On the same principle as the weekly sabbath day, every seventh year was to be designated a sabbath year in Israel, during which the land itself would have a rest from cultivation (Leviticus 25:1-7). This was a severe test of faith for a nation of subsistence farmers; but God promised to honour their commitment by blessing them with security and prosperity. Just as He had supplied them in the wilderness with enough manna every sixth day to last for two days, so He would give them sufficient harvest every sixth year to last for two years. He is our ultimate security, not our wage packet or pension scheme!
After seven such sabbath years, the 50th year was to be a special year of restoration as well as rest – the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55). This would begin on the Day of Atonement. After all the sacrifices had been made, the trumpets were to be sounded a second time to proclaim liberation throughout the land. Then all those who had been forced to sell themselves into slavery (because of debt) would be set free, and any land that had changed hands during the previous 49 years would be restored to its original owner. This would interrupt the process that happens in any society, whereby the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. Each time the Jubilee came round, those at the bottom of the economic pile would have the opportunity to make a fresh start.
Sadly, there is no evidence that the Israelites ever practised the Jubilee. Presumably the economic cost was simply too high. ‘The year of the LORD’s favour’ became one of those blessings that awaited the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 61:1,2). But the Law must be fulfilled. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who entered God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9,10) And so there will be one final, great Jubilee… trumpets will announce the coming of the King (I Corinthians 15:52; I Thessalonians 4:16) and proclaim liberation from the power of sin and death. “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)