiftieth year as sacred. You shall proclaim liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to your own property, each of you to your own family. This fiftieth year is your year of jubilee; you shall not sow, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth or pick the untrimmed vines, since this is the jubilee. It shall be sacred for you. You may only eat what the field yields of itself.
In this year of jubilee, then, each of you shall return to your own property. Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from your neighbor, do not deal unfairly with one another. On the basis of the number of years since the last jubilee you shall purchase the land from your neighbor; and so also, on the basis of the number of years of harvest, that person shall sell it to you. When the years are many, the price shall be so much the more; when the years are few, the price shall be so much the less. For it is really the number of harvests that the person sells you. Do not deal unfairly with one another, then; but stand in fear of your God. I, the Lord, am your God.
Observe my statutes and be careful to keep my ordinances, so that you will dwell securely in the land. The land will yield its fruit and you will eat your fill, and live there securely. And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we do not sow or reap our crop?” I will command such a blessing for you in the sixth year that there will be crop enough for three years, and when you sow in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the old crop; even into the ninth year, until the crop comes in, you will still be eating from the old crop.
The land shall not be sold irrevocably; for the land is mine, and you are but resident aliens and under my authority. Therefore, in every part of the country that you occupy, you must permit the land to be redeemed. When one of your kindred is reduced to poverty and has to sell some property, that person’s closest relative, who has the duty to redeem it, shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If, however, the person has no relative to redeem it, but later on acquires sufficient means to redeem it, the person shall calculate the years since the sale, return the balance to the one to whom it was sold, and thus regain the property. But if the person does not acquire sufficient means to buy back the land, what was sold shall remain in the possession of the purchaser until the year of the jubilee, when it must be released and returned to the original owner.
When someone sells a dwelling in a walled town, it can be redeemed up to a full year after its sale—the redemption period is one year. But if such a house in a walled town has not been redeemed at the end of a full year, it shall belong irrevocably to the purchaser throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. However, houses in villages that are not encircled by walls shall be reckoned as part of the surrounding farm land; they may be redeemed, and in the jubilee they must be released.
In levitical cities the Levites shall always have the right to redeem the houses in the cities that are in their possession. As for levitical property that goes unredeemed—houses sold in cities of their possession shall be released in the jubilee; for the houses in levitical cities are their possession in the midst of the Israelites. Moreover, the pasture land belonging to their cities shall not be sold at all; it must always remain their possession.