Leviticus 25: Jubilee
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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Leviticus 25 is not one of those books that we dive into very often, it’s Leviticus 25:1-12. The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them when you enter the land that I’m 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 their crops. In the seventh year, the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Don’t sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Don’t reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.
Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you, for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker, and the temporary residents who live among you. As well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land, whatever the land produces shall be eaten. The year of jubilee. Count seven Sabbath years, seven times, seven years so that the seven Sabbath years amount to a period of 49 years, then sound the trumpet everywhere. On the 10th day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land, consecrate the 50th year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you. Each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 50th year shall be a jubilee for you. Do not sow and do not reap what grows for itself or harvest the untended vines, for it is a jubilee, and is to be holy for you. Eat only what is directly taken directly from the fields,” and it goes on. Now, no doubt, people are starting to become perhaps a bit excited about the jubilee bank holiday in a week or two’s time. The council you might have noticed have put out union flags along Main Street and up Church Street. They’ve produced a list of activities that will be taking place over the bank holiday weekend.
On Thursday our market-stall holders will still be here, and we’ll be open for coffee as usual. On Friday, our friendship group will be celebrating with an afternoon tea with a distinct possibility of spilling out onto the street to share the occasion with passing neighbours. Just a year or so ago, of course, none of this would probably have been possible with the number of COVID restrictions that were still in force. Even now, we know that there will be people who are taking things more cautiously, and sadly, not able to join our own 150th celebrations this time next week, or the Queen’s Jubilee and Pentecost the following week.
For others, however, these opportunities are the first summertime parties they’ve had since 2019. They’ll be making the most of their time off. As you know, we are in the season of Easter. We’re having a bit of a focus on celebration. Last week, I preached on the parable of the man who built his house on the rock, and the parable of a man who built his house on the sand, thinking that this would be a happy story for those who were building wisely on that firm foundation. If you were here, or you heard my message, there’s nothing really celebratory about that story at all.
Similarly, I thought as we are about to enter the celebrations for the platinum jubilee, the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, we might look at the joy about the Old Testament festival of Sabbath and Jubilee. Again, my understanding of it has rather altered as I’ve read more about it. I think the theme is less about celebration festival and more about how we treat one another and our planet. You see, Leviticus 25 is all about what we might call covenant laws, the agreement that God has with his people about how they live. We have this interesting chapter on Sabbath and jubilee, which focuses less upon festival, and more about obedience, just as we ended up last week with trusting and obeying when we put the words of Jesus into practice. Now, you’ll know that for years, I’ve been interested in our church’s name. It’s present name because it’s had a number of names in the past Main Street Community Church. I think I’ve said that I don’t think I would’ve applied for the pastor position here. If it was still called Main Street Chapel. For me the word community was key. It shows who we really, really are. Similarly, this momentous chapter in a little-read book of the Bible sets out a vision of how to become a wholesome and compassionate just and equal society.
It reminds us that holiness is more than a matter of religious purity and that God’s vision of a united world through how we treat it. How we treat one another bonds the forms through which we please, honour, obey. Leviticus 25, introduces two festival years, a Sabbath year, and the year of Jubilee. The Sabbath year one in every seven, reflecting the holy day of the week where everyone is duty-bound to rest, includes rest for everyone and everything including the land which grows food. There is so much to talk about today that I won’t be able to do justice to the whole subject.
Sufficient to say that faith-based organizations such as Christian Aid, that we saw earlier, aims to restore the world to such a way through their work through climate change and social justice, and calling upon governments to act justly. Individuals who work with them are very much like those prophets in the Old Testaments, like Amos and Micah, who we remember call for justice and acting justly, walking humbly with their God. Jesus followers act in all sorts of ways to bring about Sabbath rest for those who have nothing. A sabbatical year is the first thing that God speaks about in this covenant.
