Could Covid-2019 be your Jubilee 2020?

1 05 2020

By Robert E. Rasmussen

Is 2020AD a mandated Year of Jubilee? Is unfolding history telling us to stop, to reset, to find balance and equilibrium again? Is God inviting us to return to Him and restore spiritual centeredness?

The many changes that have come with Covid-19 are surfacing deeper issues of our personal and societal soul, just as sabbath principles delve down to the deep roots of family, values, and worship.

Like Israel’s Year of Jubilee, Jubilee 2020 may serve as a huge erasure of financial and relational scribbles which have accumulated for decades.

Events on my calendar have, one by one, been cancelled for the year 2020. As I considered the unprecedented clearing out of planned activities, including sports seasons, concert tours, the Olympics, entire school semesters and more, I began to wonder what opportunities were being offered to us as occupiers of planet Earth.

I recalled the year-long rest God gave His people Israel, and began to wonder what principles from the “Year of Jubilee” we could find helpful in experiencing Covid-19 (the 19 indicating 2019, the year in which the corona virus emerged).

I have gone back and taken a fresh look at God’s gracious provision of rest for the land and its people, both in the “sabbath year” and the “seven sabbaths of years” – the Jubilee every 49 years (Leviticus 25:8). Let me summarize my understanding of the intent of this law, and some principles which could help us navigate 2020.


Israel was a young nation, still learning to manage its affairs. God wanted to establish a strong society that would keep worship central, would hold to high morals and integrity, and would maintain kindness to its neighboring nations, while protecting itself from invasions and idolatry. The ten commandments summarize the core of this nation-building intention of God.

“Jubilee” is a translation of the Hebrew word which can literally mean “trumpets” which would have been rams horns. Priests would have pursed lips and emitted long, heralding blasts, calling the nation to a year-long release of tensions in land and clan. Jubilee declared a national call to discipline which all were to observe as an expression of obedience to God and mutual commitment to strengthening their society.

Two priorities stand behind Jubilee: Land and Family.

Jubilee could never happen apart from the understanding that the land was given to Israel by God and continued to be His possession. The law declared, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Lev.25:23).

The law of Jubilee stipulated that land that had been sold out of duress would be redeemed and given back to the one to whom it had been allotted by inheritance. The flip side was that the one who had gained the parcel of land had to let it be redeemed away from him.

The second and related priority is the family as the basic building block of a strong society. If economic difficulties had caused a father to “sell” land, cattle, or even family members to get by, all were to be redeemed back to the family in the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25).

Jubilee was a huge reset, giving families a fresh start at thriving. Imagine the joy of being together again, regathered on the property granted by great-grandfather. The one who had profited in recent decades also reset his life, bringing him back to that which was apportioned to his family. He too would now focus on his family without the burden or blessing of his acquisitions. He would be called to contentment.

The priorities of land and family were to ultimately point to dependence on God as provider. Jubilee reminded the people of the compassion and justice of God. It brought a sense of mutuality and unity in building a community that was good for all.


Let’s consider three principles which were true for ancient Israel and can help us in Jubilee 2020.

Principle#1. God can be trusted to supply what is lacking when we follow His ways.

Jubilee was a sabbath year, the seventh since the last Jubilee, 50 years prior. Every sixth year, a family needed to trust God for a harvest adequate for years six, seven, and eight. God told His people:

“And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce? Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years” (Lev. 20-21).

The family would need to pray for abundance, would budget their consumption, and ultimately depend on God for His divine compensation to make up for their lack of tending the soil or herd. I expect there was also some sharing between friends and neighbors

Jubilee is really a call to faith, isn’t it? We have to believe God to come through with what we need. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb.11:1).

Faith sometimes calls us to chew on left overs! God continued, “And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest” (Lev.25:22).

A few years back, when my first wife was deep in her first fight with cancer, a friend, Stan Davis, stopped by our house. He was teaching a Bible class the following Sunday, and I asked what his topic was. GOD IS ABLE!, he said. That is all I needed to hear to encourage me that day.

You may be having a really rough time right now, and the future is uncertain. You are already eating last year’s harvest, and need God to come through. As you have seen God faithful in the past, you can trust him for today and tomorrow.

Principle #2. Happiness increases when there is contentment with what has been rightly apportioned.

“If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold” (Lev.25:25).

In Israel’s Jubilee year, there would have been different causes for up to 49 years of loss or gain. Sometimes it was foolishness or debauchery that caused the loss. Sometimes it was misfortune. In some cases, a person would have prospered through greed and dishonesty. Either poverty or profit can cause one to forget God. Either one can cut a person off from family, breaking key supportive relationships (Lev. 25:8-11).

Jubilee was a gracious gift to stabilize society, better ensuring the longevity of the people. It taught citizens to hold property loosely as stewards for the common good, rather than ultimate owners for personal benefit.

