6 May 2016

Leviticus 25:8-17

"That fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee: you shall eat only what the field produces." (vv. 11-12)

Psalm: Psalm 86


Today's passage extends the principle that the people need to keep holy time (Leviticus 23) to the land. God commands that the land itself will keep a Sabbath every seventh year. The Lord is still speaking through Moses from Mount Sinai, so this teaching comes close after the construction of the tabernacle (tent) in which the ark of the covenant and stone tablets were kept among the people (Exodus 40).

This passage is unique in the Hebrew Scriptures as it is the only direct teaching about property and land tenure, and what God has to say would shock contemporary estate agents and housing markets.

Beyond the basic seventh year's rest from working the land, God commanded that after a cycle of seven of these sabbaticals the people would keep a jubilee year. In that 50th year, all land bought or sold would revert to its previous owner, and everyone would regain any loss. Accordingly, the Lord instructed that when people bought or sold land they should set the price based on how many years remained before the jubilee, specifying that they were selling only the number of harvests that remained, not the land itself.

The passage acknowledges the important role that economic ties play in keeping a society stable. The Lord gave instructions that protected stability over the long term, while allowing incentive for individual hard work and improvement of land and wealth over the space of a lifespan. More than that however, this passage taught an ethic of land management that valued the health of the whole people over the acquisition of much by a few. Wealth was to have no value in and of itself, except as a loan from God to aid abundant life. Individuals were always to remember that they were only temporary stewards of the things in God's world.

The Jubilee 2000 campaign worked to make banks and governments holding loans to developing nations reduce or nullify their claim. The idea was to redistribute the spoils of economic growth and development to the poorer parts of the world. This is the passage, among others, that inspired that campaign.

To Ponder

  • Do you think the practice of 'jubilee' is relevant to our society at all?
  • How do you feel about the things you own, whether you are rich or poor in relation to those around you?
  • How does your economic life relate to your spirituality? And vice versa?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.