The Shuvah Project #34 — Revelation of Returning

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary. 

You are to count seven sabbatical years, seven times seven years, so that the time period of the seven sabbatical years amounts to 49. Then you are to sound a trumpet loudly in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month; you will sound it throughout your land on the Day of Atonement.

-Leviticus 25:8-9 

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s Parsha (Leviticus 25:1-26:2) contained: essentially a single chapter all about the laws of shemittah (the sabbath year) and yovel (the Jubilee).

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we wanted to know what a 1st c. CE commentary might want us to know about the laws of weekly Sabbaths, annual Festivals, year-long Sabbaths, and mid-Century resets?

To get there, we need to continue our discussion around the paradigm of Sabbath and how it ties to the Sabbath year and the Jubilee.

Rabbinic commentators point out that the Israelites haven’t left Sinai yet. Our Text starts with this fact. It’s interesting that we are reminded of Sinai now, because references to Sinai are only mentioned one time preceding this in Leviticus, way back in Leviticus 7. The Text directly calls our attention back to the Revelation at Sinai. Additionally, several verses call God’s people back to the timeline of encamping at Sinai (e.g. the Exodus from Egypt mentioned in Leviticus 25:38, 42, & 55). Moreover, the connections in the Text itself (see Section Three) force the audience to be at both the Sinai and Jubilee experience at once.

What happened in conjunction with Exodus/Sinai experiences seem vital and relevant to the Jubilee experience.

According to Rabbi Shimon b. Rabbi, the redemption from Egypt is universal freedom … a call to eternal liberty. Commenting on this, Rabbi Johanan b. Zakkai states “God’s people enter into that [liberty] with an extended blast of shofar (Exodus 19:13) on Mount Sinai, when Torah was received, without which Gods people cannot truly be free.”

-Paraphrased from Rest for the Dove

It’s as if the word of God has some power to liberate God’s people.

Rabbi Haim Sabato continues,

God gave Shabbat as a taste of another world, a world of freedom that resembles the world to come — “a sabbath for God (Exodus 20:10)”.

-from Rest for the Dove

Here, again, we see the connections between God’s word, Sabbath, and the kingdom of God.

And, Jubilee becomes the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It contains all the laws of the Sabbath Year + enslaved people go free + land goes free.

If in the sabbath year the land experiences rest then in the Jubilee the land experiences liberty. Based on these premises, Rabbi David Fohrman rewords the proclamation of Jubilee…

you shall hallow the 50th year and proclaim liberty in the land… [until the liberty overflows and effects] all inhabitants [because people are tied to the land and experience what the land experiences.]

-Rabbi David Fohrman on Leviticus 25:10

Rabbi Haim Sabato continues the connections for us by explaining redemption is “the return to original status.” Returning to family and ancestral land.

This return acts as an economic restart to Capitalism gone awry. It deeply connects to the Revelation at Sinai, because at Sinai a people were recently freed from being enslaved and they were on their way back to the land promised to their ancestors.

Jubilee is about land. It’s about freedom. Ultimately, it’s about God’s people doing all the things God promised and did for them!

Jubilee isn’t just a random reset, it’s a reminder.

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

I think the parable of the sower in Luke (8:1-21) is also connected to the Sabbath year and Jubilee. Here’s why, speirō (to sow, scatter) is used 3x in Luke 8:5 to introduce us to this whole conversation about creating space and time for God’s word. The Septuagint uses speirō in Leviticus 25:3,11,20, and 22 regarding both the Sabbath year and the Jubilee. It’s likely Jesus puts sowing God’s word into an agricultural land context because that culture is largely agrarian.

As Rabbi Immanuel Shalev, in A Spiritual Economy, put it — the laws of the Sabbath Year and Jubilee are the solutions to the problems of an agrarian economy — largely concentration of land ownership over time. Likewise, maybe Sabbath and Jubilee are solutions to the “worries, riches, and pleasures of life” that choke space and time for God’s word. And by extension, as discussed last weekfor how that word is supposed to transform God’s people to act.

But there’s more, once caught up in the accumulation of wealth and concentration of land ownership what do we do?

Just return of course. Return to the Sabbath. Return to God’s word. Return to trusting the story. Obviously, I’m biased seeing that this entire project’s intent is to invite a return. Still, I have to wonder why the author of Luke left out the Isaiah 6:10 quote when explaining why parables. You see, both Matthew and Mark Texts have Jesus quoting Isaiah 6:9-10 as evidence. And, as we’ve mentioned before, the Luke Text is written after Matthew and Mark Texts.

So, is the omission in the Luke Text purposeful? I think so.

If you read Isaiah 6:10 what is the main idea? Go read it, we’ll wait here!

To me, it’s this odd notion that God doesn’t want people to see and understand because God doesn’t want people to… return and be healed. A God not wanting those things seems really disconnected with the narrative we’ve been unpacking. But, the focus of the verse left out by the author of Luke is — returning.

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the Jubilee is all about returning. Returning enslaved persons back to their families. Returning land back to its original, ancestral owner. That same exact word, return, shows up 11 times in Leviticus 25.

It’s kind of telling.

