This celebration is spelled out in the book of Leviticus: once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, every fifty years all debts would be forgiven, all slaves would be released, and there would be “freedom throughout the land for all who live there” (Leviticus 25:10). That year would be set apart as holy, and no work was to be done on the land for an entire year.
I can just imagine servants checking days off on a calendar, longing for the year of Jubilee, when their time of captivity would finally be over. Since the Jubilee came just twice in a century, most people probably experienced only one in a lifetime. Maybe the younger generation heard rumblings about the previous celebration and looked forward to the next one with great anticipation, half wondering if it was too good to be true.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a slave desperately longing for freedom. But I once got a glimpse of something similar through the eyes of a young woman on the streets of Bangkok.
I was on a short-term trip to Thailand, working with an organization that helps free women from the sex industry in Bangkok’s red-light district. Our group’s ultimate goal was to connect women to the ministry and let them know another way of life was available to them.
We did that by buying women out for the night so they wouldn’t have to work. For the equivalent of $20 in US currency, the woman (or in most cases, young girl) would be free to go home and just be a human being, with no pressure to belong to another person for the evening.
I’ll never forget the look on Buk’s face when our group bought her out the first night we were there. She kept trying to figure out what the catch was, what our hidden agenda was. Surely this was too good to be true. But when we finally got through to her that we’d paid her bar fee simply because we wanted to show her God’s love—because we, too, had been set free, redeemed—her smile was so bright it dimmed the garish neon lights of the strip.
I wouldn’t have been able to put it into words then, but I know now what I was seeing. Buk’s face told her own tale of Jubilee, if only for one night.
I don’t know where Buk is today, but I pray that one day she will experience permanent Jubilee—the eternal freedom we can experience knowing that Jesus paid the fee—for all of us.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.