Debt Relief (Leviticus 25:1-55)

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After some rather sobering studies on the matter of church discipline in Leviticus 24, chapter 25 comes as a sigh of relief. In it, God reveals His laws concerning the Sabbatical year as well as the Year of Jubilee, with its attendant regulations concerning debt relief.

God’s purpose for this chapter was to give hope to His people concerning release from debts, slavery and bondage. Those who were under economic burdens of indebtedness including, but not limited to, those who had lost their land, were given hope by the year of Jubilee. Those who were exhausted from six years of hard labour in the fields were given the opportunity to rest. And those who did not want to rest were given opportunity to obey this law anyway—for the good of their souls and for the good of the soil.

Upon entering Canaan, God’s people would need this revelation to remind them that, quite literally, Yahweh was the Landlord. Such knowledge would equip them to lovingly handle the stewardship of what they were about to inherit. It was also designed to teach the nation to loosely hold on to material possessions, including the land.1

Ultimately, however, this passage points to the spiritual longing for deliverance from the debt of sin with its rigorous bondage. This would come through the great Liberator, the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 4:16-19). He alone can give us relief from the debt of sin.

In the light of what has been said, this regulating of the calendar every seventh and fiftieth year was intended to be a time of both spiritual renewal and spiritual anticipation for the people of God. And we will see, like the case in chapter 24, obedience to these rules would require both devotion towards and faith in God.

So let’s dig into this chapter and learn valuable lessons, not only about economic debt relief (which it does indeed address), but, more importantly, about spiritual debt relief from our bondage to sin.

Because this is such a long chapter, and because I want to focus on the main issues that arise from the text, we will take a bird’s eye view of these 55 verses, gleaning the relevant principles from it. But, as an overview of the chapter, I suggest the following outline.

I. The Sabbatical Years, vv. 1-22

1. The Regulations, vv. 1-16

i. The Sabbatical Year, vv. 1-7

ii. The Jubilee Year, vv. 8-16

2. The Reason, vv. 17-22

II. The Redemption of Property, vv. 23-38

1. The Regulations, vv. 23-37

i. Redemption of Land, vv. 23-28

ii. Redemption of City Dwellings, vv. 29-30

iii. Redemption of “Plot” Dwellings, v. 31

iv. Redemption of Levitical Dwellings, vv. 32-34

v. Relief of Poor Relatives, vv. 35-37

2. The Reason, v. 38

III. The Redemption of People, vv. 39-55

1. The Regulations, vv. 39-54

i. Redemption of Brothers, vv. 39-43

ii. Redemption of Strangers, vv. 44-46

iii. Redemption from Strangers, vv. 47-54

2. The Reason, v. 55

For our purposes, we will take a bird’s eye look at this chapter around four major themes: the law of the Lord (vv. 1-16); The Lord of the land (vv. 17-22); the land of the Lord (vv. 23-34); and the love of the Lord (vv. 35-55).

The Law of the Lord

The chapter begins with the law laid down by the Lord:

And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “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.

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.

In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbour, 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.

(Leviticus 25:1-16)

These particular laws are, of course, no longer obligatory for the new covenant believer, for, as we will see, they were clearly fulfilled in Christ. And yet it would be a mistake to conclude that this chapter has no relevance for us. It has much to say to us—incredibly so! Recently, while reading Proverbs 3:1-2, I was reminded again that if God’s law was a blessing to those who obeyed it 3,500 years ago, then certainly such obedience in our day will also prove to be a blessing.

Obviously, this entire chapter contains the law of the Lord, but these opening verses lay the foundation for all the regulations that follow.

The opening words of the chapter inform us that this revelation came to Moses while he was on Mount Sinai. This terminology is used only four times in Leviticus (7:38; 26:46; 27:34). The entire book was revealed while the nation of Israel was encamped there, so obviously this is a literary reminder to take this law very seriously. It should be noted that such an exhortation was necessary, for in fact Israel ignored these very laws to such an extent that God punished them with the Babylonian captivity (2 Chronicles 36:21; see Jeremiah 29:10 with Daniel 9:2).

