Give me a word to go with jubilee
The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord.
For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 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.
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. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound labourers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
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. 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.
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.
That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.
OK, quickly, without thinking, give me another word to go with the word ‘jubilee’. What did you come up with? Now scroll down for some possibilities that came to mind for me…
If you are a Londoner, maybe it was ‘line’, as in the underground line?
If you are an ardent royalist, maybe it was Queen, or diamond?
If you love messing around with plumbing, maybe it was clip?
If you are passionate about the way that first world nations exploit third world nations financially, maybe it was 2000?
If you’re into Marvel and the X-Men movies, maybe it was super-hero?
If you’re a gardener, maybe it was dahlia, or clematis?
If you’re a caravanner, maybe it was Ace?
But did any of you come up with ‘sabbath’?? I thought not. Yet that’s the word most closely linked to jubilee in the Bible.
Leviticus 25 sets out the laws about sabbath and jubilee years for Israel as they apply to the land, and they mirror the way that God created everything in six days, then rested on the seventh – the sabbath day.
They reflect the fact that he didn’t spend day seven worrying about whether he could have done a better job, or whether there was more he needed to do. He simply rested, and enjoyed the things he had made and labelled ‘good’ – or even ‘very good’.
He rested, which is very different from stopping but still worrying. When God rested, there wasn’t a trace of anxiety in him. Creation was complete. It was whole and holy. All was well. He was content.
These laws were given to Israel after the escape from Egypt, but before entering the promised land. They were part of a process of learning – perhaps re-learning – to live with freedom, but in accordance with the pattern of God himself. And they were addressed to a people who had lived with fear, oppression, and the anxiety of a Pharaoh who demanded that they produce more and more bricks, day and night.
And what were those bricks for? Many of them were to build bigger and better stores for food. They were a physical expression of emotional and spiritual anxiety about whether there would be enough for tomorrow.
God has already been teaching the Israelites a lesson about this through the provision of manna in the wilderness, which didn’t keep till the next day – except when it came to the sabbath day. Now he scales it up, and challenges them to depend on him for enough food for a whole year, as they let the land lie fallow one year in seven – the sabbath year.
He’s stretching their faith. But at the same time he’s saying something about creation, humankind and himself.
- He rested one day in seven.
- He commands us to rest one day in seven – it’s the fourth commandment, way up the list, just after the ones about God, and before any of the ones about how we treat other people.
- Now he says that the whole of creation needs to rest one year in seven. And the people aren’t to be anxious about whether creation will meet their needs – that’s in God’s hands, and there will be enough.
Not content with that, he calls on the people to count off seven ‘weeks of years’, and celebrate a jubilee every 50 years. When the jubilee comes around, it’s like pressing reset on all the things in society that have started to drift.
Where people have become displaced from their land, or fallen into debt or slavery, or even worse been imprisoned, everything is to be reset, like the pieces on a chessboard for the next game. Debts are to be released, ungrudgingly. Slaves are to be freed, ungrudgingly. It is to be a year of joy – of release from sins – of the trumpet being sounded.
What a remarkable vision, when we live in an age where so much food is wasted, where life is so relentless, where the land has been farmed into sterility and will grow nothing without fertiliser being added.
And what a rebuke, when we struggle to keep even a weekly sabbath. Our ability to produce more than enough far exceeds that of the people of Israel in Moses’ time, but can you imagine us keeping a sabbath year, let alone a jubilee in this sense? But here we have it in Leviticus – it’s a good thing to do, for our own sake, for creation’s sake, for God’s sake.
I don’t want to suggest for a minute that what we’re going through right now is God’s doing – his punishment – but maybe, just maybe, we’re in a moment where the world is going through a spontaneous ‘reset’? Like a computer that has been left on too long, then produces one of those ‘Blue Screens of Death’ and restarts itself?
If the Israelites in Moses’ time needed to learn a few lessons about being more content, less anxious, and more dependent on God, how much more do we need to learn that lesson?
One day creation will be complete, whole and holy once more. One day all will be well. In the meantime, we need to learn to be content, as God is content. To rest, without being anxious, as God rests without a trace of anxiety in him.
So next time you hear the word jubilee, think sabbath – a time of resting in God – a time of enjoyment of his good creation – a time of returning to how things were made to be, not what we have made them into.