by Pastor David Groendyk
If I could pick one word to describe this chapter, it would be ‘freedom’. In a few different ways we see how God sets laws in place “to prevent the utter ruin of debtors” by offering them freedom (Gordon Wenham). Debt is something of a hot topic right now. Just a couple days ago, I was curious about the US’s national debt, and I saw that it’s up over $27 trillion! On a smaller scale, I hear lots of people around my age sinking further in the hole with college tuition loans. Then there are rising number of stories of families going into financial crisis because of medical bills. It’s not hard for us to see how debt can lead to total ruin. Moreover, God knows humanity’s sinful tendency to exploit one another for a profit. As you read through the prophets, many of them condemn Israel for that very wickedness (see Isaiah 5:8 and Amos 2:6 as just a couple examples), which goes to show that the laws in this chapter were rarely, if ever, followed. But that was never the way God intended for his people to live.
The first way we see freedom is that the land gets freedom from work (vv. 1–13). Every seven years, the Israelites would not be allowed to plant and reap. Moreover, at the Year of Jubilee (which occurred every 50 years), the land would be required to lay fallow again. The second way we see freedom in this chapter is the freeing of sold property to its original owner (vv. 13–34). Whether it was simply farmland being sold to one another or whether property was being sold out of necessity to pay off debts, the Year of Jubilee officially released the property to be returned to those who sold it. Closely related to the selling of property was the selling of one’s own self into hired work (vv. 35–55), the third way we see freedom. The Year of Jubilee signaled an end to any sort of bondage for an Israelite. His debts were officially forgiven, and he was given his freedom again.
Not only would the Year of Jubilee give a sort of rest and reset both for the people and the land itself, but it served to teach Israel a very important spiritual lesson. God is the owner of all things, including both land and people (vv. 23, 38, 42, 55). Israel is nothing but a steward of the things God has given them. It is God’s prerogative to determine how the land gets used and to bless his people in the way that he sees fit (v. 21). Moreover, the Year of Jubilee was a huge foreshadowing of the blessings that would come in the gospel. It’s no coincidence that all of these freedoms and liberations and blessings came on the day on which all of Israel’s sin was taken away (v. 9). Through Christ, all of our debts have been forgiven, and because of that God has poured out blessing upon blessing upon us. Can you imagine the rest and relief and joy that a poor Israelite would experience in the Year of Jubilee? That’s what we experience in the gospel. Jesus truly has come “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19). How should this change our attitudes about the things we possess and use, knowing that God is the ultimate owner of everything? What sort of responsibilities does this chapter teach that we have to our fellow man? What does this chapter teach us about imitating God in generosity?
Another way we see this chapter pointing to Jesus and the gospel is in the kinsman-redeemer (vv. 25, 47–49). If an Israelite had to go into debt, his nearest kin could have the chance to redeem the property by buying it back (hence, the term “kinsman-redeemer). This is what we see play out in the story of Ruth and Boaz. But Jesus is our ultimate kinsman-redeemer. He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11). He frees us from our debt by paying the price that we owe. Thank God that we are not left to wallow in our sorry sinful estate, wondering how we can ever be freed from the crushing burden of debt to God. Thank God that he sends his Son to buy us back!