International Sunday School Lesson Study Notes
Lesson Text: Leviticus 25:8-12, 25, 35-36, 39-40, 47-48, 55 Lesson Title: Making a Fresh Start
It is impossible to understand fully the content of Leviticus 25 without a basic knowledge of God’s program of land redemption for Israel and the responsibilities of the people to the land. Everything in Leviticus 25 is somehow related to the people of God and to the land God had given them. The two are virtually inseparable. The “land” is mentioned no less than fifteen times in Leviticus 25. What was this unique connection between the “land” and God’s people?
First, the land of Israel belonged to God (Leviticus 25:23). Because God owned the land He had ultimate power over the land as Israel’s King (Psalm 149:2; Isaiah 43:15). God alone had the right to rule over and divide the land for His own benefit and purpose. Second, God gave His land for the people of Israel to possess as an inheritance forever (Genesis 13:15; 15:17; Joshua 1:2). Even though God gave the land to the people of Israel, they were not to regard themselves as owners of the land. The people were responsible to take care of the land and obey God’s rule concerning the land. The Mosaic Law spelled out the details of this arrangement. Third, because God owned the land and the people just had tenet possession of the land, they were forbidden to sale it (Leviticus 25:23). This prohibition of sale was on the basis that the property was not actually the possessor’s to sell. The Israelite could not sell what he did not own. If, because of hard times or circumstances beyond his control, an Israelite was forced to sell the land portion that was his tenant possession, he did not sell the ownership of the land. Instead, he sold the tenant possession or administration of the land portion for a temporary period of time (Leviticus 25:15–16, 25–27).
God made every seventh day a Sabbath and every seventh year a Sabbath year (every seven years). During a Sabbath year, fields were not to be worked though whatever grew there could be taken for food, especially by the poor (Leviticus 25:5-7). Agriculturally, leaving the fields fallow for a year was a sound and productive practice. Spiritually, to rest from farming required faith that God would provide and it was also a reminder of God’s past faithfulness (Leviticus 25:20-21).
The Instructions for Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-12)
“And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.”
In order to prevent the sale of tenant possession or land administration from being permanent, God established the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:28). The year of jubilee was the 50th year (the year following the seventh sabbatical year) or “seven sabbaths of years…seven times seven years” in God’s calendar system for Israel. “Seven times seven years” is 49 years and the year following was the year of jubilee. The Israelite was commanded to “number seven sabbaths of years” or count off and calculate the years that eventually led to the year of jubilee. This was a very simple process. A special Sabbath year must be observed every 50 years. In most cases an Israelite who lived a normal life expectancy would be able to experience the joy and liberty of the year of jubilee at least once in their life. God made it possible for every Israelite who lived a normal length of life to make a fresh start at least once in his life.
“Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.” This verse describes how the year of jubilee was to be announced. The word “jubilee” is used fifteen times in Leviticus 25 and literally means, “ram’s horn, to sound the trumpet.” The “trumpet of the jubile” was not a modern day brass instrument. It was most likely a curved tube formed from shells, animal horns such as a ram or bamboo. Trumpets served many purposes in the Bible. They were used to communicate with each other (Numbers 10:2) in religious services, and on the battlefield. Trumpets were often used on happy occasions of celebration such as the year of the jubilee. A trumpet will be used on a future occasion of celebration when Jesus Christ returns for His church (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
The “trumpet” was blown to proclaim the start of this special season every 50th year. The “seventh month” is late September or October to us but the “seventh month” is a reference to the cycle of the Israelite religious year. On the “tenth day” of the “seventh month” the people would stop working to celebrate “the day of atonement.” The “day of atonement” is one of the greatest days in the Israelites life because it is the annual release of sins. Therefore, it is significant that the start of “the jubilee” is connected with the “day of atonement.” The “day of atonement” (Hebrew Yom Kippur) is fully discussed in Leviticus 16:29-34; 23:26-32).
On the evening of “the day of atonement” the “trumpet of jubilee” was sounded and the people knew they were free from their debts, bondage and obligations to which they were liable. It was a special day indeed.
“And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”
“Hallow” means “to consecrate, treat as sacred, and set apart.” Why was the “fiftieth year” so special? Jubilee, the “fiftieth year,” is the year in which all debts are canceled. Furthermore, all of the Israelites who had given themselves to the services of others to pay off debts (debt-slavery) were free, thus “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” That meant people who had lived on other men’s property and worked to pay off debts were now free to return to their own homes, land and possessions. What a time of celebration and joy!
Think about how this must have felt to an Israelite who had served someone else and lived on another’s property for at least six years (Exodus 21:2). All of a sudden it’s like being redeemed out of Egypt all over again! One day a debt-slave, the next day, free! And even before the day of jubilee came, it must have provided hope to the Israelite to know that God had a plan to deliver the people and the land from the devastating economic cycle and pressure.
Question: How would it affect you today if you knew it were possible to make a fresh start economically? What about spiritually? How are things going for you and your family economically? How are things going spiritually?
The Restriction of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:11-12)
“A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.”
While jubilee was a time of celebration it was also a time of restriction. God restricted the land from being sown during “that fiftieth year.” There was to be no reaping of crops sown. Only that which “growth of itself” in the field and “the grapes” that grew on their own in the vineyard could be harvested.
