Leviticus 25 – Special Sabbaths and Jubilees
A. The Sabbath Year.
1. (1-2) The land and its Sabbath.
And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD.
a. When you come into the land which I give you: These laws were given in faith. Israel was still in the wilderness, and not yet in the Promised Land. Additionally, as far as Moses and the people knew, they were only a matter of months from entering in.
i. God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. This reminds us that Israel was still camped at Mount Sinai, and that Moses received these laws from God as he met with the LORD on the mountain. Israel remained at Mount Sinai from the time of Exodus 19, all through Leviticus, and up to Numbers 10.
b. The land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD: We are familiar with the idea of a sabbath of days, where one day out of seven is specially dedicated to God and His rest. This described a Sabbath of years for the land, where the land received a rest one year out of seven. This was mentioned before in Exodus 23:11.
c. Then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD: Obviously, this called Israel to truly trust God. They had to trust God that He would provide enough in the harvest of six years to see them through the seventh year of rest.
i. In the Feast of Tabernacles on the Sabbath year, the law was to be read to all the people by the priests (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). Each Sabbath year was also to be a time for an extensive Bible seminar for the whole nation.
2. (3-7) How to give the land its Sabbath.
Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land—all its produce shall be for food.
a. In the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land: This applied to both grain crops and fruit-bearing plants. Israel was to do this as a radical demonstration that the land belonged to God, not to them.
i. “During the sabbatical year there must be no systematic harvesting of self-seeding crops, or such fruits as figs and grapes. Anything of this nature that the land produces without human aid is the property of all, and people are to obtain food wherever they can find it, just as the Israelites did in their wilderness wanderings.” (Harrison)
ii. “In the inter-testamental period Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar remitted Israel’s taxes during sabbatical years.” (Rooker)
b. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: Observing the sabbath year was also a powerful testimony of dependence on God. Israel declared their belief that God would meet their needs. This was truly living by faith, and God wanted His people to live trusting Him.
i. It was wise management of the land. Giving the land some rest every seven years helped restore vital nutrients to the soil that are depleted by constant use.
ii. Matthew Poole gave an interesting additional reason for the sabbath year. He suggested that one of the reasons for the Sabbath year was to put everyone in Israel in the same place as the poor of the land, who had to simply trust that God would provide in unlikely circumstances. This would give them compassion for the poor, who had to live that way every year.
iii. Israel’s failure to keep this command determined the length of their captivity. Leviticus 26:34 said that if Israel was not obedient, God would make sure the land gets its sabbaths by removing the people to the land of an enemy. This was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity of Israel (2 Chronicles 36:20-21).
iv. Today, some observant Jewish people find a way around the sabbath year law. On the seventh year, they “sell” their land to a Gentile, work it, and then “buy” it back from the Gentile when the Sabbath year is over. The Gentile makes a little money, and the Jewish person could say, “It wasn’t my land on the Sabbath year, so it was all right if I worked it.” Others observe this by only cultivating six-sevenths of their land at any one time, and over seven years the entire land has a year of rest.
B. The Year of Jubilee.
1. (8-12) The year of Jubilee to be observed every fiftieth year.
‘And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field.
a. You shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years: The year of Jubilee was something like a double sabbath year, in the sense that crops were not planted, and the land was given a rest for two years.
i. “The traditional rendering of the name for this special year is ‘Jubilee,’ which is ultimately a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning ‘ram’s horn.’” (Peter-Contesse)
ii. “Two fallow years in succession would have been a severe test of faith. The Israelites were called upon to trust totally in God and acknowledge in a profound way that he was the provider of the basic necessities of life.” (Rooker)
iii. Some take the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-3 to speak of a Jubilee year. Since Jesus read this passage in a Nazareth synagogue at the beginning of His ministry, some have speculated that Jesus’ ministry began in a year of Jubilee – though it was mostly not observed among the Jewish people at that time.
iv. On the tenth day of the seventh month: “It is worthy of remark that the jubilee was not proclaimed till the tenth day of the seventh month, on the very day when the great annual atonement was made for the sins of the people; and does not this prove that the great liberty or redemption from thraldom, published under the Gospel, could not take place till the great Atonement, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, had been offered up?” (Clarke)
b. Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants: The wonderful liberty of a Jubilee was joyfully announced through all the land, announcing that all slaves were free. We don’t have much of a record of this being observed in the Old Testament; there may be examples in Nehemiah 8 and 10.
i. “Slave laws in Exodus (Exodus 21:2–6) and Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 15:12–18) provide the option of a slave agreeing to remain with his master after six years of enslavement; in the Jubilee even that slave is set free.” (Rooker)
ii. “In the year of jubilee, moreover, the slave was to be liberated, thus reminding men that they could have no absolute and final property in any human being.” (Morgan)
iii. The founding fathers of the United States were aware of the principle of the year of Jubilee and the freedom associated with it. On the Liberty Bell they inscribed the phrase from verse 10: proclaim liberty throughout all the land.
