Consider what Leviticus 25:8-14 reveals:
"And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. 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. That 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; you shall eat its produce from the field. In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor's hand, you shall not oppress one another."
This reading gives us a glimpse of what the Old Testament practice of Jubilee was all about. It was a special celebration that God commanded the Hebrew people to fulfill every fifty years. But, I want us to consider this topic more closely, looking at the subject of Jubilee from the past, present, and future.
FIRST, LET'S CONSIDER JUBILEE IN THE PAST.
The word "Jubilee" is used twenty-one times in the NKJV. There is one reference in Numbers 36:4 but all others are in Leviticus 25 & 27. This explains, sadly, why many Christians today know little to nothing about Jubilee; few ever enter into a serious study or even a complete reading of the book of Leviticus. Friends, there are precious truths to be learned from those things that were written before (Rom. 15:4).
The foundational concept of Jubilee pertains to the horn of a ram. So, what does the horn of a ram have to do with a celebration that was held every fiftieth year in Israel? A ram's horn can be made into a trumpet, and thus the Hebrew word for "Jubilee" came to be used as a synonym for the sounding of a trumpet. According to Leviticus 25:9, a loud trumpet should proclaim liberty throughout the country on the Day of Atonement, after the duration of seven Sabbath years had passed.
Let's back up a minute to do the math and explain what a Sabbath year was all about. It's all rooted in the number seven. There were seven days in the creation week--God rested on the seventh day. God commanded the Hebrew nation to rest on day seven each week (the day we call Saturday). One was not to work on the Sabbath. It was a time for rest, reflection, reading the Scriptures, and relaxing with family. After six full years, the seventh year was to be a Sabbath year. The concept of resting was expanded to cover an entire year. They were not to sow or reap during each seventh year. The ground would lie fallow.
What kind of faith do you think it took to follow the Sabbath year law? God promised to bless them richly on the sixth year to provide them enough for three years (if they managed it wisely). Can you imagine the temptation to plant and harvest that seventh year? It would take great faith in God to obey the Sabbath year law and just let the ground rest for a year (cf. Lev. 25:18-21). Tragically, there is evidence that they did not faithfully keep the Sabbath years (cf. II Chr. 36:21). Additionally, there is no record in Scripture of the actual observance of Jubilee, unless Nehemiah 5 is an allusion to it.
After seven cycles of the seven-year period (which would be 49 years), Israel would then have the year of Jubilee--or the fiftieth year. The year of Jubilee was similar to the Sabbath years in that nothing was to be sown or reaped. Of course, that would actually put two years of rest for the land back-to-back (in years 49 & 50). Can you imagine owning farmland and letting it just grow wild for two full years? But, this is what God commanded them to do. And God would provide for their needs if they obeyed. Sound familiar (cf. Matt. 6:33)?
We'll continue studying about Jubilee in our next lesson.