Saturday, 28 November 2015

Rebuttal of ‘Five Myths about Jubilee’

The article Five Myths about Jubilee is enclosed in the square brackets. My response is interspersed in between the paragraphs enclosed in the square brackets.

[Found in Leviticus 25, the biblical practice of Jubilee is becoming ever more prominent in discussions about justice, poverty, and debt relief.]

Jubilee is indeed found in Leviticus 25. That it is found in the Old Testament does not mean that it does not apply, or should not be applied in terms of its underlying principles.

[Many evangelical authors mention Jubilee as a biblical example of debt forgiveness and redistribution of land. It has also gained popular attention in the news media.]

The purpose of Jubilee is debt forgiveness to teach a spiritual lesson about forgiveness. It is not a means of having one’s “rights”, or endorsement of “rights” which the world, and also many Christians in the west would like to make it out to be.

[Jubilee has been offered by several sources as a solution to our current economic crisis. At Forbes, Erik Kain asked, “Could a debt jubilee help kickstart the economy?” Reuters profiled economists who are seriously considering Jubilee as a tool for ending the recession, and the Huffington Post linked the practice to the demands of Occupy Wall Street. In an age of crushing federal and consumer debt, a practice that forgives financial burdens is naturally becoming quite popular.]

The issue is not whether it is popular with people. The issue is what it can teach people about seeking the righteousness of God. One must be very careful with something when the world gets onto something. Simply because the world regards an act as wrong does not means that act is right. Rather, where one needs to be careful is the reasoning and motive one has in getting onto a particular moral issue, whether it be pornography, prostitution or usury. That few in the world are onto usury and debt forgiveness gives the Church a good chance to lead the way in fighting the evil, without having to deal with perverted ways of fighting the evil by using worldly, evil carnal means. The Church will be more likely to be privileged to not have to deal with the frustration of doing so, as yet.

[But what is the context for the scriptural practice of Jubilee?]

The context of a particular passage or verse in the Bible is often used by many in the modern Church to contextualise it away. One must be very careful when a person speaks of the ‘context’. Whenever a person of the modern Church in the west speaks of context, he is usually trying to contextualise away a verse, or bend it to suit his preferred norm of practice.

Of course, every verse needs to be read in context. This is to done to understand what is means for what it says, not to bend Scripture to fit one’s own theology, or preferred practice or norm.  There are many verses in the Bible that many in the modern Church, which has so influenced by postmodernism has tried to contextualise away. They include the alleged exception to prohibition of divorce, on the grounds of adultery, submission to governments, submission to employers, submission to husbands, and of course, Jesus’ words on no one being able to serve both God and mammon.

[ When the Israelites reached the Promised Land, God distributed land to the 12 tribes (Joshua 13:7, 23:4). The purpose of the Jubilee law was to keep the land in the hands of the tribes and families to which he had given land in the first place.]

By what authority is the conclusion that the purpose of the Jubilee Law was to keep the land in the hands of the tribes and families to which he had given land in the first place made? It appears that the author of this article is making this claim on the basis of Joshua 13:7 which says: “Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance unto the nine tribes, and the half tribe of Manasseh and Joshua 23:4 which says: “Behold, I have divided unto you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, even unto the great sea westward” given that he quotes Joshua 13:7, 23:4, just before stating what he mistakenly believes was the purpose of the Jubilee Law.

The purpose of Jubilee Law is not to keep the land in the hands of the tribes and families to which he had given land in the first place as the author of the article claims.  That Leviticus 25:10 says:And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family” does not mean that is the purpose of the Jubilee. Rather, that is what was to be done are provided by Leviticus 25:10.  

The context is that in Old Testament Israel, people who could not repay their debts were to sell themselves to their creditor to work off the debt.  They were separated from their families as such.  The Jubilee was a seventh Sabbath of years, a year of rest as indicated by Leviticus 25:1-8. Rather, the purpose is stated in Leviticus 25:17 indicated by the word ‘therefore’ as a conjunctive. It says: “Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.”  

If the purpose of Jubilee was to keep the land in the families of Israel, it would not say “Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God”.  Rather, the purpose is to teach people a lesson about being forgiving towards one another.

[In Leviticus 25:8-10, a ram’s horn is to be blown on the day of atonement of the 50th year (or the 49th), and each family is to return to their property. Verses 15-16 details how this process should work:

You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. 16 If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.]

