Readers of the Old Testament might be excused if they feel let down when searching for good examples of ‘Jubilee.’ The word invokes images of joy and celebration and its practice begins against a backdrop of miraculous liberation, yet only Moses seems to make much of it. What happened? Did no-one want to go to the party?
The New Testament isn’t exactly replete with examples either. There is no apparent record of 49 or 50 year cycles and Christian commentators are about as vague as their Jewish counterparts on the subject. Perhaps it was a good idea, they suggest, that never really got off the ground; or if it did, the records got lost and the festival ceased somewhere along the line.
However, nothing in scripture is without significance. Just because it is not often mentioned does not mean we should ignore it. Besides, God remembered; He doesn’t forget his appointments! An interesting case in point happened during the reign of Hezekiah when the Jubilee Sabbath is discerned from the more common 7th year Sabbath because the land had to be fallowed two years in a row. God expected his people to trust him for their sustenance until planting and reaping the following year. To make matters difficult, the Jubilee arrived when Judah had been invaded by Assyria so, not only did the people have to believe God for food, but for deliverance as well. The invasion occurred in Hezekiah’s fourteenth year. By his fifteenth year forty-six fortified towns had fallen and Jerusalem was under siege. It was now a sabbatical year and God gave a sign to the king:
“This shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit.” (2 Kings 19:29)
A ‘seven’ is indicated by the fact that sowing and reaping was not permitted on that year. A ‘forty-nine’ is indicated by the fact that no sowing and reaping was permitted on the next year either. God promised the people there would be enough fruit growing wild to feed them for two. (Leviticus 25:3-12) So the sign describes a forty-nine year Sabbath followed by a Jubilee. A miraculous salvation took place that year and Judah was saved from doom.
Then there was the Jubilee of 562 BC. The whole nation was captive in Babylon when a former king, Jehoiachin, who had been imprisoned thirty-seven years, was suddenly and inexplicably set free. (2 Kings 25:27-30) No one knows the reason why. Perhaps he repented since his reign had been a wicked one; we are not told. Babylonian tablets mention him – Yaukin (Jehoiachin) of Iahudu (Judah) – but again, no reason is given for his release. Amel-Marduk of Babylon would not have known or cared whether the year was a Jubilee. However God knew and the implication is that salvation is a gift, granted in spite of our sins.
No doubt these Kings were glad of their Jubilee deliverance’s, but for us today they might be bigger signs than they were for them. It enables us to extrapolate from known dates a timeline following a strict Sabbatic path from one Jubilee to the next. The reason why it has not been done before is because ancient dates have not been as precise as we are now able to determine, hence the sequences running beneath the surface of the Bible have remained elusive. Not any more – the Jubilee timeline has now been charted.