This is a great passage about the Year of Jubilee, because it goes to the heart of the law: redemption and liberty. What does the New Testament say?
Leviticus is a great book. I am having a blast working my way through it. I invite all Bible teachers not to be scared of it, but to dig in. Maybe my series can bridge the gap, a little.
I don’t interpret Lev. 25 symbolically, but I draw some basic principles from the ideas here. Liberty and redemption are carried forward and transformed theologically in the New Covenant Scriptures.
Before we begin:
For a general overview of the interrelations between the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant, click on:
What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?
How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19
One Decisive Difference Between Sinai Covenant and New Covenant
Many (not even close to all) elements are retained, and what is kept is improved on or streamlined.
The NIV is used here, unless otherwise noted. Readers are invited to go to biblegateway.com, choose their own translation, and open another window to follow along.
Now let’s take it section by section.
This wise passage speaks of sowing and reaping the fields for six years, but on the seventh the farmers are to give their fields rest. Could a farmer rotate the seventh year according to different fields, staggering the seventh year, so he doesn’t lose productivity entire for a whole planting and harvest season? Each field has a sabbath rest on different years. This is true of the vineyards, too.
However, the whole thrust of the passage seems to indicate that the whole land of Israel is to be unproductive for a year, all at the same time, so no shortcuts. The farmers shouldn’t fear a shortage during the Sabbath year, because God would provide (see vv. 18-22, below). The whole land of Israel belongs to the Lord, and he allows his chosen people to live on it. If they continually break his laws, then the land will vomit them out, just as it did the previous inhabitants (Lev. 18:25, 28: 20:22). If they obey, then this promise is given:
6 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 temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten. (Lev. 25:6-7)
So what does the New Covenant Scriptures say about sowing and harvesting as a matter of agricultural policy? Nothing.
However, it does draw from verses like the ones quoted some general principles about sowing and reaping God’s blessings. Paul writes a lavish passage about generosity:
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”[Ps. 112:9]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:6-11)
Hyper-prosperity teachers have ruined these wonderful passages, when they live in extravagant luxury after taking as much money from Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper as they can, by guilt-tripping them and falsely promising them abundance by sowing into their ministries. If people were to be “blessed” when giving to these preachers’ super-rich ministries, then why aren’t all the donors hundred-millionaires or billionaires? No, these wealthy-beyond-our-dream preachers should stop twisting the Scriptures beyond recognition and voluntarily live modestly and prudently.
However, with that warning offered, the above long passage does preach divine provision for the generous. 1 Cor. 9:8 is especially clear about cheerful givers: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” The purpose of prosperity is to abound in every good work.
I also like v. 9: “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” It repeats the theme is v. 8. We are enriched financially so that we can be generous on every occasion, so that our generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. When people receive a gift from you, thanksgiving is the result–but to God, not to you–since he gave you the ability to give in the first place.
The NT says nothing about farmland getting a Sabbath rest, but Hebrews 4 talks about a Sabbath rest for the people of God, which is expanded to mean having faith in Christ, as distinct from keeping the rules in the Sinai Covenant. The law no longer burdens God’s New Covenant people, because Jesus is now the High Priest:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)
Through Christ we can approach the throne of grace–not the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle–but the throne of God in heaven, by faith. We can be confident that we will receive mercy and grace in our time of need. All of this comes from resting in Jesus.
These are some of the greatest verses in the Old Testament, especially in the Torah (first five books). Let’s take these verses section by section and number the points for clarity and conciseness.
1. Counting off the year (vv. 8-13)
People are to count off forty-nine years: seven years time seven years, and then the next year–the fiftieth one–is to be the year of jubilee. Verse 10 says: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” The Founders of America put this verse on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
No one sows or plants. Everyone is to return to their family property and their own clan. In one effect it is a gigantic family reunion.
2.. Don’t take advantage of the Year of Jubilee when it approaches (vv. 13-17)
Verse 14 sums up the main idea here: “‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other.” Then the rest of the verses discuss what to do. Mortgage is done by how far away or close the fiftieth year is from the date of sale. Why? “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God” (v. 17).
