And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying,
The sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee belong to that great sabbatical system which runs through the religious observances of the Law, but rest upon moral rather than upon formally religious ground. It is not, therefore, without reason that they are here set apart from the set times which fell strictly within the sphere of religious observances.
Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.
Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;
Vineyard - Rather, fruit-garden. The Hebrew word is a general one for a plantation of fruit-trees.
But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.
A sabbath of rest - See Leviticus 23:3 note. The express prohibition of sowing and reaping, and of pruning and gathering, affords a presumption in favor of the sabbatical year beginning, like the year of Jubilee Leviticus 25:9, in the first month of the civil year Leviticus 23:24, the seventh of the sacred year, when the land was cleared of the crops of the preceding year.
The great material advantage of the institution must have been the increased fertility of the soil from its lying fallow one year out of seven, at a time when neither the rotation of crops nor the art of manuring were understood. It must also have kept up a salutary habit of economy in the storing of grain. Compare Genesis 41:48-56. Its great spiritual lesson was that there was no such thing as absolute ownership in the land vested in any man, that the soil was the property of Yahweh, that it was to be held in trust for Him, and not to be abused by overworking, but to be made the most of for the good of every creature which dwelt upon it.
That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.
Vine undressed - That is, "unpruned"; literally "Nazarite vine", the figure being taken from the unshorn locks of the Nazarite. Numbers 6:5.
And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee,
The sabbath of the land shall be meat for you - That is, the produce of the untilled land (its "increase," Leviticus 25:7) shall be food for the whole of you in common, rich and poor without distinction Exodus 23:11.
And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.
And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.
The land was to be divided by lot among the families of the Israelites when the possession of it was obtained. Numbers 26:52-56; Numbers 33:54, etc. At the end of every seventh sabbatical cycle of years, in the year of Jubilee, each field or estate that might have been alienated was to be restored to the family to which it had been originally allotted.
Seven sabbaths of years - seven weeks of years.
Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
Cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound - Rather, cause the sound of the cornet to go through (the land). The word jubile does not occur in this verse in the Hebrew. The trumpet is the shofar שׁפר shôphār, i. e. the cornet (rendered "shawm" in the Prayer-Book version of Psalm 98:7), either the horn of some animal or a tube of metal shaped like one. As the sound of the cornet (see Leviticus 25:10 note) was the signal of the descent of Yahweh when He came down upon Sinai to take Israel into covenant with Himself Exodus 19:13, Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:19; Exodus 20:18, so the same sound announced, at the close of the great day of atonement, after the Evening sacrifice, the year which restored each Israelite to the freedom and the blessings of the covenant.
And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
The fiftieth year - The Jubilee probably coincided with each seventh sabbatical year, and was called the fiftieth, as being the last of a series of which the first was the preceding Jubilee.
A jubile - Commonly spelled jubilee. The original word first occurs in Exodus 19:13, where it is rendered "trumpet," margin "cornet." It most probably denotes the sound of the cornet, not the cornet itself, and is derived from a root, signifying to flow abundantly, which by a familiar metaphor might be applied to sound.
A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.
In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession.
And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another:
Sell ought - i. e., any piece of ground.
Oppress one another - Rather, overreach one another. (Compare 1 Samuel 12:3-4).
According to the number of years after the jubile thou shalt buy of thy neighbour, and according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee:
The number of years of the fruits - i. e. according to the number of harvests. The average value of a yearly crop might of course be estimated, and the sabbatical years were to be deducted from the series.
According to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it: for according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell unto thee.
Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the LORD your God.
Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety.
And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety.
And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase:
Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.
And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.
The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.
These verses express the principle on which the law of Jubilee, as it regards the land, was based. The land belonged to Yahweh, and it was He who allotted it among the families of Israel for their use. No estate could therefore be alienated in perpetuity, by any human authority, from the family to whose lot it might fall.
And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.
Grant a redemption for the land - i. e. grant power to recover the land to the original holder who had parted with it.
If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.
If thy brother be waxen poor - The Israelites never parted with their land except under the pressure of poverty. Compare the answer of Naboth, 1 Kings 21:3.
And if the man have none to redeem it, and himself be able to redeem it;
Then let him count the years of the sale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it; that he may return unto his possession.
But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubile: and in the jubile it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession.
It shall go out - i. e. it shall be set free.
And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it.
And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubile.
Not go out - Because most of the houses in cities were occupied by artificers and traders whose wealth did not consist in lands.
But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be counted as the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubile.
Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, and the houses of the cities of their possession, may the Levites redeem at any time.
Rather, And concerning the cities of the Levites, the houses in the cities of their possession, etc. If one of the Levites redeems a house in the city, etc. The meaning appears to be, if a Levite redeemed a house which had been sold to a person of a different tribe by another Levite, it was to revert in the Jubilee to the latter Levite as its original possessor. The purchaser of a Levite's house was in fact only in the condition of a tenant at will, while the fields attached to the Levitical cities could never be alienated, even for a time.
For the application of the law of Jubilee to lands dedicated to the service of the sanctuary, see Leviticus 27:16-25.
And if a man purchase of the Levites, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the year of jubile: for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel.
But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their perpetual possession.
And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee.
Rather, And if thy brother (an Israelite) becomes poor and falls into decay with thee, thou shalt assist him and let him live with thee like a resident foreigner. He was not to be regarded as an outcast, but was to be treated with the same respect and consideration as a resident foreigner who, like him, could possess no land, but could accumulate property and live in comfort as a free man. See Leviticus 16:29 note.
Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.
Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.
Lend him thy victuals for increase - i. e. supply him with food for thy own profit.
I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.
Here, and in Leviticus 25:42, Leviticus 25:55, is expressed the principle which was to limit and modify the servitude of Hebrew servants.
And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant:
The law here appears harmoniously to supplement the earlier one in Exodus 21:1-6. It was another check applied periodically to the tyranny of the rich. Compare Jeremiah 34:8-17.
But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubile:
And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.
For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen.
Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God.
Fear thy God - Yahweh was the Lord and Master of His people. To treat a Hebrew as a slave was therefore to interfere with the rights of Yahweh. Compare Romans 14:4.
Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
Property in foreign slaves is here distinctly permitted. It was a patriarchal custom Genesis 17:12. Such slaves might be captives taken in war (Numbers 31:6 following; Deuteronomy 20:14), or those consigned to slavery for their crimes, or those purchased of foreign slave-dealers. The price of a slave is supposed to have varied from thirty to fifty shekels. See Leviticus 27:3-4, note; Exodus 21:32, note; Zechariah 11:12-13, note; Matthew 26:15, note. It was the object of Moses, not at once to do away with slavery, but to discourage and to mitigate it. The Law would not suffer it to be forgotten that the slave was a man, and protected him in every way that was possible at the time against the injustice or cruelty of his master. See the notes at Exodus 21.
Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.
And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.
Your bondmen forever - i. e. they were not necessarily to be released in the sabbatical year nor at the Jubilee.
And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee, and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, and sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee, or to the stock of the stranger's family:
A sojourner or stranger - Rather, a foreigner who has settled among you. See Leviticus 16:29, note; Exodus 20:10, note.
After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him:
Either his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself.
And he shall reckon with him that bought him from the year that he was sold to him unto the year of jubile: and the price of his sale shall be according unto the number of years, according to the time of an hired servant shall it be with him.
If there be yet many years behind, according unto them he shall give again the price of his redemption out of the money that he was bought for.
And if there remain but few years unto the year of jubile, then he shall count with him, and according unto his years shall he give him again the price of his redemption.
And as a yearly hired servant shall he be with him: and the other shall not rule with rigour over him in thy sight.
And if he be not redeemed in these years, then he shall go out in the year of jubile, both he, and his children with him.
In these years - More properly, by one of these means. The extreme period of servitude in this case was six years, as when the master was a Hebrew Exo 21:2.
Looking at the law of the Jubilee from a simply practical point of view, its operation must have tended to remedy those evils which are always growing up in the ordinary conditions of human society. It prevented the permanent accumulation of land in the hands of a few, and periodically raised those whom fault or misfortune had sunk into poverty to a position of competency. It must also have tended to keep alive family feeling, and helped to preserve the family genealogies.
But in its more special character, as a law given by Yahweh to His special people, it was a standing lesson to those who would rightly regard it, on the terms upon which the enjoyment of the land of promise had been conferred upon them. All the land belonged to Yahweh as its supreme Lord, every Israelite as His vassal belonged to Him. The voice of the Jubilee horns, twice in every century, proclaimed the equitable and beneficent social order appointed for the people; they sounded that acceptable year of Yahweh which was to bring comfort to all that mourned, in which the slavery of sin was to be abolished, and the true liberty of God's children was to be proclaimed Luke 2:25; Isaiah 61:2; Luke 4:19; Acts 3:21; Romans 8:19-23; 1 Peter 1:3-4.
For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.