The Hope of Leviticus 25, Part 2
As I stated in my previous post, in order for us to understand Jesus’ mission, it really helps if we understand Leviticus 25. When Jesus first preaches publicly in the Gospel of Luke, he claims that the “year of the Lord’s favor” is here! The year of the Lord’s favor is the jubilee year of Leviticus 25, a reference that his first hearers and the first generations of Christian certainly understood.
When Jesus kicks off his public ministry in a Nazareth synagogue, he announces that "the year of the Lord's favor" is upon them.
What is this "year of the Lord's favor," anyway?
When Jesus preached in the Nazareth synagogue, he reads from the prophet Isaiah:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 & Isaiah 58:6, and referencing the Jubilee of Leviticus 25)
This idea of “the year of the Lord’s favor” is found in Leviticus 25, where we read about both the Sabbath Year and the Jubilee Year.
Recall that in the first chapter of Genesis the LORD makes the heavens and the earth in six days, and on the seventh day rests. One of the Ten Commandments is to “honor the sabbath and keep it holy.” Thus, six days are for work; the seventh day is for holy rest. In Leviticus 25 we read that not only are days organized into cycles of seven, but so are years.
3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. 6 You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; 7 for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
Every seventh year is a year of rest for the land and for those who work the land. And, more than rest, it is a year that focuses our reliance on God, for God will provide.
19 The land will give its fruit so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it. 20 Suppose you ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we don’t plant or gather our crops then?” 21 I will send my blessing on you in the sixth year so that it will make enough produce for three years.
Just as days are organized into weeks, and years are organized into “weeks of years,” those “weeks of years” (seven-year periods) are grouped into cycles of seven.
8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12 For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
In the year of jubilee, property sold will be returned to the original owner (Leviticus 25:28, 31). Anyone who is bound to the service of another because of unpaid debts is set free (Leviticus 25:39-41). Wrongs are made right. The land, kinship, and community are restored.
The year of jubilee outlined in Leviticus 25 is a reversal of much of the brokenness of society, and a triumph of God’s glorious intent for his chosen people.
I’ll continue this discussion in a blogpost early next week. Until then, reflect on these texts with the following:
Consider your weekly cycle. What is something you do each Saturday or Sunday? Do you find regular rest? How can you, from this day going forward, make a commitment to dedicated rest and renewal once/week? There’s a reason our ancestors had laws around these things – because on our own we’re inclined to “go, go, go” without finding rest for ourselves, our loved ones, and our God.
Where were you seven years ago? Fourteen years ago? Forty-nine years ago? How has God blessed you over those cycles of seven? And, from this day going forward, what would it look like for you to set aside every seventh year as special, marked by extra rest, or by a joyous celebration? Open up that calendar app and make a note in January 2029.
Read: Leviticus 25 (again), on sabbath and jubilee years. Read also Exodos 23:1-19, where sabbath and the sabbath year are preceded by a section on justice, and followed by a section on offerings and festivals. Consider how sabbath can be a blessing both for you and for those around you. How might you relieve the burdens of others on the sabbath?
Pray: Give thanks to God for the gift of sabbath rest, and ask for the will to honor the sabbath. Pray for the cycles of the days and the years, and seek God’s wisdom for the weeks (and years) to come. Conclude with the following prayer:
Blessed are you, O God, King of the universe. You gave sabbath rest to your people as a gift and marker of holy living. Renew in us the gift of sabbath, so that in holy rest our bodies might be renewed in your love, and our whole beings learn ever more to trust in your gracious provision. Through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord we pray. Amen.