Leviticus 25
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Leviticus 25:1-55. The Sabbatical year. The Year of Jubile, etc. (H and P)

This ch. contains (a) legislation with respect to (1) the sabbatical year, and (2) the year of Jubile; and (b) sundry applications of the law of Jubile to land and individuals, devised in order to relieve the impoverished Israelite. It would have been placed appropriately after ch. 23. The holy seasons here described form a suitable appendix to the list of days to be observed in each year that are contained in the earlier ch.

After seven periods of seven years have passed, each closing with its sabbatical year, the following, viz. the fiftieth, is to be hallowed. Every man shall return to his own possession and to his own family. The land shall not be sold in perpetuity. Only the value of its yield till the next Jubile can at any time be sold. Houses in walled cities are exempt from this law. The connexion between the people and the land is permanent.

This ch. is not one in which it is easy clearly to indicate the parts to be assigned to H and P respectively. The literary analysis, in the absence of historical details relating to the year of Jubile, must remain in a great measure uncertain.

In fact, from the nature of the matters which are here dealt with we conclude that in all probability the present form of the ch. is the result of much editing. That use has been made of the Priestly Code is clear from the occurrence of many words which are favourites with P, e.g. (Leviticus 25:9) ‘atonement’ (kippûrîm), (Leviticus 25:10 and passim) ‘possession’ (’ăhuzzah), (Leviticus 25:6 and passim) ‘stranger’ (tôshâb), and such expressions as (Leviticus 25:30) ‘throughout his generations,’ (Leviticus 25:41; Leviticus 25:54) ‘he and his children with him,’ (Leviticus 25:46) ‘your children after you.’ Moreover, the legal relations connected with buying, selling, redemption, etc. are akin to that code. On the other hand, that an enactment relating to the sabbatical year dates from much earlier times than P is shewn by its occurrence in the legislation of Exodus 23:10 f. (E).

That some such compulsory relinquishing and resumption of land in private ownership at fixed periods were not unknown, at any rate among other nations, is clear from the analogous customs described by Sir H. Maine, Village Communities in the East and West, pp. 77–99, 107–113, etc., and by J. Fenton, Early Hebrew Life, pp. 24–26, 29–32, and specially 64–70. The underlying principle seems to have been that lands belonging to a village are to be recognised as belonging to the inhabitants collectively, and are only to be held by any individual temporarily and then to be restored to the use of the community in general. It may well, however, be doubted whether the Hebrew law of Jubile was ever in actual force. The picture of oppression so graphically drawn by the prophets (Isaiah 3:15; Amos 2:7 f., Leviticus 5:11) makes it difficult to suppose that while they severely condemn the rich men who ‘grind the faces of the poor,’ they would not refer to this law, if it existed.

The contents of the ch. may be thus subdivided:

(1) Leviticus 25:2-7, the sabbatical year; (2) Leviticus 25:8-17; Leviticus 25:23, the year of Jubile (Leviticus 25:18-22 are an insertion, see note there); (3) Leviticus 25:24-34, redemption of land and of Levites’ houses; (4) Leviticus 25:35-38, prohibition of usury in the case of a poor Israelite; (5) Leviticus 25:39-46, prohibition of permanent servitude of one Israelite to another; (6) Leviticus 25:47-55, Israelites who are slaves of resident foreigners to be redeemed.

And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying,
1–7. The rest year was a transference to the land of the sabbatical idea emphasized each week for living creatures, the year being now taken as the unit instead of the day. See App. I, pp. 172 f. for the difference in standpoint between this and the parallel ordinances elsewhere in the Hexateucb, as indicating modifications of the same law in successive periods.

The seventh year is to bear the same relation to the six preceding years as the sabbath to the six preceding days of the week. The parallel between the land and the bondman was close. The divinely appointed seventh day of rest is to be kept holy by abstaining from work, so the land shall keep every seventh year holy to the Lord by resting from all work. It cannot be wholly inactive, but nothing is to be done which will cause the land to put forth its full strength. By a curtailment of the full powers bestowed upon man and land by their Creator both were to keep holy a season to the Lord. In Exodus 23:10-11 the fallow year is regarded as a provision for the poor and part of the animal creation, while the religious idea underlies the injunctions of the passage in Leviticus.

In pre-exilic times the law seems to have been, at any rate to a large extent, disregarded (see ch.Leviticus 26:35; Leviticus 26:43; 2 Chronicles 36:21).

It is true that the custom of letting land lie fallow prevails in so many countries and can be traced back so far that it is certain that the Hebrews must have observed something of the kind from the time of their being settled. If the fallow time were different for different fields there would be nothing to call for special note, and it is not surprising that no reference is found to the practice in the historical Books. But a fixed fallow year for all the land would cause an interruption of social life of which some traces would be found in the history.

