The sabbatical year was instituted not for any supposed physical benefit accruing from it to the land, but, first, as serving for a link between the sabbath and the jubilee by means of the sacred number seven—the sabbatical year being the seventh year, and the jubilee being the year following the seven-times-seventh year; and secondly, and chiefly, as enforcing the lesson of the weekly sabbath in a manner that could not be overlooked, and symbolically, teaching the universal application of the sabbatical law, even where physical needs were not concerned, and in that way suggesting the expectation of a rest to be hereafter attained by all God's creatures. The sabbatical year began with the commencement of the civil year, the 1st of Tisri, just before the autumn sewings, which were intermitted for one year. The ground was not tilled during this year ( Leviticus 24:4 ). There was a release of debts ( Deuteronomy 15:1-11 ), and there was to be public reading of God's Law ( Deuteronomy 31:10-13 ). During the previous six years the husbandmen had been well aware of the coming sabbatical year, and would have laid by in store accordingly, so as to support themselves and their families during that year. The release of debts inculcated mercy. The command that the Law should be publicly read showed that the intention of the institution was not that the year should be spent in idleness, but that the time saved from ordinary labour was to be given to devotional pursuits. The law of the sabbatical year was so hard of observance by an agricultural people, that it was seldom or never acted upon until the Captivity (see 2 Chronicles 36:21 ). But after that time it seems to have been religiously kept (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 11.8, 6; 14.10, 6; 14.16, 2; 15.1, 2; 1 Macc. 6:49; Galatians 4:10 ; Tacit; 'Hist.,' 5.2, 4).
The jubilee was a joyous year appointed to be observed every fifty years. The cycle of the sabbatical year and the jubilee touched without coalescing. The forty-ninth year was necessarily a sabbatical year, and the following year was the jubilee. It has appeared to some so difficult to believe that two years in which it was not allowable to engage in agricultural work should come together, that they have assumed that the sabbatical year itself, that is, the forty-ninth year, was the year of the jubilee. But this was clearly not the case. Twice in the century the laud was to lie fallow for two years running—from September to the second September following—special preparations having, of course, been made by laying up a store of grain from the abundant harvest promised in the previous year ( Leviticus 24:21 ), and foreign crops being, no doubt, imported to take the place of the usual home crops. In matter of fact, however, these two blank years seldom, if ever, occurred together; for as the sabbatical year was not observed before the Captivity, while there are indications of the existence of the jubilee ( 1 Kings 21:3 ; Isaiah 61:1-3 ), so probably the jubilee ceased to be observed after the Captivity, when the sabbatical year was carefully kept. Supposing that they did come together, the second year in which labour was prohibited would end just in time for the seed to be sown for the next summer's harvest.
The jubilee affected both land and men. Land could only be sold for fifty years, its value immediately after a jubilee had passed being that of fifty harvests, or rather, deducting the sabbatical years and the fiftieth year, of forty-two harvests. If it were sold, it might be bought back by the original owner or any of his relations, counting the number of harvests remaining before the next jubilee, and buying out the previous purchaser with the sum of money thus estimated. No more effective plan could be well devised for preserving the various properties in the families to which they were at first assigned.
The other point chiefly affected by the law of the jubilee was slavery. In ease a brother Israelite became poor, it was the duty of his richer brethren to help him, and to lend him money without interest, to set him up in the world again. But if this did not succeed, the poor man might sell himself as a slave, either to an Israelite or to a foreigner living in the land. In the former ease it had been already enacted that his slavery was not to last beyond six years ( Exodus 21:2 ). To this enactment it was now added that he must be also set free whenever the year of jubilee occurred.
If he became the slave of a non-Israelite, he must be set free, not as before on the seventh year of his slavery, but still at the jubilee. He had also preserved for him the right of being redeemed by any kinsman, the price paid for him being the wages which would be paid up to the next jubilee. In either case, he was to be treated without rigour, and it was the duty of the Israelite magistrate to see that no undue harshness was used by the foreign master. The principle is, as before, that as the land is God's land, not man's, so the Israelites were the slaves of God, not of man, and that if the position in which God placed them was allowed to be interfered with for a time, it was to be recovered every seventh, or at furthest every fiftieth, year. The possession of slaves was not forbidden—the world was not yet ready for such a prohibition. The Hebrews might purchase and own slaves of alien blood, but between Hebrew and Hebrew the institution of master and slave was practically abolished, and superseded (in most respects) by the relationship of master and servant.
