(January 9, 2017) Dr Jim McClure, respected theologian, continues his series on selected scripture words…
As we have just entered a New Year, it is appropriate to mention a very important year in the history of the people of Israel.
In Leviticus 25:8-10 we read God’s instructions to Moses Mount Sinai, ‘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. 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. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you.’
Trumpets played a significant role in the Hebrew religion and different trumpets were employed for specific functions. The Old Testament refers to two types of trumpet, the chatsotseroth and the shophar.
First, the chatsotseroth was a straight silver trumpet blown by the priests principally to call the people together to worship, in repentance or in celebration. The word is first found in Numbers 10:2, ‘Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out’. It is used 29 times in the Old Testament.
Secondly, the shophar, which was made from a ram’s horn, had a variety of uses – military, celebratory or religious – and is mentioned 72 times.
In Joshua 6, which gives the account of the battle at Jericho, the words shophar is used. In verses 4 and 5 we read, ‘And seven priests shall carry before the ark seven trumpets (shophar) of rams’ horns (yobelim) … ‘And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn (yobel), and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet (shophar), all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat …’ It is from ‘yobel’ that we get the word jubilee. It is likely, therefore that the ‘seven trumpets (shopharoth) of rams’ horns (yobelim)’ may be better translated, ‘seven jubilee shophars.’
On the tenth day of the year of Jubilee trumpets loudly announced the arrival of this unique time. ‘Then have the trumpet (shophar) sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet (shophar) throughout your land’ (Lev 25:9). The year of Jubilee was an extremely significant event in the life of the Hebrews.
It occurred only once every 50 years and was therefore an once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people. It was a time of celebration and great rejoicing. Particularly it was a year in which liberty was proclaimed throughout the land and a great many families were affected by it. Debts were cancelled, slaves were set free, families were reunited, property was returned to its original owners and even the land had a rest when neither sowing nor reaping took place. It was truly as Isaiah described – the ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ (Isaiah 61:2).
1. In the Year of Jubilee servants were released (Leviticus 25:42)
When a person, was sold to another – either he sold himself because of poverty (Leviticus 25:39) or was sold by the Hebrew court because of theft (Exodus 22:3) – on the Year of Jubilee he was able to recover his liberty and return to his family. ‘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’ (Leviticus 25:41).
In fact, the whole concept of slavery was resisted in Israel because those, for whom circumstances had brought about their predicament, were considered as servants rather than slaves. ‘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’ (Leviticus 25:40). Because the Israelites had known slavery in Egypt before Moses led them to freedom, God, by insisting on the release of all who had lost their freedom, established this humanitarian rule so that perpetual slavery could never again become a part of Israelite life. ‘Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves’ (Leviticus 25:42).
Freedom is also one of the great themes in the New Testament. In John 8:36 Jesus declared, ‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ Quoting from Isaiah 61 at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus stated his manifesto, ‘… liberty to the captives and … to set free the oppressed’ (Luke: 4:18 GNB).
2. In the Year of Jubilee property was returned
Because of poverty an Israelite may have been compelled to sell his property to another. The return of that landed property, at no cost to the original owners, was an undisputed right in the Year of Jubilee. ‘… and he will go back to the property of his forefathers’ (Lev. 25:41). The principal reasons for the return of all mortgaged or sold property on the Year of Jubilee was to ensure that, first, no landowner became so rich as to be dominant, and, secondly to ensure that the firstborn son was not deprived of his inheritance rights.
The focus on inheritance reminds us of the inheritance of Christ spoken of in Hebrews 1:4, ‘So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.’ And to this Paul added, ‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory’ (Romans 8:17).
3. In the Year of Jubilee families were restored
The Year of Jubilee provided the means whereby a man who had been separated from his family was able to return to his home and begin to restore the family relationships that had been weakened by his departure, ‘… and he will go back to his own clan …’ (Lev. 25:41). This was a precious opportunity for the whole family to live again as a complete unit. For the man himself it would have meant that his self-respect was restored and his family identity re-established. In this renewed relationship with his ‘clan,’ that is, his wider family, he was able to experience again the love of his relatives and to make a contribution to the welfare of the whole clan.
