[Heb., yoh·velʹ (or, yo·velʹ), the blast of a horn; ram’s horn].
Starting with the time of entering the Promised Land, the nation of Israel was to count six years during which time the land was sown, cultivated and harvested, but the seventh year was to be a sabbath year, during which the land must lie fallow. In the seventh year no sowing or pruning could be done. Even the growth from kernels of grain spilled during the harvest of the previous year could not be reaped, and they were not to gather the grapes of their unpruned vines. Grain and fruit that grew of itself would be available to the owner, his slaves, hired laborers, alien residents and the poor. Domestic animals and wild beasts also were allowed to eat of it. (Lev. 25:2-7; Ex. 23:10, 11) Seven of these seven-year periods (7 x 7 = 49) were to be counted, and the following year, the fiftieth, was to be a Jubilee year. It shared features of the sabbatical year. The land again had complete rest. The same regulations applied to the produce of the land. (Lev. 25:8-12) This meant that the produce of the forty-eighth year of each fifty-year cycle would be the primary source of food for that year and for a little over two years following, until the harvest of the fifty-first, or the year after the Jubilee. Jehovah’s special blessing on the sixth year resulted in a crop yield sufficient to furnish food through the sabbath year. (Lev. 25:20-22) Similarly, God provided a bountiful and sufficient harvest in the forty-eighth year to supply the nation through the sabbath year and the Jubilee that followed, if the Jews kept his law.
The Jubilee was in a sense an entire year of festival, a year of liberty. The keeping of it would demonstrate Israel’s faith in their God Jehovah and would be a time of thanksgiving and happiness in his provisions.
It was on the tenth day of the seventh month (in the month of Tishri), on the Day of Atonement, that the horn (Shoh·pharʹ, or Sho·pharʹ, a curved animal’s horn) was sounded, proclaiming liberty throughout the land. This meant freedom for the Hebrew slaves, many of whom had sold themselves because of debt. Such release normally would not come until the seventh year of servitude (Ex. 21:2), but the Jubilee provided liberty even for those who had not yet served for six years. All hereditary land possessions that had been sold (usually because of financial reverses) were returned, and each man returned to his family and his ancestral possession. No family was to sink into the depths of perpetual poverty. Every family was to have its honor and respect. Even one who squandered his substance could not forever lose his inheritance for his posterity. After all, the land was really Jehovah’s, and the Israelites themselves were alien residents and settlers from Jehovah’s standpoint. (Lev. 25:23, 24) If the nation kept God’s laws, then, as he said: “No one should come to be poor among you.”—Lev. 25:8-10, 13; Deut. 15:4, 5.
By reason of the Jubilee law none of the land could be sold in perpetuity. God provided that if a man sold any land of his hereditary possession, the sale price was to be gauged according to the number of years left until the Jubilee. The same rate was in effect when hereditary land was repurchased by its owner. In effect, a sale of land, therefore, was actually only the sale of the use of the land and its produce for the number of years left until Jubilee year. (Lev. 25:15, 16, 23-28) This applied to houses in unwalled settlements, which were counted as the open country, but houses in walled cities were not included in property returned at Jubilee. Exceptions to this were the houses of the Levites, whose only possessions were the houses and the pasture grounds around the Levite cities. These had their houses returned at Jubilee; the pasture ground of Levite cities could not be sold.—Lev. 25:29-34.
The wonderful provision of the Jubilee year can better be appreciated when one considers, not only the beneficial results to the individual Israelites, but especially the effect on the nation as a whole. When the Jubilee arrangement was properly observed, the nation was restored in the Jubilee year to the full and proper theocratic state that God purposed and established at the beginning. Government was on a sound basis. The national economy would always be stable and the nation would have no crushing debt. (Deut. 15:6) The Jubilee brought about a stable standard of land values and also prevented a great internal debt and its resultant false prosperity, bringing inflation, deflation and business depression.
The Jubilee law, when obeyed, preserved the nation from gravitating to the sad state that we observe today in many lands, where there are virtually only two classes, the extremely rich landed property owners and the extremely poor, “serfs,” “sharecroppers” and the like. The benefits to the individual strengthened the nation, for none would be underprivileged and crushed into unproductiveness by a bad economic situation, but all could contribute their talents and abilities to the national welfare. With Jehovah providing blessings of the yield of the ground and with the education that was provided, Israel, while obedient, would enjoy the perfect government and prosperity that only the true theocracy could provide.—Isa. 33:22.
The Law was read to the people on sabbath years, particularly during the Festival of Booths or Ingathering. (Deut. 31:10-12) They should thereby have been drawn closer to Jehovah and should have maintained their freedom. Jehovah warned the Israelites that they would suffer tragedy if they were disobedient and repeatedly ignored his laws (which included those pertaining to the sabbath and Jubilee years).—Lev. 26:27-45.
Starting the count of years with the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land, their first Jubilee year began in Tishri of 1424 B.C.E. (Lev. 25:2-4, 8-10) Between the time of entering the Promised Land in 1473 B.C.E. and the fall of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., the Israelites were obligated to celebrate seventeen Jubilees. But it is a sad commentary on their history that they did not appreciate Jehovah as their King. They eventually violated his commands, including the sabbath laws, and suffered the loss of the blessings he arranged for them. Their failure brought reproach on God before the nations of the world and hindered them from realizing the excellence of his theocratic government.—2 Chron. 36:20, 21.
There are allusions to a symbolic meaning of the Jubilee arrangement in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Jesus Christ said he came to “preach a release to the captives.” He said: “Lord of the sabbath is what the Son of man is,” and shortly thereafter on a sabbath day he restored a man’s withered hand to a sound condition. The apostle Paul points forward to the time when “the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Luke 4:16-18; Matt. 12:8-13; Rom. 8:20, 21; see SABBATH YEAR.