This is not relevant to explaining the purpose of Jubilee which the author is attempting to do.

Today, many myths persist about this ancient practice. We’ll deal with five of the major ones.

Myth 1: Jubilee means a forgiveness of debt.

[It is clear in the Old Testament text and to many commentators that in Leviticus 25, Jubilee does not involve forgiveness of debt, at least in the way we normally use the term.]

Consensus does not equate to truth. It is simply illogical to think that. The use of the phrase ‘at least in the way we normally use the term’ indicates that the author is somewhat unsure about his claim that the idea that Jubilee means a forgiveness of debt is a myth.

[There is no debt forgiven because it has already been paid.]

Where does the Bible indicate that the debt has already been paid, therefore not outstanding? The Bible does not in any way indicate that the debt has been paid.

[Let me explain. If Israelite family members have a debt they can ask the person farming their land for a lump sum payment priced according to the number of years before the Jubilee. The price would be determined by the projected amount of crops to be yielded prior to the Jubilee. To put it in modern terms, if you had a debt of $250,000, there are five years prior to the Jubilee, and each crop is worth $50,000, then the “buyer” would give you $250,000 for the rights to farm the land, and at the time of Jubilee you would receive your land back because the debt had been paid off.]

Even if it was the case that family members can ask for a lump sum payment to be priced, it does not mean that the purpose of Jubilee is not debt forgiveness.  Debt is debt. It does not magically disappear by asking for a lump sum payment prior to particular due date.

[So the “buyer” does not really own the land but leases it. The debt is paid off by the land (crops). We don’t know exactly how the price was determined for each year of crops, given the uncertainty due to bad weather or other factors that could lead to a poor or lost crop. Perhaps the price took into account that some years would be more profitable than others.]

This is irrelevant to explaining the purpose of Jubilee.

[At the time of Jubilee you would of course rejoice that your debt had been paid and your land returned to your full use, but you would not thank the leaser for “forgiving” your debt.]

Jubilee is indeed a time of liberation from debt which is why Leviticus 25:10 says “And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants.”

[ The Jubilee declaration might be analogous to a “mortgage burning party.” You would celebrate with friends that this significant debt was paid.]

It is not merely analogous. It is precisely an equivalent to a mortgage burning.

[The debt is not “forgiven” or “cancelled” because it is paid.]

Nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that the debt had been paid. If it was, why does the Bible tell us that each shall return to his family (Leviticus 25:10) and each shall return to his possession (Leviticus 25:13)? A person of Old Testament Israel left his family and forsook his possession when he sold himself to slavery. There is no other indication as to why a person would do this in Old Testament Israel.

[Numerous commentators endorse this understanding. For instance, Derek Tidball says, Purchasing the land was like purchasing a lease.” [1] And R. K. Harrison says, “Only the produce of the land could thus properly be bought or sold.” [2]]

That numerous commentators endorse a particular understanding of any passage of the Bible does not make it right which appears to be what this author is implying.

Myth 2: Jubilee involves a redistribution of wealth (land).

[I’ve heard it said that Jubilee is the paramount example of a mandatory, legal (government) redistribution of wealth. So the argument goes: God required by law that land be redistributed every 50 years.]

Alright, let’s examine the claim.

[However, if Jubilee did not involve debt forgiveness, and instead celebrated a debt paid off, then there is no redistribution of wealth. There is no redistribution because the land never left the ownership of the original family to whom God gave the land.]

God is the owner of the land in Old Testament Israel as much as He is owner of all the earth today. O, how much is humanity a great respecter of persons, thinking people have the “right” to what God has given them? People love to think that they have “rights” and “own” what they have. Such is a vile arrogance and pride of humanity.

Since God is the owner of all the land on earth in the New Testament as much as the Old Testament, and forevermore, the whole argument that the original family has ownership is absolute rubbish. It is a manifestation of the typical pride of human beings, and such persons being under the spirit of mammon. 

[Jubilee keeps land and wealth in the same place they started. Wealth and land are not redistributed to a different family. They are returned to the same one according to God’s original distribution.]

It is true that the result of the Law of Jubilee is that God’s distribution of land and wealth, in which He is the owner and the people are merely the stewards, is that it is maintained.  

Myth 3: Jubilee shows the relative nature of private property.