Once again we recognise that this is what Jesus has done for us. Because of our relationship with him, we belong to a large family. In Galatians 6:10 Paul writes, ‘Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’ He also writes, ‘You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household’ (Ephesians 2:19).
4. In the Year of Jubilee the land was given rest
In the year of Jubilee the land was allowed to lie fallow for twelve months – it was neither to be tilled nor planted nor harvested. It was permitted to gather what the land had spontaneously produced, but only sufficient for immediate needs could to be gathered. ‘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. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields’ (Leviticus 25:11-12).
The jubilee year, as a sabbatical year, was described as ‘holy for you.’ To the Israelites a Sabbath primarily was a time to rest, rejoice and reflect on the goodness and mercy of God and his finished work. It was a time which signified God’s covenant relationship with his people; consequently it was primarily a day of worship.
The Year of Jubilee provided the agrarian community, when the land was fallow, the time to rethink their relationship and commitment to God and to reorganise their priorities in life.
Though our lifestyle differs so much from that to whom the Year of Jubilee instructions were originally given, the principle still holds true for in a busy world, which has little or no time for God; we need to take the opportunity to pause, remember God’s goodness, reflect on priorities and re-order our lives.
5. In the Year of Jubilee God’s claim was repeated
In the midst of the debate on who owns the land of Israel, it is timely to be reminded that it is God who owns it! ‘The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants’ (Leviticus 25:23). The land of Israel – as every other land – belongs to God as he created it and we who live on it do so with his permission – we are his ‘tenants.’ It is God’s land and God’s world and the Year of Jubilee was a reminder that he claimed Lordship over it.
- ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it’ (Psalm 24:1).
- ‘How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth!’ (Psalm 47:2).
Recognising God’s sovereign claim calls for a humble acknowledgement of his awesome greatness and our insignificance; it restores the proper order to things! Paul reminds us, ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). God makes his claim on us – only wilful disobedience denies that claim.
6. In the Year of Jubilee God seeks our response
God’s initiative of love invites a response. In Leviticus 25, which explains the Year of Jubilee, prominence is placed on God’s loving initiative to rescue his people from Egypt. This theme is repeated frequently in the Old Testament. In Hosea 11: 1-4, we have a beautiful statement of God’s loving initiative,
‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realise it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.’
God always shows the initiative; Jesus said, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’ (John 15:16). ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19).
7. In the Year of Jubilee God’s favour is revealed
Isaiah 61:1-2 gives powerful expression to the spiritual significance of the Year of Jubilee. It is, par excellence, a time when the wonderful gift of God’s favour is revealed.
‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God …’
When Jesus began his ministry, in the synagogue in Nazareth, he used these words from Isaiah as his manifesto. In doing so he was making an amazing declaration; He was saying that with his coming the year of the Lord’s favour – had begun.
We are still living in that Year of Jubilee! Now is a most privileged time – it is a time in which the mercy and the grace of God is abundantly available.
It is particularly important to note that in Luke 4:19 Jesus concluded the Isaiah quotation at the words, ‘… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ The quotation in Isaiah continues with the words, ‘and the day of vengeance of our God,’ but Jesus did not read them. Why? Because that time has not yet come! For now we are living in the year of the Lord’s favour.
8. The Year of Jubilee points to the Lord’s return
In Isaiah 27:13 we read, ‘And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.’ The day referred to looks into the future when God’s purposes will triumph. The words ‘great trumpet’ literally means ‘great shophar’ to distinguish it from all other shophars. The sounding of the ‘great trumpet’ is a call for the gathering of God’s people. Even in synagogues today these words are declared, ‘Sound the great trumpet for our liberation; lift up the ensign to gather our exiles …’
The ‘great shophar’ will sound on the glorious day of Christ’s return. Paul writes, ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God …’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Christ is coming back and the eternal Jubilee will begin!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage will be available in an electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks (as is Dr Jim’s well-researched Grace Revisited) and is offered free. Link for pre-booked orders: firstname.lastname@example.org.