Drash
Leviticus 25:8-10

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 20 May 2017

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Jubilee is Coming!

 

"8 And you will number seven Shabbatot, seven years times seven years, that will be to you the rest of seven Shabbatot of years that is, nine years and forty years.

9 Then you will cause to sound a blast on the shofar in the seventh month on the tenth day of the month on Yom Kippur, you will sound throughout all your land.

10 And you will set apart the year, the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty [Heb. deror] throughout the land to all the inhabitants. It shall be for you a Yvl and you will return every man to his property and every man to his family." (Lev 25:8-10 mine)

 

The Parashah for today provides instruction for observing the Sabbatical years and the Jubilee year. Just as God required Israel to work six days and rest the seventh day, so after they entered the land they were to sow the land for six years and let it rest from sowing the seventh year [cf. Ex 23:11]. Forty years later in MOAV God added the requirement to cancel debts at the end of the Sabbatical year during Sukkot [Devarim 15:1; 31:10].

Next, God commanded that at the end of the forty-ninth year on Yom Kippur a shofar would be blown to announce an additional year of liberty. The Septuagint translates Yvl with the Grk. aphesis, which means release or forgiveness, but most English versions read "Jubilee." That is, in the fiftieth year all lands were to be restored to the original owners, and men were to return to their families and clans. The latter provision included giving Hebrew slaves their freedom. The instruction goes on to require the continued suspension of agricultural work for the fiftieth year. In verse 9 the double reference to the tenth day of the seventh month and Yom Kippur, which occurs on the tenth day of that month, is purposeful. This law establishes the principle that since God shows mercy to His people on Yom Kippur by releasing them from the judgment of sin, they were expected to show the same mercy on others at the same time.

God's purpose is not stated, but we can make certain assumptions. Letting the land lie fallow would regenerate the soil for greater production. Canceling debts would prevent the utter ruin of debtors. The return of the land would show respect for the property rights of each tribe as God originally decreed. The release of slaves would be a memorial of God's deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage [cf. Ex 20:2; Deut 5:15]. In all these things obedience would demonstrate trust in the faithfulness of God to take care of His people.

Yet, there is no mention in Scripture of the Israelites ever obeying all the requirements of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. There is an anecdote in Jeremiah that King Zedekiah had proclaimed a release of slaves, but after the release the owners reneged and took back the slaves [Jer 34:8]. For this betrayal of trust God sent judgment on Judah. Indeed Ezra recorded that Israel's exile lasted seventy years in order for the land to have the Sabbatical years that had been neglected [2Chr 36:21; cf. Lev 26:27-28; Jer 25:11; 29:10]. Israel learned from this failure and during the years of the Second Temple the Sabbatical rest for the land was observed [First Maccabees 6:49-53; Rosh Hashanah 8b].

However, in the first century Hillel negated the Torah requirement for cancellation of debts with a legal device called the prosbul. This came about because people were unwilling to lend money when the Sabbatical year was near. The Sanhedrin had determined that the Torah rule for canceling debts did not apply to courts, only to individuals. So, the creditor could legally transfer the unpaid debt to the court for collection. Under this system the debtor still had to pay. In these circumstances I can easily see the petition in the Lord's prayer of "forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" [Matt 6:12] as a rebuke of Hillel and the prosbul.

As for the Jubilee the Talmud says that as long as the Second Temple stood a trumpet made from an antelope's horn was blown on Jubilee, but there was no release of debts, fields or slaves [Rosh Hashanah 9b, 26b]. This was ceremonial observance without the reality of obedience.

Verse 10 provides an important action for Jubilee. Every man is to return to his land and his family. The Heb. verb t'shuv hints at  reconciliation of relationships. In the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles there is no instruction concerning Sabbatical years or Jubilee. Instead their instruction focuses on the spiritual meaning of these events. Yeshua commanded his disciples, "be reconciled to your brother" [Matt 5:24] and "be at peace with one another" [Mark 9:50]. He also said, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God" [Matt 5:9]. Sha'ul said, "Pursue peace with everyone" [Heb 12:14; cf. Rom 12:18; 2Cor 13:11; 1Th 5:13]. Thus, seeking shalom in relationships is tantamount to practicing Jubilee.

I believe that in these last days God has been preparing for a final Jubilee by bringing Israel back to the land and causing an outpouring of the Ruach. Ezekiel saw this day in his vision of the dry bones coming to life [Ezek 37:11-14] and David reigning in the land [Ezek 37:24-25]. Ezekiel also saw a restored temple [Ezek 40─44] and the division of the land among the twelve tribes [Ezek 47:13-14]. The Ruach is even now moving throughout the Land of Israel and the Son of David is reigning through Messianic believers.

According to the Talmud the Messiah will come in the final jubilee [Sanhedrin 97b]. Whether Yeshua will return in a jubilee year designated on the Jewish calendar we can't know. But we do know that the shofar will sound and Yeshua, the Son of Man, will return to His Land and His people. In that day we shall be released from the slavery of Sin and Death and given the full liberty of resurrected bodies and eternal life. Hallelujah!

Barukh Hashem.

Copyright 2017 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.