Jubilee and the Sabbath Year

Not only is there a weekly Sabbath, there is an annual Sabbath every seven years, and every fifty years there is a Jubilee Sabbath. Let us take a look at the Jubilee and Sabbatical Years.

Land Sabbath Law Similar to the Weekly Sabbath

In Exodus 23:10-12, we are told that the purpose of the seventh year is so that the poor and the animals shall eat. This applies also to the vineyard and olive trees. The law has no limit to a specific time or a specific land. It is not limited to Palestine. The Land Sabbath Law would be in force along with the weekly Sabbath.

Fruit Trees Have Slightly Different Statutes

Leviticus 19:23-25 shows that the first three year's fruit shall be considered "uncircumcised," and not eaten. The fruit of the fourth year is all holy to the Eternal. You may eat the fruit in the fifth year.

The Land Must Keep a Sabbath

Leviticus 25:1-7 describes the Land Sabbath. Sowing is not permitted in the seventh year, neither is pruning of the vineyard. You cannot reap nor gather to store up that which grows of itself. Yet you can consume fresh anything that grows of itself for the Sabbath of the land shall be meat for you, your servants, the stranger and the beasts and cattle. It is a year of rest for the land (not for you).

If we observe the seventh year, God promises we will dwell in the land safely, and have plenty of food to eat, Leviticus 25:18-19. God promises a blessing in the sixth year, Leviticus 25:20-22.

Seventh Year Also Called "Year of Release"

In Deuteronomy 15:1-18, the seventh year is called the LORD'S release, and all debts are to be forgiven. The reason for this law is to relieve the poor.

Exodus 21:1-6 describes how Hebrew servants were to be released in the seventh year, unless they voluntarily desired to be lifelong servants.

Deuteronomy 31:9-13 says that the Law is to be read at the end of the seventh year, at the Feast of Tabernacles. This would ensure that former debtors and servants were properly taught God's Law so they might not have to become poor again.

The Fiftieth Year is the Jubilee

Leviticus 25:8-55 describes the fiftieth, or Jubilee, year. "Jubilee" means "liberty." God owns the land, and in the Jubilee, He wants the return of every man to his possession. The land must be redeemed. Men must be returned to their land, their family. Beginning on the Day of Atonement with the sound of a trumpet, the Jubilee is a "holy" year, verse 12. Leviticus 27:14-34 describes the redemption of gifts and tithes, which are calculated based on the number of years to Jubilee.

Numbers 36:1-9 says that the purpose of Jubilee is to keep the inheritances separate, preventing dispossession.

Ezekiel 46:16-18 states that even the prince of Israel is not to dispossess people of their inheritance. Gifts from the prince shall revert back to the family of the prince at the year of liberty.

Why Did Israel Go Into Captivity?

Leviticus 26:23-24, 32-35, 43 tell us plainly that one of the main reasons Israel went into captivity was for not letting the land rest.

Jeremiah 34:8-17 informs us that because Israel reneged and did not free their Hebrew servants, God would proclaim "liberty" unto these cruel taskmasters to the sword, pestilence, famine and captivity.

II Chronicles 36:14-21 describes how Judah mocked God's prophets and so were carried away captive to Babylon, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. Israel rested seventy years before the Jews returned from captivity.

The Ministry of Jesus Christ and Jubilee

Isaiah 61:1-11 compares the Millennium with the Sabbatical or Jubilee years. See also Isaiah 58:6. In Luke 4:16-21, the Savior began His ministry by preaching a "Jubilee" message. Although some have erroneously said that this sermon was on Pentecost as claimed by proponents of the "Sabbaton Theory," the Jubilee message, and not a Pentecost message, was clearly given. Since Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement, it is most likely the Sabbath on which this message was given, was Atonement, and not Pentecost. True liberty can only be had by accepting our Savior as Master and Lord. Since it is likely that Jesus gave this sermon in A.D. 27 some have concluded thereby that A.D. 27 was a Jubilee year.

A Sign of Modern Israel

Cast in the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is a part of the Jubilee call: " . . . Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." On July 8th, 1776, the bell rang out summoning the people to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Our nation did not obey the Law of Jubilee, and about fifty years after the War of Independence, the bell cracked and has not been rung since! Periodic depressions have occurred about every fifty years -- from The Digest of Divine Law, pages 109-110.