The Israelites were only tenants of God. They might regard themselves as owners for fifty years, but at the end of every fifty years the land was to come back to him to whom the Lord had assigned it, or to his representative. It might be bought and sold on that understanding, the value of the purchase being four. d by reckoning the price of the harvests up to the next jubilee day; but in this period only "the years of the fruits" were to be counted, that is, the sabbatical years, in which there would be no harvests, were to be deducted. Ye shall not therefore oppress (or overreach) one another by demanding more for the hind than would be its just value under the limitation of the jubilee law.
The jubilee, being a year of deliverance and joy, came to be a type of the Messianic dispensation, and of the final deliverance and state of happiness which is still to come. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" ( Isaiah 61:1 , Isaiah 61:2 ). We have our Lord's authority for saying that these words bear spiritual reference to his ministry on earth ( Luke 4:21 ). They are partially fulfilled in his kingdom here, and will be fully accomplished at "the restitution of all things" ( Acts 3:21 ) in his kingdom hereafter, when his people shall "rest from their labours" and be delivered from the burden of their debts and emancipated for ever from slavery.
cf. Isaiah 61:1 -13; Luke 4:18 , Luke 4:19 . We have here a further appendix to the fourth commandment. After seven sabbatic years there came another year, called the jubilee, which was also sabbatic, and during which there was to be a universal restitution. The trumpet was to be blown on the Day of Atonement, and the captives were then to be released, the unfortunate ones who had been compelled to part with their inheritance had it restored to them, and there was a general restoration of heart and of hope throughout the land. It was the year of liberty, of comfort, of restoration; in one word, it was every half-century a bloodless revolution, giving to the entire nation the opportunity of a new departure.
I. THE JUBILEE WAS PRE - EMINENTLY THE LORD 'S, AND AS SUCH WAS A HALLOWED YEAR . The fallow year was a year of rest unto the land, the jubilee was a year of liberty and release unto the people, and, as the year which was reached after a series of seven sabbatic years, it was hallowed as no other year was hallowed, to the service of the Lord. His will ruled all the year, just as his will is pre-eminently regarded on the sabbath days. Now, the principle embodied in the jubilee was this: "All members of the community are the direct servants of Jehovah, not the servants of men, and they must therefore have an unfettered body and unencumbered estate, in order to live worthy of their vocation." £ Hence God gave his people in the jubilee who had become "servants of men" through the pressure of the times, release from their bondage; he gave those of them who had disposed of their estates, which they could only dispose of until the jubilee, a new gift of their inheritance; he gave every exile from his home and family through the exigencies of the times, right to return to his family and begin life amid the old associations and without encumbrance. This was surely to show that his service is perfect freedom, and that when his will is done on earth as it ought to be, men shall have such social privileges and such adequate temporal provision as will make life an antepast of heaven!
The only exception to the law of restoration was the case of a house in a walled town, which, if not redeemed within a year, might become the inalienable inheritance of the buyer. It was only by some little possibility of this kind that the stranger could have any footing in the holy land at all. The growth of cities, and of the civilization which cities bring, was thus provided for. If every house as well as field reverted to its former owners, every jubilee would have witnessed an emigration of all but the descendants of the old proprietors, and business would have been brought to n utter standstill. We see in this exception the possibility of a foreign and advantageous element amid the native population.
II. THERE WAS A SLAVERY WHICH TERMINATED , AND A SLAVERY WHICH DID NOT TERMINATE , IN THE YEAR OF THE JUBILEE . The slavery which did terminate was that into which a Jewish debtor had entered, in order to give his service in lieu of the debt. In fact, slavery was the form that the bankruptcy laws took in Palestine. It would be well if some such system were engrafted on our own jurisprudence. A man who has got unfortunately into difficulties might thus honourably redeem his position and his character, instead of compromising both by availing himself of present legal facilities.
On the other hand, foreigners or natives of Canaan might become perpetual slaves to the Jews. In so doing, they shared in Jewish privileges, and had the advantage of Jewish training. This was compensation for the loss of their freedom. Besides, their considerate treatment was carefully secured by the Law of God. It was right, therefore, that it should thus be unmistakably exhibited that other nations were only "hewers of wood and drawers of water" to the Lord's own people. This was what slavery among the Jews embodied.
