TEI Year of Jubilee


John C. Rankin (2008)

In the Law of Moses, the Year of Jubilee was provided every fifty years as a powerful psychological release valve for Israelite society, reuniting families on their ancestral lands, and canceling all debts.

We gain our word “psychological” from the Greek term psuche in the Septuagint (LXX – translation of the Hebrew Bible in the third century B.C.), which is preceded by the Hebrew term nephesh from Genesis 2:7 and its some 900 uses in the Hebrew Bible. Nephesh is rooted in concept of the throat and breathing ability, and means that the human body is dependent on Yahweh Elohim’s original given breath, and then on the created ecosphere. The goodness of the body and the ethical strength of needfulness – dependency on God and one another – is assumed. Thus, nephesh is translated as soul or personhood – our whole being, the root for all things humanly ontological. And, as related deliberately with the Sabbath’s pattern of creative and purposeful work, with cycles of reflective and satisfying rest, and in a teleological trajectory toward eternal life – the Year of Jubilee is based on seven prior cycles of sevens, where every seventh year, all indentured servants are released with their debts paid in full, and where the land gains rest in crop producing cycles.

We are thus talking about a release for the soul, a time to exhale from the burdens of life and start afresh in many ways, and salvation for the soul in very tangible means as a taste of the power of the age to come.

We live in a nation where our debt load threatens our very existence as a civil society. How do we gain release? The biblical Jubilee ethic serves:

  1. Ecological stewardship and wise diets;
  2. The integrity of the family unit as central to economic prosperity, holding people and land together;
  3. A consistent and fair economic standard for judging the value of the land and of hired labor;
  4. An orderly and dignified way for people to escape poverty;
  5. Dignity for the needy who choose to remain in a place of economic indentured service;
  6. Checks and balances on power and against monopolistic schemes;
  7. Equanimity for all social classes based on the shared Sabbath.

When time permits I will write an article here that takes Jubilee ethics from the Law of Moses and applies them to our pluralistic nation in which disciples of Jesus can live and share a corporate release from the slavery of debt.