REDEMPTION OF BOTH LAND AND PEOPLE PATTERNED AFTER THE GENEROSITY OF THE GOD WHO OWNS BOTH THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE
Richard Hess: This text follows directly from the cultic calendar of Leviticus 23. Whereas that text considered the Sabbath (vv. 1–3) and the annual feasts (vv. 4–44), this chapter expands the study to include the larger category of the festival years that occur every seven and every fifty years. Thus the sabbatical year is examined (vv. 1–7), followed by the Year of Jubilee (vv. 8–13). . .
God’s design for Israel is to rescue all his people from the bonds of debt servitude and to guarantee each family land and a fresh start every half century. Freedom from crushing debt and possession of land, the basic source of wealth, provide a form of social justice built into the economic system that will guarantee most a fair opportunity in life. This is the prophetic “year of release” (Isa 61:1–2) that Jesus had in mind when he read that phrase in the synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:16–30).
Perry Yoder: Leviticus 25 is about ownership. Who owns land and who owns people? Answers to these questions are set out here and are based on Israel’s beliefs about God.
Robert North: Social Justice
The jubilee was intended to prevent the accumulation of the wealth of the nation in the hands of a very few. Every Israelite had an inalienable right to his family land and to his freedom. If he lost them through falling into debt he recovered them in the jubilee. The biblical law is opposed equally to the monopolistic tendencies of unbridled capitalism and thorough-going communism, where all property is in state hands. By keeping land within a particular family, the jubilee also promoted family unity.
Mark Rooker: The laws of the sabbatical year and the law of Jubilee in one sense provided both a spiritual and social control for the Israelites, for they would be reminded of their total dependence upon God and the Lord’s ultimate ownership of the land each time they observed this law. Moreover, these laws would restrain one’s desire to accumulate wealth at his brother’s expense and thus place something other than God as most important in one’s life. . .
The Law was to prevent the accumulation of ownership of property by a wealthy few and to legislate against a collective nationalism that usurped others’ property. Also, since the land ultimately belonged to God, the law of Jubilee puts a check on a selfish estimation of the rights of property. The private ownership of the land, however, was and still is a stabilizing factor for the unifying of the family unit. These laws herald a recognition of God as sovereign over time, nature, and possessions. And since the sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee called for a complete trust in God, New Testament believers are also to recognize that the material gifts essential to life come from God. It is the believer’s responsibility to trust, be obedient, and seek the rule of God in every arena of life (Matt 6:25–34). Believers look to God for our sustenance in due season (Ps 104:27).
Allen Ross: The Jubilee Year came after seven “weeks” of years or after forty-nine years. It provided a general overhaul of economic and social life to restore people and properties to their rightful conditions. It was meant to be a new beginning, a time when all who had failed to maintain their place in society were given a chance to start over and when all who had benefited from such failures released what they had gained. Israel periodically had to put its social order right. . .
The Jubilee Year, as with other sabbatic-type elements in the book, provided Israel with a delightful prospect after a time of labor and perhaps drudgery. But the Jubilee Year was the crowning point of all the festive occasions because of its length and its impact. It was a time of release from bondage of all that were oppressed, enslaved, or bound. Thus, it was another festival of freedom—not one that commemorated any historical deliverance in the past but one that looked forward to the future. . .
The acceptance of God’s sovereignty over his people and all their possessions leads to the magnanimous and compassionate treatment of the poor and the destitute, because at the end of the age everyone will be released from bondage.
R. K. Harrison: The jubilee legislation had as its basic theme the liberation of that which was bound. As a result it reminded the Israelites every fifty years of the fact that once the people of God had been bound in Egypt, victims of an oppressive native regime, but that they had been liberated at the time of the exodus by a miraculous display of divine power. They were now free citizens, living in their own land, which itself was a gift of God, but being bound to him by a covenant relationship they were only free to serve him to the exclusion of all other gods. As a holy nation, their hearts and minds were to be set upon God and his holiness, and they were not to think in terms of accumulating vast holdings of property over periods of time lest they succumbed to the materialism of the surrounding nations. The prescribed interruption in the normal course of national life once each half-century would furnish an opportunity for reflection upon covenant values, and remind the nation that man does not live by bread alone.
