Thursday, June 8th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 25". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ leviticus-25.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Leviticus 25". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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The Law of Holiness (Leviticus 17-27).
The main section of the Book of Leviticus is constructed on a definite pattern. It commences with a description of the offerings and sacrifices of Israel (chapters 1-7), and ends with a description of the times and seasons as they are required of Israel (chapters 23-25). It continues with the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 8-10), which is balanced by the section on the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 21-22). This is then followed by the laws of uncleanness (chapters 11-15) which are balanced by the laws of holiness (chapters 17-20). And central to the whole is the Day of Atonement (chapter 16).
This second part of the book has been spoken of as ‘The Holiness Code’. We may balance this by calling chapters 1-15 ‘The Priestly Code’. The first part certainly has a priestly emphasis, for the priests control the offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and administer the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the second part a holiness emphasis. But this must not be over-emphasised. The whole book is mainly addressed to the people, it is for their benefit as God’s covenant people, and the maintenance of the holiness of the priests is just as important in the second half. It is to be seen as a whole.
We may thus analyse it as follows (note the chiasm):
1). THE PRIESTLY CODE (chapters 1-15).
a) Offerings and Sacrifices (chapters 1-7) b) Establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10) c) The Laws of Cleanness and Uncleanness (chapters 11-15)
2) THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (Leviticus 16:0)
3) THE HOLINESS CODE (chapters 17-25)
c) The Laws of Holiness (chapters 17-19) b) Maintenance of the Holiness of the Priesthood (chapters 20-22) a) Times and Seasons (chapters 23-25).
As will be seen the Day of Atonement is central and pivotal, with the laws of cleanness and uncleanness and the laws of holiness on each side. This central section is then sandwiched between the establishment of the priesthood (chapters 10-12) and the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (chapters 20-22). And outside these are the requirements concerning offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7) and the requirements concerning times and seasons (chapters 23-25).
So the Holiness Code may be seen as a suitable description of this second half of the book as long as we do not assume by that that it was once a separate book. The description in fact most suitably applies to chapters 19-22. It describes what Israel is to be, as made holy to Yahweh.
It was as much a necessary part of the record as what has gone before. The Book would have been incomplete without it. The Book of Leviticus is, as it claims, the record of a whole collection of revelations made to Moses at various times, brought together in one book, and carefully constructed around the central pivot of the Day of Atonement. There is no good reason for doubting this, and there are possible indications of colophons to various original records which help to substantiate it. It was the necessary basis for the establishment of the religion of Yahweh for a conglomerate people.
So having in what we know of as the first sixteen chapters of the Book laid down the basis of offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7), the establishment of the Priesthood (chapters 8-10), the laws of cleanness and uncleanness (chapters 11-15), and the requirements of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:0), the whole would have been greatly lacking had Moses not added some further detail of the holiness that God required of His people and of His priests.
The former is contained in Leviticus 17:1 to Leviticus 20:27. In this section Moses deals with the sacredness of all life (Leviticus 17:0), the sexual relationships which can defile (Leviticus 18:0), and the positive requirements for holiness in the covenant (Leviticus 19-20).
It is then followed by the further section dealing with the maintenance of the holiness of the priesthood (Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:16), with Leviticus 22:17-33 forming a transition from speaking to the priests to speaking to the people.
Chapters 23-25 then deal with sacred times and seasons, including the seven day Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-3), the set feasts of Israel (Leviticus 23:4-44), the daily trimming of the lamps and the weekly offering of showbread (Leviticus 24:1-9), the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7), and the year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:8-55). Included in this is a practical example of blasphemy against the Name (Leviticus 24:10-23), which parallels the practical example of priestly blasphemy in Leviticus 10:1-7. Thus practical examples of the blasphemy of both priests and people are included as warnings.
Leviticus 26:0 seals the book with the promises of blessings and cursings regular in covenants of this period, and closes with the words ‘these are the statutes and judgments and laws which Yahweh made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses’ (Leviticus 26:46). Leviticus 27:0 is then a postscript on vows and how they can lawfully be withdrawn from, and closes with a reference to tithing, the sanctifying of a tenth of all their increase to Yahweh.
Chapters 11-15 dealt with the uncleannesses of Israel, leading up to the Day when all uncleannesses were atoned for (Leviticus 16:0). But the Day of Atonement covered far more than those. It covered every way in which the covenant had been broken. It also covers the direct transgressions of Israel. Leviticus 17:0 onwards therefore deals further with the basis of the covenant against which they ‘transgressed’ and for which they also needed atonement. Chapters 11-15 dealt with practical matters considering what was ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ as they faced daily life, these chapters from 17 onwards now deal with the basis on which they should live their lives as Yahweh’s holy people, and the attitudes that they should have. They deal with prospective sin and disobedience. The former were more within the cultic section up to Leviticus 16:0, but the latter are firmly directed at the people’s moral response, so that their responsibilities under the covenant might be made clear directly to them. The distinction must not be overpressed. They are all still, of course, cultic, but the latter from a less direct viewpoint. They do not have so much to do with priestly oversight. They come more under the jurisdiction of the elders.