It is worth pausing here to observe our propensity to disobey that which offers so much blessing. God promised miraculous provision to the nation in return for obedience, and yet they chose to disobey. The result was much heartache.

Why were these laws so important? Because ultimately they were intended to test the faith of the people who professed to know God. To obey these laws would require faith. Obedience always does. Would they choose God’s definition of liberty or their own as informed by the surrounding culture? This, by the way, is still a most relevant question.

Before making some important observations let me give a summary of this passage.

In vv. 1-7 the Lord reveals His law concerning the Sabbatical Year. In interesting terminology, He personifies the land when He says, “the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD” (v. 2) and, “in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD.” That is, upon entering Canaan, the land was to have a rest every seventh year, and so to enjoy a yearlong holiday—a kind of “paid leave.”

During this time, the nation would be sustained (by God) through gleanings from the fields (as well as, perhaps, through “savings” from previous harvests). Agriculturalists tell us that this was very good for the land. For one thing, it enabled the land to reduce its amount of sodium and to reclaim needed nutrients. It would be a receiver rather than a giver, thus improving its productivity in the long run. In fact, “sabbatical” terminology has been borrowed from the Bible and is still used today when professionals take extended times of leave in order to rest for better productivity when they return.

But as we will see, there were deeper reasons as well.

Announcement of Liberation

In vv. 8-16 the Lord reveals the Law of the Jubilee. The word means “to sound” and is related to the term for “horn.” Every fiftieth year (the beginning of the year after seven sabbatical years), a special occurrence would attend the Day of Atonement. On this day the trumpet would sound, marking the beginning of the “year of release.” Since it followed on the heels of the previous sabbatical year, this meant that the land would have another year to rest.

As has been noted, “the idea of Jubilee ‘is probably the most radical social and economic idea in all the Bible.’ Its effect was to rule out speculation and prevent economic exploitation. It enshrined in law the cessation of land abuse, the cancellation of debts, the restitution of land to its original owners, the repair of the family, and the termination of slavery.”2

This debt relief was to be announced—“trumpeted”—on the Day of Atonement. The most spiritually focused day of the year was to be accompanied by the announcement of debt relief. It is interesting that, in later Jewish history, this was also the beginning of the Jewish New Year. New beginnings are grounded in atonement!

Most importantly the Year of Jubilee meant that those who were in debt and thus enslaved as indentured servants were set free. Thus, the Year of Jubilee was a time of liberation. Those who had sold (or, more properly, leased) their land due to economic hardship had it returned to them. So not only did the Israelite enjoy a year of release from exhausting labour, but they also were blessed with debt relief.

Atonement and Liberation

The Day of Atonement in many ways signified a new year to the Jews, and so the Year of Jubilee was quite literally a time of new beginnings. It was a fresh start, not only spiritually (by atonement) but also, as we see here, economically. “On this high holy day, when reconciliation with God was to become a national petition, the Israelites were likewise reminded to be properly restored to their brothers.”3 No wonder the Psalmist shouted, “How I love your law!” (Psalm 119:97).

Anticipation of Jubilee

Try to imagine living in those days as one who has fallen on hard times. For whatever reason, you have become so impoverished that you have had to sell your land and eventually even sell yourself into indentured servanthood. And as hard as you have tried, you just can’t seem to get out of debt. How you long for debt relief!

Imagine that you find yourself in this condition in the fortieth year after the last Year of Jubilee. Ten years until freedom seems a long way off. Your boss is good to you and your family (v. 17); nevertheless, you long for freedom. And so you live each day in anticipation of Jubilee.

You know full well that you may receive your freedom earlier if a kinsman redeems you, or if you are somehow able to secure enough money to buy your liberation. Therefore, the anticipation does not hinder your willingness to work hard. Nevertheless, all things being equal, the profound change in your circumstances will probably not occur until that gloriously anticipated day. And so you work and you wait. And you plan.

