A gracEmail subscriber who is reading through the Bible has come to Leviticus 25 and God’s instructions for observing the Year of Jubilee. “Did Israel practice Jubilee?” he asks. “If so, for how long? I don’t recall any mention of it in Judges, Samuel, Kings or Chronicles.”
So far as I have been able to learn, Israel never kept Jubilee as prescribed, nor did the Israelites observe the cycle of seventh-year agricultural sabbaths by which Jubilee was calculated. Their failure to observe these agricultural sabbaths by allowing the land to rest was the stated basis for the 70 years of the Babylonian Captivity. While the population was displaced in Babylon, the land finally got its “rest” — one year for each of the seventh-year sabbaths that the Israelites had failed to observe (Lev. 26:34-35; 2 Chron. 36:20-21).
Throughout the Bible, the number 70 is a symbolic figure that designates fullness or completion. If we take the number 70 literally as the years of Babylonian captivity, these texts suggest that Israel occupied the land for 490 years during which they failed to observe the land sabbaths (or, presumably, the Year of Jubilee). Since the final group of Jews were exported to Babylon in 586 B.C., 490 years would take us back to 1076 B.C., or roughly the time of Samuel and Saul. Perhaps the calculation matched the period during which Judah had existed as a nation with a king.