The Jubilee Laws of Leviticus 25 are prized poster boys for Christian socialists everywhere. Every seven weeks of years, the 50th year would be consecrated with the sounds of a trumpet, the slaves would be freed, land sold would be returned to its rightful owner and have its Sabbath rest, and debt would be forgiven. This is where God finally becomes an egalitarian. He’s just as economically ignorant as the rest of us!
But the problem with using Jubilee as justification for a socialist paradise is that the set of laws screams just the opposite.
First, they presuppose some sort of inequality in order to even be obeyed, and this is in line with the rest of Biblical revelation, including that of the rest of the Pentateuch. Just look to the Ten Commandments. “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet” tell us two things immediately: that private property is a real thing that is to be protected, and that some will have more of it than others.
Second, the Jubilee Laws actually maintains certain inequalities and locks them in. Lev. 25:29-30 specifically makes exception for dwellings within walled cities. If one is sold and is not redeemed within a year, it would remain with the new owner in perpetuity and would NOT be release for during the Jubilee.
Not surprisingly, to find the real point of Jubilee, you just need to look at the text.
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine.” (Lev. 25:23)(ESV)
“For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Lev. 25:55)
Both rich and poort are equal in this way: what they have is really God’s, and they both rely on his mercy for their possessions no matter the quantity. And it is the ending of servitude to each other, only to affirm the people’s total servitude, both rich and poor, toward God.
Distributing goods more fairly among a certain number of people is not the message of Jubilee. The real message is that, for goods to be distributed more fairly, everything would go back to God, and our hands would be empty. That is real fairness. That is our real equality. Anything more than destitution is a mercy.
Thanks be to God for his great mercy.