Q&A: The Year of Jubilee

The Year of Jubilee

Question

What was the Year of Jubilee all about? When did it end?

Answer

The Year of Jubilee (“year of release”) is defined in Leviticus 25:8-55 which in part says:

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 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.

The Year of Jubilee was the sabbatical year after seven cycles of seven years (7x7=49 years). The fiftieth year was to be a time full of rejoicing and celebration for Israel because both the people and the land were given a period of rest. It involved release from indebtedness (Lev. 25:23-38) and bondage (Lev. 25:39-55). Debts were forgiven. Prisoners were set free. Slaves were released. Property was returned to its original owners. Labor was to cease for a year and those who signed labor contracts were released from them.

The Year of Jubilee is mentioned and/or alluded to numerous times in Scripture. For instance, Jeremiah 34:8-9 speaks about slaves being set free. Ezekiel 46:16-18 speaks about the year of liberty. Isaiah 61:1-2 speaks of redemption, and this particular Scripture gives a clear connection for us today to the Year of Jubilee. In Luke 4:18-19 we read that Jesus quoted this in the synagogue and thereafter said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus sets his people free! Jubilee represents a picture of redemption and forgiveness (Rom. 8:2; Gal. 5:1; 3:22). We formerly owed a debt we could not pay, but Jesus paid it all for us upon the cross (Col. 2:13-14). His people were once slaves to unrighteousness, but now they are free in Christ! His people enter into the rest of God (Heb. 4:9-10).

Jubilee is still in effect today to some extent in other ways. We see glimpses of it when individuals file for bankruptcy. In bankruptcy, people are set free from their debt. In the United States, records of Chapter 13 bankruptcies remain for 7 years and Chapter 7 for 10 years. Also of note, the United States' famous Liberty Bell has inscribed on it, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This quote is found in Leviticus 25:10.

According to the Torah, the observance of Jubilee applies only when Jews live in Israel according to their tribes (see, Lev. 25:10). So, technically since the exile of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, Jubilee has not been applicable. However, even some Jews outside of Israel continue to practice Jubilee to some extent.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).