THE LAND LAWS OF JEHOVAH
Little understood, hidden away in an obscure book, stated in unfamiliar, almost obsolete, language, there lies a piece of statesmanship as remarkable as any the world has ever seen; an enactment that goes to the root of all social problems and political perplexities; a legislative enactment not human, but Divine; and a statute without a parallel in the legislation of any nation in the world. It is the Law of Jubilee. All wealth ultimately depends on the land; as there will never be any process by which man can live on manufactured foods, the land remains the basis of all wealth, all monopoly, all subsistence; and this single land law of Jehovah, without a counterpart on the history of jurisprudence, it has been said, "there are no words to express the wonder felt by the student of social science as he first measures the significance of the law of Jubilee" (T. T. Munger).*
[* "There are perhaps in the whole ancient world no institutions bearing comparison with the Hebrew year of Jubilee, either in comprehensiveness or in loftiness of principle" (Kalisch).]
Now the fundamental law, on which the whole social and political legislation of Jehovah was based, was the proprietorship of God: all the soil was God's; and all the purchasers of land were no more than leasehold tenants. "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is MINE: for ye are strangers and sojourners with ME" (Lev. 25: 23). When Joshua assigned the land, it was allotted, not so much to individuals, as to the families or clans who worked the allotment, but only for the half century for which it was allotted. When land was sold, no title could be given with the property, nor could the freehold be parted with; the sole land-owner was Jehovah; the 'usufruct,' as lawyers say, - the right to the use of the produce - was all that could pass from man to man; under Jehovah's land laws, men were only 'tenants of God.' So fundamental was this law, that every fifty years, by a kind of benevolent and bloodless revolution, the whole land reverted to Jehovah; all tenancies ceased; and the original tenants, to whom God had given it by lot, re-entered into possession. It was not Capitalism, under which the soil is owned by individuals in perpetuity: it was not Communism, under which all land belongs to the people or to the State: it was the Divine original and unchanging FACT - that the globe is God's; and that the fundamental economic law of the world is this, - "THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S, and the fullness" - all the economic wealth - "thereof; THE WORLD and they that dwell therein" (Ps. 24: 1).*
[* "The fundamental thought is: Jehovah is the Lord of the land, with all its blessings, with its soil and its harvests, with its inheritances and its dwellings, with its rich and its poor, with its free and its slaves, its roads and its byways" (Lange). Psalm 24: 1 was selected and inscribed over the London Stock Exchange by the Prince Consort.]
So every fifty years there was a great and bloodless revolution before miscarriage and wrong had eaten into society like an incurable cancer. "Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year" - from the tenth day of the first month of the first year to the tenth day of the first month of the forty-ninth year is exactly six hundred 'lunations,' or cycles of the moon - "in this year of JUBILEE ye shall return every man unto his possession." Purchased land was paid for according to its proximity to the Jubilee: the price rose or fell according to the remaining length of the lease: so that, when it reverted to the original owner in the fiftieth year, the purchaser had lost nothing, for through the yield of the annual harvests he had recovered all that he had paid for the land. In the economic sphere, it was like the revolution of the heavenly bodies in the physical sphere: as the sun varies in sunrise and sunset daily, yet this day next year it will start afresh exactly where it does to-day - so every fifty years everybody, and all society generally, started again with a clean sheet. Under God as the Land-Lord, all members of the community were tenants of God; and (for He willed that all men should have free bodies and unencumbered estates, to serve Him), the land was for all. "Replenish the earth, and subdue it" (Gen. 1: 28). Moreover, if a man, having become bankrupt, had sold himself into slavery as an honourable means of paying his debt, at the Jubilee he was restored to perfect freedom: for all human compacts were torn up, became wastepaper, at the blast of the Jubilee trumpet. Everything breathes a perfect freedom conditioned by fundamental law. It was the great reajustment. "Just as all the sins and uncleanness of the whole congregation, which had remained unatoned for and uncleansed in the course of the year, were to be wiped away by the all-embracing expiation of the yearly recurring day of atonement and an undisturbed relation to be restored between Jehovah and His people; so, by the appointment of the year of jubilee, the disturbance and confusion of the divinely appointed relations, which had been introduced in the course of time through the inconstancy of all human or earthly things, were to be removed by the appointment of the year of Jubilee, and the kingdom brought back to its original condition" (Keil).
