Here is, I. The general institution of the jubilee, Lev. 25:8-22
1. When it was to be observed: after seven sabbaths of years (Lev. 25:8), whether the forty-ninth or fiftieth is a great question among learned men: that it should be the seventh sabbatical year, that is, the forty-ninth (which by a very common form of speech is called the fiftieth), seems to me most probable, and is, I think, made pretty clear and the objections removed by that learned chronologer Calvisius; but this is not a place for arguing the question. Seven sabbaths of weeks were reckoned from the passover to the feast of pentecost (or fiftieth day, for so pentecost signifies), and so seven sabbaths of years from one jubilee to another, and the seventh is called the fiftieth; and all this honour is put upon the sevenths for the sake of God’s resting the seventh day from the work of creation.
2. How it was to be proclaimed, with sound of trumpet in all parts of the country (Lev. 25:5), both to give notice to all persons of it, and to express their joy and triumph in it; and the word jobel, or jubilee, is supposed to signify some particular sound of the trumpet distinguishable from any other; for the trumpet that gives an uncertain sound is of little service, 1 Cor. 14:8. The trumpet was sounded in the close of the day of atonement; thence the jubilee commenced, and very fitly; when they had been humbling and afflicting their souls for sin, then they were made to hear this voice of joy and gladness, Ps. 51:8. When their peace was made with God, then liberty was proclaimed; for the removal of guilt is necessary to make way for the entrance of all true comfort, Rom. 5:1, 2. In allusion to this solemn proclamation of the jubilee, it was foretold concerning our Lord Jesus that he should preach the acceptable year of the Lord, Isa. 61:2. He sent his apostles to proclaim it with the trumpet of the everlasting gospel, which they were to preach to every creature. And it stands still foretold that at the last day the trumpet shall sound, which shall release the dead out of the bondage of the grave, and restore us to our possessions.
3. What was to be done in that year extraordinary; besides the common rest of the land, which was observed every sabbatical year (Lev. 25:11, 12), and the release of personal debts (Deut. 15:2, 3), there was to be the legal restoration of every Israelite to all the property, and all the liberty, which had been alienated from him since the last jubilee; so that never was any people so secured in their liberty and property (those glories of a people) as Israel was. Effectual care was taken that while they kept close to God these should not only not be taken from them by the violence of others, but not thrown away by their own folly.
(1.) The property which every man had in his dividend of the land of Canaan could not be alienated any longer than till the year of jubilee, and then he or his should return to it, and have a title to it as undisputed, and the possession of it as undisturbed, as ever (Lev. 25:10, 13): “You shall return every man to his possession”; so that if a man had sold or mortgaged his estate, or any part of it, it should then return to him or his heirs, free of all charge and encumbrance. Now this was no wrong to the purchaser, because the year of jubilee was fixed, and every man knew when it would come, and made his bargain accordingly. By our law indeed, if lands be granted to a man and his heirs, upon condition that he should never sell or alienate them, the grant is good, but the condition is void and repugnant: Iniquum est ingenuis hominibus (say the lawyers) non esse liberam rerum suarum alienationem—It is unjust to prevent free men from alienating their own possessions. Yet it is agreed in the books that if the king grant lands to a man in fee upon condition he shall not alienate, the condition is good. Now God would show his people Israel that their land was his, and they were his tenants; and therefore he ties them up that they shall not have power to sell, but only to make leases for any term of years, not going beyond the next jubilee. By this means it was provided, [1.] That their genealogies should be carefully preserved, which would be of use for clearing our Saviour’s pedigree. [2.] That the distinction of tribes should be kept up; for, though a man might purchase lands in another tribe, yet he could not retain them longer than till the year of jubilee, and then they would revert of course. [3.] That none should grow exorbitantly rich, by laying house to house, and field to field (Isa. 5:8), but should rather apply themselves to the cultivating of what they had than the enlarging of their possessions. The wisdom of the Roman commonwealth sometimes provided that no man should be master of above 500 acres. [4.] That no family should be sunk and ruined, and condemned to perpetual poverty. This particular care God took for the support of the honour of that people, and the preserving, not only of that good land to the nation in general, but of every man’s share to his family in particular, for a perpetual inheritance, that it might the better typify that good part which shall never be taken away from those that have it.
(2.) The liberty which every man was born to, if it were sold or forfeited, should likewise return at the year of jubilee: You shall return every man to his family, Lev. 25:10. Those that were sold into other families thereby became strangers to their own; but in this year of redemption they were to return. This was typical of our redemption by Christ from the slavery of sin and Satan, and our restoration to the glorious liberty of the children of God. Some compute that the very year in which Christ died was a year of jubilee, and the last that ever was kept. But, however that be, we are sure it is the Son that makes us free, and then we are free indeed.
II. A law upon this occasion against oppression in buying and selling of land; neither the buyer nor the seller must overreach, Lev. 25:14-17. In short, the buyer must not give less, nor the seller take more, than the just value of the thing, considered as necessarily returning at the year of jubilee. It must be settled what the clear yearly value of the land was, and then how many years’ purchase it was worth till the year of jubilee. But they must reckon only the years of the fruits (Lev. 25:15), and therefore must discount for the sabbatical years. It is easy to observe that the nearer the jubilee was the less must the value of the land be. According to the fewness of the years thou shalt diminish the price. But we do not find it so easy practically to infer thence that the nearer the world comes to its period the less value we should put upon the things of it: because the time is short, and the fashion of the world passeth away, let those that buy be as though they possessed not. One would put little value on an old house, that is ready to drop down. All bargains ought to be made by this rule, You shall not oppress one another, nor take advantage of one another’s ignorance or necessity, but thou shalt fear thy God. Note, The fear of God reigning in the heart would effectually restrain us from doing any wrong to our neighbour in word or deed; for, though man be not, God is the avenger of those that go beyond or defraud their brethren, 1 Thess. 4:6. Perhaps Nehemiah refers to this very law (Neh. 5:15), where he tells us that he did not oppress those he had under his power, because of the fear of God.
III. Assurance given them that they should be no losers, but great gainers, by observing these years of rest. It is promised, 1. That they should be safe: You shall dwell in the land in safety, Lev. 25:18; and again, Lev. 25:19. The word signifies both outward safety and inward security and confidence of spirit, that they should be quiet both from evil and from the fear of evil. 2. That they should be rich: You shall eat your fill. Note, If we be careful to do our duty, we may cheerfully trust God with our comfort. 3. That they should not want food convenient that year in which they did neither sow nor reap: I will command my blessing in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years, Lev. 25:21. This was, (1.) A standing miracle, that, whereas at other times one year did but serve to bring in another, the productions of the sixth year should serve to bring in the ninth. Note, The blessing of God upon our provision will make a little go a great way, and satisfy even the poor with bread, Ps. 132:15. (2.) A lasting memorial of the manna which was given double on the sixth day for two days. (3.) It was intended for an encouragement to all God’s people, in all ages, to trust him in the way of duty, and to cast their care upon him. There is nothing lost by faith and self-denial in our obedience.