Leviticus 25 ordains a
one in every seven (Lev. 25:1-7),
jubilee year, one in every
Israel’s internal economy
In the sabbath year, each field was to lie fallow, which
appears to be a sound agricultural practice.
The year of jubilee
much more radical.
Every fiftieth year,
all leased or mortgaged lands were to
be returned to their original owners,
and all slaves and bonded
were to be freed
This naturally posed difficulties in banking and land transactions,
and special provisions were designed to ameliorate them
(Lev. 25:15-16), which we will explore in a moment.
The underlying intent is the same as seen in the law of gleaning
to ensure that everyone had access to the means of production,
whether the family farm
or simply the
fruits of their own labor
It is not fully known whether Israel actually observed the
associated with it (e.g., Lev. 25:25-28, 39-41) on a wide-scale basis. Regardless, the sheer detail of Leviticus 25strongly suggests that we treat the laws as something that Israel either did or should have implemented. Rather than see the jubilee year as a utopian literary fiction, it seems better to believe that its widespread neglect occurred not because the jubilee was unfeasible, but because the wealthy were unwilling to accept the social and economic implications that would have been costly and disruptive to them.
Protection for the DestituteAfter Israel conquered Canaan, the land was assigned to Israel’s clans and families as described in Numbers 26 and
was never to be sold in perpetuity for it
belonged to the Lord, not the people
The effect of the jubilee was to prevent any family from becoming permanently landless through sale, mortgage or permanent lease of its assigned land. In essence, any sale of land was really a term lease that could last no longer than the next year of jubilee (Lev. 25:15). This provided a means for the destitute to raise money (by leasing the land) without depriving the family’s future generations of the means of production. The rules of Leviticus 25 are not easy to figure out, and Milgrom makes good sense of them as he defines three progressive stages of destitution.
- The first stage is depicted in Leviticus 25:25-28. A person could simply become poor. The presumed scenario is that of a farmer who borrowed money to buy seed but did not harvest enough to repay the loan. He therefore must sell some of the land to a buyer in order to cover the debt and buy seed for the next planting. If there was a person who belonged to the farmer’s clan who wished to act as a “redeemer”, he could pay the buyer according to the number of remaining annual crops until the jubilee year when it reverted to the farmer. Until that time, the land belonged to the redeemer, who allowed the farmer to work it.
- The second stage was more serious (Lev. 25:35-38). Assuming that the land was not redeemed and the farmer again fell into debt from which he could not recover, he would forfeit all of his land to the creditor. In this case, the creditor must lend the farmer the funds necessary to continue working as a tenant farmer on his own land, but must not charge him interest. The farmer would amortize this loan with the profit made from the crops, perhaps eliminating the debt. If so, the farmer would regain his land. If the loan was not fully repaid before the jubilee, then at that time the land would revert back to the farmer or his heirs.
- The third stage was more serious still (Lev. 25:39-43). Assuming that the farmer in the previous stage could neither pay on the loan or even support himself and his family, he would become temporarily bound to the household of the creditor. As a bound laborer he would work for wages, which were entirely for reduction of the debt. At the year of jubilee, he would regain his land and his freedom (Lev. 25:41). Throughout these years, the creditor must not work him as a slave, sell him as a slave, or rule over him harshly (Lev. 25:42-43). The creditor must “fear God” by accepting the fact that all of God’s people are God’s slaves (NRSV “servants”) whom he graciously brought out from Egypt. No one else can own them because God already does.
The point of these rules is that Israelites were never to become slaves to other Israelites. It was conceivable, though, that impoverished Israelites might sell themselves as slaves to wealthy resident aliens living in the land (Lev. 25:47-55). Even if this happened, the sale must not be permanent. People who sold themselves must retain the right to buy themselves out of slavery if they prospered. If not, a near relative could intervene as a “redeemer” who would pay the foreigner according to the number of years left until the jubilee when the impoverished Israelites were to be released. During that time, they were not to be treated harshly but be regarded as hired workers.
What Does the Year of Jubilee Mean for Today?The year of jubilee operated within the context of Israel’s kinship system for the protection of the clan’s inalienable right to work their ancestral land, which they understood to be owned by God and to be enjoyed by them as a benefit of their relationship with him. These social and economic conditions no longer exist, and from a biblical point of view, God no longer administers redemption through a single political state. We must therefore view the jubilee from our current vantage point.
A wide variety of perspectives exists about the proper application, if any, of the jubilee to today’s societies. To take one example that engages seriously with contemporary realities, Christopher Wright has written extensively on the Christian appropriation of Old Testament laws
He identifies principles implicit in these ancient laws in order to grasp their ethical implications for today. His treatment of the jubilee year thus considers three basic angles: the theological, the social, and the economic.
Theologically, the jubilee affirms that the Lord is not only the God who owns Israel’s land; he is sovereign over all time and nature. His act of redeeming his people from Egypt committed him to provide for them on every level because they were his own. Therefore, Israel’s observance of the Sabbath day and year and the year of jubilee was a function of obedience and trust. In practical terms, the jubilee year embodies the trust all Israelites could have that God would provide for their immediate needs and for the future of their families. At the same time, it calls on the rich to trust that treating creditors compassionately will still yield an adequate return.
