Lee Van Ham explains the biblical origins and goals of the Jubilee, an alternative vision of economics and life that stood in opposition to the empires/superpowers of the day— deliverance from slavery/domination at the hands of Pharaoh in Egypt being a foundational event in Hebrew identity.
Lee Van Ham recalls asking his bible professor in his senior year about the Year of Jubilee and was told that it was an idea that “we don’t really know what to do with, a quaint idea that no one was sure was ever practiced”. This answer did not satisfy him and he felt there had to be more. The practice of Jubilee appears difficult to those supporting the ideology of a dominating economy, for anyone supporting the superpower idea. All creation feels the oppression of dominating power structures.
Jubilee is about recovering eyesight, for those blinded by our culture, for those who want guidance about how to live an acceptable year of the Lord. It’s difficult for many people who read the Bible to think that the Bible has an economic model. Biblical economics has been thought of more in terms of stewardship, success and ethics within the current model rather than supplying an alternative.
Just as a very privatized salvation, a very privatized economics has been adopted rather than the cooperative vision of Jesus. Jubilee is a wonderful picture of an economics that is so much better than the dominating model of empires.
Biblical eschatology is often viewed as mommy and daddy coming to rescue us, rather than a conflict in which we are engaged. The book of Revelation speaks of a battle against a dragon, against a prostitute, against Mystery Babylon the Great. Business leaders in the book of Revelation are seen as prostituting themselves.
Heaven is seen as something coming down to earth, rather than believers being taken away, as in the “left behind” version of the end. Taking up a cross and being a witness to a new order replacing the old demands a cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “The Cost of Discipleship” wrote that one could not support the Third Reich and have an effective Christian witness at the same time. We cannot follow global domination economics as practiced today and advance the Kingdom of God. There is a cost involved. Jesus and his economic thinking was contrary to the Jewish leadership who were co-opted by imperial power and the Roman Empire.
Jubilee is a deep and profound economic democracy. It’s a wonderful expression of what some of our primary American documents claim. The Jubilee economic model is “strikingly relevant”. It’s not true that we don’t know what to do with it. It challenges oppression and empire. It’s not true we don ‘t know what to do with Jubilee, that we can keep putting off what the Spirit is speaking to us. We need to let go of some entitlements and face the issue of structures of sin.