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  • « God has preserved His word | Main | Book Review: Lord and Servant, by Michael S. Horton »

    Images of the Savior (34 -- The Year of Jubilee)

    And you shall count for yourself seven weeks of years, seven years seven times; and the days of the seven weeks of years shall be to you forty-nine years. And you shall sound forth the trumpet blast on the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound forth the trumpet in all your land. And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and you shall proclaim liberty in the land to all its inhabitants: it shall be a jubilee for you, and you shall return each man to his possession, and each man to his family you shall return. – Leviticus 25:8-10

    In all the Levitical laws concerning the sabbaths and solemn feasts, the children of Israel were reminded to look backward to the wonderful works of God in the past, by which he had created the world in perfect splendor and made it altogether suitable for man's joyful habitation; and then, after mankind's first rebellion, had made great promises of a better restoration, and taken great steps to that end; but also, they were admonished by these holy times to look forward to the true fulfillment and culmination of the redemption thereby testified to and sealed, and even tasted, as it were, if but for a day. Thus, on the day of the Sabbath, the Israelites remembered God's perfect creation, and how he entered into the joy of resting in what he had accomplished, and likewise brought in his image-bearing creature, man, to enjoy that rest together with him; and they also would remember, a little later, how Joshua had brought them into their promised land of rest (save only that generation that murmured and doubted, and were destroyed in the wilderness); but even after that entrance into Canaan, the Psalmist spoke of another rest that remained for the people (Psalm 95:7-11; Hebrews 4:7-10); by which he meant that rest which Christ would accomplish for those who are his, working so that they might rest in his sufficiency, and so be brought in to the eternal rest in the New Jerusalem. In the same way, as we have just seen, the feasts taught the people to remember God's redemptive works in the past, and to look through them to the anti-typical redemptive works of Christ in the future, which should provide for and ensure the eternal enjoyment of those things the feasts merely symbolized and hinted at.

    So then, the feasts, and the sabbaths in particular, were constantly recurring, but very brief, signs and seals of a greater reality of redemption, that was promised, foreshadowed, and even begun to be accomplished in the past, but that was itself eternal, and would one day be fulfilled completely, and would then admit no subsequent intrusion of any wearisome labor, or anything else undesirable. But as instructive as all these brief feasts and sabbaths were, yet because of their brevity and constant repetition, the one thing that was most apt to be overlooked and forgotten was the very eternality and durability of those truths they signified; so that, after many years of observing weekly rests and yearly feasts, the cycle itself, of labor and rest, might tend to be understood as the eternal pattern of God's people, rather than the reality of an epoch of tiresome labor and an eternity of rest and reward to follow.

    The next sacred time that we encounter in the book of Leviticus, which is the yearly sabbath, together with the crown and pinnacle of the yearly sabbaths, i.e. Jubilee, serves as a healthy corrective to this susceptibility to a distorted understanding of the significance of the briefer festive assemblies. For six years, the cycle of six days of labor and one day of rest would be constantly repeated; but on the seventh year, the monotonous cycle would give way to an entire year of rest and joy; and this taught the people that, even their weekly sabbaths, which were one of the most precious, useful, and instructive of God's good gifts to them, were to be swallowed up in something greater and more eternal, a new era of rest in the finished works of God. This the children of Israel were to be reminded of every seventh year, and then, most emphatically, at least once in a lifetime, on the year of Jubilee; which, again, emphasized the truth that, one lifetime of labor would be followed by an unending day of rest, in which their rewards would follow after them (see Revelation 14:13). But let us now comment a little more particularly on the yearly sabbath first, and then on the Year of Jubilee as well.

    On the yearly sabbath, according to Leviticus 25:1-7, the landowners were to let their land rest, and they were to open up their fields to the poor, the outcasts, and the hungry, to eat freely of that which the land produced naturally, without having been plowed or sown. Now, this signifies several things: first, that whereas for six years the farmers had to work assiduously in order to enjoy the fruit of their land, yet a time was coming in which no more work would be required, but only to rest and enjoy its fruits in gladness of heart. Second, that even as this fruit of the land was worked for, the six years previous by the landowner, but given up freely on this year to the needy and afflicted who could not at all work for it; so the sabbath year was a reminder of the bountiful mercy of God, who accomplished all the work required so that we, the true outcasts and downtrodden in his land, might enjoy the fruits of his accomplishment without any provision of our own in order thereto.

    Now, this arrangement would naturally remind the people of their forebears' first estate in Eden, when, after God had worked six days, on the seventh day he rested, and appointed mankind to reside in the Garden that he had been six days in creating, so that they might enjoy its fruits without any prior work of their own to see them spring up. On this seventh year, the land would likewise spring up in fruitfulness without any toilsome labor of its proprietors, and was therefore a glimpse of Paradise in this respect; and in that it came here, many years after Eden, and after the curse had ravaged the land, it was also a promise of another Paradise in which man would likewise be called in to enjoy the fruits of God's own works, toward which he had contributed nothing.

