I had this thought today when studying with a friend, “why did God allow 70 years of captivity in Babylon for the Jews if all slaves were to be released and debts to be canceled every 49 years?” The reason is all tied up to the year of Jubilee for sure, but first we have to understand what is the year of Jubilee exactly and when is it? For our answer to what is the year of Jubilee we need to look at Leviticus 25. We are told that every 7 years the Israelites were to have a year where they did not plant, prune, or harvest. Now this makes you ask, “Well then what did God expect them to eat that year? After all, they didn’t have a canning process, right?” Well, God still gave them permission in Leviticus 25:12 to gather from the field that days worth of food as they needed to consume it and eat it that day, but not to put it away in storage for the coming winter, and he also told them in Leviticus 25:18-22 that he would cause enough to grow every 6th year to supply them for 3 years which they were allowed to put into storage bins. This can be confusing reading though because it talks about every 50th year as the year of Jubilee, but says for six years grow and store, but in the 7th is an absolute rest, but every 7×7 years or every 49 years is a jubilee year. So how can it be both the 49th year and the 50th year and still be correct? Doesn’t one of them have to be wrong? The answer is no, they are both correct…this is one of those strange, but true things that if you know a little something about the calendars of the time can be cleared up for you. I was pretty excited when I was studying this today so I wanted to share it while it was fresh in my mind.
In most Christian churches we have a thing called a Liturgical calendar, which generally starts the Christian year off with the Advent Season or the Coming of Christ and Christmas, and works through Easter, Pentecost and other such important days in the Christian Calendar. Then as humans who live in the Non-Christian society and have to interact on an every day basis with people about things like work, and secular holidays, and summer vacations and things like that we have another calendar which is based on a Jan. through Dec. year. As you know some businesses have another calendar they work off of which is the fiscal year, and that usually ends in October and it is based on finances and finishing up in time to have the paperwork for doing their taxes in order before the tax deadlines. We have all kinds of calendars in our lives that we don’t actually give a lot of thought to…for instance there is a sports calendar too…in certain times of the year there are certain sports and in other times of the year you do not expect to see or hear about those sports too much, right?!!
Well, to get back on point, the Jews had a sacred year which began/begins March/April with Passover (see Exodus-Egypt), and ends in Feb/March with the Feast of Purim (see Book of Esther). The first month of March/April is called the month of Nisan, and the last month is called Adar. Now for both calendars the names of the months are the same, but the calling of the first month or the last month is different. The second calendar was the civil calendar or we might think of it as an agricultural calendar…the first of the year on this calendar fell on the month of Tishri which is Sept/Oct. This is also when the planting began as it was the early rain season. I know that for us this seems really strange, as we all plow and plant in the Spring, but different area of the world, different crops so there are different planting seasons and harvest seasons. All right, so if you think about this two calendar idea, then you can start to see how a person could have two years going on at once, don’t you?
Okay, lets pretend we are the early Jews and we have planted our crop and it is year 6 and it is the month of Tishri. Our next sacred year 7 would already have started back in Feb./March before the planting. Since the sacred years were handed down to the Israelites before they ever planted a crop you know that the sacred calendar is 6 months or so ahead of the civil calendar. This means that when I plant my crop in the year 6 of the civil calendar by the time I harvest that crop I am in year 8 of the sacred calendar, but still in year 6 of the civil calendar. As you can see this can seem to be covering 3 years, but in fact is really only one to 1 1/2 of our modern calendar years. God wanted his people to rely on him and to have a rest from their regular labors for one year out of 7. This activity was to remind his people that they were to rely on him and not on themselves and their on labors. (Just like they did in the wilderness, they were only to gather manna for the day, and for two days on the day prior to the sabbath.)
Now this entry has gotten kind of long, but the idea of Jubilee is that every 49/50 years (depending on the calendar used) the Jews were to have a year of forgiveness of debts, and redemption of land, and also rest for the land. It was every 7×7 years. If you think of it being dependent on the calendar they were looking at, then this was also a method of God’s grace to his people because that gave them a bit of leeway in what year they could keep Jubilee, just in case for some reason they missed it.
So we go back to my original thought…why did God who established the year of Jubilee in which all captives were released in the land of Israel, and all debts were considered repaid allow his people to be held captive 70 years in Babylon….well the answer is simple…70 years is the number of sabbath years that they did not keep while in the promised land. They were supposed to rest the land every 7 years and they did not do this. So God decided to do this for them. Leviticus 26:34-35 (punishment for disobeying God is outlined) and punishment is given in 2Chronicle 36:20-21 with the connection to the prophecy of the Babylonian exile in Jeremiah 25:11 and The sabbath rest of the land outlined for every 7 years. This goes back to God means what he says, and he says what he means. He gives us grace and forgiveness, but there are also consequences to not being repentant and continuing in disobedience.
In case you wish to read more on this subject I have included the two primary links which helped me in my study on this subject.