Leviticus 25:1, “And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying…” Before we proceed any further into this chapter I want to stop here because verse 1 contains a detail that when fully understood places these final three chapters into a really interesting context.
All the way back in Leviticus 1:1 the book began, “Now the LORD called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying…” Up until this point God and Moses had been conversing on top of Mount Sinai. Transitioning from Exodus to Leviticus the dialogue then moves to this newly finished Tabernacle centered in the midst of the camp.
What’s fascinating about not only Leviticus 25 but chapters 26 and 27 is the location of this conversation between the Lord and Moses appears to now shift back from the Tabernacle to Mount Sinai. So why the scene shift and what does this mean?
The immediate challenge I found when it came to answering this particular question was that in my own studies of this passage not one commentary or commentator even mentions this detail yet alone attempts to present any type of rational explanation for it. Seriously, not one Bible teacher I listen to found this shift in scene location even slightly curious!
While it’s true Moses’ interactions with God were never limited to one location, what makes this detail so engrossing is that there is no evidence God ever spoke from Mount Sinai after indwelling the Tabernacle of meeting! What this seems to indicate is the part of God’s conversation with Moses recorded for us in Leviticus 25, 26, and 27 actually came before the 24 chapters where God spoke from the Tabernacle! So the question now begs… Why are these chapters presented at the end of Leviticus and not back in Exodus?
I have a theory and I must reiterate this is only a theory so bear with me… Regarding the New Testament we understand it to be a compilation of 27 books written by 8 authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke (who also wrote Acts), John (who penned three letters and Revelation in addition to his Gospel), James and Jude (who were half-brothers of Jesus), Peter wrote two letters to the Church, and you have the 13 Epistles written by the Apostle Paul — Hebrews is the only book in which there is any debate concerning authorship.
While these books were already universally accepted by the Church as being divinely inspired Scripture, in order to directly address fringe writings that were heretical in nature, in 382 AD these 27 were officially canonized by the Church during the Council of Rome.
I bring this up because a similar dynamic existed for the Old Testament as well. While these 39 books were also universally accepted as being divinely inspired and were generally in circulation, it was during the rise of heretical writings following the Babylonian exile that an official canonization of the Old Testament into one singular collection was required.
While its difficult to pinpoint an exact date this took place, there is ample evidence that a man named Ezra (who was instrumental in leading the Hebrews back from their Babylonian captivity as well as ushering in a spiritual revival) spearheaded this important task.
To this point one author writes, “The idea of a finalized Hebrew canon first began to emerge shortly after the Babylonian exile… The primary reason for the final compilation of the sacred Aaronic writings into an authoritative canon of Scripture was to combat an insidious counterfeit system of worship arising out of Samaria during this period.”
A few side points before I get to my theory… First, aside from the Jewish Talmud, both Jesus and the New Testament writers affirm Moses as being the primary author/complier of the Torah. Secondly, because Deuteronomy 34 records the death of Moses, there is no question an additional editor was involved at some point in time to complete the record.
Thirdly, while we can’t say who added this final chapter (likely Joshua), it is believed the ultimate organization of Moses’ writings into 5 separate volumes occurred post-Babylonian exile during the final compilation and canonization of the entire Old Testament. For centuries the Torah existed as largely one singular work of Moses with the divisions coming later.
Lastly, as a student of Scripture there is an interesting hermeneutical tool you can use in order to uncover the deeper levels of meaning behind a particular text. Sure, it’s always important to consider what is being articulating, but it’s an entirely different exercise to consider why it was necessary. Nothing is said or placed into the Bible on accident.
Here’s my theory… I believe when compiling the ancient Scriptures and canonizing the Old Testament, Ezra (moved by the inspiration of God) intentionally decided to move these three chapters from their chronological placement somewhere in Exodus to the end of Leviticus for a thematic purpose. Let me explain why Ezra would do this…
While the evidence suggests God spoke these words to Moses (chapters 25, 26, and 27) BEFORE He said anything from the Tabernacle (Leviticus 1-24), these final three chapters presented a perfect postscript for Jews reading Leviticus who’d just returned to the Land after experiencing the judgment of God because they hadn’t obeyed most of Leviticus!
As we work through these chapters in the next few weeks, in addition to unpacking what God is saying in the moment, I’m going to also take time to address the application Ezra’s placement would have for those reading these things from a post-exile perspective.