Kenneth Mathews: In all the cases of our passage, the motivation for obedience was the Israelite’s “fear” of God (vv. 17, 36, 43). Obedience to God’s Word was the reason why Israel would agree. The Bible presents a theology of economics, and our passage contributes to our understanding of the proper role of money in the context of our obligations to our fellow humans in and outside our family community. As Christians we do not observe the sabbatical year or Year of Jubilee, but they set forth the proper attitude that we must have toward our financial resources. The money that God has bestowed on us is but a tool to carry out the kingdom mandate of the gospel. The overarching teaching that should guide our attitude is best stated by the Lord Jesus himself: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Our devotion to Christ who himself gave up his heavenly riches to be poor in spirit in our behalf is the motivation for our Christian charity (2 Corinthians 8:9).
(:1-2a) ADDRESS TO MOSES
“The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying,
2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them,’”
I. (:2b-22) INTRODUCTION TO SABBATH REST AND JUBILEE
A. (:2b-7) Year of Sabbath Rest for the Land
1. (:2b-5) Privilege of Sabbath Rest Every Seventh Year
“When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, 4 but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. 5 Your harvest’s aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year.”
Kenneth Mathews: What was the primary lesson that the sabbatical rest taught the people? The land itself is said to “keep a Sabbath to the Lord” (vv. 2, 4). The land was expected, as were the people who inhabited it, to acknowledge the Lordship of God. As the community set aside a weekly Sabbath (Exodus 31:13–17), the people had to permit the land to recognize its divine Owner. The people were the servants of the Lord; the land too was subservient to the Lord (v. 23). By this connection of people and land, there was an inextricable linkage between them. They were to work in concert to benefit mutually under the sovereign rule of God. The people were to respect the land as God’s possession and work it in a responsible way. God had created the land and had promised the land to his people for their benefit, but never for wanton pillage. The land in turn by God’s enablement produced for the needs of the community.
2. (:6-7) Provision of Food for Both People and Animals
“And all of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you. 7 Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat.”
B. (:8-12) Year of Jubilee for the Land
1. (:8) Interval Specified
“You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years, so that you have the time of the seven sabbaths of years, namely, forty-nine years.”
2. (:9) Inauguration via Trumpet Blast on Day of Atonement
“You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land.”
Mark Rooker: The Year of Jubilee began with a trumpet blast on the Day of Atonement (25:9), thereby proclaiming liberty to all the inhabitants of the land (25:10). On this high holy day, when reconciliation with God was to become a national petition, the Israelites were likewise reminded to be properly restored to their brothers. Personal holiness must be carried out on the social plane on behalf of the disadvantaged. All Jews who for some reason or another had become enslaved to another Jew or were forced to sell personal property to someone in the preceding forty-nine-year period were automatically emancipated, and sold property was restored to its original owner.
Constable: The Year of Jubilee did for the land what the Day of Atonement did for the people. This Year removed the disturbance or confusion of God’s will—for the land—that eventually resulted from the activity of sinners. During this Year, God brought the land back into the condition that He intended for it. The fact that the priests announced the Year of Jubilee on the Day of Atonement (v. 9), confirms this correspondence.
3. (:10-12) Intention of the Observance
“You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. 11 You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee; you shall not sow, nor reap its aftergrowth, nor gather in from its untrimmed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its crops out of the field.”
Mark Rooker: Also as in the sabbatical year, the people could eat only what was taken from the fields. This year followed immediately after the seventh sabbatical year, which meant that the land lay fallow in the seventh sabbatical year as well as in the following Year of Jubilee. Two fallow years in succession would have been a severe test of faith. The Israelites were called upon to trust totally in God and acknowledge in a profound way that he was the provider of the basic necessities of life.