Josephus Mentions Sabbatical Year and Jubilee

In Josephus' book, Antiquities of the Jews, 3:12:3, he describes Biblical laws relative to the Sabbatical year and Jubilee. Antiochus besieged Judas Maccabeus and the Temple during a Sabbatical year, 12:9:5. During the war between Ptolomy and Hyercanus, it was a sabbatical year, 13:8:1. Taxes were not paid to Caesar during the seventh year, 14:10:6. In 15:1:2, Josephus says when Herod the Great plundered the wealthy and even robbed the dead for silver and gold to give to Anthony, that it was a Sabbatical year. In the thirteenth year of Herod the Great, there was a great famine and pestilence (15:9:1). In Whiston's footnotes to Josephus, he says this famine was worse than the famine of the days of Ahab, and even worse than the days of Jacob, and that this was a Sabbatical or Jubilee year.

Meaning of Sabbatical and Jubilee Year

The significance of the Sabbatical and Jubilee year is not limited to the rest of the land and rejuvenation of the soil. It is to remind us, as does the weekly Sabbath, that the Eternal is the Creator. Just as it took faith for Israelites not to farm on the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, so today it takes faith to trust Him for sustenance. Man is not the sole owner of the soil, and he does not hold property in perpetuity but only under the Almighty's trust, Leviticus 25:23. We own nothing by inherent right, for like the children of Israel, we were slaves in spiritual "Egypt," Deuteronomy 15:15. Out of gratitude to the Eternal for our liberation, we must extend liberty to our debtors and servants.

The word translated "release" in Deuteronomy 15:1 can also mean "dropping." The seventh year is a year of dropping, or cancellation, of debts. What better time than the seventh year to settle old scores with people, to "bury the hatchet." We were on spiritual death row, waiting for execution in the lake of fire. Then, the Almighty in His great mercy, called us and forgave us. Through His Son the Messiah, all charges were dropped against us. This should be a cause for rejoicing.

If our nation observed the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, it would be tremendously blessed, instead of cursed like it is now. There would be no crushing debt nor an imbalance of the very rich and the very poor. Land values would be relatively stable, and inflation and depressions would not occur. The Law of God would be taught in detail every seventh year, which would result in good government and prosperity. But we will have to wait for the millennium for the good results of national obedience to the Almighty's laws.

When Is the Jubilee Year?

According to William Whiston's footnotes to Josephus, 24 B.C. was a Sabbatical year, and 23 B.C. was a Jubilee year. This would mean that A.D. 27 was a Sabbatical year, and A.D. 28 was a Jubilee year. If this is true, then 1977 was a Sabbatical year and 1978 a Jubilee year. Sabbatical years would occur in 1985, 1992, 1999, 2006, 2013, 2020 and 2027, with the next Jubilee in 2028.

The Jews today are in confusion as to Sabbatical years and Jubilee years. True fifty-year Jubilee years were only counted during Temple times. Some Jews believe that every 15th and 65th years of the world era are Jubilee years. Thus, 1955 and 2005 would be Jubilee years. And 1976 and 1983 would have been Sabbatical years. The year A.D. 1979 equals 5739 A.M. (anno mundi, year of the world, Jewish year computation) or 3,760 years difference. However, Sabbatical years are counted from 3829 A.M. on, the year of the destruction of the Second Temple which was a Sabbatical year (A.D. 69). Whiston's schedule would have A.D. 70 as a Sabbatical year. This means that the Jewish shemittah is every seventh year, without a separate 50th year. The year 1980 would be a seventh year (5740 divides evenly by 7).

Why are the Jews confused? Because they did not obey God. They admit that when the First Temple stood, full fifty-year cycles were used. The next year after the Jubilee was the first year of the next fifty-year cycle of seven seven-year cycles. Because the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were exiled, tradition says, the Jubilee was no longer in effect, because it was for " . . . all the inhabitants thereof," Leviticus 25:10. The Jubilees were not properly calculated, and a 49-year cycle was instituted where the "Jubilee" year was also the beginning year of the next seven year cycle. Jubilee is counted by the Jews exactly as they count Pentecost. Hence, Jews observe Sivan 6 as Pentecost (see Encyclopedia Judaica, article "Sabbatical Year and Jubilee," pages 579-580).

