Blow the trumpet! The content of these 12 verses in Leviticus 25 is plain. Instructions from Yahweh to Moses presuppose that the Israelites are now living in the Promised Land. Each household has been allotted land for agriculture — sowing seeds and planting vineyards (25:3). In addition to a weekly Sabbath to provide rest for Israelites, their slaves and animals, there shall also be a Sabbath for the land. Every seventh year, plant nothing. Survive only on what the land yields.
Just like the Fourth Commandment, this is common sense. It is used in some form today by farmers who rotate crops to keep the land fertile. However, since verses 1-7 give a prescriptive law rather than describing what actually happened, we don’t know if it was practiced regularly. Could the community have survived every seventh year as hunter-gatherers?
For the second part of our text — verses 8-12, the “year of Jubilee” — there is no evidence it was ever practiced literally. The term derives from the ram’s horn (yovel) blown to announce the year’s beginning on the Day of Atonement of the 50th year, after seven sets of seven years. During this year, all land was to be returned to its original owners.
No one in an agricultural community can survive without land. It is lost only by owners forced to sell because of debt. Later, in a more diversified economy, the meaning shifted more toward general debt remission and other forms of “release,” as can be seen in Isaiah 61:1 and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19.
Such an economic law is socialism. I recently returned from a 10-day tour of Cuba, where a one-party socialist government collects taxes to provide small food rations, free education through college and free health care to every citizen. It seems ironic that a secular government has achieved a level of Jubilee for its citizens that we have never seen in the church, save in the early Jerusalem community recorded in Acts 2-6.
Do you see any ways Jubilee is practiced within Christian communities today?
In our second lesson, the connection between Psalm 34 and Hebrews 2 seems tenuous. In the psalm, David calls himself a poor soul whom God seems to have picked up by the scruff of his neck and rescued from all afflictions (read the entire psalm, beyond verse 10). God will do the same for all “the righteous.” But in Hebrews 2, in prose just as majestic as the psalm, we read that Jesus, although a co-creator with God, shared our flesh and blood (read all of verses 14-18). Jesus was not rescued from all his afflictions. Rather, “he himself was tested by what he suffered.”
Unique among New Testament writers, the Hebrews author calls Jesus a high priest because he sacrificed his life “for the sins of the people.” As we remembered during Holy Week, Jesus endured two unjust trials, a severe beating, public humiliation and excruciatingly painful crucifixion. Yes, God raised him bodily from death — but he was not rescued from suffering and dying.
The juxtaposition of these two texts can stimulate lively discussion. Are there ways both texts can be true? With whom do you most identify, David or Jesus? Or neither?
Since retiring from Messiah College, Reta Halteman Finger teaches part time at Eastern Mennonite University, writes a Bible study blog at eewc.com/category/retas-reflections and is a contributing editor at Sojourners.