Leviticus 25:2-7, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land — all its produce shall be for food.”
Regarding the Sabbath Day we understand God intentionally structured a week whereby His people would work hard for six days and rest on the seventh. Not only did God model this Himself during Creation, but therein He established a week as a measurement of time.
Beyond the weekly day of rest and a calendar structured around seven festival vacations recorded in Leviticus 23, in chapter 25 God extends this Sabbath concept into a yearly context. Upon their arrival to the Promised Land, according to these verses, the people were to work the land for six years and then allow the land to rest during the seventh.
Ultimately, the purpose for the Sabbath Year was as follows: First, the land needed to reset. In this passage this seventh year is described as literally being a “solemn rest for the land.” The people were encouraged to work the land for six years, but on the seventh all work was to cease for a full 12-months in order to allow the land to rejuvenate itself.
Scientifically, we recognize the value and wisdom in this idea. Since nutrients come from the soil healthy crops demand healthy soil. Today, crop rotations and fertilizers are used to insure healthy harvests without the necessity of leaving the land fallow one year in seven.
Secondly, the livestock needed to recharge. Aside from the practical benefits of allowing the land a chance to reset and rest, there was also a pragmatic blessing in letting the animals you used to till the soil and harvest the crops an opportunity to recharge as well.
Thirdly, the workers needed to relax. How radical an idea if a modern company told their employees that every seventh year the business closed and everyone got a paid 12-month vacation!? While we might think that’s crazy this is exactly how God’s economy was structured. Every seventh year the land, livestock, and the workers were to rest.
Finally, the owner needed to remember he was only a steward. In verse 23 God will be clear “the land was His” and therefore the increase was His responsibility. In fact, God was so serious they keep this Sabbath Year He promises to yield a triple portion in year-six specifically to cover the losses in years seven, eight, and nine if necessary!
Leviticus 25:18-22, “So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?’ Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest.”
What’s interesting about the way God set this Sabbath Year up is that He promises to yield a triple portion on the sixth year! Think about that for a moment… God was asking His people to trust Him in year-seven AFTER He provided a threefold increase in year-six!
Practically, it would be similar to God saying, “I want you to take a year off of work and trust that I’ll provide for you. In fact, here’s a check for next year’s salary. Will you trust Me?”
Sadly, there is no record the Children of Israel ever obeyed the Sabbath Year when they came into the land. God establishes this system where they get to take a year off in an act of faith AFTER He yielded a threefold increase — and they never once obeyed! Why?
There are some who point to fear as being the reason people fail to give faithfully — “I don’t give because I’m not sure God can be trusted to take care of my needs.” Seriously, I don’t buy it! I mean what kind of God do you believe in that’s apparently unwilling or able to take care of your needs? No. I’m convinced a lack of giving has a much more sinister driver.
Ask yourself the question… Why would Israel fail to take the seventh year off when God yielded a threefold increase in year six? There’s only one rational explanation… Greed! It was their desire for more that robbed them of the blessings God was wanting to provide in the seventh year. God sanctioned taking a year off and provided in advance so that it was possible. And what did the people do? They took the increase and kept on working! You know the grand irony of greed is that it teases something it can never provide.
I’m convinced greed for more not a fear of less really is the core driver behind many people’s lack of generosity. Structurally, God set things up whereby He yields an increase and we’re to give a firstfruits. And yet, when it comes to writing that check what holds us back? We start thinking about all the things we could use that extra money to buy. God yields a harvest, but we fail to experience the blessing because we’re greedy!
This explains why God uses such strong language when it comes to our failure to give of the firstfruits of His increase. In Malachi He goes so far as to say a failure to give of your tithes is akin to robbing from Him! Why is this God’s perspective? Your tithe shouldn’t be given hoping to receive something in return from the Lord. Instead, your gift is to be given in response and proportion to whatever He’s already given. It’s why it’s called a firstfruit!
Christian, God is not asking you and I to give an offering of the firstfruits of the harvest in order to trust He’ll provide for our needs. In contrast, God faithfully provides for our needs and the giving back of the firstfruits is an acknowledgment of this.
Understand… The one thing that will always manifest if you give of our firstfruits and obey the commands of the Lord concerning giving is what we find illustrated in this seventh year — God’s blessings. Most interestingly, this is also the very thing greed will rob you of! Their failure to take the Sabbath Year after receiving the blessings of the 6th was something God found to be so insulting He would ultimately judge them harshly for it!