Around 153-105 B.C., an apocryphal book, the Book of Jubilees, was written. It divides the history of the world into "Jubilees" of 49-year periods, seven weeks of years. The biblical idea of the Jubilee year, the 50th year following the seven weeks of years (Leviticus 25:8-12) is ignored. Thus, the Jews accepted this erroneous idea and are confused as to the true Jubilee. As the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1962), article "Jubilee, Year of," admits, the so-called Book of Jubilees completely disregards the original and true Jubilee Year:

. . . in the official count of Sabbatical Years in the Maccabean and post-Maccabean periods the Jubilee Year was omitted entirely and the Sabbatical Years followed each other in uninterrupted succession every seven years. Moreover, certain later, rabbinic authorities likewise reckoned a Jubilee period as of only forty-nine years, although a majority adhered, quite naturally, to the biblical reckoning of the period as of fifty years.

Jews began to believe that the Law of Jubilee did not apply to them, because the land of Israel was not fully occupied by them. Today, Rabbis have relaxed the Sabbatical year because of "economic hardship." Land is "sold" to Moslems, and leased back. It is observed only ceremonially, not in reality, in order to perpetuate the memory of the Sabbatical year.

Yet Jews believe the Son of David will come on the last Jubilee. "The precept of the Jubilee is often regarded as one of the basic precepts of the Torah! There are seven basic precepts: offerings, tithes, shemittot, Jubilees, circumcision, honor of father and mother, and study of the Torah (Judaica, page 582)."

An article written by an unknown Radio Church of God author in the 1950's agrees with the Jewish concept, that Jubilee years cannot be kept, because upon the Jews' return from captivity, there was no divinely appointed inheritance. Jews were living on land of other tribes which never returned from captivity. The article states that Jeremiah 34:1, 8-16, shows that October 586 B.C. to October 585 was a Sabbatical year. The author states that the seven-year cycles were observed after the return, with no intervening 50th Jubilee year. The year A.D. 69 was said to be a seventh year. And 1952, 1959, 1966, 1973, 1980, 1987, 1994 and 2001 were thought to be Sabbatical years. You can examine various sources, and see that there are different ideas of when the Sabbatical and Jubilee years occur.

The third tithe year depends upon the seven year cycle, Deuteronomy 14:28-29. The Church's administration, or more properly, adaptation, of the third tithe law is pragmatic, not Biblical. They said that since we cannot determine when the Biblical Sabbatical year occurs, then each member was to figure his seven-year cycles from the Feast of Tabernacles (or Feast of Unleavened Bread) nearest his baptism. The third and sixth years in each seven-year cycle would be third tithe years. I was baptized in March of 1969, and figure my seven-year cycles from the Feast of Tabernacles of 1968. For me, then, the years (beginning at the Feast of Tabernacles) of 1974, 1981, 1988, 1995, and 2002 would be Sabbatical years. A person baptized at some other time would have a different seven-year cycle.

In the early 1970s, the Worldwide Church of God excused most people from paying third tithe, saying that their taxes paid for government welfare programs which are intended to alleviate the poor. Likewise, in 1973, the Worldwide Church of God issued a policy on Land Sabbath, stating that it is only a principle. Their new teaching is that the Land Sabbath is not a binding law for which the transgression is sin. Thus, they acceded to the Jewish idea of watering down the Land Sabbath. Jewish Rabbis have abrogated the land rest law. Worldwide Church leaders have loosed members from obeying this law.

When is the Jubilee year? When is the Sabbatical year? The issue is of major importance. Israel went into captivity for not obeying this law. This is a major area Herbert W. Armstrong never understood. Neither do we understand when we are to begin the Jubilee count. If God will send modern Israel into captivity for the same reason as ancient Israel, knowledge must be increased, and Israel must be warned, Amos 3:7, Daniel 12:4, John 7:17. We look forward to the time when we will understand, and witness the fulfillment, of the Land Sabbath and Jubilee year.

Originally published as Study No. 40.

Additional Articles:

Why the Sabbath is Important, Part 1
When Does Your Sabbath Begin?
Keeping the Sabbath in a Non-Sabbath World
The Sabbath and Ecology
How to Keep the Sabbath Holy
The Sabbath and Service
The Truth About Sabbath and Sunday
The Good News of the Sabbath
Sabbath Facts
The Sabbath: A Divisive Issue?
A History of the Saturday Resurrection Doctrine Among Sabbath-Keepers
Chronology of the Crucifixion and Resurrection According to Ancient Texts
A Look at The Pope’s Pastoral Letter, "Dies Domini"
Review: The Sabbath Under Crossfire
Sabbath Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing
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Neck City, MO 64849
United States of America

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