Later on, in Nehemiah’s time (Nehemiah 10:31), the people bound themselves to carry out the Law. According to Josephus (Ant. xi. 8. 6) both Jews and Samaritans observed it in the time of Alexander the Great, and so later in the days of the Hasmonean dynasty (1Ma 6:49; 1Ma 6:53; Ant. xiii. 8. 1) and the Herods (ib. xiv. 16. 2). Tacitus (Hist. Leviticus 25:4), however, attributes the Jews’ observance of it to laziness.

The sabbatical year concluded with the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10), and the old reckoning, by which the year began in autumn, not in spring (see on Leviticus 23:23-25), was necessarily applied in this case. The year’s circle of agricultural operations naturally would begin as soon as harvest and vine-gathering were finished. Had it begun in the first month (after the sowing of spring time) the harvests of both sixth and seventh years would have been lost.

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.
2. keep a sabbath unto the Lord] The land shall rest in the seventh year, as man rests on the seventh day, the sabbath. This idea is not expressed in Exodus 23:10 f., but may be implied there in the command immediately following with reference to the sabbath in Leviticus 25:12.

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.
5. undressed] untrimmed by lopping and hence consecrated. The Heb. word is the same as that denoting the Nazirite, who in token of his consecration wore his hair uncut (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,
6. the sabbath] i.e. the produce during the year of rest. Instead of storing it as in each of the six years, they were only to gather it from time to time when needed for food. Much of the grain in Palestine to-day sows itself, as it falls from the ripe ears.

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.
8–17. The 50th year or year of Jubile. In each such year landed property shall revert to its original owner, and the price to be paid in buying and selling such possessions shall be estimated in accordance with the distance of the transaction from that year.

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.
9. The year of Jubile began on the tenth of the seventh month and was proclaimed by the sound of the trumpet. The coincidence of this ceremony with the Day of Atonement presents a difficulty to some commentators, but according to Ezekiel 40:1 the tenth day of the month is sometimes reckoned as the first day of the year. Others would regard the words ‘in the day of atonement’ as a later insertion. Dillmann sees nothing incongruous in the trumpet sound on the Day of Atonement, and considers the reconciliation of that day as an appropriate beginning of a year in which each one acquired his liberty. Restoration to God’s favour was the preliminary to entering upon his possession. Another explanation of the text is that the trumpet sound was a note of preparation six months before the actual commencement of the Jubile in the spring—but the ceremony seems intended to usher in the actual year, and was coincident with the proclamation of liberty.

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.
10. a jubile] lit. ‘a ram’s horn’ (blowing). Doubtless the year had originally the name year of the ram’s horn, and afterwards the first part of this title was dropped in current speech, thus leaving the Heb. word yôbçl, which, through the Vulg. Jubilaeus, has been adopted into English as jubile.

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.
13. See introd. note.

And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another:
14. thou … ye] The variation in person indicates the combination of two sources.

thy neighbour] An unusual Heb. word (‘âmîth), occurring in the H section eleven times, 5:21 (bis), Leviticus 18:20, Leviticus 19:11; Leviticus 19:15; Leviticus 19:17, Leviticus 24:19, Leviticus 25:14 (bis), Leviticus 25:15; Lev 25:17; only once outside Lev., in Zechariah 13:7.

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:
15, 16. The purchase is in fact not of the soil, but of the expectation of a greater or less number of years’ fruits.

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.
17. Summary, together with the guiding motive characteristic of H.

Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety.
18–22. A hortatory addition, relating to the sabbatical year and interrupting the Jubile regulations. It is thus clearly out of place, and should properly follow Leviticus 25:7. Its tone is that of H, and is in accord with such hortatory passages as Leviticus 18:25 ff., Leviticus 20:22 f., Leviticus 26:3 ff. It may be conjectured that the redactor’s reason for placing it here out of its proper context was to indicate that it applies to the regulations for the Jubile as well as the sabbatical year.

The mention of the ninth year (Leviticus 25:22), combined with the words ‘three years’ (Leviticus 25:21), seems to point to the view (see introd. note to ch.) that the Jubile year was really the 50th, not the 49th, and that thus the land on such occasions was to have two years (the seventh and eighth) of rest. On the other hand, Leviticus 25:20 has ‘the seventh year’ (not the seventh and eighth), and Leviticus 25:22 ‘ye shall sow the eighth year’ (not the ninth). It is probable that the redactor, with the object mentioned above, introduced into Leviticus 25:22 mention of the ninth year. So Dillm. who further makes the ‘three years,’ originally meaning the sixth, seventh, and eighth (i.e. the produce of the sixth year was to last abnormally till the harvest time of that sowed in the earlier part of the eighth instead of the seventh year) to have been taken by the redactor to mean seventh, eighth, and ninth, so as to fall in with his view that the Jubile followed, instead of coinciding with, the last year of the cycle of seven sabbatical years.

