This is the one-hundred-sixty-seventh lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
“Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout the land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” Leviticus 25:9-10
The President was in his upstairs study with a few friends—no Cabinet members, no officials, just people who were close to him—and his hand paused as he took up the pen to place his signature at the bottom of the five-page document. His hand was shaking so violently that he couldn’t sign. He collected himself and put his name at the bottom of what was the biggest gamble of the century and what would become one of the most famous documents in the history of the world—the Emancipation Proclamation. On that bright and clear New Year’s Day of 1863, Abraham Lincoln used the power of proclamation to declare something as true, despite the reality that life in the country looked entirely different. The document’s pivotal phrase was this bold assertion: “all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Nothing changed on that particular day. The North was still locked in Civil War with the South. Human beings were bought and sold, used and abused by other human beings. But everything did change that day. When a proclamation is founded on truth, justice, and the providential trajectory of history, then there is transformation even in the act of proclamation.
Dramatic change often begins with proclamation. God commanded in Leviticus 25 that every fifty years on the Day of Atonement the trumpet should sound throughout the land, and an ancient but new proclamation of liberty would go forth. That proclamation included all the themes of Jubilee: liberty, redemption, justice, healing. And it was not just a president or king or army backing the proclamation. It was God himself.
All of us have some kind of bondage we’re susceptible to and something we need to be liberated from. We all need to be forgiven and need to forgive. We all need rest and restoration. And it begins here: believing God’s proclamation of what is true and then seeking the reality of it in our lives. Lincoln declared the people free before they were actually free—but because the proclamation had authority and justice behind it, the declaration became reality.
Lord God, you have said that we are free because of what you did in sending your only-begotten Son. Help us to comprehend that truth–to hold it, believe it, apply it. Thank you that you did for us what we could not do for ourselves. In Christ’s name, Amen.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.