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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Leviticus 23:9-24; Luke 4:16-19

James W. Skillen

   God's gift of the promised land to Israel occurred in an era when slavery of various kinds was taken for granted. People were often permanently alienated from their land because of conquest by enemies . God's new order for Israel would change this. In liberating Israel from slavery in Egypt, the Lord was reestablishing justice. This meant calling Israel to the remembrance of things past that would help them learn always to look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God's just order for creation.

   The year of Jubilee represents the capstone of remembrance and hope. It is the sabbatical principle multiplied again and again: one day of rest every seven days, one year of rest every seven years, and then the year of Jubilee. Jesus came "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:19), alluding to the Year of Jubilee which pointed ahead to the creation's ultimate, never-ending sabbath.

   The people of God must always be looking ahead, marching forward never trying to hold on to anything in this age as if it could be pinned down permanently. The practice of owning nothing permanently in the promised land was supposed to deepen Israel's appreciation for God's past gifts. At the same time, no one was to be permanently denied the opportunity of owning and caring for their own land. In other words, every family should have its own property on which to learn the habit of sojourning in God's land and looking ahead to the year of Jubilee.


"In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to

return to his own property."

- Leviticus 25:13


The only way that everyone can live in the hope of God's final liberation is if each can be a responsible steward of God's gifts in this age and never by enslaved permanently to a human master. Thus, the year of Jubilee required a restoration of past possessions so that everyone would be free again to live in anticipation of God's future blessings and the fulfillment of all creation.

   Israel's sabbath pattern can help us understand the meaning of today's realities, ranging from inner-city poverty to South Africa's joyous release from minority rule, from third-world debt to bankruptcy laws. In one way or another, people who have become enslaved to an earthly master need liberation into responsible stewardship - freedom to become tenants of their own property. At the same time, everyone needs to see that release from past bondage in this age does not bring ultimate fulfillment for life but only fuels hope for something more. That more is the final Jubilee in God's presence.



  • How can our age of consumerism lead to enslavement to earthly masters?

  • Read about the international Jubilee 2000 initiative, which appeals to the rich countries of the world to forgive the debts of the poorest countries. What is good and not so good about this proposal from the viewpoint of Leviticus 25?


  • Practice responsible stewardship, and teach children how to avoid becoming enslaved to earthly masters.


"Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty

throughout the land to all its inhabitants."

- Leviticus 25:10


Meditation 64 from A COVENANT TO KEEP: MEDITATIONS ON THE BIBLICAL THEME OF JUSTICE, The Center for Public Justice, 2000.

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