Leviticus 25:8-12, “And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.
That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.”
It’s worth pointing out, amongst other things, the Year of Jubilee was also to be another Sabbath Year (the 50th year) following the customary Sabbath Year (year 49). What this means is on the 48th year God would provide an increase to cover four years in total!
Leviticus 25:13-17, “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession (literally his property or inheritance). And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another (to do wrong to someone or treat poorly). According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you.
According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. (Evaluations on what something was worth were made according to the number of years before the next Jubilee.) Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.”
There is no question that of all the unique aspects to the way God’s nation was designed to function the Year of Jubilee was the most revolutionary! In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything close to this concept presented in any other religious order, world culture, or economic system. It’s not communism nor capitalism, but Jubilee!
On the 50th year following these seven sets of Sabbath Years “on the tenth day of the seventh month” or the Day of Atonement, from the Tabernacle “the trumpet” or literally the rams horn or shofar was “to sound” out officially ushering in a Jubilee “throughout all the land.” Instantly a one-part economic two-parts social justice tsunami would ensue.
Because the Year of Jubilee occurred every 50th year this reset would basically happen once in a generation. At some point during everyone’s life Jubilee would occur ushering in a complete and total economic and social resetting. In verse 10 we’re told the blast of the trumpet “proclaimed liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants!”
Consider the implications of what this Jubilee actually looked like… Every 50 years all monies owed were forgiven no matter the amount. If you found yourself in the servitude of another for financial reasons, Jubilee wiped away the debt setting you free again.
If you racked up a hefty balance on your Discover Card, Jubilee zeroed out the balance. If you’d been struggling to pay off that Student Loan with the job your Liberal Arts degree with a minor in Mid-15th Century Chinese Architecture got you, when the Year of Jubilee finally came around all was forgiven no matter the outstanding amount. Yes, even Student Loans!
Aside from this during Jubilee all land in Israel was returned to its original owner. Once the people entered the Land of Promise regions were divided amongst the Tribes with these regions being divided into family partitions. It was so important to God the land remain divided accordingly during Jubilee everything was reset back to the original divisions.
Basically, it was impossible to actually sell a piece of land in Israel. At best all you could offer someone was a 49-year lease knowing on the 50th year the deed would automatically revert back to the family. Again the evaluation of the lease would be priced according to the number of years you could work the land until the next Jubilee came around.
In the end this system was established by God to prohibit “oppression.” We see this same refrain “you shall not oppress one another” repeated in both verses 14 and 17. Now if you’re thinking to yourself, “How does an economy function when there is an imposed expiration date to all loans, debts, and leases?” The answer… You have an economy that is not fundamentally dependent upon loans, debts, and leases! How refreshing!
The beauty of Jubilee was not that it eliminated everyone’s debt, but that it deterred the accumulation of debt to begin with. The amount you loaned someone had to be determined by their ability or willingness to pay you back before Jubilee. If you purchased land to expand your farming operation, the term had to be in proportion to the number of years left before Jubilee. In many ways Jubilee was a large safety net aimed at protecting social order and equality. It was a check and balance everyone had to be mindful of!
In the end the results of such a system are really interesting to consider… First, Jubilee gave everyone one big due over! Now it’s true the extent of your mulligan depended on when you were born or reached adulthood in proximity to this economic reset, but the reset existed nonetheless. No matter how bad you blew it or how poor your financial decisions ended up being once in your adult life God wanted everyone to have a second chance.
Secondly, the brilliance of this model was Jubilee safeguarded against the development of generational debt. No matter the terrible financial choices a father might have made in his life the consequences wouldn’t terminally effect his kids future opportunities. Because of Jubilee a day would come when his wrongs were righted and the family made whole again.
Thirdly, on the flip-side to safeguarding against the formation of generational debt and by extension the development of a perpetual underclass of have-nots, Jubilee also prohibited the consolidation of wealth among a few. You see the economic reset at the heart of Jubilee played both directions. Generational debt as well as wealth were impossibilities.
Fourth and this ties into the last point, but Jubilee barred the establishment of land barons in Israel. Every 50 years the deeds for all the land with their boarders instantly reverted back to the original owner. In the end Jubilee was God’s way of keeping a minority of people from owning everything and thereby oppressing a hopeless majority.