Looking at the social angle, the smallest unit of Israel’s kinship structure was the household that would have included three to four generations. The jubilee provided a socioeconomic solution to keep the family whole even in the face of economic calamity. Family debt was a reality in ancient times as it is today, and its effects include a frightening list of social ills. The jubilee sought to check these negative social consequences by limiting their duration so that future generations would not have to bear the burden of their distant ancestors.
The economic angle reveals the two principles that we can apply today. First, God desires just distribution of the earth’s resources. According to God’s plan, the land of Canaan was assigned equitably among the people. The jubilee was not about redistribution but restoration. According to Wright, “The jubilee thus stands as a critique not only of massive private accumulation of land and related wealth but also of large-scale forms of collectivism or nationalization that destroy any meaningful sense of personal or family ownership.” Second, family units must have the opportunity and resources to provide for themselves.
In most modern societies, people cannot be sold into slavery to pay debts. Bankruptcy laws provide relief to those burdened with unpayable debts, and descendants are not liable for ancestors' debts. The basic property needed for survival may be protected from seizure. Nonetheless, Leviticus 25 seems to offer a broader foundation than contemporary bankruptcy laws. It is founded not on merely protecting personal liberty and a bit of property for destitute people, but on ensuring that everyone has access to the means of making a living and escaping multi-generational poverty. As the gleaning laws in Leviticus show, the solution is neither handouts nor mass appropriation of property, but social values and structures that give every person an opportunity to work productively. Have modern societies actually surpassed ancient Israel in this regard? What about the millions of people enslaved or in bonded labor today in situations where anti-slavery laws are not adequately enforced? What would it take for Christians to be capable of offering real solutions?
Gods Promise for our
Deliverance to the Promise Land
Rings in aNew Land,
Blessed are those who
keep His statutes
Him with all their heart --
they do no wrong but
follow His ways.
Revelation 3:7-13 records
to the sixth of the
seven churches addressed in Revelation 2–3
The Philadelphian church is the recipient of this letter.
Philadelphia was a city in Asia Minor]
on the Imperial Post Road, an important
The message is from the Lord Jesus Christ through an angel or “messenger” (likely a reference to the pastor): “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write . . .” (Revelation 3:7). This was not John’s personal message to these believers; it was a message from the Lord, who identifies Himself as “him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” This description of Jesus emphasizes His holiness, His sovereignty, and His authority. The reference to the key of David is an allusion to the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 22:22. Jesus is the one who opens and shuts, and no one can say Him nay.
Jesus affirms the church’s positive actions: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8). The church of Philadelphia was weak in some respects, yet they had remained faithful in the face of trial. Because of this, the Lord promises them an “open door” of blessing.
Jesus’ letter then condemns the enemies of the Philadelphian believers: “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9). Those who persecuted the believers (the persecutors were religious hypocrites in this case) would one day realize Christ loves His children. The church of Philadelphia would be victorious over its enemies.
Jesus encourages the Philadelphian believers regarding His future coming: “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (Revelation 3:10-11). The church’s faithful endurance would serve as a blessing. Jesus would take them to be with Him before the coming tribulation (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). He also exhorts them to remain faithful, because this would lead to rewards in the afterlife. Based on this and other passages, many Bible interpreters conclude that the rapture is an event distinct from the second coming of Christ. The fact that the Philadelphians are promised to be preserved from the time of the tribulation corresponds with the pretribulational view of the rapture.
Jesus provides a final promise to the believers in Philadelphia and to all believers: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down from out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name” (Revelation 3:12). Professor Thomas Constable notes,
“God promised that He will not just
by erecting a pillar in their name in heaven,
as was the custom in
He will make them
pillars in the spiritual temple of God,
(21:22; cf. Gal. 2:9; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-10).”
So, those who struggled with weakness
Jesus makes everlasting pillars in the house of God.
We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us
Jesus’ words of comfort certainly would have been a
blessing to the Philadelphians
who had faithfully stood for Christ in their pagan culture.
His words continue to serve
as an encouragement to faithful believers today.
1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-18Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
PSALM 103:1-4Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.
COLOSSIANS 2:6-7 (NKJV)As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
ISAIAH 12:4-5 (NASB)And on that day you will say, "Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; make them remember that His name is exalted." Praise the LORD in song, for He has done glorious things; let this be known throughout the earth.
JAMES 1:17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
1 CHRONICLES 16:34 (ESV)Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!
HEBREWS 12:28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire."
PSALM 95:1-5 (NKJV)Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth' the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.
PHILIPPIANS 4:4-7Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
PSALM 118:24 (ESV)This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
COLOSSIANS 3:15-17Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
1 CHRONICLES 29:13 (NKJV)"Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name."
EPHESIANS 5:18-20 (NASB)… but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to our God and Father.
PSALM 107:1-3 (ESV)Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
HEBREWS 13:15Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess His name.
Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who
keep His statutes
Him with all their heart --
they do no wrong but
follow His ways.
You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.
2 CORINTHIANS 9:15.
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!