|Jubilee, Year of |
Year beginning on the Day of Atonement every fiftieth year and proclaiming a nationwide release for Hebrew society. The word "jubilee" comes from the Hebrew word yobel, ("ram's horn") for the sounding of the ram's horn signalled the Jubilee's beginning. Another related Hebrew word is deror ("release, liberty").
The key text, Leviticus 25:8-55, describes the festival's three basic features. First, as in the sabbath year (Lev 25:2-7), the land was to be fallow. The people were not to farm the land, but were to eat what grew naturally. Both people and land should enjoy their release.
Second, all Hebrew slaves were to go free. The law allowed poor people to become slaves to pay their debts. Owners were to treat their Hebrew slaves kindly. All slaves were to be freed in the Year of Jubilee.
Third, the land reverted to its original owner. This practice ensured that no citizen would remain poor or a slave forever. A person who sold land to another was really selling a certain number of crops, so the number of years before the Jubilee, determined the sale price. Property within walled cities did not revert in the Year of Jubilee except for the property of the Levites, which was always redeemable. A few other modifications of the normal procedure also existed. Daughters who inherited land had to marry within their own tribes in order to keep the land (Num 36:4). The law also prevented individuals from abusing the reversion principle. People who vowed a portion of their fields to the Lord and then sold them to escape their vows could never get their land back; rather, the ownership transferred to the priests (Lev 27:21).
The Year of Jubilee contained two important theological implications. First, the land belonged to the Lord, who determined its proper use. The people were to avoid selfish accumulation of land (Isa 5:8), for it did not really belong to them. Second, God's people were to be free. Even when one was in slavery, redemption was possible. In any case, the Year of Jubilee freed all. Freedom was always the ultimate goal.
Unfortunately, evidence from the Old Testament seems to indicate that Israel hardly ever celebrated the sabbath year or the Year of Jubilee. Christ's quoting of Isaiah 61:1 and the word deror may suggest that Christ's ministry provided the ultimate fulfillment of the jubilee concept (Luke 4:16-21).
Bryan E. Beyer
See also Feasts and Festivals of Israel