III. THE JUBILEE WAS THE TYPE OF GOSPEL TIMES . Our Lord appropriated the prophecy delivered by Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" ( Isaiah 61:1 , Isaiah 61:2 ; cf. Luke 4:18 , Luke 4:19 ). We are living consequently amid the glorious privileges of the Lord's acceptable year. The gospel, as preached to men, is the trumpet blown at the beginning of the jubilee. It is blown over the completed atoning sacrifice of Christ.
It proclaims, therefore—
1. The pardon of sin. Sin constitutes the great debt, and as sin-burdened hearts feel, the pardon of sin is the great release. What a liberty forgiveness brings!
2. The gospel proclaims freedom from the power of sin. For if God gave us liberty to sin with impunity, it would be no real blessing. He gives us through Christ and his Spirit freedom from the dominion of sin. He takes away the love of sin, which is the real liberty.
3. The gospel proclaims the sanctity of family life. Just as in the jubilee broken family circles were restored again, and social enjoyments regained, so the gospel exalts the family as the unit, and sets its highest sanctions round the home.
4. The gospel has wrought steadily towards the liberties of men. For while there was no "servile war" proclaimed in the apostolic time, but seeds of liberty were left to fructify in the bosom of the race, we know they have sprung into vigorous being, and that it is pre-eminently to the force of gospel truth and principle the battle of freedom and its victory are due.
5. And the gospel is the charter of all wise reform. It might be shown that true progress and the bloodless revolutions of such countries as England and America are due to the force of gospel principles making their hallowed way among men. It is only so far as the will of God is regarded in the politics and policy of nations that true progress and needful revolutions shall be secured.
IV. THE JUBILEE IS ALSO THE TYPE OF THE EVERLASTING REST . "There remaineth," we are told, "a sabbatism to the people of God" ( Hebrews 4:9 ). This jubilee of Creation is to be ushered in by the trump of God ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ). And regarding the heavenly state, we may in this connection remark—
1. That heaven will be an everlasting sabbath. If the jubilee was a sabbath extending over a year, heaven is to be a sabbath extending over an eternity. All time, if such an element is recognized in eternity, will prove consecrated there.
2. All wrongs shall then be righted. All the burdens and injustices and sorrows which we endure here will give place in the jubilee of heaven to the utmost justice and the most scrupulous reward.
3. The Divine family shall be complete. The scattered children of God shall be restored to their rightful place in the great family circle, and the home-feeling shall be the heritage of all.
4. And everlasting progress shall characterize the everlasting rest. For if progress towards perfection is life's most real joy, we can see how heaven itself can afford a field for it. God's infinite nature and boundless operations will not be comprehended in a flash of intuition; but insight will be, let us thankfully believe, the steady growth of ages.—R.M.E.
The sabbatic year.
At the close of the original week the sabbath of the seventh day was given; that of the seventh year, on the entrance of the Hebrews into Canaan. The former was a memorial of creation; the latter, of redemption. These are intimately related. There are correspondences between the old creation and the new—the material and the spiritual. The grand effect of redemption will be the constitution of a new creation, in which the mundane system will participate.
I. THE SEVENTH YEAR WAS A " SABBATH OF THE LAND ." Then:
1 . The soil remained untilled.
2 . The people were taught to trust God.
3 . The people were taught to hope in God.
II. TURN THE FRUIT OF THE LORD 'S LAND WAS FREE .
1 . The land is the Lord's.
2 . This year the tenant shared his benefits with all comers.
3 . There was a release from debts (see Deuteronomy 15:1 , Deuteronomy 15:2 ).
III. THE LEISURE OF THIS YEAR WAS RELIGIOUSLY SPENT .
1 . The Law was publicly read (see Deuteronomy 31:10 , Deuteronomy 31:11 ).
2 . If not religiously used, leisure is fruitful in mischief.
The sabbath of the seventh day is commemorative of the rest of God after the work of creation, and anticipative of the rest in heaven for his people after the world's great week of toil and sorrow (see Hebrews 3:1-19 , Hebrews 4:1-16 ). The more to impress these things upon us, to keep alive our gratitude, and to stimulate our faith and hope, he also instituted the sabbaths of the Levitical system. Conspicuous amongst these are the grand sabbaths mentioned in this chapter, viz. that of the seventh year and that of the week of years. This last comes now under review; and we notice—
I. THE TIME OF THE JUBILEE .
1 . In its astronomical aspect.
2 . In its theological aspect.
II. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE JUBILEE .
1 . This foreshadowed the preaching of the gospel.
(a) If the land of Canaan be taken as a specimen of the world at large, then was this a prophecy of the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth.
