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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God's gift of the Year of Jubilee
Text:Leviticus 25:8-46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 116:1,9,10                                                                                 

Ps 25:9,10                  

Reading – Luke 4:16-22

Ps 107:1,2,6,8

Sermon – Leviticus 25:8-46

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

Ps 85:1,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, somehow the economy makes it into the headlines every week. Whether it’s the price of gas or unemployment rates or new industry, there’s always something for the media to talk about. And the economy is an issue that affects all of us, not just the big banks, politicians, and CEOs. It can have a lot to do with our own, day-to-day lives.        

We know that God has something to say about personal finance. For example, earlier in this book of Leviticus the LORD speaks about bringing a portion of the harvest to the tabernacle, in order to thank him. We’ll see in this chapter too, that God reveals his will about things like credit and debt, loans and gifts. Even while we live so many hundreds of years after these lessons were given, and in a vastly different world, the Holy Spirit still speaks through our passage.

Our chapter is about the year of Jubilee, and in it we see how God puts the spotlight on a couple of his priorities. One is God’s concern for the individual believer. In God’s eyes, every man, woman, and child—male or female, rich or poor—is of great worth. Each one of God’s people is an heir to his great covenant promises.

Closely following from that is a second of God’s priorities, and that is his compassion for the needy. God’s heart goes out to those who suffer from want. He’s concerned for such people, and He wants us to be as well. This must be the way of life for those who have been set free by Christ, redeemed from captivity and granted a new beginning! I preach God’s Word to you on this theme from Leviticus 25:8-46,    

God establishes the Year of Jubilee for his people:

  1.  the problem of debt
  2.  the solution of release
  3.  the demonstration of grace


1) the problem of debt: Do you know where Israel is at the time of Leviticus? This book begins with the word “and.” Literally: “And the LORD called to Moses…” That little word tells us that Leviticus is part of an ongoing story. God has delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Since the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea, they’ve been traveling through the wilderness, and right now they’re encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, where God is giving them his law. And what’s their destination? God is bringing them to Canaan, the place where each tribe and every family will receive a portion of land. That’s what they’re all looking forward to, the tangible blessings of the LORD in thriving flocks and fertile fields. It’d be a place for all of them to live and to prosper.

Canaan was going to “flow with milk and honey,” but it wouldn’t be perfect. Not everyone in Israel will experience the same measure of success. God even tells his people this, that the poor will always be among them. That’s the reality of this broken world. Crops fail. Businesses go under. People are laid off. And sometimes we make bad choices. However it happens, poverty can strike.

So God addresses a big problem in our chapter: it’s the problem of debt. That little word means you had to borrow, you didn’t have enough yourself. Let’s understand this debt in the right way. Going into debt in Israel wasn’t nearly as common as it is today. We go into debt when we buy a house, or when we buy a new car, or when we’re getting our education. It might be obvious, but these kinds of debt were unknown to the Israelites. Nor did they know much about the kind of debt caused by irresponsible spending. Today you can go into debt for all sorts of reasons. You can get a loan for a nice vacation, or you can put your big TV on payments. I remember being in a toy store once and seeing a sign that said, “Do not pay for three years.” You can get almost anything that you want on credit!

For the Israelites, their debts arose not because of things they wanted to buy. Debt was often caused by circumstances beyond their control. Say you had your fields planted with wheat or barley, but then the rains don’t come—your crops shriveled, and your barns stayed empty. Or locusts came through and stripped your vineyards bare. Disasters could throw hundreds of people into serious financial trouble. There could also be a sudden death due to illness or accident, and a family might suddenly be without the wages of a hard-working husband and father.

In situations like these, it’d be all too easy for an Israelite to fall into debt, just to keep food on the table. Maybe things would be fine for one or two years, but soon the effects would be felt. Good meals become rare. Clothing starts to wear thin. Possessions have to be sold. An Israelite might borrow more and more money to stay alive.

What could a person do? Our text describes how if a someone ran stuck, there could be a slow descent into poverty. And if it became bad enough, the first severe measure would be to sell his piece of land. God wanted property to stay in the family, so the person could sell to a relative. This “redeemer” could then give the land back once the debts were paid (v 25). That might work, or it might not, and the person could find himself again in deep financial trouble.

So the second drastic solution is for that other relative to hire the poor man as a labourer, and to give him some interest free loans so he has enough to get by. Verses 35-36: “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you.”

Even that solution might not work, especially if someone struggles to manage his finances. So there was a third solution—the most severe. The poor and land-less Israelite would become a servant of his relative. “If one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave” (v 39). Now, you can hear that God wants the person treated fairly. Even so, the situation was agonizing, and demoralizing: you sold yourself and your family into servitude.

To us this seems like an extreme way of dealing with debt. Selling people into servitude makes us think of the African slave trade, when thousands were kidnapped, transported to North America, and oppressed for generations. But the practice in Israel was much different—at least, it was meant to be much different. God intended it to be something like “live-in” employment. The one who was owed money would benefit from the work of the debtor and his family. For his part, the creditor was expected to be fair, and he had to provide lodging and meals. Being a servant wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t meant to be miserable either. You had food, you had shelter, and as family you were still together.

