The Phaserl


The Fulfillment of the Jubilee Year

from Gary North:

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family (Lev. 25:10).

It is usually encouraging to see people begin to turn back to Old Testament law in their search for answers to social questions. But when people who consistently deny the legitimacy of Old Testament laws in general keep turning back to one or two of them, citing them over and over (but no others), I grow suspicious. Why this or that law, but not all of them? Why the fascination with a particular law, when Old Testament law as a whole is categorically rejected as a legally binding code for New Testament ethics? Who, in short, is trying to “put the shuck on” whom? And why?

For over a decade, I have read defenses of a return to the Jubilee Year. What has struck me is that the writers who use the Jubilee Year as their example for New Testament times have concluded that this is an example — indeed, the example — of State interference with private property rights in the commonwealth of Israel. They have recommended that the New Testament church call for a similar redistribution of wealth in every nation today.

The most prominent proponent of the Jubilee Year is Ronald J. Sider. His book, Rich Christians in an Age Of Hunger (InterVarsity, 1977), is the most influential book on economics in neo-evangelical circles. Prof. Sider comments: “Leviticus 25 is one of the most radical texts in all of Scripture. At least it seems that way for people born in countries committed to laissez-faire economics. Every fifty years, God said, all land was to return to the original owners — without compensation! Physical handicaps, death of a breadwinner or lack of natural ability may lead some people to become poorer than others. But God does not want such disadvantages to lead to greater and greater divergence of wealth and poverty. God therefore gave his people a law which would equalize land ownership every fifty years (Lev. 25:1 O-24).” (Rich Christians, p. 88.)

He makes the observation that land in an agricultural society is the primary form of capital. “At the beginning, of course, the land had been divided more or less equally among the tribes and families. Apparently God wanted that basic economic equality to continue. Hence his command to return all land to the original owners every fifty years. Private property was not abolished. But the means of producing wealth were to be equalized regularly.”

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