And you shall count off seven sabbaths of years--seven times seven years--so that time of the seven sabbatical years amounts to forty-nine years.
Leviticus 25:8-55Isaiah 61:1-13; Luke 4:18, 19. We have here a further appendix to the fourth commandment. After seven sabbatic years there came another year, called the jubilee, which was also sabbatic, and during which there was to be a universal restitution. The trumpet was to be blown on the Day of Atonement, and the captives were then to be released, the unfortunate ones who had been compelled to part with their inheritance had it restored to them, and there was a general restoration of heart and of hope throughout the land. It was the year of liberty, of comfort, of restoration; in one word, it was every half-century a bloodless revolution, giving to the entire nation the opportunity of a new departure.
I. THE JUBILEE WAS PRE-EMINENTLY THE LORD'S, AND AS SUCH WAS A HALLOWED YEAR. The fallow year was a year of rest unto the land, the jubilee was a year of liberty and release unto the people, and, as the year which was reached after a series of seven sabbatic years, it was hallowed as no other year was hallowed, to the service of the Lord. His will ruled all the year, just as his will is pre-eminently regarded on the sabbath days. Now, the principle embodied in the jubilee was this: "All members of the community are the direct servants of Jehovah, not the servants of men, and they must therefore have an unfettered body and unencumbered estate, in order to live worthy of their vocation." Hence God gave his people in the jubilee who had become "servants of men" through the pressure of the times, release from their bondage; he gave those of them who had disposed of their estates, which they could only dispose of until the jubilee, a new gift of their inheritance; he gave every exile from his home and family through the exigencies of the times, right to return to his family and begin life amid the old associations and without encumbrance. This was surely to show that his service is perfect freedom, and that when his will is done on earth as it ought to be, men shall have such social privileges and such adequate temporal provision as will make life an antepast of heaven! The only exception to the law of restoration was the case of a house in a walled town, which, if not redeemed within a year, might become the inalienable inheritance of the buyer. It was only by some little possibility of this kind that the stranger could have any footing in the holy land at all. The growth of cities, and of the civilization which cities bring, was thus provided for. If every house as well as field reverted to its former owners, every jubilee would have witnessed an emigration of all but the descendants of the old proprietors, and business would have been brought to n utter standstill. We see in this exception the possibility of a foreign and advantageous element amid the native population.
II. THERE WAS A SLAVERY WHICH TERMINATED, AND A SLAVERY WHICH DID NOT TERMINATE, IN THE YEAR OF THE JUBILEE. The slavery which did terminate was that into which a Jewish debtor had entered, in order to give his service in lieu of the debt. In fact, slavery was the form that the bankruptcy laws took in Palestine. It would be well if some such system were engrafted on our own jurisprudence. A man who has got unfortunately into difficulties might thus honourably redeem his position and his character, instead of compromising both by availing himself of present legal facilities. On the other hand, foreigners or natives of Canaan might become perpetual slaves to the Jews. In so doing, they shared in Jewish privileges, and had the advantage of Jewish training. This was compensation for the loss of their freedom. Besides, their considerate treatment was carefully secured by the Law of God. It was right, therefore, that it should thus be unmistakably exhibited that other nations were only "hewers of wood and drawers of water" to the Lord's own people. This was what slavery among the Jews embodied.
III. THE JUBILEE WAS THE TYPE OF GOSPEL TIMES. Our Lord appropriated the prophecy delivered by Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:1, 2; cf. Luke 4:18, 19). We are living consequently amid the glorious privileges of the Lord's acceptable year. The gospel, as preached to men, is the trumpet blown at the beginning of the jubilee. It is blown over the completed atoning sacrifice of Christ. It proclaims, therefore -
1. The pardon of sin. Sin constitutes the great debt, and as sin-burdened hearts feel, the pardon of sin is the great release. What a liberty forgiveness brings!
2. The gospel proclaims freedom from the power of sin. For if God gave us liberty to sin with impunity, it would be no real blessing. He gives us through Christ and his Spirit freedom from the dominion of sin. He takes away the love of sin, which is the real liberty.