Which really leads to the final point and ultimate purpose for this set up… In the end, the Year of Jubilee was God’s way of keeping Israel from becoming Egypt. Jubilee kept in check human greed. It maintained equality. It prohibited the oppression of people. Jubilee was important because it fostered an economy that preferred human beings over material possessions. In fact, the closer one got to Jubilee the less and less stuff was worth.
In way of application I do feel inclined to say — especially since we find ourselves in a political season where sinful human beings are arguing on stage about how our economy should best function in a fallen world — God has endorsed neither socialism or capitalism! God’s ideal is something very very different… It’s called Jubilee!
It’s true in our capitalistic system the entrepreneurial spirit of mankind has been released in incredible ways. America is the wealthiest country the world has ever seen. Free markets provide everyone an opportunity to blaze their own trail and make a life for their family.
That said… With the success of some comes the misfortune of others. You see capitalism places no guardrails on greed. Inequality is real. Three men (Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos) have 50 billion more dollars than the bottom half of all Americans. Aside from this personal debt is out of control. People are living beyond their means and a system that requires the poor take out loans for an education they’ll never escape is simply unjust.
On the other end of the spectrum… An argument can be made the wealthiest country in the world that has spent a Trillion dollars conducting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should have a healthcare system that is available, accessible, advanced, and free to its citizens. That said… Taking from producers to support consumers is a receipt for disaster.
A critic of socialism once said, “At some point you always run out of other people’s money.” This is what makes the Year of Jubilee such a radicle idea. It allows for the economic freedom found in capitalism while also safeguarding against the tyranny of socialism.
While Jubilee is an economic system we’re unlikely to see implemented until Jesus returns, what makes it so important centers on what it reveals about God and how He wanted man to treat his fellow man. At it’s core the Year of Jubilee was all about grace and second chances for those who fundamentally didn’t deserve it. I mean you could run up a debt and all would be forgiven every 50th year without you doing anything!
And yet, this is what most people miss about Jubilee… God’s grace towards man had to be administered by men. Don’t miss this point! Jubilee was a system designed by God to teach His people an important lesson about the nature of grace. While grace is completely free to the person who receives it, grace is very costly to the one granting it!
As you can imagine the trumpet blast of Jubilee didn’t excite everyone in Israel. In fact those who’d worked hard for what they had… The achievers… The go-getters… The responsible and successful were perturbed when Jubilee came around because this second chance for the losers, lazy, and debtors ultimately came at their expense. In one moment irregardless of personal choices everyone was again on equal footing. How was this fair?
The truth… Jubilee wasn’t fair at all! Understand, Jubilee was instituted by God in order to illustrate two radicle principles. First, the God of Israel was a God of second chances. In His economy any debt could be forgiven no matter how large. Fresh starts could be granted. New beginnings were made possible. Liberty for all was coming.
And yet, there was a second principle God was illustrating through Jubilee… These second chances, forgiven debts, fresh starts, new beginnings, and liberty didn’t come without a cost! You see while grace may be a free God’s grace is far from cheep!
Enter Jesus. In Luke 4:17-21 Jesus makes a most incredible statement… “He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.’ (Jubilee!) Then He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He said to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Amazingly, Jubilee was this generational event that pointed to the work of Jesus. Jubilee was all about God’s grace being administered to man by men who’d incur the cost. As a man Jesus came to forgive our debts, to grant us a fresh start, newness of life. Jesus came to provide liberty to the captive and set free those in bondage to sin. And while this is a glorious reality for you and I — the receivers of such a wonderful grace — never ever forget our Jubilee cost Jesus the Man who gave it everything… His very life!
In closing I want to place these things dealing with the Sabbath Year and Jubilee into a different perspective… Ministering during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem the prophet Jeremiah told the people in two different places (Jeremiah 25:11-13 and Jeremiah 29:10) they’d be removed from the Promised Land for a period of 70 years.
What’s interesting about his prophecy is that while correct on the 70 years portion it wouldn’t be until many years later that the people came to realize why it was 70. In 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 we read, “And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”
You see by the time Chronicles was written (which was a recounting of the Jewish history recorded in 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings) the people had come to realize their exile of 70 years had occurred because they’d failed to obey the Sabbath Year for a period of 490 years. You want to take a guess who is traditionally credited for penning Chronicles? Ezra!
From my perspective it’s not an accident a section of Scripture explaining the very cause of their judgment (a failure to obey the Sabbath Year for 490 years) finds itself intentionally intertwined with a message of second chances, God’s amazing grace, and Jubilee!
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