The Law of Jubilee
A House In A Walled City
And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it. And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubilee. But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be counted as the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubilee.—Leviticus 25:29-31
The jubilee system was God’s way of protecting inheritance rights in ancient Israel. The principle upon which it is based is that all property rights did not belong to the occupants of the land, but to God himself.
The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.—Leviticus 25:23
Just and equitable as the jubilee was, however, it was not a device for total economic equality. It related only to real estate and issues of servitude and not to a re-division of wealth. The exception to the jubilee law noted in our opening text illustrates this principle.
Jubilee Relates Only to Land
Although we consider houses in cities as real estate, they were exempted from the law of jubilee. There were several reasons for this exclusion:
1. Ancient Israel was an agricultural society. Few people lived in walled cities. Those who did were either laborers for others, traders, those who commuted to nearby fields, or retired persons. Jubilee law related only to farmland, whether for crops or pasturage.
2. Property value in the city resided in the house; while in the country it rested in the land itself. Even today if we buy a farm we pay by the acre (for the land) with the buildings being considered only as improvements; while in the city we buy a house (the land being considered the appendage.)
3. Property in the country related directly to the ability to earn a living. Income was directly realized from the utilization of the land. In the city the home was merely a place to live and seldom provided the means to an income.
4. When God set up jubilee law he gave the legal basis: “for the land is mine.” The land was God’s. The improvements on the land could rightfully be considered those of the one who built them. God does not say your house is mine, but the land is mine.
What we see demonstrated, then, is that the jubilee law only related to property that was involved in the making of a living and not on in full economic equality. Another Illustration Of This Principle
Another way this same principle is exemplified can be seen by looking at a typical case. Let us imagine two Jewish farmers, Levi and Joel, each seeking to obey jubilee law. Being a poor farmer, Levi eventually sells his land to Joel for the balance of the fifty years of the cycle. Joel, on the contrary, is a good farmer and makes a sizable profit from the land before the next jubilee comes due.
When the fiftieth year comes around Joel obediently returns the land to Levi. But he does not return a share of the profits. They are his to keep. So, as the new cycle begins, Levi has his land but is cash poor, while Levi has sufficient funds not only to improve his own property but to repurchase the property of Levi when he needs to sell again. The jubilee did not give equality, but only the equal footing, the equal opportunity to earn a living.
There are two basic lines of thought as to when the antitype of the jubilee applies—the ages to come and the Millennial age. Because the ages to come begin 50,000 years after the beginning of Creation (premised on 7000 year creative days), there is a natural tendency to apply the jubilee, the 50th year in the type, to this 50th thousand year period of earth’s continuing history.
Others contend that the work of jubilee, restoring Israelites to their former possessions, uniquely fits the “Times of Restitution,” the seventh thousand year period of the seventh creative day (1874-2874).
If we look at the condition of mankind in each of these two periods the answer to our question becomes obvious.
When man enters the “ages to come,” there will be true equality on the earth. The same is not true of the Millennium. The Kingdom is not a period of equality, but of the struggle for equality. All that man is promised in the times of restitution is an equal footing—life, with the opportunity to maintain that life forever.
It thus seems evident that the jubilee picture does indeed represent the Millennial age, rather than the ages to come.
Man comes back from the grave in the same mental and moral condition he was in before he died. Where the tree falleth, so shall it lie (Eccl. 11:3) is the Scriptural principle.
As the jubilee restored the original land upon which the Israelite earned his living, so restitution restores life as a basis to build to a new future. As the houses in a walled city represented man’s own accomplishments and were not returned in the jubilee, so in the kingdom man will have just entitlements to what he accomplishes with his life.
And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.—Isaiah 65:21, 22
As it was only the land that was returned to the owner in the type, with the purchaser retaining his profits from it; so man will only have life as an equal footing, with the profitability or unprofitability of the use of the present life evident in the progress of the individual up the highway of holiness.
It becomes evident, then, that the exception to the jubilee law—the house that was in the walled city—is an important feature of the type to precisely illustrate just what will be restored to man in the antitype.