Kenneth Mathews: The sabbatical year described above is foundational to understanding the importance of the Year of Jubilee, which is the focus of our passage. The passage gives far more attention to its observance because of its greater implications for the life of the community. The word “jubilee” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word yobel, not a translation. The word either refers to the trumpet horn sounded at the initiation of the Year of Jubilee (v. 9) or refers to the act of the land bringing forth its produce. The essential principle underlying the Year of Jubilee is spelled out in verse 23, where God says, “The land is mine.” This is a striking statement because the land was divinely distributed to the tribes upon their entrance into the land of Canaan. Its distribution among the people was decided by the casting of lots (perhaps like stones or dice) for each tribe, clan, and family (Joshua 19:51). Casting lots was one way that the will of God was made known to the people (cf. Acts 1:26). Although the original allotment of territory was handed down from generation to generation within the family, this was actually a lease because ownership was retained by God. The people were only tenants on the land, and they enjoyed the benefits at the pleasure of the divine Owner (v. 23).
C. (:13-17) Restoration of Property Rights on Equitable Basis
1. (:13) Key Principle Regarding Property Ownership
“On this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his own property.”
2. (:14-17) Key Principle Regarding Equity in Property Transaction
a. (:14) Do No Wrong
“If you make a sale, moreover, to your friend, or buy from your friend’s hand, you shall not wrong one another.”
b. (:15-16) Prorate the Price on Equitable Basis
“Corresponding to the number of years after the jubilee, you shall buy from your friend; he is to sell to you according to the number of years of crops. 16 In proportion to the extent of the years you shall increase its price, and in proportion to the fewness of the years, you shall diminish its price; for it is a number of crops he is selling to you.”
c. (:17) Do No Wrong but Fear the Lord
“So you shall not wrong one another,
but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.”
D. (:18-22) Trust the Lord for Gracious Provision of Food
1. (:18-19) Obedience Essential for Material Security
a. (:18) Requirement of Obedience
“You shall thus observe My statutes, and keep My judgments,
so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land.”
b. (:19) Promise of Provision
“Then the land will yield its produce,
so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it.”
2. (:20-22) Anxiety Alleviated by Divine Assurance
a. (:20) Natural Anxiety Question
“But if you say, ‘What are we going to eat on the seventh year
if we do not sow or gather in our crops?’”
b. (:21) Supernatural Provision
“then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year
that it will bring forth the crop for three years.”
c. (:22) No Gap in God’s Gracious Provision
“When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in.”
Mark Rooker: Acknowledging that ultimately God owns the land should have motivated the Israelites to refrain from cultivating the land in obedience to God. Taking a year off from work in the sabbatical year and two successive years when the seventh sabbatical year was followed by the Year of Jubilee would force the Israelite to reflect upon the Lord as provider of all. The provision of crops did not depend on man’s labor but upon God as the sustainer. Work is relative, for if needs are to be met in life, God must provide.
II. (:23-34) THE REDEMPTION OF PROPERTY
A. (:23-24) The Principle
1. (:23) God Owns the Land and Leases it to His People
“The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently,
for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.”
Mark Rooker: Acknowledging that ultimately God owns the land should have motivated the Israelites to refrain from cultivating the land in obedience to God. Taking a year off from work in the sabbatical year and two successive years when the seventh sabbatical year was followed by the Year of Jubilee would force the Israelite to reflect upon the Lord as provider of all. The provision of crops did not depend on man’s labor but upon God as the sustainer. Work is relative, for if needs are to be met in life, God must provide. . . The Israelites do not possess the land because of their military prowess, neither may they dispose of the land at their own discretion. Land sales in Israel were thus not final but were more like leases.
Gordon Wenham: The theological principle underlying the jubilee is enunciated: The land must not be sold off permanently, for the land is mine. Time and again the Pentateuch reiterates that it is God who gives Israel the land (e.g., Gen. 15:7; 17:8; 24:7; Exod. 6:4; Lev. 20:24; 25:2, 38; Deut. 5:16). Every tribe and every family within each tribe is allotted a portion of the land by divine decree (Num. 32; Josh. 13ff.). By insisting that the land could not be alienated from the family to whom God has assigned it (cf. 1 K. 21:3), this law aims to preserve the idea that the land ultimately belongs to God. His people are but resident aliens and settlers in the land. In other words it does not really belong to them; they inhabit it thanks solely to the mercy and favor of their God, the great landowner (cf. 1 Chr. 29:15; Ps. 39:13 [Eng. 12]; Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11).
