Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 25

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-7

1. The sabbatical year 25:1-7

As God ordered the people to rest every seventh day, so He ordered them to let the land rest every seventh year. By resting the people renewed their strength and rejuvenated their productivity in His service. By resting the land’s strength likewise revived and its productivity increased. Modern agronomists have supported the practice of allowing land to lie fallow periodically. God did not want the Israelites to work the land "to death" (i.e., to rape their environment). It belonged to God. Ecologists have argued for the same careful use of the environment that God required of His people. By using the land properly the Israelites sanctified their possession of it. They set it apart to God.

The people were to regard the crops that grew up during the sabbatical year as an offering to Yahweh. God told them not to harvest them. He permitted the slaves, hired people, foreign residents, aliens, cattle, and animals (Leviticus 25:6-7) to eat freely of what was His.

"From this, Israel, as the nation of God, was to learn, on the one hand, that although the earth was created for man, it was not merely created for him to draw out its powers for his own use, but also to be holy to the Lord, and participate in His blessed rest; and on the other hand, that the great purpose for which the congregation of the Lord existed, did not consist in the uninterrupted tilling of the earth, connected with bitter labour in the sweat of his brow (Gen. iii. 17, 19), but in the peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, which the Lord their God had given them, and would give them still without the labour of their hands, if they strove to keep His covenant and satisfy themselves with His grace." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:457. See N. P. Lemche, "The Manumission of Slaves - The Fallow Year - The Sabbatical Year - The Jobel Year," Vetus Testamentum 26 (January 1976):38-59; and Don Blosser, "The Sabbath Year Cycle in Josephus," Hebrew Union College Annual (1981):129-39.]

"In its overall plan, the Sabbath year was to be a replication of God’s provisions for humankind in the Garden of Eden. When God created human beings and put them into the Garden, they were not to work for their livelihood but were to worship . . . So also in the Sabbath year, each person was to share equally in all the good of God’s provision (Leviticus 25:6). In the Garden, God provided for the man and woman an eternal rest (cf. Genesis 2:9, the Tree of Life; Genesis 3:22 b) and time of worship, the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3). The Sabbath year was a foretaste of that time of rest and worship. Here, as on many other occasions, the writer has envisioned Israel’s possession of the ’good land’ promised to them as a return to the Garden of Eden." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 361.]

"God’s people must order their lives to harmonize with their belief that the bounty of the earth they share is from the sovereign Creator of the earth." [Note: Ross, p. 453.]

Verses 1-55

F. Sanctification of the possession of land by the sabbatical and jubilee years ch. 25

Chapter 25 concludes the laws God gave the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. It contains the only legislation on the subject of land ownership in the Pentateuch. These laws regarding the Promised Land correspond to the laws Moses previously gave regarding the people of Israel. God owned both the Israelites and the land He was giving them.

"The central theme of this last set of instructions is that of restoration. Israel’s life was to be governed by a pattern of seven-year periods, Sabbath years. After seven periods of seven years, in the Year of Jubilee, there was to be total restoration for God’s people." [Note: Sailhamer, p. 361.]

Verses 8-12

The observance of the year of jubilee 25:8-12

The Israelites were to observe the year of jubilee every fiftieth year, the year following seven seven-year periods. Wenham believed the jubilee was a short year only 49 days long inserted into the seventh month of the forty-ninth year [Note: Ibid., p. 319. See the discussion in Ross, pp. 458-59.] This is a minority view. On the Day of Atonement of that year a priest was to blow the ram’s horn (shophar) to announce the beginning of the jubilee year. The use of the ram’s horn was significant. With this horn God announced His descent on Mt. Sinai, called Israel to be His people, received them into His covenant, united them to Himself, and began to bless them (Exodus 19:13; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19; Exodus 20:18). The year began on the Day of Atonement ". . . to show that it was only with the full forgiveness of sins that the blessed liberty of the children of God could possibly commence." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:458.]

No sowing or reaping was to take place, as during the sabbatical years (Leviticus 25:11). God promised to provide for His people as they rested in response to His gracious promise (Leviticus 25:18-23).

