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The Christadelphian | March 2012

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Walking
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “The right hand” | Harry Tennant
  • The character of God 1 – Introduction | Mark Buckler
  • “Sing forth the honour of His Name” Ten years of worship from the 2002 hymn book | John Botten
  • The Jubilee | Allan Harvey
  • The message to the seven churches 3 – To Smyrna | James Andrews
  • The heart and holiness of God 3 – Law or grace? | Andrew E. Walker
  • Questions Jesus asks “Who touched me?” | Paul Aston
  • Signs of the times Jews, Reformation and EU debt | Sid Levett Sovereign debt revisited | Andrew Bramhill
  • Israel and their land Relations with Egypt
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

The Jubilee

IN Galatians 5:1 the Law is referred to as a “yoke of bondage”, but a yoke from which believers have been granted “liberty” by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 15:10 some, though ‘believers’, still wanted to hold to the Law. Peter responded: “Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” Although the Law had become a heavy burden in many respects, nevertheless, for all that, it should have been seen and observed as a Law of Liberty, for we read, “Ye shall not … oppress one another” (Leviticus 25:17).

From the beginning

At creation man was given dominion over the fish, fowl, cattle and every creeping thing, but there was no mention of him having dominion over his fellow man, for he is not fit for such a position. Man’s rule is based on “oppression”, a word which carries the idea ‘to rage’, ‘be violent’, ‘suppress’ and even ‘destroy’.

Cain set the pattern for he was a “murderer from the beginning”; and this “hardness of heart” was seen ever after, as in the experiences of Israel in Egypt, when they “sighed by reason of the bondage” (Exodus 2:23). Then Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, bringing further “oppression” for the captives. The feelings of Israel are expressed in their own words: “Our hope is lost, our bones are dried.” Their need was release.

The Lord’s release

To all His people God responded, and the Exodus was the Lord’s release for everyone. Release was now their God-given right, the means of their freedom and above all, their security. Henceforth there would be no more oppression from any source, for the yoke of bondage was now removed.

For this He demanded their love, their affection and their obedience; in particular, obedience to this command: “Ye shall not … oppress one another”. If they were to have no more oppression, then they in turn were not to oppress anyone. They were not to oppress strangers: “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him”, bearing in mind, “ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). They were not to oppress their brethren; for example, the sabbath was a period of rest unto the Lord: “In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant”, that they “may rest as well as thou” (Deuteronomy 5:14). Here the Law is seen to its best advantage: rest and release came to all in need, through a series of God-appointed occasions.

The first release

The first rest was, as we have already seen, the sabbath day, which we can look upon as a mini release. Prior to this there were six days of toil; we note that the toil came first, then putting aside the works of the flesh, there followed one day of rest.

However this was not to be a day of idleness; rather was it to be a day of thoughtfulness: for on that day they were to “remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm …” (see Deuteronomy 5:12-15). All shared in that rest and remembrance: for all had shared in the deliverance and had all things common.

The second release

God built on this. He gave an extension to the law of the sabbath by instituting a sabbatical year. For this they were to endure six years of labour and then enjoy a year of liberty in the seventh; and this would prove to be a more excellent “rest” – for both the people and the land (Leviticus 25:1,2).

Imagine the following situation. All had land, their portion of Abraham’s Covenant, but through bad husbandry, or bad weather, or poor harvests, some were forced to seek a living by selling their land – some even selling themselves as servants to their richer brethren. For six years the poor brother, having sold his lands, laboured in the fields of a rich brother – but then he had his liberty returned in the seventh year. Here was rest and release on a greater scale than the sabbath day.

We can well imagine the feelings of the slave as he approached the seventh year, as his freedom and release drew nearer. However, when it did come, he could not return to his land – that remained in the possession of the rich brother. So what was he to eat during the seventh year? Leviticus 25:6,7 tells us. The produce of the land was not to be reaped. Anyone and everyone, even the strangers, were allowed to gather enough for themselves; cattle also were not to be restricted. This would require faith. A year of rest for the land would probably increase fertility for later years, but this increased harvest came before the seventh of rest (verses 20,21).

This was designed to teach reliance on God, and to stimulate their faith. That year they did not sow to reap, but they were to seek God’s increase. Picture the approach to the seventh year. Would they, perhaps, be tempted during the sixth to put a little aside for the seventh? But no, that they could not do, even the landowner could not harvest in the seventh (verses 4-7); they were all of one level.