It’s mainly about the importance and maintenance of close family relationships at the foundation. One commentator puts it like this, close family relationships were important because the Lord had appointed the family as the foundation of society and wanted these benefits to be woven into the fabric of society. Both to bless the Israelites and to model for the nations, what society was to look like. They go on, observing the Sabbath principle was important not only because it protected the people and the land from overwork, but also because obedience to it was a fundamental sign of covenant loyalty.
Now, I know that Andrew Basden at home has been doing a lot of thinking about the whole notion of representing God. In Israel, represented God to the nations around them. Years on followers of Jesus represent God to the world. I would encourage you to speak with Him about His thoughts as they are deeply embedded in scripture. I know that they’re a bedrock to His understanding of how we respond to God in looking after our planet. Sabbatical then is one wonderful way of representing God. Through the creation account, we have God resting on day seven. This is the picture that God has for humanity as well.
Then to magnify this to the whole of society which includes animals, land, and people that don’t necessarily naturally belong in this country. All of the creation takes a sabbatical year. Thinking about it, a sabbatical year would be a huge challenge. People who owned or at least worked the land would have to leave it fallow in order for the earth to recover in a subsistence farming culture. How would people live? God’s got it covered in Leviticus 25, where He pretty much says, “Well, trust me,” In taking a sabbatical a Sabbath year, every seven, the people reminded that the land belongs to God. He has gifted it to them, but yet he cares for it and he made it. God’s promise to ensure abundance in years, six and seven, and the people could eat whatever the ground produced naturally was challenging, too. What they had, they shared. I remember Rose, I think she’s at home today. Hi, Rose. When I visited Rose a few weeks ago, she told me when she was growing up, that I think it was her granddad, her grandfather, had a motto, “What we have, we share,” and I sense there’s a similar sense of that within our own fellowship. What we have, we share.
What do I share? How difficult or easy do I find it to do so? How annoyed or frustrated do I become when others don’t share? If so, what’s the lesson in that for me? God seems to have shared the whole world. The least we can do is share it peaceably and in common with other humans. This is why we continue to pray for peace in our world and to love our enemies, because all of this brings about that true Shalom, that wholeness in all its constituent parts. That, in a nutshell, is the Sabbath year, which brings us onto jubilee, and it’s rather different from what we now think of as jubilee, being big in celebration.
You’ll know that for the past few years, I’ve been banging on about Isaiah 58, and how real worship is far from merely singing and gathering to do religious service. So much about the things that make Main Street Community Church, the community that it is, and that it serves in all its various facets by showing love in action. Isaiah 58 speaks in the same vein as Amos and Micah, letting justice flow like rivers and acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly. Even Jesus picked up on Isaiah, although it’s Chapter 61, in Luke 4, when he’s in the synagogue, and he picks up the scroll. He proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to recover sight from the blind, to set the oppressed free to claim the year of God’s favour.” He rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, sits down, and the eyes of the whole synagogue upon him. He said to them, “Today, the scripture is filled in your hearing.” In many ways, we could see that Jesus sees himself as the bringer of jubilee. At the outset of his ministry, that Luke records, “This is like a ram’s horn shouting and proclaiming that freedom to captives and release from debt is why he came.”
The year of the Lord’s favour seems to seal the deal that he was Jesus the jubilee-bringer, the original Jubilee was an opportunity for God’s people to restore equity and to rest to everyone in God’s land. Once every seventh Sabbath year, or the year after it, not quite sure, once every 49 or 50 years, land would be returned to its proper owner, debts would be cleared. In essence, jubilee is a way of retaining equality amongst the group of people that God had called to be his own. The rich farm owners could not acquire more land to become more rich and more rich and treat their staff with disdain. It was to proclaim liberty and independence, drawing a line under the accumulated debts of previous years.
Again, this was a reminder that God gave to his people when he gave them the land of Canaan. That land flowing with milk and honey that he had apportioned according to each tribe, and each, clan, and each family. This is how the Israelite system works. Tribe is the largest group broken into clans of three or four families perhaps, and then the smallest group, a family. The land was distributed according to their size. Jubilee every 50 years ensured that if land had been given up, it would have to be returned to its original tribe, I think. Each generation would be restored to their property and once again enjoy the security God had originally intended for each tribe.