Finally, the day arrives. The trumpet sounds and release occurs! Your boss comes to you and says, “Friend, it is time. God’s law has been satisfied. Go, you are free. May God bless you!”

You embrace your wife with joy, clutch the hands of your children, and lead them to the loaded donkey to return home. The land is yours and there is no bond to pay! Further, you have an entire year to celebrate your liberty and to plan a better future. Again, what a wonderful law!

Hopefully, your Jewish boss is a God-lover and thus a law-lover, and so he rejoices with you as you go. Yes, he will miss your services, but he is happy that his brother is making a new start. He wishes you well in your new experience of liberty.

The Lord of the Land

Verses 17-22 focus on the Lord of the land.

Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.

So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgements, 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.

(Leviticus 25:17-22)

Though this matter of debt relief in the Year of Jubilee was a wonderful experience, it was simultaneously a trying time. For two years the people needed to trust God in a greater way than normal for provision.

Crown Him Lord of All

A sabbatical year preceded the Year of Jubilee, both in revelation and in chronology. This is significant—so much so that it required a “I am the Lord” in vv. 17, 38, 55.

The Sabbath principle is a “spiritual” one. It is a practice rooted in worship of the one true God. Therefore, with the presence of this emphasis upon sabbatical, we should see that, even though the Jubilee was a profoundly wise means for economic stability, it was designed to strengthen the people’s worship of Yahweh. In other words, the economic and social benefits of Jubilee were rooted in the spiritual. The law of Jubilee was intended primarily to teach God’s people that He is the Lord of the land. In fact, He is Lord of all. Every sphere of life is to be lived under God’s lordship.

American currency bears the slogan, “In God we trust.” I am convinced that, for most, that really means, “In this god we trust.” The same can be said of South Africa. This was not to be the case in Israel. Their trust was not to be in their land or their wealth, but in the Lord.

By Faith Alone

Coming on the heels of a previous sabbatical year, the children of Israel would be required to live off the land apart from any of their own agricultural labours. They would live by faith. They were to learn that God knew what was best for the land and, more importantly, that He could and must be trusted. It was He who caused the growth and He who ultimately sustained them. It was intended for their spiritual and economic benefit. You see, the sabbatical law with reference to the land (as well as with the Jubilee) was designed primarily to teach the children of Israel that God was quite literally, the Landlord (v. 23)—and worthy of their trust.

Verses 17-22 serve as both a reminder that the produce of the land came from the Lord as well as a stimulation of Israel’s faith in the Lord of their land. These verses echo a wonderful truth: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in God.”

God promises in no uncertain terms that, if they obey this law, He, the Landlord, would give them economic security in the land. He would provide for them. In fact, the Jubilee promised to be a miraculous time (vv. 18-22). And the entire congregation was to experience this miracle of God’s faithful provision.

Perseverance of the Saints

Obviously, in the light of the above, this was a time that required perseverance. With the extra time that they had, the people would probably have spent more time in meditation and prayer as they were forced to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In fact, since the Jubilee especially pointed to Christ (Luke 4) this year carried with it the potential for much good to their souls.

This would be a good place to emphasise that not every Sabbath is necessarily a time of exhilaration; indeed, Sabbaths are heavy as we contemplate the condition of our relationship with the Lord. In other words, sometimes the best and most profitable Sabbaths are those in which we feel the most miserable—as long as they are matched with God’s mercies (see Psalm 126).

Increasing One’s Salt Intake

I noted above that such a physical rest for the land helped to reduce sodium in the soil, which was beneficial for future crops. But as the soil reduced its salt, perhaps the Lord wanted His people to increase theirs at the same time. As the people would have extra time to focus on the Lord, they would be further equipped to be salt of the earth to the glory of God.

We can learn from this that sometimes we need a break from the regular and rigorous routine of life to become saltier. Failure to do so may result in us being trodden under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).

