The Year of the Jubilee

The origins of the Year of the Jubilee - a year of restoration, freedom and celebration.

The Jubilee is first described in Leviticus 25. Every 7th year was a sabbath for the land when it was to lay fallow, and rest from agriculture. The 7th in a cycle of 7 sabbatical years was 49 years, and the year following was the 50th year.  Land and property, which had been sold, was returned to its original owner or their descendants, debts were cancelled, and slaves and prisoners were freed.  A ram’s horn was blown on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to announce the start of the year of the Jubilee. It was a year of restoration and freedom, and a year of celebration.

The Jubilee represents the most radical system of continuing social reform in the Old Testament because it blocked land and wealth from becoming the focus of a wealthy elite at the expense of the ordinary people. 

The word Jubilee

The Hebrew word for Jubilee is “yobel” which roughly means ‘ram’. This is because a trumpet made from a ram’s horn was used to announce the beginning of the Jubilee year in Joshua 6:1-14. The announcement of the Jubilee year with a trumpet blast became strongly connected with the eventual eschatological ushering in of the messianic era (see Isaiah 27:13 and Zechariah 9:9-17).  

It is not originally connected to the Latin word for Jubilee (jubilare) meaning jubilation, but in the English language, the word Jubilee came to have the dual meaning of a 50th anniversary, and a special time of celebration. The history of the Jubilee in the Bible is also related to the idea of the Sabbath and the Sabbatical year. 

Leviticus 25: 8-17

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee for you; in it  you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines.For it is a Jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. “In this year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property.And if you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not wrong one another. You shall pay your neighbour according to the number of years after the Jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.