In part 24 of this series, we examined the Ninth of Av (observed this year on Sunday, August 14, 2016), the quintessential day of tragedy for the Jewish people, and invited Christians to join Jews in prayer on this day. Today we examine a very positive topic:
Is Jubilee in general, and this perhaps year in particular the Year of the Lord’s Favor?
Many have commented publicly as well as written to us privately about the potential connection of the Jubilee with Isaiah 61:1-2:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord…”
Regarding this passage, and its Messianic message, Christians readers additionally point out that these phrases were also quoted by Jesus. But putting that aside, both Jews and Christians do agree fully that this Isaiah passage is Messianic in nature.
Yet, it is the phrase “to proclaim liberty to the captives” which has connected this verse to the Jubilee itself. Leviticus 25:10 uses a similar term:
“You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants…”
The word “release” in Leviticus and the word “liberty” in Isaiah are the same word: deror, which can be translated release, liberty, a flowing, free run, and even freedom.
Jubilee as the Year of the Lord’s Favor: Yes or No?
So on the face of it, we can see the obvious connection in Isaiah 61 between the Jubilee year, since the Jubilee-type phrase “proclaim a release” [deror], is followed almost immediately in Isaiah 61 by a proclamation of the “year of the Lord’s favor.”
But, here is where the problems begin, and the “No camp” gains some ground.
First, the word favor [hebrew: ratson] in Isaiah 61 is not quoted in Leviticus 25.
Second, the year of favor in Isaiah 61:2 is followed immediately by the phrases:
“…and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”
Now while Christians do push those last two phrases into the future since they were not quoted, the point we are making here is that this Messianic passage has elements which seem to go beyond the Jubilee as described in Leviticus: vengeance and comfort.
But, on the other hand, the past Jubilee years of 1967 and 1917 as we previously discussed contained full-fledged wars. Honest soldiers in the ranks of the Ottoman Turks in 1917, and on the side of the Arab nations surrounding Israel, might well have felt that God was bringing a kind of “divine vengeance” upon them. The strategies of those armies clearly backfired. Putting this observation in the context of Biblical times, the first year of entry into the land of Canaan by the Children of Israel definitely had Jubilee aspects to it: the returning of the Promised Land to Israel and a divine vengeance upon the city of Jericho, and the need for comfort after the tragic opening round for Israel in their battle for the second city, Ai.
First of all, Jews pray every day for the current year to be blessed and fruitful one. They ask God to bless all the produce of the land, and they begin to pray for rain immediately after the Sukkot holiday completes, and it often rains upon cue. So their prayer is that every year would be blessed.
Second, in the description of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:21, the reader might notice that it is actually the 48th year and not the Jubilee that is to be the most fruitful of all, carrying a blessing into the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year that follows it:
“I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years.”
The Key to an Answer
So how do we resolve the question: Is Jubilee, and our current year, the Favorable Year of the Lord?
The key to resolving the question is to notice WHO IS RESPONSIBLE to proclaim liberty in the two passages.
In God’s commands to Israel as set out in Leviticus 25, the decision to enact a Jubilee is a responsibility of the people! Unless everyone joins together in accepting that liberty shall be proclaimed, nothing will happen. And even more, any cooperation on the fiftieth year must begin in the very first year of that cycle, because the economic system — the value of land and one’s service — is to be proportional to how many years remain until the Jubilee, when the land is returned and slaves are set free. The timing and coordination of the 50th year has to be known and agreed by everyone a full 50 years in advance!
However, in Isaiah 61, the decision to proclaim a release and to declare the favorable year is the responsibility of the Messiah! This elegant redemption is under his authority. As such, it need not happen on cue once every 49 or 50 years. It can happen anytime!
Bob would like to point out to Christian readers: Historically, Jesus quoting Isaiah 61 in Luke 4 in approximately 29/30 AD does not seem to be in a Jubilee year. If you start with the year 1967 and walk back in a 49 year repeating pattern, you get to 7 AD. If you walk back in a 50 year repeating pattern, and you get to 17 AD. Neither of these years is very close to 29 AD, but the good news is it that by extension, the Messiah’s imminent arrival can be in any year as well!
Now with this “WHO IS RESPONSIBLE” distinction in mind, we can now look back and see that the root of the principle of Messianic redemption is even visible in Leviticus 25. Apart from a few exceptions, this chapter goes to great lengths to explain how land and people can be redeemed at any time by kinsmen. This is how Boaz claimed Ruth.
The idea that the “favorable year” can be both “known in advance”, and “happen any time” is actually the most exciting answer we could imagine! Why? First, because as we have said before, there is no definitive evidence that the Jubilee principles were ever practiced on a national level by Israel. If a year of the Lord’s favor requires an entire nation to come together 50 years in advance, and agree to enact over the next 50 years, something as unusual, tumultuous, and upending as the Jubilee, it might never happen. But if, as Isaiah proclaims, the Messiah is not bound by the laws of the Jubilee, then the Messiah IS WILLING to do the difficult work that we could not come together as a community and do on our own.
So if the Messiah will declare a Messianic Jubilee in his own timing, then why do we bother to search for and solve the Mystery of the Lost Jubilee at all?
Finding the Lost Jubilee and participating in it is not going to solve every problem. The Jubilee year does not guarantee every prayer to be answered in the way we desire. But we believe that when man attempts to honor God, recognize God’s principles, and take a few feeble steps to participate in what God might be doing, that act pleases Him. For the Nation of Israel those steps can result in more of the promised land being returned. Furthermore, when God does something beautiful for the Jewish People in the land of Israel, He often does something beautiful for the Nations of the world as well.
And that will be our next topic to explore: will a Jubilee usher in a major world revival?
Connect with Others
Thanks to those who wrote “count me in” regarding our last article’s invitation to pray or fast during the Ninth of Av. If you did pray for Israel on Sunday August 14th, the Ninth of Av, how was that experience for you? Was there a particular verse from the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Old Testament) that was especially meaningful to you during your prayer? If so, please write it in the comments!