In spite of these promises, there is little indication in history of God’s people faithfully keeping this law. Rather, they chose to trust themselves—with awful consequences (2 Chronicles 36:10-21). They disobeyed the sabbatical laws to their spiritual detriment. In fact, it is interesting that, as it neglected these sabbatical laws, the nation also fell into steep idolatry. That is always the case. By observing God’s prescribed Sabbath laws, we profess our faith in God. When we are guilty of unbelief, our faith is channelled to another god.

Unbelief has serious consequences and this was realised when God judged the nation for violation of these laws. We must learn from this that the Lord is Lord of the land. We must increasingly become persuaded and appreciative of our dependence upon Him. Self-sufficiency is self-destructive. May God give us the grace to resist it!

The Land of the Lord

Verses 22-34 shift gears slightly as they focus on the land of the Lord.

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.

The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land.

If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold. Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it,  then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession. But if he is not able to have it restored to himself, then what was sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the Year of Jubilee; and in the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession. If a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year he may redeem it. But if it is not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it, throughout his generations. It shall not be released in the Jubilee. However the houses of villages which have no wall around them shall be counted as the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the Jubilee. Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, and the houses in the cities of their possession, the Levites may redeem at any time. And if a man purchases a house from the Levites, then the house that was sold in the city of his possession shall be released in the Jubilee; for the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel. But the field of the common-land of their cities may not be sold, for it is their perpetual possession.

(Leviticus 25:22-34)

These laws, especially with reference to Jubilee, went a long way to teach that this world was not God’s people’s home, but that they were only passing through. It also reminded them that this was their Father’s world. He owned it and had right to dictate who got to live on it.

It was important that Israel grasp this truth: The land to which they were heading was a gift from God. They did not earn it, nor did they deserve it. Vasholz captures this thought when he writes, “Jubilee is the Sabbath that recognizes that the land is God’s. . . . God’s chosen nation must not forget that they are there by election; they dwell in ‘the land of milk and honey’ not by their righteousness, but by God’s grace.”4 God made this explicit when he said to Joshua, “I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13).

Significance of the Land

Further, this land was significant for God’s purposes. The land of the Lord was a centrepiece in God’s plan of redemption. No one that I have read has captured this better than Philip Eveson:

As the garden was set apart from the rest of creation to fulfil God’s purposes, so Canaan was set apart to be a reminder of that lost paradise and to point towards, and prepare for, the garden city of the future in the new creation, when God brings about the grand jubilee in the restoration of all things (Rev. 21:1-3, 22-23; 22:1-5). . . . Canaan was to be a kind of sanctuary where God would live on earth among his people and where his rule could be seen in operation and his will done on earth as in heaven.5

This was indeed the land of the Lord, and so the Israelites needed to handle their stewardship of it carefully and faithfully.

Remembering that the Old Testament records the journey of Jesus into space-time history, we can see the importance of the Promised Land and the need for it to remain under the dominion of God’s covenant nation. This was a fundamental reason for the laws of Jubilee. We see here the profound wisdom of God in preserving His people—the vehicle through Him Christ will come—by preserving the tribal inheritance of the land.

Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, is infamous for having driven the Native Americans from their land. Some years ago I read a book that detailed how the loss of land resulted in the loss of identity of the Native Americans, which had catastrophic results for them as a people. God understood this reality. It was vital to the coming of Messiah that Israel maintain its national identity, and so God put these laws in place to ensure that Israel kept the land given to it by God until Christ came.

Eveson again summarises it well: “The law against permanent alienation of ancestral land played a crucial part in preparing for the coming of the Messiah. It kept intact, first the family, then the tribe and ultimately the nation.”

Without diminishing this aspect of the laws we can also note some other benefits of these laws.

Hold Loosely

These laws helped to free the people from becoming too attached to things. After all, a day was coming when they would realise that all that they thought that they owned (with reference to the land) was in fact only on lease to them. God was kind enough to call it their “possession” and to give them laws to protect “private ownership,” but ultimately they needed to realise that they were only stewards of this land for a greater, God-centred agenda: redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.

