If the exodus is the primal act of redemption, the Jubilee of Leviticus 25 is the primal act of restoration. So Chris Wright in The Mission of God. One text that has played a big role in anabaptist thinking, and very little in most Western theology, is the Jubilee.
Why has this text been ignored? It shaped Isaiah 61 and Jesus in Luke 4:18-19, and seems behind Acts 2 and 4’s famous descriptions of the earliest Christians in Jerusalem. What we can we learn from it? Why not exploit this great economic theory for modern local church ministries? What could we do as a result?
See text below.
Socialists love it, but they often misuse it. Capitalists avoid it, but they too misuse it. Wright’s got some good stuff here.
The social angle of Jubilee is the kinship system of ancient Israel: the extended family. The economic angle of Jubilee is Israel’s system of land tenure: there was at the beginning an equitable distribution of land and Israelite families had an inalienable right to that land. But things didn’t always go well. The theological angle of Jubilee is that it was God’s land for God’s people.
The fundamental themes of Jubilee then are liberty — from debt and bondage to debt — and return — humans returned to their land and the family to the land. So, this is not about “re-distribution” of land but of a principle of restoring folks to the land they already own.
The purpose was to preserve the socioeconomic fabric of multiple-household land tenure that protected the small family. The law was shaped to protect the economic viability of families.
On the issue of whether or not Jubilees ever occurred: Wright thinks they did. Silence doesn’t prove much in the ancient world. The social world implicit in Jubilee was so disrupted by improper ownership etc that it was increasingly difficult to practice.
So what is the value of Jubilee for today?
1. Economic: there should be a broad equitable distribution of resources. It critiques not only excessive personal ownership but also excessive collectivism.
2. Social: the importance of the viability of the family.
3. Theological: Jubilee involves God’s sovereignty and providence, God’s redemption and atonement, and God’s justice and promise for the future.
The Jubilee gained life as a metaphor:
1. Isaiah 61
2. Jesus in Luke 4:18-19
3. The early church
I can’t summarize it all; the post is getting too long. Wright explores the centrality of the cross — which he sees (admirably) holistically and not just personally. And he questions the use of the “priority” of evangelism over social justice and prefers the “ultimacy” of evangelism within the holistic work of God. (This theme has been seen before.)
The Year of Jubilee
8 ? ?Count off seven sabbaths of years?seven times seven years?so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
13 ? ?In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.
14 ? ?If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.
18 ? ?Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. 20 You may ask, ?What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?? 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 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.
23 ? ?The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. 24 Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.
25 ? ?If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. 26 If, however, a man has no one to redeem it for him but he himself prospers and acquires sufficient means to redeem it, 27 he is to determine the value for the years since he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it; he can then go back to his own property. 28 But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property.
29 ? ?If a man sells a house in a walled city, he retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time he may redeem it. 30 If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and his descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee. 31 But houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee.
32 ? ?The Levites always have the right to redeem their houses in the Levitical towns, which they possess. 33 So the property of the Levites is redeemable?that is, a house sold in any town they hold?and is to be returned in the Jubilee, because the houses in the towns of the Levites are their property among the Israelites. 34 But the pastureland belonging to their towns must not be sold; it is their permanent possession.
35 ? ?If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest of any kind [fn1] from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
39 ? ?If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. 40 He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. 41 Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. 42 Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. 43 Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.
44 ? ?Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
47 ? ?If an alien or a temporary resident among you becomes rich and one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells himself to the alien living among you or to a member of the alien?s clan, 48 he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: 49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in his clan may redeem him. Or if he prospers, he may redeem himself. 50 He and his buyer are to count the time from the year he sold himself up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for his release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired man for that number of years. 51 If many years remain, he must pay for his redemption a larger share of the price paid for him. 52 If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, he is to compute that and pay for his redemption accordingly. 53 He is to be treated as a man hired from year to year; you must see to it that his owner does not rule over him ruthlessly.
54 ? ?Even if he is not redeemed in any of these ways, he and his children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.