Leviticus 25
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying,
Verse 1. - And the Lord spake unto Moses in mount Sinai. The purpose of the words, in Mount Sinai, is not to distinguish the place in which the sabbatical law and the law of the jubilee were given from that in which the preceding laws were delivered. The words mean only, "in the Sinai district;" and they are employed because these laws form the conclusion of the series of laws given while the people were en-camped under Mount Sinai. The law on vows is, it is true, added to them, but it is by way of appendix.
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.
Verses 2-7. - The sabbath of the seventh year could only be observed when ye come into the land which I give you. The habit of making no distraction in the seventh year during the whole of the life in the wilderness may have led to the neglect of the law after the settlement in Canaan. Another excuse for the neglect may have been a difficulty which would have presented itself of fixing the date from which to count up to the seventh year, as different parts of the land were conquered at different times. According to the law, from New Year's Day of the seventh year (the 1st of Tisri, which occurred about the middle of September) to the following New Year's Day, there was to be neither sowing nor pruning, reaping or gathering. The expression, Neither shalt thou gather the grapes of thy vine undressed, would be more literally rendered, the grapes of thy Nazarite vine, the vine with its unpruned tendrils, being likened to the Nazarite with his unshorn locks. As to sowing and reaping, an exception was made with respect to the barley sown and reaped for the Passover sheaf, and the wheat sown and reaped for the Pentecost loaves. The spontaneous fruits of the earth, and they were very large in the rich fields of the valleys and plains, were to be the property of all alike, whether the owners of the land or not, "that the poor of thy people might eat" (Exodus 23:11). And what was left by man was to be food for the cattle and beasts of the field. The cessation of agricultural labours must have served, and may have been intended to serve, as an encouragement to mercantile pursuits, as well as to the study of the Divine Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). The Feast of Tabernacles of the seventh year was specially appointed by Moses as a day for reading the Law to the assembled people (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). And the Mishna appoints the following passages of Deuteronomy to be read on that day: - Deuteronomy 1:1-6; Deuteronomy 6:4-8; Deuteronomy 11:13-22; Deuteronomy 14:22; Deuteronomy 15:23; Deuteronomy 17:14; Deuteronomy 26:12-19; Deuteronomy 27, 28. ('Mish. Sotah.,' 7:8). The other ordinance connected with the sabbatical year, the release of debts to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1-6), was, like the fifth commandment, made of none effect by rabbinical traditions - notably by one which required a debtor, when his creditor said, "I remit," to insist that nevertheless he should accept payment. The moral purpose of the sabbath of the seventh year is well drawn out by Keil: - "In the sabbatical year the land which the Lord had given his people was to observe a period of holy rest and refreshment to its Lord and God, just as the congregation did on the sabbath day; and the hand of man was to be withheld from the fields and fruit gardens from working them that they might yield their produce for his use. The earth was to be sacred from the hand of man, exhausting its power for earthly purposes as his own property, and to enjoy the holy rest with which God had blessed the earth and all its productions after the Creation. From this, Israel, as the nation of God, was to learn, on the one hand, that although the earth was created for man, it was not merely created for him to draw out its power for his own use, but also to be holy to the Lord and participate in the blessed rest; and on the other hand, that the great purpose for which the congregation of the Lord existed did not consist in the uninterrupted tilling of the earth, connected with bitter labour in the sweat of the brow (Genesis 3:17, 19), but in the peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, which the Lord their God had given them and would give them still, without the labour of their hands, if they strove to keep his covenant and satisfy themselves with his grace."
Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;
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.
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.
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,
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.
Verses 8, 9. - The word jubile (as it is always spelt in the Authorized Version) is taken from the Hebrew word yovel, and it came to mean a year of liberty (Ezekiel 46:17; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 3:12, 3), because it freed men and lands from the obligations to which they would otherwise have been liable; but originally it signified no more than a cornet-blast, and thence the year of the cornet-blast. The way to find the jubilee year was to number seven sabbaths of years, that is, seven weeks of years (chapter 22:15), seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years: then by a blast of the cornet (the word is inexactly rendered trumpet) on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement, the approach of the jubilee in the following year was announced.
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.
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.
Verse 10. - This verse contains a short statement of the two purposes of the jubilee:

(1) to proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof;