2. (:24) Redemption is the Process for Property Restoration
“Thus for every piece of your property,
you are to provide for the redemption of the land.”
B. (:25-28) The Practice
1. (:25) Best Option = Redemption by Nearest Kinsman
“If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.”
Mark Rooker: The “kinsman,” “near relative” was a close relative (25:48–49) who was under obligation to reclaim the land sold by his impoverished family member (25:25) and to redeem a relative who due to difficult times found himself enslaved to someone else (Lev 25:47–49). The kinsman redeemer also had the responsibility of carrying out the role of the avenging of blood (Num 35:12–19). Illustrations of the application of this law of redeeming property of an impoverished relative in Israel’s history may be found in Ruth 4 and in Jer 32:7–14.
2. (:26-27) Next Option = Personally Refund the Balance
“Or in case a man has no kinsman, but so recovers his means as to find sufficient for its redemption, 27 then he shall calculate the years since its sale and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and so return to his property.”
3. (:28) Last Resort = Land Reverts Back to Original Owner at the Jubilee
“But if he has not found sufficient means to get it back for himself, then what he has sold shall remain in the hands of its purchaser until the year of jubilee; but at the jubilee it shall revert, that he may return to his property.”
R. K. Harrison: Although in theory the land belongs to God, situations will arise in which the tenant-owner has to dispose of his property. Only extreme hardship would prompt such a course, since family inheritances were greatly treasured (1 Kgs 21:3). Under such conditions a close family member was expected to buy it, so that it would not pass into alien hands (25). Where a man is able to repurchase his property, the cost of redemption is governed by the length of time the holdings have been under different control. The overpayment (27) represented the excess of the sale price over the total value of the crops obtained from the land. If a person could not afford to redeem his property, he had to wait until the jubilee year, when it would revert to him by law (28).
C. (:29-34) Two Exceptional Circumstances
1. (:29-31) Houses in a City
a. (:29-30) Houses in a Walled City
“Likewise, if a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city,
then his redemption right remains valid until a full year from its sale; his right of redemption lasts a full year.
But if it is not bought back for him within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city passes permanently to its purchaser throughout his generations;
it does not revert in the jubilee.”
b. (:31) Houses in a Village without Walls
“The houses of the villages, however, which have no surrounding wall shall be considered as open fields; they have redemption rights and revert in the jubilee.”
Perry Yoder: An addendum makes clear which houses fall under this exception. Houses that are found in a settlement without an encircling wall are like open fields. These are villages in the open countryside, with arable land around them. The farmers who tilled the soil around the settlement presumably lived in these houses. A list of such villages can be found in Nehemiah 11:25-30. Such houses can be redeemed at any time and are restored to their owners at the Jubilee Year just like land.
2. (:32-34) Cities of the Levites
“As for cities of the Levites, the Levites have a permanent right of redemption for the houses of the cities which are their possession. 33 What, therefore, belongs to the Levites may be redeemed and a house sale in the city of this possession reverts in the jubilee, for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the sons of Israel. 34 But pasture fields of their cities shall not be sold, for that is their perpetual possession.”
Perry Yoder: The inheritance portion of the Levites is described in Numbers 35:1-8. The Levitical city sits in the center of their holdings, with pastureland surrounding it. The houses in a Levitical city, as well as the surrounding land, represent the inheritance granted them instead of land like other Israelites. Like land, these city houses can be redeemed at any time. If not redeemed before the Jubilee, they must be returned to their owners in the Jubilee Year—contrary to the law just given that allows redemption for only one year for city houses. Also, the pastures that go with their towns cannot be sold, because they represent their permanent portion as a collective.
III. (:35-38) THE REGULATION OF LOANS TO FELLOW COUNTRYMEN
A. (:35) Resource (Support) Your Poor Countryman in Mutual Living
“Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner,
that he may live with you.”
B. (:36-37) Refrain from Financial Exploitation in Mutual Living
“Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God,
that your countryman may live with you.