There were other commitments for them to observe as Deuteronomy 15:1,2 reveals. If any had lent anything to a poor brother he was to let it go. God was forgiving and helping the poor; nevertheless his brother also had a part to play, and his part had to be performed in love: “Thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: but thou shalt open thine hand wide …” (verses 7,8). Then comes a warning in verse 9: “Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee.” This year of release taught them that they must not despise, but love; not oppress, but pity; not take away, but give; not begrudge, but be generous.

And notice where the onus lay in verses 12-15: “thou; thou; thou.” The rich were given the duty to see the poor provided for; he that had wealth or produce must give as need arose. They must “not … oppress one another”.

So at the seventh year came freedom for the slave, but the land remained sold; therefore he could not return to his land. The seventh would be eagerly awaited, but it passed and many found themselves back to square one.

The third release

The seven-year cycle was not sufficient in itself; it was part of a greater cycle. The year of release in its fullness was the Year of Jubilee – hence the command, “Thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years … forty and nine years” (Leviticus 25:8). This Year of Jubilee was not a ‘normal’ year, for it did not start on the first day of the first month.

It began on the Day of Atonement, namely the tenth day of the seventh month – in the forty-ninth year. So half was in the forty-ninth year of the old cycle and half in the first of the new cycle; therefore it could not be called the forty-ninth, nor yet the first, there being half in each.

The forty-ninth was a sabbatical year anyway and all slaves had been freed. Then on the tenth of the seventh, following the atonement for the sins of Israel, the trumpet of the Jubilee was heard, proclaiming release. The old cycle ended with sins forgiven, and the Jubilee began with the same.

Now, not only was the slave liberated, but the land was also released and returned to its rightful owner – this was complete release: “Thou shalt cause the trumpet of the Jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement … and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and … every man unto his family” (Leviticus 25:9,10).

Temporary release

The echoes of this trumpet spoke of:

  • Their sins forgiven with freedom for slaves.
  • Deliverance of captives thereby reuniting families.
  • Cancelling of debts and restoration of land.
  • The “return every man unto his possession”, bringing Israel back to an original state of liberty.

“Ye shall not … oppress one another” now meant what it said; liberty was seen to be the God-given right of every Israelite. Throughout that long period every Israelite could look forward with confidence, firstly to a seventh-year period of freedom which brought with it release from slavery, and to a fiftieth-year period when the lost possession of land would be returned to his family.

So the cycle came to its happy end. Yet in reality it was not the end, for the cycle started again and another series of seven-year releases began, leading to another Jubilee, and another, and another. So the cycle continued and it became evident that the whole system was not complete, that it was a pointer to greater things to come.

The fulfilment

When would that to which it pointed come? Isaiah prophesied of this through the work of a special one who would speak thus:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.” (Isaiah 61:1,2)

The one who was promised came and declared his intention by quoting these words of Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:16-21; cp. verse 19 with Isaiah 61:2). He then said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21); that was the acceptable time. He was the antitypical Jubilee. In him was release, freedom, liberty, forgiveness of sins, deliverance of captives, reuniting of families and return to life. The “Spirit of the Lord God” was upon him for God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and Christ was the restorer to life (Psalm 69:4).

Lessons for ourselves

We have a new beginning: we were sold in slavery to sin and death, but now through the life and death of the Lord Jesus we return in liberty with a future prospect of no more suffering, pain, death or crying, for the former things will have passed away.

Jesus said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” – so let us start today! The spirit of the Jubilee is found in Leviticus 25:17: “Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God” and the all-sufficient reason is given: “I am the LORD your God.”

Jesus commands us to “love one another”, that is, do not oppress one another. The Father and Son are one and desire that we be one with them. Do we oppress one another? Do we prevent growth in our fellow brethren and sisters in the way we talk to them? Are we sometimes a little belligerent, guilty of a sharp word or fruitless criticism? All of this serves to belittle others and elevate ourselves.

Happy was the Israelite who could look back and say, “I have not oppressed”. Happy is the saint who can say the same, for if God oppressed (if He should “mark iniquities”) none of us would be able to stand.

Our need today is for release and forgiveness of sins, and we are now waiting for the return of our High Priest from the Holy of Holies when he will bring the blessing of God. Then the trumpet of the Jubilee will sound and we shall be changed. So as the Psalm says, “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound”. Let us therefore stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and let us not be entangled with the yoke of this world.

Allan harvey

 

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