3.. Don’t fear about having enough food during the Year of Jubilee (vv. 18-22)
God will pour out such blessings that the land will yield crops beyond the people’s wildest imaginings. “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years” (v. 21).
See my comments on vv. 1-7 for why this blessing is done, other than eating to survive.
4.. Redemption for the land (vv. 23-24)
These two verses set off the big theme of the rest of the passage. People had to know how to redeem the land or go free from slavery.
The land belonged to the Lord, and the people held it in possession, but not as if they were the one and only true landlords. Only the Lord God was the One and Only True Landlord. He sets out the rules.
5. How a relative can redeem land a poor family member sold in his poverty (vv. 25-28)
The nearest relative can redeem the property that his family member sold in his poverty. But what happens if no one can redeem it and the originally poor seller gets wealthy again. He too can buy it back (redeem) it, if he calculates the price justly. If the impoverished seller does not have the means to buy it back–redeem it– then the buyer can keep it until the Year of Jubilee. Then the seller gets it back. And the original seller can go back to his property.
6. Selling a house in a walled city (vv. 25-31)
If he does, then he can buy it back (redeem it) within the next year. If the seller does not redeem it within the year, the buyer and his descendants have it permanently. It is not to be returned in the Year of Jubilee. Why is the walled city treated differently?
Harris: “The city is different from the country …. To live in a walled city was a privilege, not a right. Real estate in the walled city was at a premium. Its value was not just its land but the improvements in terms of house and fortifications. … As explained in v. 16, when a man sold his farm, he was selling so many crops until the Jubilee. In contrast to walled cities, the villages, which were unrestricted in extent, counted in with their respective fields (v. 31). They were released in the Jubilee” (pp. 636-37).
7. Levitical cities (vv. 32-34)
The Levites can redeem their houses any time up to and including the Year of Jubilee. No time restrictions of a year. They could not own land, but they could own houses in their cities. They could have lost their cities, theoretically and in consequence lose all their holdings. A way of escape was provided for them. In these cities they could redeem their houses any time. Any Levitical house could not be bought in perpetuity.
8. Charging interest and selling for profit to the poor (vv. 35-38)
If a fellow Israelite became poor and unable to support himself, the other Israelites must not take interest or profit from them, but the rich are to fear God. Don’t lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit. Purpose: So they can continue to live among the people, implying they wouldn’t have to sell themselves to the wrong people.
This verse reveals the underlying foundational truth for this law: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God” v. 38). The Israelites knew what it was like to live in slavery. They must be empathetic towards the fellow citizens.
9. Indentured servitude of fellow-Israelites (vv. 39-43)
Indentured servants were fellow Israelites who became poor and sold themselves to their neighbor. They were not to be treated as slaves, but as hired workers or temporary residents. They are to work until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to go free and return to their clans and the property of their ancestors, even if they had served only a few years instead of seven.
These two verses repeat the theme of their being slaves in Israel and to fear the Lord: “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” (vv. 42-43).
10. Slavery is allowed (vv. 44-46)
Let me quote the verses:
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 bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. (Lev. 25:44-46)
In other words, foreigners could be slaves. They were usually refugees from war and foreigners of the nations around them, not slavery based on race. They could not own land, so the Year of Jubilee did not apply to them.
6. Torah and Slavery: Foreign Slaves
I have written a long post on the regulations protecting these slaves. The owners could not do anything they wanted with them. It would have been a shock to the economic system throughout the Ancient Near East to abolish slavery quickly. Many of the foreign slaves lived better lives among the Israelites than in their home countries.
Slavery and Freedom in the Bible
The Grand Narrative of the Bible on Slavery, from Genesis to Revelation, is liberty for the slaves and restrictions on the owners. For example in 1 Cor. 7:21-23, Paul said that if the slave can get his freedom, he should do so. And the Christian was bought with a price (redemption through Christ), so they must not become slaves to another human being.
11. Poor Israelites selling themselves to rich foreigners (vv. 47-53)
The next laws are about the Israelite having to sell himself to a poor foreigner. The slave retains the right to redemption by himself, if he prospers, or one of his relatives may buy him back (redeem him). The foreign owner could not stop the process. All the owner and slave had to do is calculate the right price according to the time left before the Year of Jubilee.