Jubilee rebukes classism, and can call out against prejudice. It’s even good for the soil, as the land is given a chance to rest, so that it has nutrients to produce for generations.

For us, Jubilee 2020 can redefine how much is “enough” and what is “success” in ways that are healthier for the soul. Look around you and notice not only what you have, but what you have over and above your basic needs.

As Paul wrote, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).

We have seen a lot of hoarding happening in recent weeks. There is wisdom in storing up, but selfishness can take over and become oppression. This unusual season provides an opportunity to live out our faith by being content.

Principle #3. We enjoy a more just society when we seek the blessing of our neighbor.

Because sabbath years allowed redemption of property, society needed to regularly observe who had come under hardship and who had prospered. Every seventh year was a corporate protest against self-interest and getting ahead at the expense of others. In returning property, the strong were not to take advantage or oppress with charging interest. They were to set fair prices of redemption.

“In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand you shall not oppress one another”(Lev.25:13-14).

The more prosperous citizens could show gratitude for the prosperity they enjoyed, and those who suffered could admit mistakes or begin again with new life skills.

Sabbath principles tutor societies and generations. The younger see the folly or wisdom of the older, and can determine how they want to live. Parents can explain the value of sharing, justice, and sacrifice. They can give the example of putting trust into action. Sabbath principles can prevent the younger generation from presumptuous inheritance and wealth, or presumptuous poverty.


Wikipedia tells us that some religious Jews still practice some principles of sabbatical years. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates Jubilee every 25 years. And British monarchs periodically celebrate Royal Jubilee’s to mark significant milestones in their reign.

But I am suggesting a personal and corporate reset in this most unusual pause in normal life. What are some ways that we could apply Jubilee principles?

As we said previously, how might Jubilee 2020 serve as a huge erasure of financial and relational scribbles which have accumulated for decades.

We should not miss the fact that the Year of Jubilee began with observance of the Day of Atonement (Lev.25:9), a day of rest and “affliction of soul” (23:27).

The spirit of the year of the great reset begins with personal and societal repentance. When a nation refuses to acknowledge its pride, God chastens the land and people that they might turn back to Him and be rescued from their own demise. Even in chastening, God welcomes the people to return to Him. God reiterated as much to King Solomon:

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

There is not a nation on earth today that can claim faithfulness to God. Every people can begin their reset through corporate affliction of soul.

Sometimes movement toward soul change must come with small behavioral steps. Let’s consider a few ways we can take concrete steps to implement sabbath principles in this unique year. I have some ideas, and in presenting the, hope to prime the pump for you to think of ways you could take practical steps. Here are some examples, from smaller to larger, to implement Jubilee principles.

Places to start:

  • Clean out storage and clutter. Organize your possessions. Use what you need and donate the rest.
  • Clear out, sort, sell or give away all contents of your storage unit. Stop renting a storage unit and apply the savings according to godly principles.
  • Review those “free 30-day trials” that you are still paying for and not using. Review paid or unpaid subscriptions you are not using, reading, or watching. Review newsfeeds and blogs (even this one!) and unsubscribe from those you don’t read.
  • Take the trouble to recycle old devices in ways that are friendly to the environment.
  • Revisit unrealistic expectations which are defeating. Set realistic goals with are achievable and life-giving.
  • If over time you have accumulated projects or materials, decide and do them, or give away the materials.
  • As you watch your investments decline in value, don’t be anxious about it.
  • Stop hoarding. Give away what you don’t need. Don’t be unjust in stockpiling. Realize that stockpiling can be fear-based, and therefore counter to kingdom living.
  • Fix what can be fixed, rather than replacing with new. Put a fresh coat of paint rather than paying for an expensive remodel. Plan for maintenance rather than waiting for breakage or decay.

Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

  • Ask what are the aspects of your lifestyle that have become inhibitors to creativity and joy. What schedules, structures, relationships, debts, routines, etc. are deadening and stultifying? Include your practices such as emails, social media, video games, etc.
  • Review your life rhythms. Do your days and weeks reflect good rhythms of work, rest, reflection, prayer, leisure, creativity, reading, etc.? There is a time to mourn and a time to dance.
  • Be honest about institutional hoarding and family hoarding. Ask how your standing in society allows you to keep or gain more for yourself and your family, such that you have more than your share.

Bigger financial decisions:

  • Reduce spending so as to have more to share with others. Pay off credit cards and maintain the practice of paying off credit monthly.
  • Those with rental property can lower the rent. Allow the renter to have a plan for purchase that is fair to the owner but non-exploitative.
  • Stay long-term in your home that is adequate rather than upsizing to a larger or nicer home.
  • Refinance to lower mortgage and share the savings, and/or give to church or mission.
  • Sell a second home or condo and apply the profits according to godly principles.