c. Each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family: When the trumpet sounded on the Day of Atonement to proclaim a Jubilee, it meant more than the land receiving an extra year of rest. It was also a liberation of sorts, which the following verses will explain. Land was to return to the family it was originally given to, and people (including slaves) were expected to return home.
i. “The context indicates that what is involved here is property that has had to be sold during difficult times. The former owner was allowed during this special year to retake possession of his land.” (Peter-Contesse)
2. (13-17) In the year of Jubilee, the land went back to its original family.
‘In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God.
a. In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession: When Israel came into the Promised Land, the land was allotted according to tribes and families. These initial tracts of land would be the permanent possession of those families, and therefore land in Israel could never be permanently sold; it could only be leased, and the amount of the lease would be based on the number of years which were left until the Jubilee.
i. In Joshua chapters 13 through 21, the Promised Land was divided among the tribes of Israel. Each tribe received an area within the land, and each clan or large family unit of the tribes received their portion within that land. These were the assignments returned to each Year of Jubilee. What God gave to a clan or large family unit in Joshua 13-21 was to be theirs forever.
ii. This meant that no family would be forever without land. Every fifty years, every family would have the opportunity to start again.
iii. Each of you shall return to his possession: Believers are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). The day will come when we will hear the blast of a trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and come to our true and eternal home.
b. Therefore you shall not oppress one another: Though this was extremely charitable and helpful to the families in Israel, this was not a socialist system, because only land was re-distributed. Most effectively, this helped protect against the existence of a permanent underclass in Israel.
i. We don’t know for a fact that the Year of Jubilee was ever actually observed. Jeremiah 34:8-15 describes an attempt to implement some of the principles of the Jubilee. “Just how widely the concept of the jubilee year was observed through the history of the Israelites is difficult to state for lack of direct evidence.” (Harrison)
ii. Yet to whatever degree it was observed, this system was a blessing to Israel in the ancient world. It meant no clan or large family unit was forever poor; every fifty years there was a “reset” in the economy of Israel with debts canceled, servants liberated, and the return of land. However, this worked for a society based on agriculture, and agriculture on the scale possible in pre-modern times. It also worked for a society that did not have dramatic population growth over the centuries.
iii. The economy of Israel under God’s law, including the law of Jubilee, found a middle course between unrestrained capitalism and the oppression of a state-controlled economy. “The jubilee was a wonderful institution, and was of very great service to the religion, freedom, and independence of the Jewish people.” (Clarke)
iv. “Debts were to be remitted, slaves emancipated, and so the mountains of wealth and the valleys of poverty were to be somewhat levelled, and the nation carried back to its original framework of a simple agricultural community of small owners, each ‘sitting under his own vine and fig-tree.’” (Maclaren)
v. Today, some of the principles of the Year of Jubilee would be a blessing for modern society, such as a system of the cancellation of debts every fifty years. However, since God did not assign land for modern people across the globe as He did for Israel in Joshua 13-21, we can’t take every principle of a Jubilee and apply it to the modern world.
3. (18-22) God’s provision for the Sabbath year.
‘So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. ‘And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?” Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest.
a. So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety: God promised that if Israel obeyed Him, He would provide so much on the sixth year, that they would not only be supplied for the seventh year when they gave the land rest, but they would also be eating the produce of the sixth year some three years later.
b. Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year: If Israel trusted God to provide as He promised in the sixth year – to provide enough for three years in the sixth year – God promised to command a blessing upon them. The promise was so sure that God said He would command it.
i. If we obey God – even when it doesn’t make sense – we can trust He will provide our every need. If we seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, all those practical things will be provided (Matthew 6:33).
C. Rules regarding the redemption of property.
1. (23) The fundamental principle.
‘The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.
a. For the land is Mine: The whole earth is the LORD’s (Psalm 24:1). Yet, God has a special regard for the land of Israel, which He calls His Holy Land (Zechariah 2:12). Here God proclaimed that the land of Israel is His in a special way, beyond the sense in which all the earth belongs to Him.
i. In theory, God’s chosen nation and the drama of redemption could have been centered at almost anywhere on the globe. Yet He chose the land of Israel as that place. In terms of geography, it is the stage upon which God has centered His plan of the ages.
b. The land shall not be sold permanently: Because the Promised Land belonged to God in a special sense, the land could be leased, but never sold. Every lease would expire in the year of Jubilee. In addition, the lease could be bought out at any time by a kinsman-redeemer (Leviticus 25:25).
c. For you are strangers and sojourners with Me: One could say that the Promised Land never truly belonged to Israel. It belonged to God. In this, God reminded Israel that their real home was in heaven with Him, and they were only strangers and visitors to this earth. This is true of Christians today (1 Peter 2:11 and Hebrews 11:13).
i. To always be strangers and sojourners doesn’t sound like a blessing. But for God to tell us, “you are strangers and sojourners with Me” changes everything. To be withGod means all things are ours and we have a far better citizenship and homeland.