12. Summary statement about the Year of Jubilee (54-55)
Let me quote the verses:
54 “‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their 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. (Lev. 25:54-55)
So the bottom line is that the Year of Jubilee is about liberty and redemption or buying back. Those are the two greatest themes in the Bible, and it is good to read them here in this ancient book of Leviticus.
How does the New Covenant carry forward the themes of redemption and liberty?
Let’s just quote some verses about liberty.
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you…. (Lev. 25:10; see Jer. 34)
Isaiah describes the Messiah, and Jesus refers to the same verses:
He has sent me … to proclaim freedom for the captives … (Is. 61:1, see Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus healed a woman with an issue of blood, so she could go free:
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:34)
Jesus applies Isaiah’s wonderful prophecy to himself. Bold move, and one that shows how confident he was in his calling:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19; see Is. 61:1)
Jesus explains to his opponents:
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
Paul contrasts the life of liberty with the life of law-keeping:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)
Paul does the same here:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1)
You, my brothers, were called to be free. (Gal. 5:13).
Peter says we are free in Christ:
Live as free men …. (1 Peter 2:16)
Those verses speak of moral freedom, and the highest quality of life is to live in freedom, both morally and socially. It is verses like those that American abolitionists used to argue for emancipation of slaves. Stand in freedom and for freedom. Live As Free People.
In the Grand Narrative of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible speaks of liberty for all humankind, particularly the wonderful scenes in Rev. 21-22,
Let me number the points.
1. Christ’s redemption means we have been declared righteous.
Rom 3:24 teaches: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
2. Christ’s redemption frees from wickedness and the dominion of sin.
Rom. 6:7 and Rom. 6:22 tell us that thanks to the redemption and sacrificial death of Christ we are no longer under the domination of sin—the power of sin has been broken. And the penalty of sin is paid.
3. Christ’s redemption freed us from the law.
Gal. 4:5 teaches that the old law of Moses no longer bosses us around, with its curses and wrath. However, we now live in the law of Christ, which is love, but when a believer gets confused about this, moral law is also found in the New Covenant, so let’s not throw that out too. Moral law remains in both the Sinai Covenant and New Covenant.
4. Christ’s redemption frees us from the curse of the law.
Gal. 3:13 says that not only are we free from the law of Moses, but we enjoy freedom from its curses (Deut. 28:15-68).
5. Christ’s redemption frees us from an empty life.
Peter in 1:18 says that we are foreigners in a land not our own, but since we have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus, we no longer live empty or futile lives, but we can live for him, from an eternal perspective, and for eternity.
6. Christ’s redemption means we have been forgiven.
Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14 link redemption and forgiveness of sins. We have been brought out of a life or world of sin and brought over to the light, where sin may not disappear entirely, but its dominion is broken (Rom. 6:14).
7. Christ’s redemption means we now life lives of freedom.
Gal. 5:1, 13 tell us that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and then we should stand firm, so we do not come under the yoke of slavery. We should not use our liberty to indulge in our sin nature, but serve each other in love.
See my post for more information:
What Is Redemption in the Bible?
How does this post help me know God better?
The Grand Narrative of the Bible Speaks of Redemption and Freedom. It moves away from slavery.
In Genesis a prediction: “But I will punish the nation [Egypt] they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions” (Gen. 15:14).
In Exodus, right before delivering the Ten Commandments, God says: ““I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exod. 20:2).
Leviticus says God brought them out of slavery and broke the bars of their yoke, so they could hold their heads up: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high” (Lev. 26:13)
Here are some of the most beautiful verses in the last book of the Bible:
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9-1)
The number of people could not be counted. They have been redeemed and liberated from bondage of earth-bound life. There are no slaves in heaven.
In the Grand Biblical Narrative, freedom and liberty prevails.
Slavery and Freedom in the Bible
What Is Redemption in the Bible?
Vows and Redemption in Leviticus 27 from a NT Perspective
Towards a Theology of the Jubilee (a long and excellent offsite post, written by James Bejon)