    Now, the final thing we must mention of the yearly sabbath is this: when, in rebellion against God's commands, the people refused to observe their yearly sabbaths for many years, God then cast them off in exile, and thus took it upon himself to give the land its yearly sabbath rest, which he did for seventy years consecutively, in lieu of the absence of the yearly sabbaths for the four hundred and ninety years in which Israel inhabited the land (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 2 Chronicles 36:21); so we see, in this circumstance, that God would indeed bring about his eternal sabbath, which the yearly sabbath signified, although it would require him to exile his firstborn son Israel (see Exodus 4:22), in order thus to do; and this he did again in a much greater way, when he exiled his only begotten Son, which is his true Israel, hanging him up as a curse on the cross, so that he might bring in an eternal rest for his people.

    Now, we must also consider that culmination of the yearly sabbath cycles, which is the Year of Jubilee, that took place after a week of yearly sabbaths, that is, on the year after forty-nine years, or in other words, every fiftieth year. Now, this year was specifically that in which liberty was announced, as we read in Leviticus 25:10; and hence it is called the Year of Liberty in Ezekiel 46:17. At the beginning of this year, which in this respect was considered to begin on the seventh month of the calendrical year, that is, on the Day of Atonement, trumpet blasts, as on the day of the Feast of Trumpets, would announce liberty for all men to return to their lands and their families. Of course, this was a very obvious foretaste of the coming Christ: for at that time, after many years of labor and servitude, the Messiah would come and accomplish redemption on the Day of Atonement; and then, he would sound forth as with a trumpet blast the good news that the Year of his Favor had arrived, and proclaim freedom for all; and so Isaiah 61:1-2 speaks of the Messiah as coming to announce the acceptable year of the Lord, that is, Jubilee; which Jesus truly did, when he began his ministry on earth (Luke 4:14-21).

    Now, we have two further indications that this year of Jubilee was indeed designed to point ahead to Christ's coming and winning eternal redemption for his people, and the subsequent announcement of the Good News through his gospel trumpeters: first, this time frame of one after seven sevens immediately reminds us of the like system of timing for the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. Now, as we have already established, that Feast signified the influx of souls into God's Kingdom, in consequence of the resurrection of Christ, the firstfruits from the dead, fifty days previous. So then, this year, as well, signifies the same announcement of Jesus' accomplishment of redemption, together with the effects that would follow, of winning the freedom of all his people, and bringing them back into their land and family, that is, of bringing them to the place where they might worship God, and enjoy his presence, as one family united by the blood of Christ, and brought in to be his brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29).

    Second, and even more poignantly, the prophet Daniel would later speak of seventy sevens of years; and after these four hundred and ninety years, Messiah would be cut off, and would thereafter confirm the covenant with the people. And so we see that Daniel was looking ahead to a true Jubilee, in which, after seventy weeks of years, Christ would be cut off, fulfilling the Day of Atonement; but that he would thus confirm the covenants of promise, thus announcing the year of liberty, even as Jubilee was wont to do.

    Now, before we conclude, we must reflect upon that which was to take place on this year of Jubilee: which was the redemption of all which belonged to God, and which had been sold or had come into debt, so that, having been redeemed, it might be given back to those whom he had called out to be his people. Now, this had to take place because, although God had lent his land to the people, giving each family an inheritance, yet some of them had become poor, and had been forced to sell their inheritance to their neighbors, or even to sell themselves as indentured servants. Now, when this tragic event took place, it became incumbent upon the nearest kinsman of the poor man to redeem both him and his property, paying the set price for him, so that he might come back into his inheritance. However, if no kinsman could do so, the land remained in the power of the poor man's debtor only until the Year of Jubilee; at that time, God himself, who in reality owned all the land in the first place, redeemed the land and the people, and brought each back into his inheritance.

    Now, this all speaks most exactly of the work of Christ in our behalf, in order to bring us back to our inheritance in the land of God's presence. For we were made by God, and are in fact his property (Psalm 100:3; Isaiah 45:9-12); but we have become sold into slavery, and indebted to sin, and cannot pay back our debt. Oh, how desperately we need a Kinsman-Redeemer to buy us back, and bring us back to God! But praise be to God, for when he looked and saw that there was no one, then his own arm brought him salvation (Isaiah 59:16), and he himself bought us back for himself, so that we might enter again into the land of his presence. Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer, our God who has bought us back for God, so that he might bring us back into the liberty of God's people (cf. Romans 8:21), to enjoy our inheritance in his favorable presence for all eternity. Jesus is our Jubilee!

    Posted by Nathan on November 28, 2008 10:05 AM

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