If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. Leviticus 25:25-28
“Leviticus 25:25-28 implies that this equality of opportunity was of higher value than that of absolute property rights. If a person became poor and sold his land to a more prosperous neighbor but then recovered enough to buy back his land before the Jubilee, the new owner was obligated to return it. The original owner’s right to have his ancestral land to earn his own way took precedence over the right of the second owner to maximize profits.
This passage prescribes justice in a way that haphazard handouts by wealthy philanthropists never will. The Year of Jubilee was an institutionalized structure that affected all Israelites automatically. It was the poor family’s right to recover their inherited land in the Jubilee. Returning the land was not a charitable courtesy that the wealthy might extend if they pleased.
Interestingly the principles of Jubilee challenge both unrestricted capitalism and communism in a fundamental way. Only God is absolute owner. No one else has absolute property rights. The right of each family to have the means to earn a living takes priority over a purchaser’s property rights or an unrestricted market economy.
At the same time, Jubilee affirms not only the right but the importance of private property managed by families who understand that they are stewards responsible to God. This texts does not point in the direction of the communist model in which the state owns all land. God wants each family to have the resources to produce its own livelihood. Why? To strengthen the family (this is a very important pro-family text), to give people the freedom to participate in shaping history, and to prevent the centralization of power — and totalitarianism, which almost always accompanies centralized ownership of land or capital by either the state or small elites.”
Ron Sider in Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007) 78.
I want to lean into three ideas that surface in today’s meditation on Jubilee and its relationship to generosity and then conclude with a great Jubilee story from a phone call I got yesterday
Firstly, Jubilee reflects God’s generosity to every person and each family. Because “only God is absolute owner” people have “equality of opportunity” in a world that fights for “property rights” and does whatever is necessary to preserve wealth. As I travel the world, I don’t see much equality of opportunity. I see the “haves” hoarding and the “have nots” suffering. It’s not surprising the Jesus would launch his ministry proclaiming Jubilee (Luke 4:14-21) and why the good news sounds like bad news to the rich (Luke 1:51-53). It also explains why Jesus would instruct the rich man to distribute the wealth he possessed to take hold of life (Mark 10:17-31).
Secondly, the Jubilee provision of “returning land was not a charitable courtesy” and it was not optional. This reshuffling of property was also rooted in God’s absolute ownership of the land. When this reset happened, the poor celebrated not because their neighbors “gave” them their homestead back, but because God commanded that it be returned to them. Big difference! Jubilee aimed to prevent wealth accumulation beyond a generation. This relates to all of us as the economic and social patterns of heaven will likely mirror God’s design in the OT Law. Remember after declaring Jubilee, Jesus promised His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3).
Thirdly, “the principles of Jubilee challenge both unrestricted capitalism and communism.” While it is election season in the USA, elections in any society center around appointing people to power. God’s design for His people is to submit to His sovereign reign in our lives. This scope moves beyond capitalism and communism. God’s design beats capitalism because Jubilee ensures opportunity for everyone, and it surpasses communism as the power is centralized in the hands of our just God rather than the corrupt elite. The challenge for the disciple of Jesus is to live in submission to His sovereign reign regardless of his or her earthly citizenship.
Here’s the bottom line: the kingdom of God has come. It was inaugurated with the advent, ministry, death, and resurrection of King Jesus, and He has declared Jubilee. That’s why he sets forth such radical instructions regarding property. Most will disregard them. Don’t worry about what others are doing. Wherever you find yourself on the planet, regardless of the social and economic structures in power, live in submission to the reign of Jesus and obey His commands. Most of all, do this because you understand that you are merely a steward who is responsible to God and because you know you will someday have to give an account.
I conclude with a story that illustrates the “equality of opportunity” dynamic of Jubilee. Just yesterday my brother, David, called me. “Gary, I got a great Jubilee story for you.” He went on to share how one of the students at Warner University who came from a broken home and difficult circumstances had shared her testimony at a recent event. Her faith and perseverance despite unthinkable trials inspired everyone. One couple was so moved by the Spirit of God, that they determined to pay off all her school loans, so she would be free to graduate and serve God free of slavery to debt. He was excited because soon the student would learn what happened! That’s Jubilee generosity!Read more