This chapter teaches us that economics is ultimately a “spiritual” issue. Obedience to the laws of this chapter served to help the children of Israel to have a proper estimation of things material. It was designed to instruct the people of God with a proper view of “things.” How we need that lesson in our own day! Far too often we seek to rationalise and justify a sinful approach to the material. Hence “covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.”6

We need the lessons of the Jubilee. We need the realisation that all of our “lands” are the Lord’s. Ultimately, we own nothing. But God has kindly given to us “possessions” to be used in His agenda of His kingdom coming through the work of His Son. How are you handling His things?

We all need to hang onto things a lot more loosely.

The Great Leveller

In a future study, we will look more closely at the issue of private ownership and what the Bible teaches concerning our responsibility to the poor. But for now we need to note that the Jubilee served as a social leveller, for at some point everyone was pretty much living on the same level. “During that year, the whole nation becomes a nation of gleaners. Like the have-nots, all Israel survives solely by the benevolence of Another.”7

During the Year of Jubilee, Israel possessed land and rationed its food supply. That is, the entire congregation was (supposedly) looking to the Lord. And we must never forget that, ultimately, each of us is daily dependent upon the Lord for our daily bread.

In concluding this point, let me exhort us all, as we go to work, as we spend our money and we acquire possessions, to remember the ultimate Landlord. We will give an account to Him. So let us obey His terms and conditions (Matthew 6:19-34).

The Love of the Lord

The final section of this chapter can be summarised under the title, “The Love of the Lord.”

If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God. And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have—from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.

Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family, after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle or his uncle’s son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself. Thus he shall reckon with him who bought him: The price of his release shall be according to the number of years, from the year that he was sold to him until the Year of Jubilee; it shall be according to the time of a hired servant for him. If there are still many years remaining, according to them he shall repay the price of his redemption from the money with which he was bought. And if there remain but a few years until the Year of Jubilee, then he shall reckon with him, and according to his years he shall repay him the price of his redemption. He shall be with him as a yearly hired servant, and he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee—he and his children with him. For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

(Leviticus 23:35-55)

The Ultimate Debt Relief

I recently heard a well-known Old Testament scholar point out that all Scripture leads us eventually to the Lord Jesus Christ. He likened our study of the Old Testament to riding a bus from Durban to Johannesburg. He said that it would be silly to say that we are in Johannesburg when in fact we are only in Harrismith. Rather, we would be correct in saying that we are getting closer to Johannesburg.

So it is with the Old Testament. Each passage is not necessarily primarily about Christ, but does get us closer to Him (and thus points to Him in some way). So it is with this chapter. And so it was with each sabbatical year and with each scheduled Jubilee. They were designed by God to prepare the world for the incarnation and, ultimately, for redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ. They were designed by God to get the world closer to the true and greater liberation: the deliverance from the debt and bondage of sin through the person and work of Christ.

Ross helps us to see this when he points out the value of Jubilee in “physical” and “material” terms: “The provision of the Sabbath Year was intended to provide the Israelites with the hope of a future time of prolonged rest and release from debts. People may have labored year in and year out, but they knew that a time of relief was coming. Without such a prospect, the people would have despaired.”8 But, ultimately, these special years served to remind the people of their spiritual despair and their need for relief from spiritual indebtedness. They were continual reminders that the promise of Genesis 3:15 was on schedule.

In the (unfortunately) rare occasions when Israel did walk with God, these sabbatical years would have provided the opportunity for spiritual reflection and anticipation of the day when Messiah would come and provide the ultimate liberty. The nation would have been reminded that, although it was weary from its sins, the promised Redeemer would one day come and give His people the much needed spiritual rest that they needed (see Matthew 11:28-30).

God, it would seem, had ordered the fallen world in such a way to show sinners their desperate condition and their need for rest in Christ alone. That is one reason why the creation groans, as do believers, for that great day of ultimate liberation. It is also one reason why God allows unbelievers whom He seeks to feel the groaning and exhaustion that attends a life lived in disobedience to Him. He is preparing such for Jubilee!