"As Israel is God’s servant, so the land is Israel’s servant. As Israel must cease from her daily work and be restored, so the land must cease from its annual work and be restored. Thus there is a horizontal implementation of the vertical covenant relationship; the redemption of Israelites who lost their freedom and property comes in the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-12; Leviticus 25:28), the fiftieth year." [Note: Herold H. P. Dressler, "The Sabbath in the Old Testament," in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, pp. 30-31.]

"The Year of Jubilee is not mentioned in the Old Testament outside the Pentateuch. There is no direct biblical evidence regarding its observance in Israel’s history, but if its practice was normal, there might have been no occasion to mention it. On the other hand, the apparent failure of Israelites to keep the sabbatical years during the monarchial period (cf. Leviticus 26:34-35; Leviticus 26:43; 2 Chronicles 36:20-21) suggests that the Jubilee might also have been violated." [Note: Lindsey, p. 211.]

Leviticus 25:10 is the motto on the Liberty Bell that hangs in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Verses 8-55

2. The year of jubilee 25:8-55

"The Jubilee legislation found in Leviticus 25 presents a vision of social and economic reform unsurpassed in the ancient Near East." [Note: Robert Gnuse, "Jubilee Legislation in Leviticus: Israel’s Vision of Social Reform," Biblical Theology Bulletin 15:2 (April 1985):43.]

The word "jubilee" probably comes from the Hebrew yabal, meaning "to bring [forth]," as in the bringing forth of produce. [Note: See Robert North, Sociology of the Biblical Jubilee, pp. 96-97.] The year of jubilee did for the land what the Day of Atonement did for the people. This year removed the disturbance or confusion of God’s will for the land that resulted from the activity of sinners eventually. During this year God brought the land back into the condition that He intended for it. The fact that the priests announced the year of jubilee on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:9) confirms this correspondence.

"The main purpose of these laws is to prevent the utter ruin of debtors." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 317.]

However this law also remedied the evils of slavery, destitution, and exhausting toil.

Verses 13-34

The effects of the year on the possession of property 25:13-34

The people were to buy and sell property in view of the upcoming year of jubilee since in that year all property would revert to its original tribal leasees. This special year reminded the Israelites that they did not really own the land but were tenants of God, the true owner (Leviticus 25:23).

"The relationship of land and people under God is of fundamental importance for understanding the Old Testament and the Jewish people. . . . The Promised Land was a gift from God, not an inalienable right of anyone’s to sell or incorporate as they wished." [Note: Walter Riggans, Numbers, p. 200.]

Only extreme hardship was to force a tenant-owner to release (redeem, Leviticus 25:24) his land. Moses gave three cases in Leviticus 25:25-28 that explain how the people were to do this. A kinsman redeemer could recover the lost property, the seller himself could do so, and the year of jubilee would return it to him. God granted exceptions to the normal rules of release in the cases of property in a walled city (Leviticus 25:29-30) and property of the Levites (Leviticus 25:32-34).

There are three Old Testament references to the responsibilities of a human kinsman redeemer (Heb. goel) in Israel. Additionally the psalmists and other prophets also referred to Yahweh as Israel’s redeemer.

1. When a person sold himself or his property because of economic distress, his nearest kinsman should buy back (redeem) the person and or his property if he could afford to do so (Leviticus 25:25).

2. Perhaps an Israelite could not afford to pay the ransom price so that he could keep a first-born unclean animal for his own use. In this case his nearest kinsman could do so for him if he could afford it (Leviticus 27:11-13).

3. When someone killed a person, the victim’s kinsman redeemer could take the life of the killer under certain circumstances (Numbers 35:10-29).

Bible students sometimes confuse the levirate marriage custom with the kinsman redeemer custom. Levirate marriage involved the marriage of a widow and her husband’s brother or nearest relative. This provision existed so God could raise up a male heir who could perpetuate the family line of the widow’s former husband (cf. Genesis 38).

Verses 35-55

The effects of the year on the personal freedom of the Israelites 25:35-55

The Israelites were not to exploit one another (Leviticus 25:35-38). Specifically they were not to charge one another interest on loans (Leviticus 25:37; cf. Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20). This policy would have helped a poor farmer to buy enough seed for the next year. This law was evidently unique among the ancient Near Eastern nations, though not among smaller tribal groups. [Note: See Edward Neufeld, "The Prohibitions Against Loans at Interest in Ancient Hebrew Laws," Hebrew Union College Annual 26 (1955):355-412.]