(b) But if the land be taken in a restricted sense as applicable to the people of the Law in contradistinction to the heathen, then the teaching is that those only who renounce sin by repentance are concerned in the blessings of the gospel.
2 . The trumpet also suggests the judgment.
(a) to awaken the dead ( 1 Corinthians 15:52 );
(b) to summon all men to the tribunal.
III. THE BLESSINGS OF THE JUBILEE .
1 . It proclaimed a release.
2 . It was a season of joy.
Year of jubilee:
1 . A nation's joy. On every fiftieth year of national life, as the sun went down on the great Day of Atonement, when the sins of the nation had been forgiven, and peace with God was once more assured, the sound of many trumpets ushered in the blessed year of jubilee. Then
No nation now can expect to enjoy such an institution as this; we must learn to dispense with such miraculous arrangements as that which made the year of jubilee a possible thing to Israel ( Leviticus 25:20-22 ). It is our national wisdom to bring about, by
A nation may truly rejoice, and may feel that its jubilee is approaching, when it is attaining to:
1 . Freedom from degrading poverty; the community not being constituted of a few wealthy men and a multitude of paupers, but being composed of those who earn an honourable livelihood by self-respectful industry, there being general, widespread prosperity.
2 . The possession of liberty—individual and national, civil and religious; every cruel, degrading, injurious bond being broken, and all men being free to exercise their God-given faculties without hindrance or restraint.
3 . Domestic well-being; purity, love, order in the household.
4 . Piety; the recognition of indebtedness to God, and a full and deep understanding that we are, above all things, his servants.
5 . Charity; a kind and generous regard to those who are "waxen poor and fallen into decay;" a ready hand to help the needy, and give them a new start in the race of life. Let a nation only be advancing in these elements of goodness and prosperity, and it may rejoice greatly in its inheritance, for then "God, even our own God, will bless it;" and though no trumpet sound the note of jubilee, then shall its "light break forth as the morning … and its righteousness shall go before it; and the glory of the Lord shall be its reward" ( Isaiah 58:8 ).—C.
Year of jubilee: II. The world's redemption.
The whole Christian era is one long year of jubilee. It is "the acceptable year of the Lord" ( Luke 4:19 ). That "acceptable year," the fiftieth year in the Jewish calendar, was a year of
These, in a deeper, a spiritual sense, are the characteristics of the Christian era:
1 . It is a time of spiritual emancipation. Sin is the slavery of the soul; "men are "holden with the cords of their sins" ( Proverbs 5:22 ). They are in the bondage of selfishness, or of worldliness, or of one or other (or more than one) of the vices, or of the fear of man, or of a foolish and frivolous procrastination. To accept Jesus Christ as Saviour of the soul and Lord of the life is to be released from these spiritual fetters.
2 . Social readjustment. Christianity, indeed, effects no immediate revolution in the forms of social life. It does not say to the slave, "Escape from thy master" ( 1 Corinthians 7:20 ); it does not give directions as to the way in which human relations are to be organized. But it infuses a new spirit into the minds of men; it introduces those principles of righteousness and those feelings of considerateness which silently, but most effectually, "make all things new." It drops the seed of "charity" in the soil of human nature, and behold a goodly tree springs therefrom, the leaves of which are for the healing of the social sores of all the nations.
3 . Individual and national regeneration. The soul that receives Jesus Christ as its Lord, and the nation that surrenders itself to his holy and beneficent rule, make an entirely new departure in their course. So great and radical is the change which is thereby effected, that the Truth himself speaks of it as a "regeneration" ( John 3:1-36 ). In Christ we are born again, or born from above. We enter on a new life, the life of faith, love, humility, zeal, holy service, godliness, anticipation of future blessedness.
4 . Rest of soul. The rest of body enjoyed in the year of jubilee has its analogue in the rest of soul which we enjoy in the acceptable year of the Lord—rest from
5 . Joy in God. In this "acceptable time" we have not only peace, but we also "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ" ( Romans 5:11 ). We are bidden to "rejoice in the Lord alway" ( Philippians 4:4 ); and though there may be found in the sorrows of others as well as in our own and in the difficulties and depressions that attend us here too much of cloud and shadow to feel that it is always jubilee-time with us in our homeward journey, yet the felt presence of our Saviour, his unchanging friendship, the blessedness of doing his work, honouring his Name, and even hearing his holy will, the view of the heavenly land,—these will "put a new song into our mouth," a real gladness into our heart, the brightness and music of the "acceptable year" into our Christian life.—C.
