Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you…
The principal and distinguishing point in the jubilee year was, that all landed property reverted to its original possessors. The institution was this: the people coming as a whole people, consisting of distinct tribes and families, and settling down upon the territory, God says, "This land is Mine; I give it to you, in distinct portions for your distinct families, never to be alienated." So that the, proper way of putting it, in our modern language, would be that the land, the freehold of any estate never could be sold, but only the produce of it for so many years. It never could go entirely out of the family to whom it belonged. But the price to be given would vary according to the nearness or the distance of the jubilee year; according to the number of years till that time, less or more would be paid for the produce of the land; for when that time came the lands were given up by those who had bought the produce of them till then, and everybody went back to his original paternal possession. Houses that were built in villages, and connected with the open field, were subject also to that law; and they went back. But houses that were built in cities were not subject to that law. At any time during the years that preceded the jubilee, any portion of land, any field or farm, could be redeemed; if the man that had parted with it could go and offer the money it was worth, he could demand it; any of his relatives could redeem it in the same way. They could only do this for one year with a house in a city; after that it went from them entirely. But the principal point in the jubilee year was this liberty, this remission of debts, this return of everybody to their original inheritance, which might have been parted with by vice, by improvidence, by indiscretion, or which might have gone from them by misfortune and unavoidable vicissitude. The objects of this very peculiar institution, I think it is fair to suppose, might be such as these. It was intended to produce a recollection in the mind of the people, of the manner in which God had brought them in, and settled them there, and given them their possessions; and of course, of their peculiar covenant relation to Him. It would have a tendency also to prevent the rise of a large landed power, that might become an oppressive and tyrannical aristocracy. It would certainly have a tendency also to make the people very careful about their genealogies, in order that they might easily establish their claim to such and such property. And that, we think — the distinctness and clearness of the genealogy with respect to the tribes and families — had also a bearing upon the prophecies respecting the Messiah and His coming through a particular tribe and family. It was intended, perhaps, or at least it would have that tendency, even to mitigate the evils that men by their indiscretion and improvidence might bring upon themselves and upon their families; give to them, as it were, another chance of recovering themselves, or at least to their descendants, of recovering possessions that ought to have been kept. And altogether, the influence of it would be, I think, to diffuse a very humanising and kind and happy feeling throughout the whole community.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.