The word “liberty” (deror) is rarely used in the Hebrew Bible, and the terms for its use are set by Leviticus 25, the laws of Jubilee. There, liberty includes the freeing of slaves, as whenZedekiah proclaims liberty to slaves (Jeremiah 34:8-16). But the specific liberty that is proclaimed at Jubilee is that the people are allowed to return to their ancestral inheritance in the land (Leviticus 25:10).

Isaiah’s Servant is anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the same liberty, this time to exiles: They are set free from Babylon, and, more, they are restored to the land Yahweh gave to their fathers (61:1). In Ezekiel too, the “year of liberty” includes a promise of inheritance (46:17). This mimics Yahweh’s own liberation of Israel: When He delivered them from slavery, He brought them into a land.

For the Hebrew Bible, liberty includes not only a social status but also a gift of property. Liberation includes the gift of space and scope for the exercise of liberty. In Isaiah 61:1, “proclaiming liberty” is linked to “opening doors for captives.” To liberate is to open a prison, so that the liberated can get into the wide open spaces outside. Liberation isnot just freeing someone from the habit of theft; it includes teaching him to labor sohe can give to others.

To liberate is to lead someone to a place of fruitful work.Liberty is the gift of space for productive action.

More on: Bible - OT

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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