We know either from our own experience or from hearing it on the news, how debt can easily erode family life. Poverty can undermine trust, even result in homelessness, and bring people and families to desolation. Jubilee legislation would prevent that from happening. Once in a lifetime, at least, family life would be restored. Dignity, recovered and opportunity revived says Derek Tidball. This would show the other nations around how God wanted empathy and healthy relationships. Again, this would show God’s compassion when His people represented Him well.
God is concerned that people behave with respect and honour towards one, especially when they have fallen on hard times, God’s people were discouraged from exploiting those who were disadvantaged, even if it was self-sown. The jubilee year perhaps then was a biggest festival for those who had most to regain the lost the downtrodden. Those who are [inaudible 00:16:41] because as we have said, countless times in this place, God is on the side of those who are [inaudible 00:16:48] . Sad that there’s no recorded evidence that the year of jubilee ever took place. Perhaps because it had fallen out of favour, by the time things were written down or the economic system had somehow moved on.
What a shame that it no longer showed up the other nations and kings whose land meant profits and, literally, lording it over their subjects, here in Jubilee land, I guess in Israel, we have a merciful, compassionate, and practical God, who wants to ensure his land remains healthy. Every seven years, the Sabbath must come into play because this is God’s land and every 50 years or 49 years, the land that has given so much is returned to its rightful tribe owners. What a shalom, what peace there must be. What wholeness, where families lands and relationships are restored again. No wonder Jesus comes to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Again, he is for the poor, and for forgotten, for the Jew, and the Gentile. Jesus comes to restore, to dignify, to write off debts. We remember this in the most famous Bible verse of all “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal [life].” Or to quote a song that I used to sing when I was growing up: forgiveness, security, power, and love grace that blows all fear away. Jesus, it’s a beautiful [name], it’s a real jubilee celebration festival time. If you’ve been in the gutter only to be told that it’s wiped clean, because that’s what the covenant agreement says.
That’s precisely it, Jesus, not that Jesus necessarily clears away financial debt or gives us back physical land, but certainly, in a spiritual and practical sense of having sins or debts forgiven and restoration of who we were designed to be. Preachers made in God’s image to dignify others, by representing the best of God to those around us. There is so much that we could be talking about regarding the importance of jubilee and how impressively, if enacted, could have made Israel the place where other nations would’ve seen God’s kingdom really come on earth as it is in heaven, but in summary, Jesus is now our jubilee.
It is he who brings a new covenant, a new understanding, a new agreement that binds heaven and earth together in a new way that puts life, death, and resurrection of Jesus front and centre. It doesn’t end there. Jesus and therefore God’s expectation, as it was back in the days of the Israelites is that we look out for those who are in need. Treat them as much as we can as family. For the earth, the land supports us, water refreshes us, crops that grow and sustain and help us grow. The earth presently needs two and a half worlds to sustain the way that we are all living.
The poor place hasn’t had a chance to grieve and that was never how it was designed. Sabbath and jubilee were the antidotes to the recklessness of humans against one another, towards our home planet. I wonder today, what examples from Christian Aid or other agencies that do social justice could do with our help in order to promote human well-being, and to ensure we do our bit to get our world on a more even keel where it can rest rather than keep on [inaudible 00:21:21] . This is Sabbath. This is jubilee. This is God’s best that we and all around us enjoy fellowship and relationship. We enjoy it within the confines of what actually be sustained.
Sabbath and jubilee are ways to celebrate the best that God has to offer. As we celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee in a couple of weeks’ time over Pentecost, and as we look forward very much next week to our own 150th anniversary celebrations here. Let’s keep in mind that Sabbath and jubilee are causes for good. That God has created us for good, to do good, to reflect goodness, and to live [inaudible 00:22:21]. May God bless these thoughts to our hearts today.
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