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.
23. A resumption of the Jubile regulation (after the interruption of Leviticus 25:18-22) providing that the land was not to be alienated beyond the next Jubile.

And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.
24–28. Law in respect to the redemption of land (H and P mixed)

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.
25. be waxen poor] The original verb is almost confined to this ch., the one exception being Leviticus 27:8 (‘be poorer’).

his kinsman that is next unto him] Cp. the more explicit statement in Leviticus 25:48 f. For the important term Gô’çl, here rendered ‘kinsman,’ lit. vindicator, cp. Jeremiah 32:8 ff.; Ruth 4:1 ff., and Art. Goel in HDB.

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.
27. the overplus] i.e. a proportion of the original price obtained, corresponding to the number of years which were still to intervene between the redemption and the next Jubile year.

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.
29–34. Law in respect to the redemption of houses (P)

Houses in a walled town, if sold, and not redeemed within a year, were (with the exception of those belonging to the Levites) to be unaffected by the Jubile, and remain the permanent possession of the buyer, but for houses elsewhere there was no restriction as to the time within which they might be redeemed, and in any case the Jubile law was to be in force.

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.
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.
33. if one of the Levites redeem] The Heb. presents great difficulty as it stands. If we take the rendering in the text, it is unsuitable, because in the case there supposed, viz. that one Levite redeems the house of another, obviously the statement that the house shall ‘go out’ (i.e. return to its original owner) in the Jubile adds nothing to the law as to Levites, set forth in Leviticus 25:32. But if we take R.V. mg. (so LXX.), if a man redeem from the Levites, this purchase on the part of a non-Levite had no connexion with the Jubile law, as not being the purchasing back of a possession on the part of one of the family of the original owner. It seems best therefore to suppose that the ‘not’ which the Vulg. supplies (see R.V. mg.) has dropped out of the original text. The sense will then be, If one of the Levites does not redeem, then the house which he has sold will at any rate return into his possession at the Jubile.

and the city of his possession] The expression is a somewhat awkward one. The intention seems to be to provide that this rule shall operate only as regards houses within the cities set apart for the Levites (Numbers 35:2; Joshua 21:2-40), and not elsewhere.

But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their perpetual possession.
34. The law concerning houses in Levitical cities is not to apply to land outside the walls.

suburbs] rather, as R.V. mg., pasture lands, probably referring to common land belonging to the inhabitants of the adjacent city. The original word seems from its derivation to mean lit. land on to which cattle were driven.

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.
35. be waxen poor] See on Leviticus 25:25.

his hand fail with thee] i.e. if he lose his power of self-support by personal effort, and thou art able as a neighbour to help him.

uphold] The text gives the literal sense of the Heb. verb, and the mg., relieve, its application in this context.

as a stranger and a sojourner shall he live with thee] The Heb. rather connects the first words of the clause with that which precedes, and so Dillm. and Driver (with the LXX.) suppose that the two substantives are a later insertion here under the influence of Leviticus 25:23; Leviticus 25:47.

35–38. Prohibition of usury in the case of a poor Israelite (H with perhaps a slight admixture of P)

Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.
36. usury … increase] The former was interest on money, the latter on food stuffs and paid in kind. For the important part played by such transactions in Babylonia see Johns, Bab. and Assyr. Laws, ch. 23, p. 253.

Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.
37. No interest was to be permitted in such a case for money lent, nor, if the loan took the form of the necessaries of life, was more than the amount lent to be exacted in return. The same law appears in Exodus 22:25 [Heb. 24]; Deuteronomy 23:20. In the latter case it is from ‘a stranger’ interest may be demanded.

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:
39–46. Prohibition of permanent servitude of one Israelite to another (H and P mixed, the former probably preponderating)

This case was to be subject to the operation of the law of Jubile, Moreover, the Israelite so bought shall not be compelled to work as a slave, but only under such conditions as befit a sojourner or hired servant. Leviticus 25:42 adds the reason (cp. Leviticus 25:13; Leviticus 25:55). On the other hand slaves bought from persons of other nations, or from foreigners sojourning in the land, were to be bondservants in the strictest sense of the word. For the differences between the law on these subjects and that in Exodus 21:2 ff.; Deuteronomy 15:12-18, see ICC Deut.; p. 185, and Intr. to pent. p. 123.

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.
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.
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:
47–55. The case of Israelites who are slaves of resident foreigners (H but with a large admixture of P)

Such a person might be redeemed, or, if he acquired the means, might redeem himself, the price of redemption to be calculated according to the number of years intervening before the Jubile, as in the case of the redemption of land (Leviticus 25:27). In any case the bondage was limited by the law of the Jubile.

After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him:
48, 49. Cp. Leviticus 25:25.

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.
53. in thy sight] whenever thou art cognizant of it.

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.
55. Cp. Leviticus 25:23; Leviticus 25:42.

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