Meg Warner investigates the Bible’s idea of the 50th year
Happy Birthday United Reformed Church! Fifty years is a grand age, and Jubilee is a superb model to have chosen for the celebrations. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to put together Bible studies about Jubilee for a couple of the year’s events, and that has given me the chance to ask questions like ‘What is Jubilee?’ and ‘Does it have something helpful to say to us in 2022?’ I discovered much, much more than I had anticipated. Here are some of the highlights of the extraordinary biblical model of Jubilee.
Jubilee is explained in chapter 25 of everybody’s favorite biblical book, Leviticus. Leviticus 25 opens with a discussion of the importance of observing the Sabbath. We know about the Sabbath – God kept it and so we humans should keep it too. But that is where the first surprise comes. Leviticus 25 isn’t particularly interested in God’s Sabbath, or ours. Leviticus 25 is interested in the land’s Sabbath – the rest that the land should observe every seventh year. This focus on Sabbath, and on land, is a pointer to what is coming. Jubilee is ‘Sabbath squared’, and it, too, begins with land.
Britain has hugely complicated laws around the ownership and sale of land that differ in each of its constituent countries. Nevertheless, being the ‘owner’ of land in Britain grants you three principal privileges – the right to live on and ‘enjoy’ your piece of land, the right to sell it, and the right to stop other people from living on and enjoying it. The third right is considered crucial to the safeguarding of the first two. The biblical idea of land ownership with which we’re most familiar looks very like this. So, for example, the accounts of the Conquest (in Joshua and Judges) expect the Israelites to expel the previous occupants of the promised land before God can give it to them. Deuteronomy has its own language for this concept of land ownership – nachlah – and it reflects the idea that God (like a divine freeholder) grants an exclusive leasehold to God’s chosen….
Meg Warner is Tutor in Biblical Studies at Northern College, Manchester
This is an extract from an article published in the October 2022 edition of Reform