Tend to relationships and habits.

  • Over time, tension can build in relationships. Rather than healthy friendship, oppressing or co-dependency develops. Reconciliation is needed. Jubilee means being able to look anyone in the eye and smile.
  • Tackle recovery from attachments and addictions with new vigor and a new approach. Codependency is chronic obligation no longer given freely out of love; it hitches your happiness to another person’s behavior. Return responsibility to make wise or foolish choices to the other person, making them the rightful owner of their consequences. Give them a fresh start at stewarding their own lives.  This may allow all parties to see others whom they have ignored and therefore failed to enjoy.
  • Break unequal yokes – a decision or partnership made which has born bitter fruit, an unholy alliance. Jubilee breaks free, in honesty and justice, with courage.
  • Welcome a family member back home. Help a struggling member get a fresh start. Open up channels of communication.
  • Help start a college or retirement fund for a younger family member.

Church-related matters:

  • Traditions can be life-giving or death-producing. Assess patterns that have become “old wineskins” and no longer meet current needs.
  • Church budgets should be reviewed to discover accumulated expectations which no longer prioritize real ministry needs. Budgets can be right-sized to better reflect priorities of the kingdom of God.
  • A church may have leased space to another ministry or congregation. Consider easier terms. Consider selling at a fair price. Consider ending agreements which have become unhealthy entanglements.

How happy church and mission leaders would be if people voluntarily and cheerfully practice principles of Jubilee! Court cases could be dropped. Lawsuits go away. Neighbors reunited. Divisions healed. Workers paid a fare wage, and cancel plans to strike. Banks don’t compete for customers but provide solid service based on sound principles. Lawyers give wise counsel and draw up just contracts without drumming up business. Debts are paid down, interest is fair or eliminated, so what would have been interest is now spendable on real goods and services. The church is so known for generosity and compassion that many people want to be part of such community. Crazy? Yes, God’s ways seem that way.

However, the gift God wants to grant is even more liberating.


When Jesus launched His ministry in the synagogue of His home town, Nazareth, He opened the scroll of Isaiah and announced His calling:

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:18-19).

In the coming of Jesus, the kingdom of God drew near. The nation had an opportunity to be pardoned for its iniquities. Sadly, it was society’s imprisonment to religiosity that caused the nation to miss the window of invitation, and the kingdom passed them by.

A nation, a people, can still recognize the invitation to enter the kingdom of God. But it requires nothing short of battling against the forces which are in power. Jubilee must not only signal redemption, it must call for revolution.

Come back for a moment to the early days of Israel’s history. After Moses bid the people farewell from east of the Jordan, Joshua led the 12 tribes westward against Jericho (Josh. 6:1-12). The Israelites were to march around the city once a day for six days, and on the seventh day were to circle it seven times. In front of the battle procession, were seven priests who were to blow long blasts on the “jubilee,” that is, trumpets. The people shouted their uprising, and the walls of the city crumbled.

There is a sense in which true Jubilee cannot happen unless it is a battle cry against walls and enemies. The forces which enslave are so entrenched they can only be removed with a wartime mentality.

That’s why true Jubilee can only come as we see Jesus as the head of a revolution. Six times in the inaugural address of His kingdom, the sermon on the mount, Jesus repeated “you have heard it said…but I say to you” (Matt.5-6). The principles of the Old Testament Jubilee, He said, are not radical enough for the revolution we need. Why? Because they can change property and possessions, but do not change the heart. Society will only change when our hearts are called to revolution. When we return gains to those in need, not by law but love.

True Jubilee returns the heart to its first love. Perhaps over time, our original pledge of fidelity (Gk. pistis) has weakened and we have “cast off our first faith” (1 Tim. 4:12). What affections have crept into my heart to infiltrate the full fidelity I first had toward Jesus? That is the Jubilee question. What will it take to identify secondary affections, to laser off the cataracts which cloud my clear vision of my beloved Savior? What words and actions will truly restate my vows to Him?

The 12-step recovery programs call us back to a fearless moral inventory of any wrongs we have committed against others. Such may seem, to the mature believer, like a relapse into legalism, a kind of sin management we have labored to escape. But change of behavior and practice may be the first steps back to a changed heart. Where my treasure has been, there my heart has followed. To lead my heart back to my first Love, I must divorce from the flirtations and affairs I have entertained.

With Covid-19, a window of opportunity has opened to the human family. As these extraordinary times pass by, I believe Jesus again calls out, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1:15).

Paying off credit cards, even selling a property, are only window-dressing when compared with the heart-renovation offered by the gospel. As Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17).

I believe our greatest gift is to live into the spirit of the true Jubilee.

If 2020 becomes a year of personal revolution for you, how would God want you to change?