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Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land (Leviticus 25)

These words of verse 10 are engraved on the American Liberty Bell, a traditional symbol of U.S. freedom that sits outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While it was first rung on July 8, 1776, to celebrate the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, it was actually commissioned by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly in 1751 to proclaim the Jubilee year. (Ironically, the bell was first cast in London.) In any event, it was seen by Revolutionary America as a symbol of freedom from tyranny. And the verse quoted is quite fitting in that regard.

In actuality, the proclamation of "liberty" in the 50th year specifically referred to the fact that all debts were canceled, all Israelites who had sold themselves into slavery were freed, and all land went back to its original owners. The phrase "proclaim liberty" also occurs in Isaiah 61:1, where it is proclaimed to the "captives," along with "the opening of the prison to those who are bound." To whom is this referring? Those who are in "the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:26), i.e., the world at large. This is also seen as proclaiming "the acceptable year of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:2), another name for the Jubilee. When Christ began His earthly ministry, He explained that He was fulfilling these very verses in Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21). We should easily see how this relates to the issue of debt and servitude. The penalty earned for sin is compared to debt in the Scriptures. And in Romans 6, the apostle Paul explains that the way of sin is actually a form of bondage or slavery. It is the debt of sin that has separated mankind from his intended inheritance.

Land, in this picture, is quite important. Notice this from The Nelson Study Bible on "Redeeming the Land": "An ancient Israelite was in desperate straits if he had to sell his family's land. Both food and income came from the proceeds of the land. Dispossessed family members would quickly become someone else's servants. Most people would work hard to avoid such a situation. However, illness, crop failure, or other misfortunes could force a person into debt to the point that his only alternative was to sell his land. Even in this distressing situation there was hope. A dispossessed family could be saved from poverty and hardship:

"First, a redeeming relative could redeem (or buy back) the land (Lev. 25:25). From the proceeds, the man could pay off his creditors. The land stayed in the extended family; the poor family stayed on their land; and eventually the redeemer was repaid. The redeemer was the nearest male relative. If he could not fulfill this privilege and obligation, it passed down the kinship line until someone could. This is the scenario of Ruth 4: Boaz acted as a kinsman-redeemer and bought Naomi's field.

"If a man did not have any relative who would redeem his land, he could save enough to buy it back himself. The purchase price would be prorated according to the number of years left until the next Jubilee year, the fiftieth year (25:26, 27). A man might have to wait until the Jubilee year to reclaim the land of his inheritance (25:28). Even in this most desperate situation there was the hope and promise that at the Jubilee year the family would be able to return debt-free to their land and make a fresh start.

"The law of redemption and the law of the Jubilee year are vivid symbols of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross for every person [1 Corinthians 6:20; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18—19]. What our first father and mother lost in the Garden [i.e., man's dwelling in the paradise of God and opportunity to eat from the Tree of Life], we cannot retrieve by any means [on our own]. We cannot go back to Eden [of ourselves]. Yet Jesus Christ, our elder Brother, redeemed it for us. We have been evicted from our inheritance, but in the Year of Jubilee, we will be allowed to return (cf. Is. 51:3; Ezek. 36:33-35; Rev. 2:7; 22:1-2, 14). We will live with Jesus in Paradise." Moreover, we will at last inherit the whole universe with Him (Romans 8:16-19; Hebrews 2:8-9; Revelation 21:7], which was God's intent for mankind from the beginning (compare Deuteronomy 4:19). What a glorious redemption—of both us and our heritage.

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