home | Questions for Jim Wallis | Why Do You Invoke the Jubilee Year L . . .

Why Do You Invoke the Jubilee Year Law, When That Law Rested on Israel's Genocide of Canaan?

Gary North
Printer-Friendly Format

Just before I preached, a text was read from Leviticus 25, which proclaims the biblical jubilee -- a periodic economic redistribution in which slaves are set free, land is returned, and debts are forgiven. Jubilee is a call for a regular "leveling" of things, given the human tendency toward over-accumulation by some while others lose ground." -- Jim Wallis, "Seattle: Changing the Rules," Sojourners Magazine (March-April 2000).

You are still promoting debt repudiation Chapter 17 in your book, God's Politics. You do not reply to the detailed criticism of your recommended program that was published in 1999 by three economists. It is not a good tactic to remain silent in the face of serious academic criticism six years after it appeared in print. But you did.

Your promotion of Leviticus 25 as the basis of debt cancellation confuses me. The Jubilee Year was a Mosaic law that was tied to the land. It applied to real estate that was owned by families of the conquering tribes under Joshua. The property belonged to those families permanently. The Jubilee Year was to restore original ownership. "In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession" (Lev. 25:13).

It applied only to rural land, not to cities.

And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it. And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubile. But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be counted as the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubile. (Lev. 25:29- 31).

It also applied to the Levites, who had no inheritance in unwalled rural land.

Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, and the houses of the cities of their possession, may the Levites redeem at any time. And if a man purchase of the Levites, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the year of jubile: for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel. But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their perpetual possession. (Lev. 25:33-34)

The judicial basis of this transfer of land was -- I don't know how to put this mildly -- genocide.

And thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them: neither shalt thou serve their gods; for that will be a snare unto thee. (Deut. 7:16)

The Jubilee Year was fulfilled by Jesus, as He declared in Luke 4:18-21. He annulled it. It is gone forever.

If the jubilee law is still in force, despite the end of the Old Covenant order, then slavery has a biblical sanction. It was in Leviticus 25, in the jubilee passage, that God established the right of inter-generational slavery.

Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour. (Lev. 25:44--46)

The jubilee law was annulled by Jesus. Also, it never had any authority outside the holy land, which came to Israel because of genocide.

I am sure that you do not want to revive the principle of inheritance through genocide. You do not want to revive inter-generational slavery. Why, then, do you appeal to Leviticus 25 as somehow authorizing worldwide debt repudiation by Third World countries, and the necessary loss by taxpayers?

You invoke the Jubilee Year as a justification for debt repudiation. You may not know the origin of this argument, even though I wrote of it in my commentary on Leviticus in 1994, and specifically referred to Sojourners as promoting it. Let me refresh your memory.

In the mid-1970's, Jeremy Rifkin and other humanist radicals organized the People's Bicentennial Commission. This organization was set up to take advantage of the national bicentennial celebration in the United States of the Declaration of Independence (1776).

William Peltz, the Midwest regional coordinator of the Peoples Bicentennial Commission, at a meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, argued that conservative Christians could be turned into promoters of revolutionary politics if radicals would just show them that the Bible teaches revolution. Peltz cited Leviticus 25 as a key passage in promoting compulsory wealth redistribution. [The Attempt to Steal the Bicentennial, The People's Bicentennial Commission, Hearings Before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 94th Congress, Second Session (March 17 and 18, 1976), p. 36.]

You have not referred to this publicly since 1994, despite the fact that my chapter on the Jubilee and your misuse of it has been on the Web for a decade. Maybe you will read it now. I hope so.

Maybe you will even believe it. (Just kidding.)

So, one more time, why do you promote universal debt repudiation, based on an Old Testament law which was based on genocide? Why do you do this, when Jesus has fulfilled and annulled this law by His death, resurrection, and ascension -- not to mention the destruction of Old Covenant Israel?

You wouldn't be using God's Bible as a convenient grab-bag of citations to defend an attack on private property, would you? I mean, that would call your entire career into question. Wouldn't that be proof-texting for leftists?

Printer-Friendly Format