[This myth purports that since God owns the land, there are no absolute rights to private property. If there are no absolute rights to private property—-land or wealth—-this provides warrant for the government to take private property and redistribute it.]

God does own all things on earth (Psalm 24:1). To think otherwise would be to deny His Word. Even your breath is from God, not from you, and it is totally undeserved. Since God owns all things, no human owns anything, whether it be an individual or government.

The whole idea that no human having “rights” to private property is to claim that government has a right to take it and redistribute it is false. It is illogical and based on the false dichotomy of private property versus government property. No!

The real dichotomy is private property for each individual versus common property owned by God and given to each individual as He desires. The doctrine of common property is by no means a claim that government owns the land. Rather, it is the claim that God owns it all and distributes it to each individual as He sees it by orchestrating all things as He pleases.

[Actually, Jubilee honors property rights by giving land back to its original owners.]

The original and only true owner of the land is God and God alone. O, how arrogant and proud humanity is in thinking that what it has been given in owned by it!

[God owns the land, but has given the Promised Land to the tribes and families of Israel with the condition that private property cannot be sold, squandered, or given away permanently. The property rights remain with the tribe or family that was given the land in the first place.]

Yes, God owns the land. Full stop. There is no ‘but’ to it. End of story. That a person adds a ‘but’ to the claim that God owns the land shows that he thinks somehow that humans share ownership of the land with God. This is exactly what the problem is with anyone who thinks makes such a claim.

[Jubilee underlines the value and importance of private property for the tribes of Israel. The family is not permanently deprived of their land. Rather, private property rights in Israel were established permanently and enforced by the practice of Jubilee.]

The Jubilee does not underline the value and importance of private property for the tribes of Israel. This is a humanistic interpretation of the Bible that seeks to justify private property, which is the idea that what one possesses is for oneself, not God. No one can serve both themselves and God. By no means! 1 Peter 4:1-2 makes it clear: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us[a] in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

The doctrine of “private property” is a doctrine of demons.  It appeals to the pride of life and the flesh, to the desire to have what one does not have, or is entitled to. No human is entitled to a single breath, for all of us deserve to burn in Hell right now.

Myth 4: Jubilee leads to income equality.

[Some argue that the periodic “redistribution” of land at Jubilee kept the rich from gaining more wealth, and the poor from descending deeper into poverty. But there is nothing in the passage that necessarily prevents income inequality.]

The issue is not a matter of income equality or no income equality. The issue is to forgive debt as symbolic of God’s forgiveness of our sin-debt owed to Him. The Jubilee Law is a foreshadowing of the forgiveness of our sin-debt in the New Testament by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  It is meant to be spiritual lesson to the Nation of Israel which God chose to be a Holy people.

[Jubilee certainly did stop any one person or small group of people from buying up most or all of the land, those “who add field to field, until there is no more room” (Isaiah 5:8). What Jubilee did not do was prevent some people from becoming wealthier than others. They could buy houses in towns that were then permanent possessions (Leviticus 25:30). If they made a profit during their lease, they could lease even more land during the next 50 years.]

This is irrelevant to what is the true meaning of Jubilee, which is concerned with the spiritual lesson of forgiveness of debts, to forgive others as Christ has forgiven you  (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32).

[The primary intent of the law is not economic equality.]

No one, that is, no reasonable Christian is claiming that the intent of the law is economic equality, a vile doctrine of envy from the Pit of Hell.

[ Rather, God wanted to prevent the Israelites from losing their ability to enjoy the Promised Land. He promised his people freedom from slavery, and a land flowing with “milk and honey,” where they could prosper and enjoy life, using their creativity to farm the land and enjoy the fruits of their labors.]

Yes, this is true. However, it has nothing to do with this discussion.

[The purpose of Jubilee was not income equality, but rather that no Israelites would permanently lose the enjoyment of sitting under “his vine and under his fig tree” (Micah 4:4).]

No one is claiming that the purpose of the Jubilee is income equality, a vile, despicable doctrine of envy from the Pit of Hell.

Myth 5: Jubilee is a universally applicable principle.

[Actually, Jubilee applied only to Israelites. This is another significant point almost entirely omitted from the normal narrative about Jubilee.]

Even though the Law of Jubilee only applied to Old Testament Israel as a civil law, it does not in any way mean that the principles underlying it, which are spiritual, godly and heavenly, should not be applied. In fact, because the principles underlying it are spiritual, godly, and heavenly, they can and do teach people how to live a righteous life because they are wise.

