What is the true meaning of Jubilee?
Our Nation has been rejoicing with jubilee fever for a long time now. It's time that we got to grips with its origins. Surely it's Biblical, don't we read about it in one of Moses' books? Yes, it's in Leviticus, Chapter 25 but there's very little in common between the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and God's instructions to the Hebrew nation. So, what is a jubilee meant to be?
The Hebrew word translated as "jubilee" is yobel and it's nothing to do with great celebrations or even a fifty year cycle. The actual word refers to the blowing of a ram's horn, an activity performed at a special year, after a Sabbath of Sabbaths, at the holiest day in the religious calendar, the Day of Atonement. To understand the importance of this, one needs to know how important the Sabbath was to God, for it was the only special time He observed Himself, resting on the seventh day after the exertions of creating the World, the Universe and everything. That's how important it was to Him and He impressed this idea on His people, declaring that they should remember the Sabbath day as a day of rest, by keeping it holy and separate.
From this came an important principle, of rest, not just for the Hebrews but for the land in which they lived. Every seven years there was to be a Sabbath year of rest, a time when the land does no work but just supplies food to eat. But then they had a Sabbath of Sabbaths, seven times seven years, culminating in the yobel, the jubilee, the blowing of the ram's horn near the start of the fiftieth year. This was a super-Sabbath year, a time of great significance not just for the land, but for the people of the land.
On this jubilee year there were a set of instructions on how folk should treat each other. Debts were to be forgiven, slaves set free and estates returned to families forced to sell inheritances due to falling on hard times. This all seems very worthy, a great leveller, a ray of hope for those sinking inexorably into a downward spiral of despair.
But what a drastic solution! Was it workable? It was, for a very good reason. This was not an edict from whoever was currently in power, it was an instruction for life from the One who had provided them with all of their instructions for life. And to make sure they listened, there was a warning:
"... but fear your God. I am the LORD your God. Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety" (Leviticus 25:17-19).
Such warnings are repeated a few times in the passage, for emphasis. It's just not in our nature to follow through the drastic edicts of the Year of Jubilee, so a little dash of fear is always a good way to ensure compliance. God just ... knows what's best for us, really!
Do we still have that fear? Could a true Biblical jubilee still operate today? Perhaps society has moved on too far, perhaps our economic and political structures are too complex to sustain such an upheaval? So, instead, what lessons could we learn as individual Christians from this concept?
Well, at its heart is the sense of being set free by setting others free. Cancelling debts? Do we harbour resentments over long-standing grievances? If so, how about forgiving and forgetting? As for 'setting slaves free', perhaps there is someone that we could treat a little better, someone we have taken for granted? If so, how about doing something about it?
Wouldn't it be great if, at this time of the Queen's Diamond jubilee, we make an effort at a personal jubilee?
Set someone free this jubilee and may God truly bless you.