You can see that God was transforming a situation of need and potential despair into a situation where people were still provided for and could live at peace. He didn’t forget those stuck in financial difficulties, nor did He forget those who were owed money. With the problem of debt, the LORD was fair toward both sides, debtors and creditors.

Today, we said, the whole idea of being in debt has expanded dramatically. Borrowing money is a key part of the economy, and credit can serve a useful purpose. Imagine we all had to save up until we had the full price of a house: many of us would still be living with our parents—or maybe with our grandparents! The opportunity to borrow money opens other windows, too: getting an education, building a school, starting a business.

Yet we know that debt can still be a problem. The temptation is to spend more than we can afford, because we see lots of things that we like. An upgraded vehicle, a larger home, a better holiday than last year—it’s accessible, because there’s loans available, and lots of plastic cards to line your wallet or purse. And that can become problem.

So even when God provides a solution to debt, He’s got something to say to those who choose to borrow lots of money, or who use credit cards excessively, or who live beyond their means. Proverbs teaches wisdom that still applies: “If you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you” (22:27). That’s a lesson and a warning in our materialistic age. Rather, the Lord says: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6).

This shows our need to have a thoroughly Biblical view of money. Sometimes Christians haven’t learned the fundamentals of how to manage their money, nor how to see money matters in God’s way. It’d be a responsible thing for each of us to dedicate careful, personal study of the Word so that we can learn his will for our finances, also for things like debt. We’re thankful that God has given us deacons who are available to provide us with practical guidance about these things. God has also blessed us with fellow saints who can give help when there is a need. What’s more, God has given the solution of release.


2) the solution of release: At the beginning of our chapter is a reminder about something called the sabbatical year. This was something God explained already in Exodus 23. The basic idea was that as a man works for six days and rests the seventh, the land must be worked for six years and allowed to rest in the seventh. No tilling of the soil, no planting, no systematic harvesting. Such a year was a chance for the land to be replenished. And in this year, anyone could go and gather what they found growing in the fields and vineyards. The sabbatical year was a special benefit, of course, for those who were poor and had sold their land.

Then after seven sabbatical years go by, in the fiftieth year (or near the end of the 49th), a Jubilee was announced: “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” (vv 8-9).

Let’s notice a few things. First, the name “jubilee” is taken from the Hebrew word for trumpet, yubel—in this case, the horn of a ram. This trumpet was blown at the beginning of the Jubilee to announce it far and wide.

Second, the Jubilee was considered one of the Jewish festivals. In chapter 23 God gave his people seven feasts each year: Passover and Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks, and Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. All these feasts were annual, but the Jubilee took place only once every fifty years.

A third thing is that the Jubilee actually begins on the same day as the Day of Atonement. This was God removing all the impurities from his people in a dramatic way, accepting the sprinkled blood in the Most Holy Place, and sending away transgression to the place of no return. The Day of Atonement was like a spiritual “reset” button: all was cleansed, all was forgiven.

The Jubilee was another kind of reset: economically and socially. Verse 10 presents the two central concepts of the event: “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.” It was about liberty, and it was about return.

“Return” is described in verse 13, “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession.” We said that having a slice of real estate in Canaan was a real and tangible proof to everyone that God had kept his covenant promise. So God’s intent wasn’t that wealth accumulate with the big land-owners. Rather, He wanted every individual family to be busy working the land, having dominion over creation, developing and subduing, like at the beginning in Paradise. It was still a broken world—that’s why people went into debt and had to sell—but the Jubilee restored some of that, and made the people stewards again under God.

Land was returned, and people were set free. Look at verses 40-41, speaking about the Israelite who sold himself into servanthood: “As a hired servant and sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you—he and his children with him—and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers.” Those who had become servants were given their freedom—and yes, not only allowed to go free, but to return to their original inheritance in the land!

In the Jubilee, the “clock was set back.” Everything owed was forgiven, everything lost was regained. Once every fifty years—once in a person’s lifetime—the slate was wiped clean. This was God’s way to limit the painful consequences of poverty. The failure of the parents wouldn’t condemn their children, and children’s children to perpetual slavery and suffering. Families were restored, and given the blessing of responsibility again.

For those struggling for years with debt and poverty, the Jubilee an unspeakable joy. At last, a way out! No wonder the beginning of this festival was announced with trumpets. Think of what a life-changing event this would be: burdens taken away; relationships restored; redemption from suffering and oppression!

Sounds good, but how was the Jubilee even possible? Think about those who had purchased land from the poor. They’d gained these assets, fair and square, and now they had to give them back. Doesn’t seem right—almost seems like a primitive communism. But see how God frames it in this chapter. He keeps saying things like, “If one of your brethren becomes poor…” (vv 25, 35). He underlines their true relationship: though someone owes money, or has to sell his property, he’s still a brother in the LORD.

More than that, everyone had to remember God’s words in verse 23, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” This entire land belonged to God, and the people were only temporary tenants. None of them had permanent title to the land, but it was owned by God. So they really couldn’t complain about the LORD’s will for their fields and vineyards.