Now the logical question to this restriction is, “What do we eat, how do we survive?” That is what the Israelite asked in Leviticus 25:20. God’s answer was, “Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come n ye shall eat of the old store” (Leviticus 25:21). In other words, God would provide enough food in the forty-eight year to sustain the people for three years. Everyone could eat from the fields and vineyards, or literally, the open country. There was “increase” although no one sowed or reaped. That “increase” was a based on the mercy and graciousness of God.
The Redemption in Jubilee (Leviticus 25:25)
“If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.”
If a poor Jew had to sell himself or his property in order to survive, he didn't have to wait until the Year of Jubilee to regain either his property or his freedom. At any time, a kinsman who was willing and able to pay the price could redeem him or his land. If the former owner of the land was too poor to redeem his land, then a near kinsman, “any of his kin” could do it for him. But if the former owner somehow acquired the necessary wealth, he could redeem it for himself (Leviticus 25:26-27). The selling price would depend on the number of years (harvests) until the Year of Jubilee. If the man had neither a willing kinsman nor the necessary wealth, he would have to wait until the Year of Jubilee to regain his property.
The purpose of the law of redemption is twofold: First, it keeps property among relatives or as we would say today, “in the family.” When Leviticus was written, the Israelites had not yet entered the Promised Land to take possession of the land God would give them. But once they entered, God would give each tribe their land by allotment (Numbers 26:52-56). Second, a blood relative always had the right to restore or by back a brother or a piece of property. The greatest Old Testament illustration of this is of course Boaz and Ruth.
The Provision of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:35-36, 39-40, 47-48, 55)
When the trumpet of jubilee blew it was in essence God’s loud speaker announcing his love and concern for not only His own people but for the poor. God has always been concerned for the poor. Jubilee was God’s gift to the destitute and despairing, providing them a fresh start they would have otherwise never experienced.
“And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee. Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.”
If “thy brother” or fellow Jew, for whatever reason was “fallen in decay” or becomes unable to support himself, then it was the duty of every Jew to “relieve him” or help support him. A brother in need was to be treated as a “stranger, or a sojourner.” In other words, help him just like you would a “stranger, or a sojourner.” “Take thou no usury of him, or increase” means any financial loans given to him could no carry an interest rate. God had delivered them from the bondage of Egypt and wanted no bondage placed upon those in need of loans in His land.
“That thy brother may live with thee” means that no matter how difficult the situation may be for a fellow Israelite brother, he still gets to live on home turf! What a gracious and considerate God!
“And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: But as a hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee.”
If an Israelite man was “waxen poor” and desired to “be sold unto thee” or place himself into debt-slavery in order to provide himself capital gain, he was to be treated kindly as a hired servant and released in the “year of jubilee.” He was only to “serve” in this capacity “unto the year of jubilee.”
God is saying it was all right for Israelites to accept their brothers as “bondservants” and let them work for the debt they had incurred. What God would not permit is that Israel start treating each other like heathen nations treated their slaves and the poor. Employers are to regard those indebted to them as “sojourners.” A “sojourner” is a temporary traveler. The indebted Israelite was only indebted for a season. He had jubilee in his future.
“And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger's family: After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him.”
A “sojourner or stranger” in this context would be a non-Israelite, or as we would refer to them, a Gentile. It’s interesting to note that even a non-Jew living in the land of Israel had to obey the Law of God (Leviticus 16:29; 17:8-16). If a foreigner “wax rich” or becomes rich and “thy brother” (a Jew) becomes “poor” and “sells himself” unto the foreigner that lives “by thee,” his Jewish brother can still “redeem him” from his bondage. One of his relatives can buy him back even though he is in bondage to a foreigner.
This raises the question as to why a Jew would need to turn to a foreigner to bail him out. Shouldn’t his Jewish brother be there to help him? Obviously the answer is yes but for whatever reason God knew this may be the case in the future so He made provision for his redemption. It magnifies the fact that God cares about His own and the poor and stranger.
“For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
“For unto me the children of Israel are servants” means God’s children belong to Him. It is significant that God made this statement in one of the most important chapters expressing His ownership of the land of Israel and regulating the nation’s administration of that land. God’s people are not slaves to this world, its economy, its politics or its religion. God’s children belong to Him. “They are my servants” emphasizes that Israel was purchased and redeemed from Egypt by God and He alone possessed sole and legitimate rights to them.
The thought of a fresh start is appealing to anyone who is in trouble. Whether that trouble is financial, judicial, medical or spiritual, it is encouraging to know you can start over, but how? There is no year of jubilee in force today. No bank is going to forgive our debts. The treasury of most nations are either already bankrupt or on the verge. Politicians put their spin on the economy but the reality is we are financially in serious trouble. You can’t spend more than you earn. It’s that simple.
The Old Testament law of jubilee was operative and applicable only for ancient Israel. We must be careful not to “read into” the New Testament a law restricted to Israel. However, one day while standing in the synagogue in Nazareth, the word of God was handed to Jesus and He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus announced a kind of “jubilee” for all men. In other words, the Messiah had come to set men free from the worst bondage of all, sin. Messiah had come to redeem that which sin had taken away.
We have no firm evidence that Israel as a nation ever practiced jubilee. Isaiah 37:30 would be the closest verse indicating they might have. But you can have a jubilee and fresh start today in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29).
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