Section Three (missing the mark):

There are likely several ways pastors miss the mark on teaching John’s Revelation. It’s hard work putting all of John’s imagery into context. While we won’t dive deep into his Revelation here, I do want to offer a theory that was formed over the course of studying this Torah portion on Jubilee.

Trumpets are everywhere in the connections regarding our Torah portion and Revelation.

In Hebrew, shofar translates as trumpet. It is the trumpet blast heard at Mount Sinai and during the pronouncement of Jubilee on the 50th Yom Kippur. Yet, tĕruwah can also translate as blast or alarm. Furthermore, yovel (the major word for Jubilee) also translates as trumpet at Mount Sinai.

What’s going on? The Revelation at Sinai, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Jubilee!

Rashi, when explaining why the 50th year is sanctified, quotes Talmudic chapters on Rosh Hashanah,

AND YE SHALL SANCTIFY [THE FIFTIETH YEAR] — when it begins they declare it holy in the court by saying: “The year is holy!” (Sifra, Behar, Chapter 2 1; Rosh Hashanah 8b and Rosh Hashanah 24a).

-Rashi on Leviticus 25:10

Commenting on the same Text, Rashi points out Jubilee is named because it begins with a trumpet blast just like Rosh Hashanah is named Day of Shofars by the Talmud because it is a memorial of blasts (Leviticus 23:24):

It shall be a Jubilee: This year is distinguished from all other years, for only it has a special name. And what is that name? It is called יוֹבֵל [meaning “ram’s horn” (see Rashi on Exod. 19:13)], because of the shofar that is sounded [upon its commencement].

-Rashi on Leviticus 25:10

And, it seems the Septuagint struggles to differentiate among all the forms. The Greek forms found in the Septuagint are salpigx and salpizo. These Greek words are used interchangeably for places where shofar, yovel, and tĕruwah show up in Exodus 19, Leviticus 23 & 25, Numbers 10, and Joshua 6 (Footenote #1).

It is those two forms (salpigx and salpizo) that show up littered across John’s Revelation. In fact, collectively they’re used 16 times. That’s 70% of their total use across the entire NT.

So, what’s up with these trumpet blasts?

Well, in the Hebrew context, in Torah specifically, the blowing of the shofar occurs only five times. Three of those — at the Revelation at Mount Sinai (i.e. the giving of Torah). The other two uses show up in the same verse — Leviticus 25:9. Interestingly, Leviticus 25:9 is the trumpet blast for the pronouncement of Jubilee on the Day of Atonement (i.e. Yom Kippur) in the 50th year. Let’s compare it to another trumpet blowing event we read about last week…

TorahTrumpet

Looks a little like graffiti art, right? To the point, tĕruwah shows up in two verses with different usage.

Why?

Is Torah connecting these two events? Could it be that this New Year, the 50th year — after seven Sabbath year cycles — the 10 Days of Awe end in Jubilation?

Fast-forward to John’s Revelation, is it possible that preparing for the New Jerusalem also invokes a different Day of Judgement — one that pronounces the year of the Lord’s favor in which God’s people rejoice because God’s Jubilee is being ushered in — ready to make all things new?

Section Four (real-world applications):

Returning, especially returning to the land, seems to be a prominent theme of our Text this week.

Modern-day Western civilization is no longer a strictly agrarian society. In fact, the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture suggests only 1% of the U.S. population were directly engaged with the land. That being said, the ramifications of Capitalism gone awry remain evident. Land ownership and property ownership are still creating unequal access to capital.

So, is returning everyone to the land still a solution for modern-day concentration of wealth? That is, is Jubilee still a viable solution outside of an agrarian society?

Unjust land grabs plague U.S. history, so righting those wrongs may be a start — because land’s value isn’t just in agricultural production anymore.

While a return to agrarian lifestyle is not in our near future (Footnote #2), I do think, like Jubilee, society needs to better value those working the land.

Farmers are growing older and poorer. The average age of all U.S. farm producers in 2017 was 57.5 years, up 1.2 years from 2012; with 34% of all U.S. farmers older than 65 (USDA, 2017a). Over the last decade, 8 of the 10 years farmers got paid less than they expended to produce (USDA, 2018). Sometimes, in recent years, operating at 10-20% monthly deficits. Of all U.S. farms, 76% have annual sales less than $50,000. (USDA, 2017b).

Furthermore, those data miss the more vulnerable farmworkers who are often migrant or don’t have work visas (i.e. foreigners, strangers, sojourners). Interestingly, their wages and lack of rights in the U.S. paint the picture the laws of Jubilee were trying to guard against.

One practical step toward Jubilation would be to adequately value the work of producing our food, fiber, and fuel.


Next Week’s Readings: Leviticus 26:3-27:34; Luke 8:22-25

Footnotes:

  1. There is a special case for Leviticus 25:9. In Hebrew, shofar is used twice in the verse, tĕruwah is used once, and the word for sound (abar) is used twice. In the Septuagint, salpigx is used twice, the word diaggello (to declare) is used twice, and the word phone (a sound) once. Something doesn’t add up.
  2. Such a society may not even be feasible with the current population size and remaining acreage of arable land.


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