2. (24-28) The role of the redeeming relative.
And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land. ‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold. Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it, then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession. But if he is not able to have it restored to himself, then what was sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the Year of Jubilee; and in the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession.
a. In all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land: This redemption of the land was accomplished through the redeeming relative (in Hebrew, goel). The goel was a designated close relative who had the right (and responsibility) to do three essential things for a clan or family:
· The goel would redeem a family member sold into slavery.
· The goel would redeem the family’s land or inheritance sold outside the family.
· The goel would avenge the murder of a member of the family.
i. The book of Ruth describes a redeeming relative transaction. When Naomi returned from Moab, poor and in debt, her nearest redeeming relative was willing to buy back the land for her but stopped short when he found he would also have to marry Ruth and raise up an heir for the property. When this nearest redeeming relative did not fulfill his obligation, Boaz was the next closest redeeming relative, and he fulfilled the responsibility out of love for Ruth (Ruth 3).
ii. The goel is also a wonderful picture of Jesus, our redeeming relative.
· Jesus redeems us from slavery to sin (Romans 3:24 and 1 Corinthians 6:20).
· Jesus restores our inheritance and more. “What we have lost in the first Adam we have more than regained in the second. For innocence, we have purity; for external fellowship with God, His indwelling; for the delights of an earthly paradise, the fullness of God’s blessedness and joy.” (Meyer)
· Jesus avenges the soul-murder of His people, defeating the one who came to kill (John 10:10).
iii. The goel would redeem slaves or property with money. “We have been redeemed, not with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ. We have been made free by right, and have only to claim and act upon the freedom with which the risen Christ has made us free.” (Meyer)
b. Let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder: When a goel (the redeeming relative) bought back land on behalf of the family, the price was determined by how many years stood since its sale and until the next Jubilee.
i. “Presumably he would pay back to the buyer the money he received minus the amount the purchaser had earned from the land since the sale. The value of the property would decrease the closer they were to the next Jubilee.” (Rooker)
c. In the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession: If the redeeming relative was unable to buy his brother out of debt before a Jubilee, the land would return to the debtor at the Jubilee year.
3. (29-34) The exception for land in walled cities.
‘If a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year he may redeem it. But if it is not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it, throughout his generations. It shall not be released in the Jubilee. However the houses of villages which have no wall around them shall be counted as the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the Jubilee. Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, and the houses in the cities of their possession, the Levites may redeem at any time. And if a man purchases a house from the Levites, then the house that was sold in the city of his possession shall be released in the Jubilee; for the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel. But the field of the common-land of their cities may not be sold, for it is their perpetual possession.
a. If a man sells a house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold: The laws of property as described in previous verses did not apply to urban property (in a walled city). The previously described laws applied to rural land where most ancient Israelites lived. For them, the land was more than a place to live; it was a place to earn one’s livelihood.
i. “The reason for this distinction apparently lies in the fact that houses within walled cities fell outside the jurisdiction of family property inheritance and were not critical for the economic survival of the family.” (Rooker)
b. The house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it: In cities, property was usually only a place to live. Therefore, this property could be bought or sold more freely, without the same restrictions which applied to the original allotments of land given to Israel when they came into the Promised Land.
c. If a man purchases a house from the Levites, then the house that was sold in the city of his possession shall be released in the Jubilee: However, there was an exception to the special rules regarding urban real estate. The property of the Levites would be theirs forever, redeemable at any time, in a city or in a rural area.
D. Care of the poor.
1. (35-38) Lending to the poor.
‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.
a. If one of your brethren becomes poor: These commands specifically prohibit making money from the misfortune of a poor brother. Instead of making profit from the misery of a poor brother, the command was simple: you shall help him.
b. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you: Jesus made a similar command in Luke 6:34, when He asked what credit could it be to us if we give to or help only those whom we know can help us back.
i. “Usury, at present, signifies unlawful interest for money.” (Clarke)
ii. “The prophet Ezekiel listed usury as among the most serious crimes, including murder and adultery (Ezekiel 18:11–13; also Ezekiel 22:12). This law prohibiting usury was violated by the postexilic community (Nehemiah 5:1–11).” (Rooker)
iii. In medieval Europe, Christians often refused to loan money at interest because of these Biblical laws against usury. Motivated by hatred of the Jews, Christians often pushed Jewish people into occupations that were thought of as low and inferior – collecting taxes and rents, and moneylending. Christians thought of these occupations as necessary evils and thought to make the Jews bear the evil of the necessities. Yet because of this, Jewish people in medieval Europe dominated many aspects of banking and financial business – which often made them more envied and resented by the Christians of Europe.
c. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan: God’s kindness and generosity to Israel were an example of the type of kindness and generosity they were to show to others.