3. The gospel proclaims the sanctity of family life. Just as in the jubilee broken family circles were restored again, and social enjoyments regained, so the gospel exalts the family as the unit, and sets its highest sanctions round the home.
4. The gospel has wrought steadily towards the liberties of men. For while there was no "servile war" proclaimed in the apostolic time, but seeds of liberty were left to fructify in the bosom of the race, we know they have sprung into vigorous being, and that it is pre-eminently to the force of gospel truth and principle the battle of freedom and its victory are due.
5. And the gospel is the charter of all wise reform. It might be shown that true progress and the bloodless revolutions of such countries as England and America are due to the force of gospel principles making their hallowed way among men. It is only so far as the will of God is regarded in the politics and policy of nations that true progress and needful revolutions shall be secured.
IV. THE JUBILEE IS ALSO THE TYPE OF THE EVERLASTING REST. "There remaineth," we are told, "a sabbatism to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9). This jubilee of Creation is to be ushered in by the trump of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And regarding the heavenly state, we may in this connection remark -
1. That heaven will be an everlasting sabbath. If the jubilee was a sabbath extending over a year, heaven is to be a sabbath extending over an eternity. All time, if such an element is recognized in eternity, will prove consecrated there.
2. All wrongs shall then be righted. All the burdens and injustices and sorrows which we endure here will give place in the jubilee of heaven to the utmost justice and the most scrupulous reward.
3. The Divine family shall be complete. The scattered children of God shall be restored to their rightful place in the great family circle, and the home-feeling shall be the heritage of all.
4. And everlasting progress shall characterize the everlasting rest. For if progress towards perfection is life's most real joy, we can see how heaven itself can afford a field for it. God's infinite nature and boundless operations will not be comprehended in a flash of intuition; but insight will be, let us thankfully believe, the steady growth of ages. - R.M.E.
If thy brother... be sold unto thee.
I. TEXTS RELATING TO SLAVES.
5. Strangers, under certain restrictions (ver. 45).
6. Foreigners, might be purchased (ver. 44).
8. Thieves were sold (Exodus 22:3).
9. Israelites to be kindly treated (vers. 39, 40, 46), and to be liberated after six years (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12); or if they refused to be free, then (Exodus 21:5, 6; Deuteronomy 15:16, 17), when sold to foreigners might be redeemed (vers. 47-55), or be free at the jubilee (vers. 10, 40, 41, 54), but could not demand wife and child procured during bondage (Exodus 21:3, 4); were to be furnished liberally on regaining liberty (Deuteronomy 15:13, 14).
11. If ill-treated by masters, to be set free (Exodus 21:26, 27).
12. Laws respecting killing slaves (Exodus 21:20, 21).
13. If they ran away, not to be delivered up (Deuteronomy 23:15).
II. NOTE ON THE ABOVE TEXTS. Consider —
1. The nature of slavery as practised by the heathen world (the treatment of Israelites by Egyptians).
2. The restraint laid upon these Israelites in their conduct to foreign bondsmen. But for these laws how might these people — who had been slaves of foreigners themselves — have treated foreigners when in their turn they became masters?
3. The relation of Israelitish slaves to Israelitish masters, with their privileges (social and religious), and certain freedom.
4. The causes for which alone they might become slaves.
5. Especially consider that while these laws ameliorated the condition Of slavery as it then existed — eliminating the elements of cruelty, &c., leaving, in fact, nothing of bondage but the name — they paved the way, by the training of justice and mercy, for the total extinction of slavery.
6. Christianity in spirit, precept, and practice against slavery.(1) Asserts that there is no bond or free, but that all are one in Christ.(2) Teaches the fraternity of the race. "God hath made of one blood," &c. "All we are brethren."(3) Strikingly illustrates this by the case of a runaway slave — Onesimus — whom Paul sent back to his master, whom in some way he had wronged, not as a slave, but as a brother beloved (Philemon). Learn:
1. No warrant for modern slavery in the Word of God (Isaiah 58:6).
2. Spiritual slavery the worst form (2 Timothy 2:26).
(J. C. Gray.).
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