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  • Writer's pictureRobin Smit

What about Jubilee?

Yesterday I posted on Facebook about using the Scriptures to support student loan forgiveness (SLF). To say it caused a stir is an understatement. Some comments were quite ugly and ungracious by people proclaiming grace! Name-calling and accusations were flying. Seriously, I'm not exaggerating. No need to go to my posts and read them; I deleted them. Why? Because they were mean, and I don't like meanness on my FB posts. I don't mind honest conversation, but it seems that if something is political, it brings out bad manners and rude behavior. What I find ironic is that most who are for SLF and using Scripture and Jesus to defend it were against using the Bible or Jesus for anything not too long ago.

My post wasn't really about the politics of it. While personally, I don't politically agree with SLF, that wasn't the reason for my post. My post had to do with Scripture being misused to prove a political decision made by our current administration. It's not that I disagree with debt cancelation or forgiveness. I actually think it's a good idea to benefit someone who is genuinely burdened financially and facing the hardship of things like poverty, joblessness, homelessness, etc. However, I believe it's the creditor's job to forgive the debt. For instance, if someone owes me money and cannot pay because of financial hardship, I can CHOOSE to extend mercy and release them from their debt. No one else incurs that debt. I merely choose not to be paid back. Likewise, if student debt creates a financial hardship for someone, then the University or College (the creditor) can CHOOSE to release them from that debt. I believe the choice to release debt is personal and belongs to the creditor only.... not the government.

What about jubilee? I'm hearing and reading a lot of opinions about releasing debt being part of jubilee. Are we going back to the Mosaic Law now? What happened to we are not under Law but under grace? Also, the year of Jubilee was explicitly for the Jews living in Israel and part of their Mosaic Law (i.e., the OLD Covenant Law). It was not for anyone who was not a Jew, AND it was not for anyone living outside of Israel. So, a few problems are associated with us as part of the New Covenant observing jubilee.

What was the year of jubilee in the Old Testament...

Contained in the Mosaic Laws (which was for the Jews only living from the time of Mt. Sinai to the cross!) were the LAWS for the sabbatical (shmita) and jubilee (yovel) years. Yes, they were celebrations, but they were also LAWS meaning ALL of it must be followed COMPLETELY. You couldn't pick and choose which part you wanted to follow or even when you wanted to follow it. And again, it was EXCLUSIVE to Israel. AND the laws of the Sabbath included the blessings AND the curses. The Law of Sabbath requires a release of ALL debts and a rest for the land. Notice it's REQUIRED (not optional) and includes ALL debts (not some debts or only for some people). The Law of Jubilee was the emancipation of all enslaved people and the return of land to its original owners. Some of the benefits of the jubilee were...

  • All land returned to its original owners so that ancestral land stayed in the hands of families. It had to do with a person becoming destitute and forced to sell ancestral lands outside the family… this ensured that it was only temporary.

  • It benefited ALL of Israel, not just some.

  • They were to let the land rest – agricultural work was forbidden.

  • Any produce grown in the 48th year had to suffice for an entire population for three years – the 48th, 49th (shmita – or Sabbath), and 50th (yovel or Jubilee). You were to trust God to provide for your needs

  • If you accidentally planted it during the sabbath year, you had to uproot it! Being married to a farmer, I can see what a significant financial loss that would be to the farmer! They would lose a lot of money if they had to uproot the planting - not only the future harvest profit but also the investment of planting!

  • All plants which grew wild were prohibited from being eaten. Why? So that no one would secretly grow plants and "claim" that they had grown wild.

  • Any produce that accidentally grew on it was for the use of the poor and animals only.

  • The release of enslaved people.

What about the forgiveness of debt?

That didn't happen in the year of Jubilee. That was observed during the Sabbath year. The Law of the Sabbath year canceled debts at the end of the Sabbath year – Deuteronomy 15:1: "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts" (Deuteronomy 15:1). The Law of Jubilee released land and enslaved people at the beginning of the year when the trumpet sounded. And when the trumpet sounded, whatever you lost since the last Jubilee was restored back to you. If you lost your ancestral land in the Year of Jubilee, you would return to claim it back. EVERYTHING forbidden during the Sabbath was also forbidden in the Jubilee year. And if the shofar was NOT blown at the beginning of a jubilee year, then it is not a jubilee, and if the fields are not returned to the original owners, then it is not a jubilee year. Again, you can't declare it a jubilee year and only practice a few of its benefits. It was ALL or nothing. If we say that the forgiveness of student loans is part of the jubilee that we need to practice, then ALL lands and homes should be returned to their original owners. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? Remember, it's a LAW!

The purpose of the Jubilee was to return everything to its original state. What would that look like today if we insist on following this LAW of Jubilee and include debt release (although that wasn't part of jubilee)? What would back to the original state mean for SLF? No degree. It would mean an absolute return to the original state BEFORE obtaining the degree. I'm not being mean or heartless; THIS IS HOW THE MOSAIC LAW WORKED! You didn't get to pick and choose which parts of the Law you wanted to observe if you were a Jew. This is why you can't follow the Law…. You have to follow it explicitly! It's ALL or nothing. You can't pull out biblical principles from it because it sounds good, noble, or fair! It was a LAW! To choose jubilee means that you also choose ALL of the Mosaic Law to live by, including (but not limited to) animal sacrifice, curses, punishment for disobedience, no work on the Sabbath, Temple worship and feast pilgrimages to Jerusalem, etc, etc.! It's bondage!

So, when is the next year of Jubilee?

That's actually a Christian question. Because the Jews today don't even observe Jubilee. It hasn't been observed for 2k years!! Why? Because Leviticus specifically says it was for "all its inhabitants," and the rabbis understand that to mean it is to be observed ONLY when ALL the 12 tribes of Israel live in Israel. It is estimated that the last time it was observed was 150 years BEFORE the destruction of the first temple! And with the destruction of the Second Temple and the disbandment of the Sanhedrin (supreme rabbinical court), they ceased to mark the Jubilee year in any form. Again, it was only meant to be observed by Old Testament Jews and only in Israel. Today it is neither designated nor observed.

And yet, Christians still insist on observing these things that existed ONLY under the Mosaic Law. They continue to calculate when the next jubilee is. So, for the sake of argument, the last Jubilee (that the Jews don't observe!) on our calendar was 2017/18. And according to that, the next one would be in 50 years, which would be 2067/68. We are only in 2022. Remember, it is a Law; you can't just decide to have a jubilee year anytime you want. For the Jews, the next Jubilee will be when the entire nation returns to Israel (including the 10 "lost" tribes), and THEY can observe it once again.

I don't believe that the OLD Testament practice of Jubilee is to be observed by Christians or Jews today or by our governments! It was a prophetic picture of the FINISHED work of Jesus. He is our Jubilee. Let's get back to grace!

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