[Non-Israelites might have been able to lease land or hire indentured servants. They could not permanently own land (Leviticus 25:47). Only Israelites could own land (Leviticus 25:44-46).]

This is irrelevant to the argument.

[ There was no redistribution or return of land to foreigners. The poorest people of the land—-widows, orphans, and aliens—-were to be included in feasts, but they did not have property rights outside the walled cities.]

If they had no property “rights” outside the walled cities, so what? So what! There is no such thing as a “right” or “property right”. If one does not believe in economic or income equality, as the author appears to be emphasising is not an issue, he should also not believe in “property rights” to be consistent in his morality. This is because the doctrine of “income equality” and “property rights” are both doctrines of demons.

Jubilee and the State


[This redemptive-historical approach to understanding Jubilee has the advantage of avoiding the debates about capitalism or socialism.]

An even better approach to avoid the useless, worthless debates about capitalism or socialism would be to regard all the earth as owned by God and God alone, and that no human being as any rights, whether it be an individual or a government.  No human has any “rights” as we would all like to think out of our own pride. Full stop. There is not even a ground for even thinking about what system there should be using this proper Biblical approach, as opposed to the redemptive-historical approach.

[Given the complexities and misunderstandings surrounding Jubilee, the present-day applications of this practice are not immediately clear.]

The Bible is an instruction book God gives to the Christian for instruction, correction, reproof. 2 Timothy 3:16 says: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. As such, if one truly seeks to understand it, there should be no “complexities” and “misunderstandings” of the Bible where God chooses to give a person spiritual revelation. Jesus said regarding receiving good things from God: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). This includes spiritual revelation of His Word.

[They are not as easy to interpret and apply as those who perpetuate these myths want to maintain.]

Those who want to use the redemptive-historical approach simply have a fear of the doctrine of debt forgiveness and common God-owned property. They fear the idea of debt forgiveness and common God-owned property because they simply just can’t accept them in their hearts. Their heart is enslaved to the spirit of mammon, which is why they think that debt forgiveness and the idea that God owns all the property, such that they do not own any is unacceptable to them. That is why the accuse those who believe that the purpose of Jubilee is debt forgiveness as people who are perpetuating “myths”.

[But it is clear that Jubilee cannot be used to defend redistribution of wealth by the state.]

This is not even relevant to the issue of Jubilee.

[Of course, even if the Bible doesn’t require the state to redistribute wealth, the state may still do so. Whether the state is the best vehicle to meet the needs of poor people is a separate issue.]

It is wrong to mix Biblical theology with the earthly doctrine of wealth distribution. The doctrine of “wealth distribution” is a vile doctrine based on envy. All should be satisfied with what they have, and envious for that of others.

 Belief in “wealth distribution”, that is, that wealth must be distributed by those who have more to those who have less, out of a compulsion or obligation, is a manifestation of envy. Such a belief is a secularised form of the doctrine of “tithing”, which purports that a person must give some of his money to others out of compulsion or obligation, rather than out of love.  Both the doctrines of “wealth distribution” and “tithing” purport that giving is to be law-driven, as opposed to being love-driven. The only difference is that the former is a ‘secular’ doctrine, while the latter is a ‘religious’ doctrine.

[There is a case to be made that the state should provide a safety net for the poor. But state involvement does not absolve Christians of individual or corporate responsibility.]

The governing authorities are ordained by God to be instruments to execute God’s wrath against evildoers (Romans 13:1-4). Nowhere in the Bible does it say that governing authorities should provide a ‘safety net’ to the poor or vulnerable. In practice, welfare states are not really concerned about poor at all. They are only seeking to make them dependent on them.

[ Certainly Christians must be concerned about the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan because God requires us to do so. Jesus says that whoever serves one of the “least of these” serves him (Matthew 25:45).]

Agreed. This should be done by the Church, because only the Church can be expected to do so for it is righteous.  No other earthly institution is righteous.

[Biblical commands are not given to the impersonal, secular state, but to Christians to care personally for those in need with our time and treasure.]

The Bible is written to the true follower of Christ. However, this does not mean that the unbelievers are not bound to the Moral Law of God, or that the governing authorities can do as they choose. They will give an account to God for their actions.