Year of jubilee: III. The blessed kingdom.
It may be thought that, while it is indeed true that the year of jubilee has a true counterpart in that dispensation of spiritual emancipation, social readjustment, regeneration, rest, joy, in which we stand; yet, on the other hand, there is so much of detraction in the sins and sorrows of the present time as to make the one but a very imperfect picture of the other. There is truth in this thought: it is only in a qualified sense that we can speak of the Christian era as a time of jubilee. Its perfect realization is yet to come; its true and glorious fulfillment awaits us, when the blessed kingdom of the Son of God shall have come in all its fullness and the latter-day glory shall appear; then there shall be—
1. Emancipation from all bondage. Every fetter shall be struck from the soul, as well as from the body, and we ourselves shall be free in all "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
2. Restitution. We shall recover the heritage forfeited by sin; the estate which our Father intended to bestow originally on all his human children will then revert to us, and we shall "return every man unto his possession" ( Leviticus 25:13 ). We shall know by blessed experience what God designed for holy manhood.
3. Regeneration. So great and blessed will be the change, the new conditions under which we shall live, that we shall feel that a "new heaven and a new earth" have been created. God will have made "all things new" to us.
4. Reunion. We shall "return every man unto his family" ( Leviticus 25:10 ). Parents and children, brothers and sisters, pastor and people, long-separated friends, will gather again in the same home, and "join inseparable hands" of holy, heavenly reunion.
5. Reign of love. If there be gradation, inferiority, rule, and service there, all "rigour" will be unknown ( Leviticus 25:46 ). Our "brother will live with us" ( Leviticus 25:35 , Leviticus 25:36 ) in love; all rule will be beneficent; all service sweet and cheerful.
6. Perfect service of the Supreme. "Unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants" ( Leviticus 25:55 ). There is no fairer promise in the Word of God concerning the future than this—"his servants shall serve him" ( Revelation 22:3 ). Then shall we attain to the ideal of our humanity when, escaping from ourselves, we shall, in thought and feeling, in word and deed, consciously and unconsciously, be serving God in stainless, uninterrupted ministry. Then God will be "all in all."
7. Rest and joy. The toil and care of earth will be left behind, will be lost in the endless sabbath, and we shall "enter into rest." Only those happy activities will await us in which we shall engage with untiring energy and unfading joy.—C.
The year of jubilee.
Accumulation of sabbaths and sabbatical years; climax of rest. Proclaimed on Day of Atonement. Outcome of the original covenant. Specially soul-stirring and delightful, "waked up the nation from the very center of its moral being." "All estates and conditions of the people were permitted to feel the hallowed and refreshing influence of this most noble institution. The exile returned; the captive was emancipated; the debtor set flee; each family opened its bosom to receive once more its long-lost members; each inheritance received back its exiled owner. The sound of the trumpet was the welcome and soul-thrilling signal for the captive to escape; for the slave to cast aside the chains of his bondage; for the man-slayer to return to his home; for the ruined and poverty-stricken to rise to the possession of that which had been forfeited. No sooner had the trumpet's thrice-welcome sound fallen upon the ear than the mighty tide of blessing rose majestically, and sent its refreshing undulations into the most remote corners of Jehovah's highly favoured land." Regard it
I. SOCIALLY . An example of wise and beneficent legislation. As:
1 . Security against accumulation of property in the hands of the few, to the oppression of the many.
2 . Relief to inevitable reverses of fortune.
3 . Maintenance of family life and bonds of natural affection.
4 . Destruction of slavery.
5 . Promotion of equality of condition and opportunity.
6 . Preservation of hopefulness and cheerfulness in society.
7 . Avoidance of litigation and social strife.
II. MORALLY . An abiding support of the higher moral sentiments.
1 . Benevolence and compassion.
2 . Patriotism.
3 . Personal liberty.
4 . Moderation.
5 . Brotherhood.
6 . Industry.
III. SPIRITUALLY . A type of realized salvation by Divine grace.
1 . Proclaimed on Day of Atonement; fruit of reconciliation with God.
2 . Universality of the offered deliverance, independent of human merits.
3 . Promise of restored human condition—the "meek inheriting the earth."
4 . The jubilee of heaven—"glorious liberty of the children of God" ( Romans 8:21 ; cf. Isaiah 66:12-23 ; Luke 4:16-22 ; Revelation 11:15 ; Revelation 14:6 , Revelation 14:7 ; Revelation 21:1-27 ).—R.