Note: As I round the corner into the second year of my “sabbatical experiment,” I am systemizing my reflections around the theme of JUBILEE and the idea of gratitude. As part of a recent discussion in my Hebrew class, we were discussing the Hebrew word yovel and I asked Elle Grover Fricks (member of the BEMA Teaching Team, introduced in Session 6; and my Hebrew instructor) if she would share some of her thoughts on “Jubilee” as it pertains to the Hebrew word itself. Below are her thoughts.
The year of Jubilee was an important biblical and theological reality in which God’s people were called to put the heart of God and a foretaste of Kingdom on display. While it is uncertain whether any pre-exilic generation was faithful to God’s invitation, Leviticus 25 called God’s people to mark either the 49th or 50th year by liberating slaves, forgiving debts, reuniting families, letting the land rest, and equitably redistributing property to original owners. While each of these elements deserves its own careful examination, we are here to examine the Hebrew imagery behind the word Yuval.
The first mention of Yuval is in Genesis 4:21. He is listed in the lineage of Cain/Kayin, and is the seventh generation from Adam and Eve/Khavah. Yuval is born to A’dah, the first wife of Lamekh. The Text describes him as “the father of all those who lay hold of the kinnor and ugav” (my translation). The kinnor is a 9-stringed lyre used by David and the priests worshiping at the temple, while the ugav was a dual pipe. This description of Yuval (rendered “Jubal” by our German-speaking translation community) has led to a Christian and Jewish tradition which depicts Yuval as the inventor of all music. So what is the connection between the Jubilee year and this antediluvian figure?
The English word “Jubilee” derives from the Latin iubilo, or “shout for joy.” This communicates an acceptable general idea: the Jubilee was a happy occasion. However, Yuval is from the root yaval, which has an entirely different meaning. Yaval is a verb meaning “to carry along as a river.” In the Psalms, it is often used to describe the way it feels to be swept along by a celebratory crowd entering Jerusalem (Psalms 45, 60, 68, 76, 108). Isaiah 55 captures the sense of the word well: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be [yaval] with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (KJV).
Yoveyl, a linguistic evolution of yaval, is the word for a ram’s horn. (Shofar, for the curious, means something that has been polished brightly.) The sound of the yoveyl opens the Jubilee year. Music and community celebration certainly has the power to yaval, or carry us along as a river. How much more would the knowledge that sometime in your lifetime, all of God’s people were going to come together to put an image of God’s good and just Kingdom on display? Just as a powerful trumpet blast had the power to spur God’s people into battle, overcoming their fear and trepidation, the remembrance and hope of Jubilee has the power to yaval, to carry us along, in the paths of faithfulness to which God has called us. Those of us who are not privileged to experience a societal celebration of Jubilee/Yuval are still invited to look forward with longing and work toward the coming liberation of the land and all those who dwell within it.
“I will cut a covenant for them on that day with the living things of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. I will break the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.” (Hosea 2:18, my translation)