37 You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain.”
Perry Yoder: If the destitute person borrows money or receives food, presumably for his support and that of his family, such loans are given without interest. Two types of interest are forbidden. The first is discounted interest, a bite (nešek; NIV, interest) taken out of the loan (vv. 35, 36). The borrower does not receive the full sum of the loan. The second type, increase (tarbit, marbit; NIV, profit), is accrued interest that adds an amount to the sum owed (vv. 36, 37). Generosity toward each other is encouraged because of the generosity they have received from God. . .
The scope of this law is quite circumscribed. If the above conditions are met, then such a loan would be made. These personal loans for support would not include commercial loans or loans taken for investment purposes.
C. (:38) Reflect on God’s Gracious Intentions for His People
1. God’s Redemption from Egypt
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt”
2. God’s Gracious Provision of the Land
“to give you the land of Canaan”
3. God’s Sovereign Lordship
“and to be your God.”
IV. (:39-55) THE REDEMPTION OF SLAVES
A. (:39-46) Slaves Bought by Jews
1. (:39-43) Treatment of Jewish Slaves
“And if a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. 40 He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. 41 He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. 42 For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. 43 You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God.”
2. (:44-46a) Treatment of Gentile Slaves
“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have– you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. 45 Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. 46 You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves.”
Richard Hess: This text makes a radical distinction between Israelites and those outside the covenant faith. The latter may be treated as slaves just as other nations treat slaves. They can be bought, sold, and passed on as part of the household property. They and their families have no rights in Israel. Why did God allow such slavery? Is this accommodation to the practices of the surrounding nations? If so, how does one draw the line between what is cultural and what is essential to the faith? Clearly there are few practices as abhorrent to the modern mind as slavery. In earlier periods, Christians sometimes led the fight to ban it; nevertheless, this text implies that it is acceptable.
3. (:46b) Treatment of Jewish Slaves
“But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel,
you shall not rule with severity over one another.”
B. (:47-54) Jewish Laborers Bought by Gentiles
1. (:47-49) Right of Redemption
“Now if the means of a stranger or of a sojourner with you becomes sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of a stranger’s family, 48 then he shall have redemption right after he has been sold. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if he prospers, he may redeem himself.”
Richard Hess: The final section considers an Israelite sold into debt servitude to an alien or sojourner residing in the land of Israel. Such a person has no ties of kinship or perhaps even of religion (though cf. 16:29; 17:8–10). Yet they will be responsible to treat this slave just as other Israelites did when they bought their fellow Israelite’s labor (vv.8–13, 35–43). The Israelite will always be liable to redemption by a kin at a fair price. This must be calculated with the understanding that, whatever happens, the servitude will end at the Year of Jubilee. Though the same principles have previously been described, their greater detail here may reflect a concern to guarantee that the Israelite receives proper treatment at the hands of a foreigner despite the desperate condition of debt servitude.
2. (:50-52) Refund the Equitable Prorated Amount
“He then with his purchaser shall calculate from the year when he sold himself to him up to the year of jubilee; and the price of his sale shall correspond to the number of years. It is like the days of a hired man that he shall be with him. 51 If there are still many years, he shall refund part of his purchase price in proportion to them for his own redemption; 52 and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund the amount for his redemption.”
3. (:53) Respect Him Like a Valued Hired Worker
“Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall not rule over him with severity in your sight.”
4. (:54) Release Him in Year of Jubilee
“Even if he is not redeemed by these means, he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with him.”
Mark Rooker: The Israelite could not be treated as a slave but only as a hired man or day laborer (Deut 24:14–15).
C. (:55) Rationale
“For the sons of Israel are My servants;
they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt.
I am the LORD your God.”
Robert Vasholz: The expression I brought them out of the land of Egypt is the language of redemption. The Israelites foremost were the servants of the God who redeemed them. Here, God explicitly identified Himself as Israel’s kinsman and redeemer. The role of the redeemer was to excise his kinsmen from servitude and, by these restrictions, that was what He is insuring. He delivered His people from bondage and they were not to return to slavery by the hand of anyone, whether a neighbor or an alien. Indeed, in Israel, both master and servant belonged to the Lord.