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Echoes of the Jubilee

In Leviticus 25, we learn of a kind of once-in-a-lifetime event called the Jubilee. This Jubilee brought together the two broad concepts of land and rest in its proclamation of liberty. However, it must also be pointed out that the Jubilee itself was firmly situated in the context of God’s covenant with his people. Leviticus 26, the very next chapter of the book, details the blessings and curses of God’s covenant with his people. Moreover, the Jubilee itself contained something of a blessing and a curse, for within the Jubilee regulations God says, “Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely. The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely” (Lev 25:18-19 ESV).

Finally, as I mention in my sermon, the whole complex of land, rest, and covenant in the Jubilee are cast in anticipatory terms so that there is an eschatological flavor that permeates the Jubilee regulations themselves. And this eschatological flavor is carried through into later revelation, especially in the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel. With the remainder of this reflection, I want to present the echoes of the Jubilee in those two prophets so as to bolster the idea that there was a general longing for an eternal rest infused in the Scriptures.

Beginning with Isaiah, Oren Martin points out that release from bondage and return to the land promise are ideas present in Isa 42:18-43:21. Moreover, the juxtaposition of civil and cultic life found in the Jubilee is also present in Isaiah. In Isaiah's prophecy, however, the physical bondage is in the context of exile and the spiritual bondage is seen as something requiring more than restoration to the land promise. Martin quips, "Though the people are taken out of Babylon, Babylon needs to be taken out of the people."[1] There is a moral bondage from which Israel must be released, which parallels the cleansing of the Day of Atonement marking the beginning of rest and restoration in the Jubilee. Isaiah points to the Suffering Servant as the one who will accomplish release (52:13-53:12).

Significantly, it is within the context of the culmination of restoration in which the Jubilee idea appears most explicitly in Isaiah. Beginning with Isaiah 60, the eschatological hope of Israel's restoration crescendos. In Isaiah 61:1, the Servant is anointed "to proclaim liberty to the captives." This liberty is linguistically tied to the Jubilee regulations in which liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. Finally, Martin notes that the conclusion of Isaiah's prophecy, 65:17-66:24,

is a cumulative summation of the eschatological themes that occur throughout Isaiah and enlarges the hope of restoration to the city of Jerusalem and the land in otherworldly language that describes astounding realities. … Moreover, in fulfillment of the promises to and covenant with Abraham, God will give them a new name and they will receive blessing in the land by the God of truth.[2]

Thus, Isaiah reflects the eschatological hope of the Jubilee both in explicit linguistic reference to it as well as in the confluence of the themes of covenant, land, and rest.

More briefly, Ezekiel likely also makes use of the Jubilee concept. In Ezekiel's vision of the new Temple, John Bergsma argues that the very dimensions of the Temple evoke the Jubilee concept, specifically by being multiples of 50, the period of time between each Jubilee. More than that, as Ezekiel's vision expands beyond the Temple to the surrounding land, the dimensions of the land continue to be multiples of 50. Thus, Bergsma views Ezekiel's eschatological vision as immersed in the Jubilee concept and therefore evocative of what it signifies, i.e. rest from bondage and restoration to the land.[3] While an appeal to numbers might appear weak, Bergsma points out that the frequent allusions to the Holiness Code in Ezekiel, and especially to Leviticus 25, provide support for the connection.[4]

In sum, Isaiah and Ezekiel relied on the Jubilee concept to describe Israel's future, and thereby intensified the hope from various individuals receiving rest and restoration to the land to the entire people—all in the context of covenant. In this way, the Jubilee stands as the initial tool for giving shape to the hope for an eternal rest that was intensified in the prophets and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

[1] Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan, NSBT 34 (Nottingham; Downers Grove: Apollos; InterVarsity Press, 2015), 104. [2] Martin, Promised Land, 105–6. Emphasis in original. [3] John S Bergsma, “The Restored Temple as ‘Built Jubilee’ in Ezekiel 40-48,” Proceedings 24 (2004): 76–79. Martin recognizes the significance of Ezekiel 47 for the fulfillment of the land promise, which also contributes to the significance of the Jubilee connections [Promised Land, 111–13]. [4] Bergsma, “Built Jubilee,” 79.

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