I distinctly remember a time that like in my life. Though I professed to be Christian, I had not walked obediently with the Lord for some time. One day, as a university student in 1980, God gripped my heart. He helped me to feel the weight and misery of my sin and graciously brought me back to Himself. The weight of my sin helped me to experience a spiritual Jubilee.

Kinsman Redeemer

This passage (vv. 35-55) emphasises the matter of redemption of persons, with particular reference to a kinsman redeeming a relative out of poverty and thus out of slavery. An impoverished Jew could sell himself as an indentured servant, either to a fellow Jew (vv. 25, 35-42) or to a foreigner (vv. 47-55). In either case, the person (and family) was to be set free in the Year of Jubilee. But prior to that, he could be redeemed by a relative and be set free before the fiftieth year.

A wealthier relative could pay the redemption price (determined by the remaining years until Jubilee) and the brother would be set free. This is where the term “kinsman redeemer” comes from. An impoverished brother could be set free by a relative paying the required price. Does that sound familiar?

There is an example in the story of Ruth of how Boaz, kinsman to Ruth, redeemed her according to this law. Isaiah saw God as Israel’s Kinsman Redeemer (Isaiah 54:5-8; 63:16), and the New Testament portrays Jesus as the Kinsman Redeemer of those whom the Father gave to Him.

Jesus, the Jubilee

Luke 4:16-21 records Jesus first public sermon during His ministry. There, He entered a synagogue, opened a scroll, and read from the book of Isaiah.

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And 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.”

Then He closed the book, and 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 began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

(Luke 4:16-21)

On that day, so long ago, the Lord Jesus proclaimed that He was the fulfilment of the Jubilee. And He was the Jubilee because He was the Kinsman Redeemer.

We were born into slavery through our father Adam. We have sold ourselves into slavery by our own sins. But thank God for the second Man from heaven. Praise God for the Last Adam! Because He took on flesh and blood, the second member of the Godhead is able to do the work of a kinsman. He (and He alone) is able to redeem us. He is able to provide eternal debt relief.

We must keep before us that Jubilee is about liberty. Liberty always has a price—and it is often the price of blood. The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia has the words of Leviticus 25:10 inscribed on it. Liberty for America came at the cost of blood. Our spiritual liberty also comes at the cost of blood: the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Kinsman Redeemer as so beautifully prefigured here.

To more fully appreciate what Luke 4 was revealing, we need to feel the magnitude of our spiritual debt. We have been disenfranchised—both by virtue of Adam’s sin and by virtue of our own sinful behaviour.

But we also need to embrace the promise, given by Jesus, that liberty is there for the taking (Matthew 11:28-30). How foolish it is to remain in bondage when liberty is offered. Come to Christ today!

It should also be noted that the Jubilee prefigured the ultimate work of Christ, which one day we will experience in space and time. One day, the trumpet will sound and this world will be fully liberated from the curse of sin. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Application

As we draw our time in this chapter to a close, let me conclude with a few brief words of application. There are so many applications that shout to us from this text. Let me mention a few.

First, true freedom—true and meaningful liberty—must be grounded in atonement. It must be rooted in the gospel. Apart from this liberty is a mirage.

Recently, shortly before Youth Day in South Africa, I heard a talk show on the radio, in which the host was asking what should be the rallying point for South African youth of our day. People were invited to call in and offer their opinion, and a good number did so. As I was driving, I began thinking how I would answer that question. The answer that came to my mind is simply this: self-government—empowered by the gospel.

I am convinced the youth of our day needs to understand the need for self-government, but self-government that is rooted in and empowered by the gospel. Youth Day in South Africa is a memoriam of the apartheid youth standing for freedom, but that freedom was not grounded in the gospel. But a firm grounding in the gospel is precisely what the youth of our day needs.

Second, liberty only comes by grace. The land was the Lord’s and He was under no obligation to give it to anyone. He certainly was under no obligation to give it back to one who had forfeited it!

The liberty that we experience through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is certainly undeserved; it is gracious. Don’t ever stop being amazed by grace.

