Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Saturday, 04 February 2012


By Jim Jordal

And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book, and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down: and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.

The mission statement of Jesus, Luke 4:17-20 KJV, emphasis mine

The final portion of Jesus’ mission statement includes the assertion that he came "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Jesus takes this phrase from Isaiah’s description of the Jubilee Year (Isa. 61:1-2). Isaiah in turn takes his text from the original Jubilee message of Leviticus 25.

Isaiah called the entire package the "year of the Lord’s favor" because the blessings of deliverance and freedom as brought by the historical Year of Jubilee were acceptable to God as the embodiment of his plan for the ultimate redemption of humankind from sin and slavery.

Most Christians consider the Jubilee Year to be quaint and outdated. But the more I learn about economic bailouts, stimulus packages, and the many already-failing suggestions for economic recovery the more I’m persuaded that they will have only limited success until they come to include the ageless universal principles of biblical Jubilee. Unfortunately, even knowledgeable Christians consider biblical Jubilee inappropriate for modern conditions, and therefore unworkable. But that’s if you consider only specific provisions of Jubilee, not the ethical/moral principles behind those specifics.

The first specific provision of Jubilee concerns Sabbath rest for persons, animals, and the earth on the seventh day and during the seventh year. Today we hear that such provisions would be impossible to achieve in modern industrial commercial society—especially the idea of shutting down agricultural activity every seventh year.

But what about the principles behind these supposedly outdated rules? They speak of respect for personal well being, something modern society surely lacks. They value time for family togetherness and relaxation from frantic commercial activity. And they speak of respect for the earth and intelligent use of her gifts rather than profit-driven exploitation of natural systems.

The second set of Jubilee specifics centers around land holdings given to each family and the provision that every fiftieth year these family holdings—even if sold or lost to debt foreclosure—would revert to the original owners. Mention this in the average Bible study class (I have) and the howls reach the skies—Impossible! Socialistic! Stupid! Dictatorial! And worse!

But again, the basic principle behind this provision is that every human being has a God-given right to a fair (not equal) share of the planet’s wealth, and that society has an obligation to structure itself so that this condition is met. Federal stimulus packages fall short of this principle because they offer aid to banks, big business and almost any other institution or group at the top or middle of the economic food chain, but not nearly enough to victims at the bottom of the economy.

A third Jubilee specific entails compassion toward debtors and forgiveness of debts every seventh year, coupled with a prohibition on charging usury (interest) to fellow citizens. Again, howls of anguish. How could we ration out credit without interest? How could banks operate? How would I get rewarded for loaning money? What would happen to our economy?

But what is the principle? It is that debt should never become a source of oppression because money is only a medium of exchange having no intrinsic value. It should be provided by government as a convenience to facilitate commerce, never used by lending institutions as an instrument of oppression. Banks would still be able to charge a small amount for loaning money to cover what economists call the lost opportunity cost for those loaning out money. They could still charge for legitimate services. And they would not go bankrupt, as many believe.

Cultural and economic conditions change as the world grows more complex, but the ethical principles of Jubilee never change. As a society we must soon come to realize that the basic reason our institutions exist is to benefit people, not to make money for economic pirates. This is an ethical principle, and the specific laws and rules we now operate under need to change to accommodate that principle.

That’s why Isaiah calls Jubilee "the year of the Lord’s favor," and Jesus describes it as "the acceptable year of the Lord." Let’s stop opposing God’s will and begin to open our eyes to what God has graciously provided for our salvation from economic bondage.