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Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 22 November 2006

JUBILEE ECONOMIC JUSTICE

By Jim Jordal

And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. The fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee, it shall be holy to you…In this year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession.

Leviticus 25:10-12 (NKJV)

No more powerful statement exists in the checkered history of human freedom than the sentiment inscribed on America’s Liberty Bell: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants." What formerly was thought to be a noble but impossible utopian dream for most of the world's people now echoes with renewed vigor in halls of power and institutions of oppression around the earth. The plight of over one billion of the world's people existing on less than $1 daily can no longer be relegated to the back pages--it now makes headlines. Nor can the many billions existing under repressive political and social systems. The inescapable message now coursing around the globe is that is now time to proclaim liberty and freedom to oppressed and marginalized people everywhere. It is no longer optional; it's become necessary for survival.

America’s Founding Fathers borrowed their ringing phrase from the biblical concept of Jubilee found in the 25th chapter of the book of Leviticus. Their hope was to found a "new order of the ages" based upon the Law of God and the principles of Jubilee.

According to God's command, the Hebrew year of Jubilee took place every 50th year, beginning on the Day of Atonement with blasts from massed silver trumpets. The celebration began a yearlong application of Mosaic Law providing release for all citizens from poverty, debt, and oppression, coupled with opportunity for renewed spiritual growth.

Even within Hebrew society the Year of Jubilee was not celebrated many times before idolatry, apostasy, and greed resulted in its demise as a formal celebration. Today, much the same is true. Most Christians relegate the concept of Jubilee to the historical ash heap known as the Mosaic Code. It is lost as a staple of Christian faith, and has no relevance other than as a quaint holdover now superseded by the grace found in Christ.

According to Scripture, however, the economic and social principles of Jubilee--if applied--would result in a periodic redistribution of property and wealth sufficient to provide all citizens with adequate income, a family heritage in property, and personal freedom from debt and poverty. It would also protect the nation from the ravages of run-away inflation and the terrors of deep recession and depression. Obviously some applications would need to be changed today, but the basic principles of economic and social deliverance remain the same. Some major re-distributive and restorative principles of Jubilee follow.

The Jubilee year followed the restorative principle of sevens, in that normally the land was to be rested every 7th year; with people living on the God-given excess of produce grown during the sixth year. The Jubilee year followed 7 Sabbaths, or periods of 7 years; thus it occurred every 50 years. During Jubilee the land rested and recovered fertility, farm workers gained freedom from their labor, and people celebrated a time of rest, recuperation, and spiritual renewal as they enjoyed the bounty provided by God in previous harvests.

Jubilee included the concept that all land, including its resources and people, belonged to God. Ownership of land was thus temporary, with people understood to be tenants in God's creation. Therefore, the purchase price of any land outside walled cities was based upon the number of years to Jubilee. The more years to Jubilee the higher the price, since the new owner would have more years to profit from his purchase. But at Jubilee productive agricultural land outside city walls reverted to its original owner, thus providing all families with a permanent basis for prosperity and wealth building. Houses inside walled cities could be permanently sold since they were not considered part of the productive resources of the nation.

It was not possible under principles of Jubilee for manipulative, acquisitive land barons to amass monstrous estates while landless peasants spent their lives in conditions amounting to litle more than slave labor. Nor was it be possible for greedy manufacturers to gain control of entire industries, as in some poorer countries where a few extremely wealthy families own almost the entire productive resources of the country.

Under Jubilee, owners of productive resources were required to treat their holdings as wealth held in trust for the benefit of all citizens. Merely owning something did not entitle owners to destroy the land, pollute the environment, or treat workers as mere factors of production to be hired as cheaply as possible. Under Jubilee, justice was the prevailing value, with human dignity held to be more important than profits.