10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. Leviticus 25:10-12
We’ve been having a few conversations over the past couple of days about whether or not the year of Jubilee was ever observed. I spent a little time digging into this question this morning, and still can’t find anything definitive. I do know that in all the books of history within the Bible it isn’t mentioned.
Maybe it’s because I’ve sat in lots and lots of church committee meetings over the years, but it is easy for me to imagine how the Israelites could talk themselves out of obedience for the sake of what they would see as common sense. How many times have you seen someone’s great idea never get off the ground because someone in the meeting said, “Well, that sounds interesting, but how would it work?”
So… yeah. How would Jubilee “work?” In 25:4, God commanded to let the land rest for seven years. Okay… but in the fiftieth year, you let it rest again. Oh, and you free all your slaves. So that would mean that the year AFTER Jubilee, you have two years’ worth of rocks and weeds, and no one to help you cultivate it and get it back into shape.
God seems to anticipate the naysayers in 25:20-21, when He promises a bounty in the sixth year that would carry them for the next three. It anticipates Malachi 3:10 (the only time God ever invites us to test him):
“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
I can imagine the deacons shuffling their feet until one of them says, “Pastor Moses, it sounds good, but I don’t know if that’s the right direction for us to take right now…”
And while it is an argument from silence to say that no mention of Jubilee is proof that it wasn’t observed, it’s a pretty loud argument.
The question for me, then, is what will I allow to rule the day? When God’s command conflicts with human wisdom, will I trust the command or default to “common sense?” Because the unstated but inescapable conclusion is this: if the Israelites did not trust the Lord enough to observe Jubilee once every generation, then not only would God withhold His blessing, but the debts that were to be forgiven would remain outstanding, and the slaves that were to be set free would remain in bondage.
And it’ true for us today. Forgiveness and freedom begin with obedience.