Landmarks, Jubilee, and Jesus

When the Israelites originally inhabited the land of Canaan during the conquests of Joshua, certain portions were distributed to the tribes (save Levi) and then further divided up among the members of that tribe. In this time before GPS and surveying technology, the only way to distinguish between individual portions of land was the placement of Gheb-ool, or “landmarks”. "You shall not move your neighbor's landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” (Deut. 19.14) Moving one of these landmarks constituted one of the most serious breaches of Mosaic law, so much so that it is specifically mentioned in the list of curses on Mt. Ebal. (Deut. 27.17) Solomon mentions twice during the Proverbs (22.28; 23.10) for men to not move landmarks. In his description of how wicked the princes of Judah had become, Hosea says “The princes of Judah have become like those who move the landmark; upon them I will pour out my wrath like water.” (5.10) Even the Romans saw the moving of landmarks as a crime punishable by death!

This begs the question: why is moving the landmark of another person particularly heinous?

First, it constitutes an obvious violation of the 8th Commandment: “You shall not steal.” (Ex. 20.15) To move a landmark resulted stealing a portion of land from another and enlarging one’s own territory with it. As most people derived their primary source of income from their land, taking land from another and adding it to your own was very tempting. Mark Twain’s real estate adage would ring true in that time as it does now: “Buy land, they aren’t making it anymore.” But there is perhaps a deeper level of concern to be had for the moving of landmarks, and it involves the concept of the Jubilee.

The Year of Jubilee was, for the Israelites, the ultimate reset button. Every 50th year (or the year after the 7th Sabbath year) on the Day of Atonement (more on this later) a trumpet was sounded in Israel (Lev. 25). The most striking thing that would happen on the year of Jubilee, is that every Israelite would return to their own original property, that which was allotted to their family back during the times of the conquest of Israel. “In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.” (Lev. 25.13) Here is where the landmark plays such a crucial role: If the landmark were moved at any point, it would not only constitute immediate theft of the land, but each and every Jubilee that land would not go back to its original owner.”

Imagine if you were forced to sell off much of your land due to financial difficulty, perhaps 5 years after the Jubilee. For 45 years you would be looking forward to one day and one day only: the day in which you get your possession back! And when that day finally arrives, you discover that the landmarks have been moved, what you waited for so long has been taken from you, and it will never be the same! How sad and betrayed would you feel? And yet more and more, over the years, Israelites did this very thing, moving the “ancient landmarks”, moving further and further away from the original place they were set. In this way, they demonstrated their own moving away from God, not with great sweeping decisions, but with tiny adjustments, little changes, with devastating consequences.

This brings us to Jesus, as so many things in the Old Testament do. Jesus Christ came into this world as the greatest Jubilee of all time, the greatest returning of what was lost that would (or will) ever be. When Jesus returns to Nazareth in Luke 4, He reads from Isaiah 61, which describes what would happen when the Messiah returns. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4.18-19) The entire chapter of Isaiah 61 is a beautiful description of what would happen when the Lord returns to His people what they had lost through their sin! In this way, Jesus is declaring Himself to be the Jubilee that God had promised so long ago, and not just for the Israelites either! The Jews there are incensed when Jesus points out this would come to the Gentiles as well! (See Luke 4.24-30)

Remember how the Year of Jubilee started in Lev. 25? On the Day of Atonement! “Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.” (Lev. 25.9) It was on that day in which the priest would enter the Holy of Holies, to make atonement for the sins of the people! “but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.” (Heb. 9.7) We see that when Christ came, He came and died as an atonement for us! “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb. 9.11-12).

The coming of Jesus, the spiritual Jubilee that we can experience because of His sacrifice, is possible only because Jesus reestablished the original spiritual landmarks for us to follow! Most of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is this very idea: correcting the old landmarks that had been moved by mankind, and realigning them with God’s original commands!  Again and again in that passage he says “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…” (Matt. 5.21-22 for example). Jesus teaching on the covenant of marriage in Matthew 19 is another example of this.

Jesus came as the greatest example of Jubilee because not only did He provide us with atonement through His blood, but as the Word of God He came with authority and truth, once and for all establishing the landmarks for us to come home to. There is no other place provided for us to live, no other home to go back to, than the one that Jesus established for us by His sacrifice. His landmarks are NOT adjustable; they shall never be moved! “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2.44) It is our purpose today to spread the message of the Gospel to all, and to honor the spiritual Jubilee by the sacrificing of ourselves in His service (Rom. 12.1)