There is, however, no change of direction in overall thought. The whole of Leviticus emphasises holiness from start to finish. There is not a change of emphasis only a change of presentation because God is now directly involving the people.
It must, however, be firmly asserted that, as we shall see in the commentary, there is nothing in what follows that requires a date after the time of Moses. Having been given by God control of a conglomerate people (Exodus 12:38), with a nucleus made up of descendants from the family and family servants of the patriarchs (Exodus 1:0 - ‘households’), he had to fashion them into a covenant keeping nation under Yahweh and provide the basis on which they could be one nation and kept in full relationship with their Overlord. It was precisely because the disparate peoples believed that his words came from God that they were willing mainly to turn their backs on their past usages and customs and become one nation under Yahweh, culminating in them all being circumcised into the covenant when they entered the land (Joshua 5:0).
And with such a conglomeration of people with their differing religious ideas, customs and traditions, it is clear that this could only have been successfully achieved by putting together a complete religious system which was a revelation from Yahweh, which would both keep them together as one people and would ensure that when they reached Canaan they would have no excuse for taking part in the Canaanite religious practises such as he knew of from his time of administration in Egypt and from his time with the Priest of Midian. Had they arrived in Canaan without a single binding system, they would soon have fallen prey (as they almost did anyway) to the attractions of Canaanite religion. It was only the firm foundation that Moses had laid (combined with God’s own powerful activities) that finally resulted in their rising above their backslidings, and in their constantly turning back to Yahwism, because Moses had rooted it so deeply within them. And this finally enabled the establishing of the nation under Samuel and David after times of great turmoil.
This system did not come all at once. He had to begin instructing them soon after the crossing of the Reed Sea (Exodus 15:26), and a system gradually grew up (Exodus 17:13-16) as they went along, based as we learn later on a tent of meeting set outside the camp (Exodus 33:7-11), until at Sinai the book of the covenant (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33) was written down as a result of God’s words to the people and to Moses. Then in his time in the Mount this was expanded on. But it would continue to be expanded on in the days to come, until the time came when Moses knew that he had to accumulate in one record all the regulations concerning sacrifices, priesthood and the multitude of requirements that went along with them. By this time he had much material to draw on.
For leaders from different groups had no doubt been constantly coming to him for direction and leadership (Exodus 16:22), and especially for those who were not firmly established in the customs of Israel he no doubt had to deal with a wide number of diversified queries, and seek God’s will about them. This explains why sometimes the collections may not always seem as having been put together in as logical order as they might have been. They partly depended on what questions he had been asked, and what particular problems had arisen, and what particular issues were important at the time. But it was on the basis of all this activity that we have the Book of Leviticus as a part of the wider Pentateuch.
Our Times Are To Be In His Hands (Leviticus 23:1 to Leviticus 25:55 ).
We now come to the final section of the book before the listing of the blessings and cursings, which deals with different aspects of how Israel should celebrate and regulate the passing of time. In the make-up of the book this parallels the section dealing with offerings and sacrifices (chapters 1-7). All their lives were to be an offering to God.
Leviticus 23:0 covers the Sabbath and the religious festivals which were to be celebrated at different times in the year throughout the years (a year of twelve moon periods, with an extra intercalary moon period added when necessary in order to keep the seasons in line), chapter 24 covers the daily and weekly indicators of the passage of time in the tabernacle, and Leviticus 25:0 looks at the longer outlook and includes instructions concerning the sabbatical year, which was to come every seven years, and the year of jubile which was to come every fifty years. The whole of their lives in both the short and the long term were to be seen as regulated by, and under the control of, Yahweh.
Chapter 25 Their Future Is In Yahweh’s Hands And In It They Must Honour Him As They Continually Enjoy The Land That Belongs to Him Which He Is Giving Them. A Foretaste of Heaven.
The prime principle in mind here is that all the future also belongs to God. The seventh day Sabbath, the seven day feasts, the seven sevens feast, all stressed God’s control over their life and service over the whole year, with the number seven bringing out their sacredness and their glory, now we have here expressed the larger vision, the seven year Sabbath, and the seven sevens year of yubile which express the same control over their life and service into the longer term, and the same divine perfection of what their future was intended to be.
In this chapter we are given provisions both for a sabbatical year for the land every seven years (compare Exodus 23:10-11), and a year of ‘yubile’ (possibly ‘blowing of rams’ horns’ or ‘year of release’) after every seven sevens of years, that is every forty nine years, once the promised land was Israel’s. These were to make clear to Israel that the land was really Yahweh’s and that they were His tenants with their land ‘given’ by Yahweh (Leviticus 25:23; compare Exodus 6:4; Deuteronomy 5:16). The whole of their lives should be lived in this light, and their practical behaviour towards each other in terms of what He had given them determined by it.
The provisions were based on the ideal that Israel would conquer the land, expel its inhabitants and within a certain period control the whole land, which would then be divided up among them, each receiving his share. Each family would have received its share and that share was to be theirs permanently. No one could permanently take it away from them, because at the end of forty nine years it would always be restored to them.
