James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying,Leviticus 25:1-55
THE SABBATIC AND JUBILEE YEARS
Considering the limited scope of this work, we pass over chapter 24 to give more attention to the subject of the present chapter which is closely connected with that of the feasts, or appointed seasons.
THE SABBATIC YEAR
It deals first with the Sabbatic year (Leviticus 25:1-7). From what were the Israelites prohibited in the seventh year (Leviticus 25:4)? How much further did the prohibition extend (Leviticus 25:5)? But while there should be no sowing, pruning or reaping for the year, nevertheless were all the spontaneous produce of the land to be a waste (Leviticus 25:6-7)? What may have been God’s object in this law?
Agricultural science recognizes that a periodic rest of land is of advantage, particularly where it is difficult to obtain fertilizers in adequate amount. But there must have been a deeper reason here, and we wonder whether the enactment was not intended as a discipline in faith towards God, teaching the Israelite that man does not live by bread alone (compare verses 20-22 with Deuteronomy 8:3). Then may not another thought have been to impress him that his right to the soil and its produce came from God? We can see also how such an enactment would curb selfishness and covetousness, and place the rich and the poor periodically on the same level. It has some symbolical and typical aspects as well, which will be considered later.
THE JUBILEE YEAR
The chapter deals in the next place with the Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:8-12). In what month, and on what day did it begin (Leviticus 25:9)? What name was given to this day? By what ceremony was it introduced? What was the proclamation on this day (Leviticus 25:10)? Was it also a Sabbath for the land (Leviticus 25:11)? Then did two Sabbath years come in immediate succession?
A question may arise as to how a new year could begin in the seventh month. But the answer is that Israel had two kinds of years. What might be called its religious year, began with the Feast of the Passover in the spring (Exodus 12), while its civil year began with the day of atonement in the fall.
One feature of the “liberty” of the Jubilee year concerned the redemption of the land (Leviticus 25:12-27). In that year what must be returned to every man who had suffered a loss of it (Leviticus 25:13)? What was the basis of value in the purchase and sale of land (Leviticus 25:15-16)? Since the possession must revert to the original holder in the year of Jubilee, it had only just so much value as there were years and crops intervening between the time it left his hand and the next Jubilee. What was the purpose or effect of this law (Leviticus 25:17)? What was its basis, or in other words, why could not the land be sold in perpetuity, but must be returned to its first holder (Leviticus 25:23)?
Observe from this that in Israel, under the theocracy, there was no such thing as either private or communal ownership of the land. The owner was
Jehovah, and all any man could buy or sell was the right to its produce, and that only for a limited time.
THE KINSMAN REDEEMER
The law of the kinsman redeemer is an interesting feature of this subject (Leviticus 25:25-28).
If one for reasons of poverty was obliged to sell his land, whose duty was it to redeem it for him did his circumstances permit (Leviticus 25:25)? Might the original possessor himself redeem it (Leviticus 25:26)? Observe that the basis of price (Leviticus 25:27) was that referred to above. Observe also, that if it could not be redeemed in either case, then it must return to him at the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:28).
The exception as to walled cities is peculiar (Leviticus 25:29-34). If a man sold a dwelling there, might he ever get it back again (Leviticus 25:29)? If the opportunity was not availed of, what then (Leviticus 25:30)? Did this apply to other than walled cities (Leviticus 25:31)? Was there any exception as to the owners of dwellings in walled cities (Leviticus 25:32)?
The reason for exempting houses in walled cities seems to be that there was no land here which might be used agriculturally for man’s support. In the case of unwalled towns or villages it was otherwise, hence the exception there. The inhabitants of such towns or villages were the cultivators of the soil, and their houses belonged to the farms. The case of the Levites is explained by the fact that according to the divine command, earlier recorded, they had no other possession than their houses.
THE QUESTION OF SLAVERY
The question of slavery comes again before us (Leviticus 25:39-55). What kind of slave is referred to in Leviticus 25:39, voluntary or involuntary? A Hebrew or an alien? What difference must be made in his case? How did the Jubilee year effect him (Leviticus 25:40-41)? What other kind of slave is allowed for (Leviticus 25:44-45)? If a Hebrew sold himself to an alien, what then (Leviticus 25:47-49)?
We wonder at Jehovah permitting slavery. But if we carefully considered the laws governing it in Israel, we must have seen how different it was from modern slavery, how just and equitable, and even how desirable for
those whose circumstances made it necessary. We shall see also that these laws had such an educational power as to altogether banish slavery from the Hebrew people.
THE TYPICAL AND SYMBOLICAL ASPECT
The Sabbatic year and Jubilee year are the last two members of the Sabbatic system of septenary periods all of which have a typical significance. Each brings out some aspect of redemption through Christ, and all combined form a progressive revelation in type of the results of Christ’s work for the world.
These last two periods began on the great Day of Atonement in which all Israel was to afflict their souls in penitence for sin. On that day they both began when the high priest came out from within the veil, where, from the time of offering the sin offering, he had been hidden from the sight of Israel. Both also were ushered in with a trumpet blast. We have in both a type of the final repentance of Israel in the latter days, and their re-establishment in their own land, of which all the prophets speak. The earlier restoration from their Babylonian captivity was doubtless prefigured here as well; and yet the ultimate reference must be to that event still in the future (Isaiah 11:11).
THE WORLD FULFILLMENT
The type, however, reaches beyond Israel and includes the whole earth. See Peter’s reference in Acts 3:19-21, when Jesus Christ the heavenly High Priest shall come forth and when the last trumpet shall sound and He shall appear “the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28; Romans 8:19-22).
1. Name four practical reasons for the Sabbatic year.
2. When did the civil year of Israel begin?
3. Who owned the land of Israel?
4. Can you explain the exemption of walled cities?
5. What effect has God’s law about slavery had upon that institution among the Hebrews?
6. On what day of the year did the Sabbatic and Jubilee years begin?
7. Of what are both these years a type?
8. How far beyond Israel’s history does the type of the Jubilee year extend?