Third, once we are liberated, we need to plan and labour to avoid slavery again. “Once bitten; twice shy,” the saying goes.

I would think that an Israelite who experienced liberty in the Year of Jubilee would be careful not to make the same mistakes in future that had led to his slavery in the first place. And so should those redeemed by Christ through His gospel (see Romans 6).

Fourth, those who have experienced grace are to grant grace to others (see vv. 17, 38, 42, 55). As noted, any landowner (either through the purchase of land from a destitute brother or who owned their land by virtue of inheritance) actually only leased the land. God was its owner. And so, when required by law to return the land to its original owner, such a landowner simply acknowledged that God, and not he, was the rightful owner. It was only by grace that He let Israel “squat” on His land!

Further, the master who was required to let his servant go in the year of Jubilee was to remember, again, that it was only by grace that he was better off.

The point is that such an individual was under obligation to show grace and to happily release the indebted. In fact, he was required by law to do so.

We who have experienced God’s saving grace are also required by the law of Christ to release those who have incurred a debt of sin against us. We are required to forgive their debt. Refusal to do so is not only cruel and heartless, but is perhaps one of the worst demonstrations of self-righteousness imaginable.

I was recently involved in a situation in which a member of one church had terribly wronged another church. Because our church was involved in a roundabout way, the elders of the three churches gathered to discuss the matter. A pastor of the church at which the sinning brother was a member informed us that he was bringing this brother with him to the meeting. When we arrived, this man made no excuses for his sin. Broken, he confessed his sin and asked the wrong brothers for their forgiveness.

Without hesitation, the elders representing the wronged church verbally granted forgiveness. They expressed their understanding that, since God had forgiven them, they had no right to withhold forgiveness from this brother. They were required to forgive as God had forgiven them (Ephesians 4:32). It was a wonderful example of the very principle we have been considering.

Fifth, embrace the announcement of liberation and don’t allow anyone or anything to keep you from experiencing it. There are many aspects to this, but certainly a very important one is that we who have experienced the liberating power of the gospel must not allow others to hold us in bondage. We must not allow ourselves to be held in bondage by those who will not forgive our debts, or who seek to control us.

Finally, the realisation of temporal liberation fuels our anticipation for eternal liberation. Someone recently expressed to me a sense of dismay after reading the local news. I challenged them to always follow up a reading off such news with a reading of Revelation 22. In that glorious chapter, we are encouraged concerning the truth of already-and-not-yet. That is, the kingdom of God has come, and yet it continues to come. One day, it will fully come. We can anticipate the liberation of planet earth (and the entire universe) from the curse of sin. And our anticipation of such liberation is grounded in the realisation of what God in Christ has already accomplished—both in us as individuals as well as in the church at large. Our past and present transformation gives us hope for an eventual and complete transformation. Ross explains:

The Jubilee Year . . . provided a general overhaul of economic and social life to restore people and properties to their rightful conditions. . . . The eternal jubilee will make all things new, especially a completely new social order of freedom and bliss (Rev. 21:23—22:5). What is the old social order that is removed? The evils remedied by the Jubilee Year were debt, slavery, destitution, and exhausting toil.9

This will be the case when the last trumpet sounds and the kingdom finally and fully comes (1 Corinthians 15:52-58).

Do you know of this debt relief? Know it, experience it today. You have heard the trumpeting the truth of the gospel. You are without excuse. Repent, believe the gospel and be liberated today.

Believer, reflect on this reality as we enjoy a sabbatical rest today. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift! Thanks be unto God for eternal debt relief.

Show 9 footnotes

  1. This, by the way, needs to be emphasised today; particularly since so much of both unregenerate Israel and Israel-obsessed evangelicalism has emphasised the “Holy Land.”
  2. Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to Be Holy (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 299-300.
  3. Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 303.
  4. Robert I. Vasholz, Leviticus: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 328.
  5. Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 366.
  6. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 294.
  7. Vasholz, Leviticus, 328.
  8. Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 450.
  9. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 456, 63.