God did recognise, however, that an approaching Jubilee might change how people did business. If you knew that debts were soon going to be forgiven, you might hesitate to lend anyone money. Or if you knew that you could buy a piece of land and keep it for the next thirty years, you’d be quick to step in. But if you could only hold it for two years, maybe it wasn’t worthwhile. So God says that the price of land was to be set according to the number of expected crops. The more growing seasons, the higher the price.

Still, all of this required a lot of trust. Returning land would be hard. So would not planting anything for a sabbatical year, and then the Jubilee: for two years, how could a person be sure he’d have enough? But as so often, the LORD promises to reward obedience. Verses 18-19, “So you shall observe my statutes and keep my judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety.” God will richly provide. He’d give so much blessing in the year before the sabbatical and Jubilee, that they would have enough to last.

Now, it’s too bad, but we can’t put the Leviticus 25 laws into practice today. Might be nice to be suddenly released from all our mortgages and loans! But we live in a very different time. We have dealings not just with our fellow Christians, and in this land we’re not only ruled by God’s regulations. Even so, we expect some of God’s wisdom from our passage to remain for today.

One example is how the practice of release lives on in today’s laws. We see it in the possibility of declaring bankruptcy. It’s not something to do lightly, of course. We know already that God wants those who are owed money to be treated fairly too. Yet declaring bankruptcy can release someone from an impossible load of debt, and it can enable a fresh start. It’s a merciful, even Biblical, part of our society’s law.

This passage teaches other things, too, like our duty as stewards or managers. Remember what God said, “The land is mine.” God is still the true owner of everything in this world—including what we have—so we need to be diligent stewards. God gives us dominion over that place in life where He has put us: our home, our family, our abilities and assets. Knowing that it’s all God’s must shape how we look at borrowing money, or lending money, and investing. We ask: how would the Owner and LORD want us to do things?

This text also exhorts us to have mercy on those in financial trouble. Now, there can be many reasons for poverty. And sometimes we get into difficulty because of unwise choices, like bad purchases or overdependence on credit. Christian love means we can speak the truth about these things. But remember how the chapter also teaches about the unity we have as brothers and sisters. So we should aim to show compassion to the poor, to find responsible ways to help those who are in need.


3) the demonstration of grace: As with so much of God’s law, there was a deeper lesson in the Jubilee. It taught Israel about grace—undeserved kindness, even for the most needy. Jubilee taught that the LORD thinks of his people in all their trouble, and He gives rescue from life’s brokenness. Slaves had their debts cancelled, not because they’d worked long enough, but because God said their time had come. Families could return to their inheritance, not because they had an inherent right to it, but because the LORD wanted everyone to have a home.

Maybe you can see already how the Jubilee points to Christ. It’s a connection that Jesus himself made. We read from Luke 4, when Jesus is preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” says Christ, quoting from Isaiah 61, “He has anointed me… to proclaim liberty to the captives… to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (vv 18-19). Jesus was commissioned and equipped by God. And what’ll He do with this anointing? He will “proclaim liberty to the captives,” He will “proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

It’s that last line which is so loaded with meaning. For the Israelites, that phrase—the “acceptable year of the Lord,” all about liberty and release—could mean only one thing. It meant the Year of Jubilee. The Jews had even come to connect Isaiah 61 with the promise of the Messiah, knowing that one day He’d come and restore all things.

But then Jesus drops a bombshell. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v 21). Suddenly Jesus is saying that the Jubilee has arrived, and they’re looking at Him! For He has come to forgive debts, to set the captives free, to bring healing and renewal. He is the incarnation of the year of Jubilee.

For when we believe in Christ, everything owed is forgiven, everything lost is regained. He brings deliverance from slavery of the very worst kind: slavery to sin and slavery to the devil. He sets at liberty those who are oppressed and under the sentence of death, because He’s taken away every one of our transgressions and the penalty they deserved.

Remember how Jubilee started on the Day of Atonement—well, by his atoning death and shedding of his blood, Jesus canceled the high price of sin that weighed so heavy against our account. Once crippled in our debt—hopeless and despised—now we’ve been released! This is how Jesus declares the gospel in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (v 28).

That’s the glorious gospel message of the Jubilee. There’s no debt of sin too big to be forgiven. There’s no burden so heavy it can’t be lifted off. For Christ releases those who are oppressed. Those who have lost so much, can go to Him for full restoration. Those who are stuck in their sins and guilt, can go to Him for a full release. And we all need this, beloved: we all need his forgiveness, his spiritual re-set of our life, and the beginning of renewal through his mighty Spirit.

In this way, the Jubilee also points us ahead to the restoration of all things. For one day the trumpet will sound again—this time blown by his holy angels—when Christ our Saviour returns on the clouds. Then it’s promised that He will make good our full release from Satan, He will restore his people, and He will transform this broken creation to be “a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13), a glorious, unending Jubilee. May that be our sure comfort, our steadfast hope, and our daily strength.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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