(2) ye shall return every man unto his possession.
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.
Verses 11, 12. - So far as the tillage of the land went, the jubilee year was to have the same effect as a sabbatical year.
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.
Verses 13-17. - The Israelites were only tenants of God. They might regard themselves as owners for fifty years, but at the end of every fifty years the land was to come back to him to whom the Lord had assigned it, or to his representative. It might be bought and sold on that understanding, the value of the purchase being four. d by reckoning the price of the harvests up to the next jubilee day; but in this period only "the years of the fruits" were to be counted, that is, the sabbatical years, in which there would be no harvests, were to be deducted. Ye shall not therefore oppress (or overreach) one another by demanding more for the hind than would be its just value under the limitation of the jubilee law.
And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another:
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:
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.
Verses 18-22. - "Not only the year of jubilee, but the sabbatical year also, commenced in the autumn, when the farmers first began to sow for the coming year; so that the sowing was suspended from the autumn of the sixth year till the autumn of the seventh, and even till the autumn of the eighth whenever the jubilee year came round, in which case both sowing and reaping were omitted for two years in succession, and consequently the produce of the sixth year, which was harvested in the seventh month of that year, must have sufficed for three years, not merely till the sowing in the autumn of the eighth or fiftieth year, but till the harvest of the ninth or fifty-first year, as the Talmud and rabbins of every age have understood the law" (Keil). The question, What shall we eat? would present itself with double force when the sabbatical and the jubilee years came together. It and the answer to it therefore properly follow on the institution of the jubilee, instead of preceding it, as Ewald, Knobcl, and others demand that it should do.
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.
Verses 23, 24. - For the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. Many incidental advantages, if some difficulties, arose from the jubilee law (which will be the more appreciated if we compare the evils resulting from slavery and the accumulation of land in a few hands, found in the history of Rome or any other ancient nation); but its essential features, so far as the land was concerned, was its inculcation of the lesson of the proprietorship of the Lord. Palestine was God's land: he divided it once for all in the time of Joshua among his people, and every fifty years he required that recourse should be had to that original division, in order that in each generation the people might feel themselves to be his tenants, not independent owners, possessores, not domini.
And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.
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.
Verses 25-28. - The right of redemption of land sold continued always alive, and might be exercised by the original owner or his kinsman. If not exercised, the owner returned into his possession at any rate in the jubilee year. If a man had to sell his land, he was bound to offer it to his nearest kinsman first (see Jeremiah 32:7, 8).
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.
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.
Verses 29-31. - Houses in walled cities are not subject to the law of restoration at the jubilee, as that law applies only to lands and to men; but houses in the country are subject to the law, as they are regarded only as appurtenances of the land. Houses in cities, being occupied by artisans and built by human industry, not originally assigned in the territorial division, are not considered in so strict a sense the property of the Lord as the soil is, and may be parted with more readily. Yet the owners, if obliged to part with them, are allowed a year's grace, during which they are to have the right of buying them back. The expression, within a full year, would be more literally rendered during a fixed time, that fixed time having just before been declared to be a year.
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.
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.
Verses 32-34. - The houses of the Levites are, by an exception, subject to the law of jubilee. They constituted the share of the national property which was assigned to the tribe of Levi, and so far stood in the same relation to them as the land did to the other tribes. They therefore returned to the original possessor or his representative in the year of jubilee, and might at any earlier time be redeemed. The words, Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, should rather be rendered, But in respect to the cities of the Levites. There is a difficulty also as to the translation of the clause, And if a man purchase of the Levites, for the word rendered purchase menus elsewhere redeem; but here the Authorized Version would seem to be correct. The sense that it gives is that if any one bought a house of the Levites, he had to render it back in the year of jubilee, just as though it had been land. On the other hand, the land belonging to the Levites, in the suburbs of the Levitical cities, which was used for the pasturage of the flocks of the Levites, could not be sold except to a Levite, and therefore no question between the Levites and members of the other tribes could arise regarding it. The phrase, the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, must be understood, by a hendiadys, to mean, the house that was sold in the city of his possession (see Gesenius, 'Lex.,' s.v. לְ i.b.).
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.
Verses 35-38. - Slavery. It is presumed that no Hebrew will become a slave except on the pressure of poverty, and this poverty his brethren are commanded to relieve; but foreseeing that either want of charity on the part of the rich or unthrift on the part of the poor would certainly bring about slavery, the legislator makes regulations so as to soften its character as far as possible. The literal translation of verse 35 is as follows: If thy brother becomes poor, and his hand faileth by thee, thou shalt lay hold of him; a stranger or a sojourner that he may live with thee. The translation of the latter clause adopted by the Authorized Version, yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee, makes the duty of giving charitable support and loans of money to apply to the case of the stranger and sojourner as well as of the Israelite. The other and more probable rendering confines its application to native Israelites. If thy brother becomes poor, and his hand faileth, thou shalt support him as a stranger or a sojourner, that is, treat him with the forbearance shown to resident foreigners, to whose state he had reduced himself by the loss of his land. The command in verse 36, Take thou no usury of him, or increase, does not bear upon the general question of taking interest for money when lent to wealthy men or companies for business purposes. It simply forbids the taking of interest or increase of a brother Israelite who had become poor. The history of Rome shows how much cruelty and revolution such an injunction may have prevented. The words, or increase, added to usury, forbid the exaction of any greater quantity of food or clothing (a method of evading the law against usury) than that which had been lent. The injunction was transgressed in the time of Nehemiah, when "he rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother.... Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer" (Nehemiah 5:7, 8).
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.
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.
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:
Verses 39-42. - We see the way in which a poor Israelite might become a slave in the case of the sons of the widow whose oil was multiplied by Elisha. "Thy servant my husband is dead; (and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord:) and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen" (2 Kings 4:1). And in the time of Nehemiah, "Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.... And, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards" (Nehemiah 5:3-5). But the fact that an Israelite could not be kept in slavery for more than six years (Exodus 21:2), and that the period of his service had to be still shorter if the jubilee fell before the seventh year, and the further fact that at the time of the jubilee he would not only he free, but recover any ancestral property that he had forfeited, so that he might become once more on an equality with his master, would have made his position totally different from the hopeless, helpless state of the Greek or Roman slave, even without the positive command that he was to be treated, not as a bondservant: but as an hired servant, and as a sojourner. All alike, master and bondsman, were the slaves of God, and therefore not only were they, so far, on an equality one with another, but the master would be encroaching on the right of God if he claimed God's slaves for his own inalienably.
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.
Verse 43. - Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God, is paralleled by the New Testament injunction, "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him" (Ephesians 6:9).
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.
Verses 44-46. - Slavery is not forbidden in respect to non-Israelites. The world was not yet ready for it, as it was not ready in the days of St. Paul.
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.
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:
Verses 47-55. - Rules are laid down for the case of an Israelite who has sold himself for a slave to a non-Israelite. In this case he is not set free at the end of six years, as he would be if his master were a countryman, but in other respects his treatment is to be like that of the man with an Israelite master. He may be redeemed by the value of his work down to the jubilee being paid by himself or his kinsman; he is to be set free when the jubilee comes at any rate; he is to be treated kindly while continuing in his master's service, and his countrymen are to see that no over-severity is used.

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.
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.
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