There’s a reason why the New Testament is placed after the Old Testament in our Bibles; and this reason is not just that the events in the Old Testament took place before the events in the New Testament. This reason that I am particularly referring to also happens to be the reason why Leviticus 26 is written after Leviticus 25 (Leviticus 25 outlines the instructions for observing the year of the Jubilee while Leviticus 26 outlines the consequences of obeying or disobeying these instructions). This reason that I am referring to is recorded in the book of Romans:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
So, what does this have to do with the debate surrounding the observance (or celebration) of a Jubilee year in Kenya? Everything. (PS: For those who may not be aware of this, Kenya is celebrating 49 years since becoming a Republic, today) I have been a part of this debate for a number of times now. On one side, you have people who are persuaded that the principles of land and wealth redistribution outlined in Leviticus make economic sense. And they are right, it does make economic sense – in theory. On another side, you have people who are persuaded that the Jubilee was exclusively commanded to Israel and is not applicable universally. And they too are right, the requirements of Jubilee, even in the Old Testament times, only applied to the Israelite land owners and not any other foreign land owner. Then there is a third group, where I have often been accused of camping, that claims the Gospel is all that matters and that we need to stop disillusioning ourselves with this Kenyan Jubilee nonsense and preach the Gospel. Man’s problem is sin and the only effective solution is personal repentance.
I am aware that I may have caricatured those positions for the sake of argument (and in order to shorten the blog-post), but that is mainly because what I am going to be addressing in this post considers and includes all the above positions. I am not dismissing them as invalid. That is why I am not even going to go into the details of Leviticus 25 and what it says, my focus is more on an over-arching principle, not the subjective details.
The Bible contains a lot of good advise about life. It gives us guiding principles on how to relate with our neighbors, friends and family. The Bible, especially the book of Proverbs, also has many good universal truths that are applicable to all human relationships, irrespective of a person’s religion, creed or political affiliation. I am particularly intrigued by what Paul says in Galatians 5:23. After outlining the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” he proceeds to make a very bold, almost bigoted declaration. He says that “Against such things, THERE IS NO LAW”. I have always found that astonishing. How did Paul know that there is no culture or society or time period in which people would consider peace, or patience or kindness a vice rather than a virtue? I personally consider this Pauline declaration to be one of the many proofs that the Bible is inspired by God.
My point in highlighting this is that, while there are many rules and regulations that we don’t have a problem leaving “to the Israelites” for application, there are many others that we borrow from the OT, because of their universal applicability. Especially the moral code. So, what does this have to do with Jubilee and its application to Kenya? I can think of three implications:
1. The Jubilee principle makes economic sense. If applied to the letter, it may save many economies from the dangers of capitalism and lead to equitable wealth in a country. However, this only remains true in theory. The Old Testament Israel was not able to completely adhere to these regulations (or any other regulations for that matter); neither are the present day Jews living by it. So, let us not propose its principles with an authority that presents those opposed to it as being directly or deliberately disobedient to God. Why? [Romans 3:11-12…20-24]
2. The original Jubilee principles were commanded to (and expected of) the nation of Israel. There is no record that shows that God required this of their neighbors. Even in the cases when God required the moral uprightness of foreign nations, these economic regulations were not part of the package. Does this mean that other nations cannot use the principles outlined in Leviticus 25 in their own countries? No, it doesn’t. They may, but just like Israel, they will not successfully implement them, why? [Romans 3:11-12…20-24]
3. The Gospel is “all” that matters in the sense that the Gospel is what matters primarily. Without a change of heart, there is no hope for successfully obeying ANY of the commands of God in the Bible. Without holiness, no one can please God. If the point of recognizing and striving to push and apply the Jubilee principles in our economy is to glorify God, then we must seek to glorify God in His own terms and in light of the realities that God Himself has revealed to us. Which realities am I talking about? [Romans 3:11-12…20-24]
So, what about CELEBRATING JUBILEE? Frankly, I have no idea why Jubilee is being celebrated in light of Leviticus 25. Leviticus 25 is only outlining regulations that require people to “do” something. It is not a mere festivity with no expectations of the people receiving the benefits. The passage is an actual outline of economic shifts that “will require” people to redistribute property (land) and sort of “reset” the economy. But this is not what I see happening today in Kenya. What I am seeing is people celebrating and making declarations about what God will do for Kenya (mind you, He seems to be doing everything except redeeming them from their sins). That is the exact opposite of what is happening in Leviticus 25. There is only one reason and one biblical justification for celebrating Jubilee in any “biblical” sense: The Gospel.
If our celebration of Jubilee “symbolizes” our celebration of the freedom that Christ purchased for us by dying on the Cross, then rock on! If our celebration of Jubilee “symbolizes” the spiritual benefits that come with this new-found freedom in Jesus Christ, then party on! But if there is no dying for sin, no repentance of sin and no liberation from sin, then there is no reason for celebration; only a fearful expectation of hell. To “symbolize” anything less or anything else than the Cross in the name of Jubilee (and say that it is a biblical observance) is to waste time engaging in hyper-spiritualized, almost cultic religiosity.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” [Hebrews 10:27]
For the fame of His name,