Now the political and economic consequences were necessarily enormous. This land law made vast accumulations of wealth impossible, and the land could not accumulate in a few hands: it established a kind of peasant proprietorship which kept all in work and in food: it prevented the permanent ruin of families through the misfortune, or incompetence, or profligacy of individuals: it restored all land periodically, free of all encumbrances and trammels, to its original tenants. The bedrock fact was that property was made for man, not man for property. Automatically, the rich could never become too rich, and the poor could never become too poor. One generation might squander its possessions, but the next generation did not inherit the ruin. It was a law instinct with mercy, extraordinarily far-sighted, filling the horizon of the bankrupt and the unfortunate with undying hope; for it gave every prodigal and every spendthrift another opportunity to recover; and it wove into the very textures of the State the promise of that golden day - the Jubilee of the Ages - when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11: 9). The Law of Jubilee settled at the outset economic problems which no other nation has ever solved through ages of struggle and revolution.*
[* Houses in cities, being the product of man's own hands, necessary for business purposes in which locality is often of the first importance, and as not in the original grant, were exempt, as personal property rather than landed interest; but in the country, where shelter must go with the land, house property also reverted to its owners at Jubilee. Thus allowance was made for the growth of cities and of civilisation: for if every town house - shops and business establishments - were periodically swamped in a returning migration, commerce would be at a standstill; whereas the option given of buying back the house within a year could effect a change before a business was established.]
we are confronted with the fact that these land laws of Jehovah were all a
gigantic failure. After four centuries of obedience, during which the
land enjoyed its Sabbaths and therefore its primitive fertility, the whole land
legislation of Jehovah lapsed: the soil, over-driven, and never left fallow at
stated intervals, as Jehovah had commanded, from being one of the most fertile
soils in the world, became capricious and uncertain, and was visited with
famine after famine; until God was compelled
to give in judgement what men refused to provide by obedience.
"And you will I scatter among the nations, and
your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall
be a waste. Then shall the
land enjoy her Sabbaths, as long as it lieth
desolate; as long as it lieth desolate it shall have
rest; even the rest which it had not in your Sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it"
(Lev. 26: 33). Barren
this is exactly the tragedy which has also happened, on a gigantic scale, with
all mankind, over the whole globe. Men have seized earth, regardless of
its Great Land-Lord, and oblivious or incredulous that they are mere 'tenants
of God': consequently a writ of ejectment has gone forth; the execution of that writ alone
lingers. "The Son of Man shall send
forth His angels, and they shall gather out
of HIS KINGDOM all things that cause stumbling" - all evil institutions - "and them that do iniquity" - the incorrigible causes of social miscarriage -
"and then shall the righteous shine forth as the
13: 41). So that Christians who
endeavour to put the land laws right, or the corn laws, or a thousand and one
other economic laws, are three thousand years behind the time: the writ of ejectment
has gone forth: we await Jubilee. The late Lord Shaftesbury said: "I have had more to do with remedial legislation than most
men; but I have observed that while the legislation has improved, the men have
grown worse and worse." The
So then the Jubilee is the supreme forecast, under the Law, of the Eternal Ages. The Sabbatic Year forestalled it (Lev. 25: 1-8), as foreshadowing, not a new beginning, but the concluding millennium of EARTH'S history: after the Kingdom closes, rounding off the seven sevens of the old earth - and with nothing (in typology) beyond - the Fiftieth Year breaks on the shoreless ocean of eternity. "On the great Day of Atonement," as Lange says, "after the full accomplishment of propitiation, the trombone was to sound through all the land to announce the Year of Jubilee as a year of freedom - the 'year of liberty' (Ezek. 46: 17) - the highest feast of the labourer, and of nature, the redemption of lost inheritances, the ransom of the enslaved, the year of the restoration of all things." Calvary is computed to have fallen in a Jubilee year: on it alone is based the immovable joys of the Holy Year (Lev. 25: 10) that will cease neither in days nor in holiness. The first blast of the Trumpet will be the knell of all servitude and the herald of all joy.*
[* "So while the [millennial] Kingdom (like the Sabbatic Year) has sacrifices and feasts (Zech. 14: 21), of Eternity it is recorded (like the Jubilee Year that no sacrifices or convocations peculiar to it) - 'I saw no temple therein' (Rev. 21: 22)]
Are there thunders moaning in the distance?
Are there spectres moving in the darkness?
Trust the Hand of Light will lead His people
Till the thunders pass, the spectres vanish,
And the Light is Victor, and the darkness
Dawns into the Jubilee of the Ages.