God, in His foreknowledge, knew that men would read the instruction that He gave Moses instruction three thousand-plus years to the future. Let us open our ears such that we may hear.
“When ye come into the land . . .” (v. 1). All who have studied God’s word know that forty years would pass before the children of Israel would enter into the promised land and that all who heard Moses announce these words, excepting Joshua and Caleb, would not enter into the land.
“. . . then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord” (v. 2). The manner in which the land keeps the sabbath is the manner in which men keep the sabbath — the land was to be rested on the seventh year after producing harvests for six years.
New Testament believers have been freed from the constraints of the law by Christ Jesus who satisfied every requirement for us. How then should we regard this instruction given to Israel? Jesus answers this question in Mark 2:27: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” God issued this instruction for the benefit of men. God is love. God would not have any perish, but have all come to Him in repentance.
In Exodus 19:6, God declared that Israel was to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Israel was to be different; it was to be an example by which all people could know God. In the text before us, we see just how different that Israel was to be.
Israel was to be different from other nations in that it was to plant neither fields nor harvest produce every seventh year. The opening verses of Leviticus 25 state that there will be no gathering of the harvest in the sabbath year but that produce of the land may be consumed by the landowner, the servant, the hired servant, the maid and the stranger. In Exodus 23:11, God makes provision for the poor to gather food from the uncultivated fields in the seventh year. That which was not gathered for immediate consumption was left for cattle and wild beasts to consume.
It is difficult to imagine how that any nation could shutdown its agricultural plantings and harvestings for a whole year without experiencing extreme famine. That said, it is likewise difficult to explain the manna which the Lord supplied to Israel. The Lord caused manna to fall six days and to cease on the seventh day (Ex. 16:14-22). The amount which was gathered on the sixth day was always sufficient to feed the congregation of Israel on the seventh day. God made it possible for His people to keep the sabbath and declare His name to all peoples.
Just how different Israel was to be is spelled out in verses 10 and 11. Israel was to cease its agricultural operations for a two full years once every fifty years. After the forty-ninth year (a sabbath year), in the fiftieth year, all debts were to be forgiven and all slaves were to be set free. And the fiftieth year, like the forty-ninth year, was to be a sabbath year.
Every fiftieth year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, the trumpet was to sound, proclaiming freedom for all. In the course of a natural lifespan every inhabitant would hear the sound of jubilee at least once. While slavery is generally regarded as an unwanted institution that is forced upon individuals, slavery was also a voluntary option for individuals who possessed no other means by which to settle their indebtedness. They could temporarily sell themselves into slavery. Because the years of jubilee were fifty years apart, its date had a bearing on real estate transactions. Since all land was to be returned to the original owner in the fiftieth year, all real estate transfers were temporary and the value of land decreased with the approach of the year of jubilee.
The release from all debt, the release of all slaves, and the restoration of land to the original owners once every fifty years was to characterize the economic system under which the children of Israel would function in the promised land. It is the economic system which God gave Israel through the lips of Moses. God wanted all people from every nation to look upon Israel and know that it was He, the Lord God, who authored the release of all debt, the release of all slaves and the restoration of all land to the original owners. All people would know that it was His plan because the fiftieth year was to be a sabbath year. People of all nations would look upon Israel and know that the Lord God is the author of freedom who liberates all men.
The elements of every plan reveal the intent of its author. It is God’s intent that any and all indebtedness be temporary. It is God’s intent that any and all slavery is temporary. And, it is God’s intent that any and all land transfers be temporary. It is God’s intent that His people should not economically oppress one another.
New Testament believers know the Father through the Son. All who call upon His name believing are given a fresh start — a new life unencumbered by past sin. The God who instructed Israel to keep the year of jubilee is the same God who lifts men up to be a testimony unto Him. He is the God who does the impossible.
It is by and through His grace that believers are empowered to be a testimony to all people and all nations that He is faithful to provide the needs of all who trust in Him. Let us do as He has instructed — Matthew 28:18-19.