When poor Israelites sold themselves as servants to wealthier Israelites, their masters were to treat them as brothers and not as slaves (Leviticus 25:39-43).

". . . the original law in the Book of the Covenant [Exodus 21:1-6 and Deuteronomy 15:12-18] had to do with the ’Hebrew’ in the social, not ethnic sense, i.e., with the landless man who survived by selling his services to an Israelite household. Leviticus 25:39 ff., by contrast, deals with the man who is an Israelite landholder but who has been forced by poverty to mortgage it and then to sell his family and himself into the service of a fellow-Israelite." [Note: Christopher Wright, "What Happened in Israel Every Seven Years?" Evangelical Quarterly 56:3 (October 1984):196.]

God permitted the Israelites to own slaves from other nations (Leviticus 25:44-46). That they were not to mistreat them goes without saying. Slavery in itself, as the Mosaic Law regulated it, did not violate basic human rights, but the abuse of slaves did.

"In the first place, for one people or person to enslave another is, by that very act, to claim the other as one’s own; it is in a fundamental sense to claim another’s life as belonging to oneself. Such a claim, however, flies in the face of the biblical story that we have heard thus far. If the creation narratives of Genesis tell us anything, they tell us that the sovereign source and lord of life is God-and God alone. It is in just that sense that to God-and God alone-all life, ’the work of his hands,’ ultimately rightly belongs. Therefore, from the standpoint of these biblical narratives, anyone besides God laying such ultimate claims to another’s life would in effect be arrogating to oneself another’s prerogatives. In essence, such a one would be making the most presumptuous claim any human being could make-the claim to be God." [Note: Michael Goldberg, "Expository Articles: Exodus 1:13-14," Interpretation 37:4 (October 1983):390-91.]

Israelites could also buy back (redeem) their countrymen who had sold themselves as slaves to non-Israelites who were living in the land (Leviticus 25:47-55). An Israelite slave could also buy his own freedom. In these cases the Israelites were to calculate the cost of redemption in view of the approaching year of jubilee when all slaves in the land went free anyway.

"The jubilee release does not apply to foreign slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46). A theological reason underlies this discrimination: God redeemed his people from Egyptian slavery, to become his slaves (Leviticus 25:42; Leviticus 25:55). It is unfitting, therefore, that an Israelite should be resold into slavery, especially to a foreigner (cf. Romans 6:15-22; Galatians 4:8-9; Galatians 5:1). The jubilee law is thus a guarantee that no Israelite will be reduced to that status again, and it is a celebration of the great redemption when God brought Israel out of Egypt, so that he might be their God and they should be his people (Leviticus 25:38; Leviticus 25:42; Leviticus 25:55; cf. Exodus 19:4-6)." [Note: Wenham, The Book . . ., pp. 322-23.]

The provision of redemption by a kinsman (Leviticus 25:47-55) is a very important legal point in the Book of Ruth (cf. also Jeremiah 32:7-15). Boaz fulfilled the responsibility of a kinsman redeemer by buying Mahlon’s land for Ruth. Furthermore he fulfilled the duty of a levir by marrying Ruth. [Note: See Mike Mitchell, "The Go’el: Kinsman Redeemer," Biblical Illustrator 13:1 (Fall 1986):13-15.]

The system of land ownership in Israel prevented complete capitalism or complete socialism economically. There was a balance of state (theocratic) ownership and private ownership.

We who live under the New Covenant also have a promise from God that if we put His will first He will provide for our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-33). [Note: See North, pp. 213-31, for additional lessons regarding social justice, social worship, personal virtues, and messianic typology that Christians may learn from Israel’s jubilee legislation.]

"The acceptance of God’s sovereignty over his people and all their possessions leads to the magnanimous and compassionate treatment of the poor and the destitute, because at the end of the age everyone will be released from bondage." [Note: Ross, p. 463.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Leviticus 25". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.