2. (39-46) When a Hebrew becomes a slave because of debt.
‘And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. And then he shall depart from you; he and his children with him; and shall return to his own family. He shall return to the possession of his fathers. For they are My servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God. And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have; from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.
a. You shall not compel him to serve as a slave: It was normal in the ancient world for someone in life-threatening poverty or unable to pay their debts to become a slave. The law of Moses would not allow an Israelite to do this for one of his brethren. He was not to be regarded as a slave, but as a hired servant and a sojourner.
i. Though it is almost impossible for us to relate to in the modern world, this kind of slavery was necessary and helpful in the ancient world. For most of humanity’s history, the poorest people were sometimes confronted with a choice between death by starvation or becoming a slave. In such circumstances, it is hard to call slavery good, but it was certainly preferred to the alternative (death).
ii. A slave: “The Hebrew word usually translated slave designates a ‘subordinate,’ or someone who is under the authority of a person above him in a hierarchy. It may be used of a cabinet minister serving under a king, of an army officer under his supreme commander, or of a slave serving under his master.” (Peter-Contesse)
b. Shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee: The Israelite brother who was regarded as a hired servant and a sojourner could be released from his obligation when his debt was paid. But every hired servant and sojourner was released at the Year of Jubilee.
i. For they are My servants: “The Hebrew word used here is actually ‘slave,’ as in verse 39, and should be so translated so that the connection between this statement and the previous verses may be clear. The people of Israel had been slaves of the Egyptians, but when they were delivered they became the property of the one who redeemed them, the LORD himself.” (Peter-Contesse)
c. You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God: God commanded that slaves and workers should not be mistreated. They were not to be worked excessively or to their harm. God cares about working conditions and does not want workers to be mistreated in their labor.
i. “Labour beyond the person’s strength, or labour too long continued, or in unhealthy or uncomfortable places and circumstances, or without sufficient food, etc., is labour exacted with rigour, and consequently inhuman; and this law is made, not for the Mosaic dispensation and the Jewish people, but for every dispensation and for every people under heaven.” (Clarke)
d. And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have; from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves: Foreign slaves from debt or poverty did not have the same rights as Israelites who went into servitude because of debt. They could be held as slaves for life (assuming their debt or obligation was never paid), though they had to be treated humanely (Exodus 20:8-11).
i. Exodus 21:16 specifically says that kidnapping a man to sell him was a sin, and not allowed in Israel. Later, the prophet Amos rebuked Tyre for their traffic in slaves as a violation of the covenant of brotherhood (Amos 1:9-10).
ii. This is a subtle yet important difference between slavery as it was (and is) commonly practiced and slavery as regulated in the Bible. Most slavery (ancient and modern) was actually a form of kidnapping – the taking and imprisoning of a person against their will. As regulated in the Bible (and as practiced in some other ancient cultures), slavery was received willingly (usually as payment for debt) or, in the case of war, was an alternative to death. In ancient Israel, people from other cultures were not kidnapped and enslaved (as was the practice in the African slave trade).
3. (47-55) Redeeming a Hebrew slave from a foreigner.
‘Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family, after he is sold he may be redeemed again. One of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle or his uncle’s son may redeem him; or anyone who is near of kin to him in his family may redeem him; or if he is able he may redeem himself. Thus he shall reckon with him who bought him: The price of his release shall be according to the number of years, from the year that he was sold to him until the Year of Jubilee; it shall be according to the time of a hired servant for him. If there are still many years remaining, according to them he shall repay the price of his redemption from the money with which he was bought. And if there remain but a few years until the Year of Jubilee, then he shall reckon with him, and according to his years he shall repay him the price of his redemption. He shall be with him as a yearly hired servant, and he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed in these years, then he shall be released in the Year of Jubilee; he and his children with him. For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
a. Sells himself to the stranger or sojourner: This deals with an Israelite man forced to sell himself to a foreigner, who may not respect his rights under God’s law.
b. After he is sold he may be redeemed again: As in the redemption of land, the kinsman-redeemer was responsible to buy the Hebrew slave out of servitude if he could, and the price was reckoned in relation to the Year of Jubilee. If he could not be redeemed earlier, he was to be released in the Year of Jubilee.
c. The children of Israel are servants to Me: God’s care for Israel and their redemption was based on the idea that they were first servants to the LORD, their covenant God.