The basis behind this was that the land belonged to Yahweh, that no one should build up vast amounts of land in perpetuity but His people would always share among themselves and that no Israelite should be permanently in bondage in the land. The land was His and after forty nine years there would be a year of Grand Release, of Yubile, when all would revert to its original owner-tenants, and all Israelite bondmen would be freed. His people were all provided for in perpetuity, for each forty nine years all would be restored to what it was in the beginning. It was symbolic of the everlasting Kingdom.
The sevens would not cease, for at the end of each forty nine years they would commence again, just as after the Sabbath a new period of seven days began. It was tied to no calendar. It was directly in the hands of God. The future was secure.
But it never came fully into being, according to Judges because of disobedience and failure to obey God and trust in Him, and once the monarchy took hold and began to behave like the monarchies of other nations it was even more unlikely to continue to be carried through because man and greed took over. Man seized what was God’s. But it was intended to be the godly principle behind Israel’s existence, His whole people going forward together as one.
Later writers (e.g. Judges) make clear that due to disobedience the ideal situation never arose as first envisaged. Due to disobedience the land never quite belonged to Israel in the way anticipated. But that is not to say that no attempt was made to carry out these provisions. The sabbatical year could be applied from the start as each sub-tribe received its land and divided it up, and may well have been so. And the year of Yubile, while more difficult, may well have been practised in many areas. The latter required an idealistic and optimistic environment in which to be welcomed, and settled conditions under benevolent authority for it to be carried out.
The very conception of this on a nationwide scale fits well to its being promulgated at this time of optimism and expectation, when such a situation could be envisaged, but with the right conditions never being fully achieved, or possibly only achieved in the early unrecorded years in the parts then in subjection. The fact that the etymology of ‘yobel’ has never been satisfactorily explained favours a very early date for the provisions, while its occasional mention in other passages confirms that some at least saw themselves as living in an environment where they expected it to be carried out (Leviticus 27:18; Leviticus 27:21; Numbers 36:4 see also Isaiah 5:7-10; Isaiah 61:1-2). There is therefore no real reason to doubt that the idea was conveyed through Moses. It was certainly a grand idea, a basis for God’s final future deliverance.
That it finally failed comes out in the laments of the prophets, but in their laments we see a reflection of the ideas behind it (Isaiah 5:8 which gains in strength against this background; compare Amos 2:6), of a divine ideal which men had finally rejected. But this ideal was the equivalent of the city of gold in Revelation 21:0. It was of God’s glorious future for His people.
That the idea was not carried through as it was intended to be carried through was the consequence of disobedience and failure by men Israel to carry through God’s commands. But it conveyed ideas and attitudes about the land and about relationships as regards to debts, that were intended to influence general behaviour and which could be put into practise, and which we should still consider today. It concerned the maintenance of fairness for all.
The very purpose of yubile would to curb the ambitions of those who looked to the long term and were greedy, and its principle would have an influence for good on men’s minds. And it may well have affected prices of redemption to the good both for property and people. It also clearly indicated to future generations what the nation had missed out on due to sin. It was a pointer to the ideal future that could have been theirs, and, at least theoretically, still could be.
Later the Chronicler would certainly point to the exile as caused by the failure of the land to observe its sabbaths (2 Chronicles 36:21). And this was in accord with what Leviticus 26:34 warned would happen if they were disobedient to the covenant, while Daniel would use the idea of the year of Yubile as a means of emphasising that the fulfilment of God’s final deliverance and release for His people would actually take ten times that long as anticipated (Daniel 9:0). In Daniel’s terms the year of Yubile pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom.
The Sabbatical Year (Leviticus 25:1-7 ).
‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses in mount Sinai, saying,’
Again we have stressed that here we have God’s word to Moses.
“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath to Yahweh.”
He was to inform the children of Israel that not only must they keep Sabbath every seventh day, but the land must keep sabbath as well every seventh year. Once they had entered the land and it had been distributed to them as their gift from Him, they were to observe a sabbath rest for the land after every period of six years, a period again in which they did no labour.
“Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits,”
Compare Exodus 23:11. For six years things were to go on as normal. They were to sow and prune and gather. The land was theirs to do what they liked with. They must work to make the most of it.
“But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to Yahweh. You shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard.”
But when the seventh year came all was to cease. The land must be allowed to rest. They must cease from work. They must neither sow nor prune. It was to be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, and for themselves. It would be a year in which their thoughts could be turned on to covenant matters, and to doing good. It was a period when God and His ways were to be central in their thoughts. It was intended to be in this seventh year that the whole law was read at the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). It was to be their Sabbatical.
“That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.”
Indeed they must go further. They must not gather in an organised way what grows of itself, neither reaping, nor gathering grapes and fruit. They must treat the land as if it was not theirs. What grew on the land should be seen as God’s and would be open to anyone to collect. The ‘landowner’ would in that year simply have the same rights as everyone else. It was a time for sharing all that they had.
“And the sabbath of the land shall be for food for you; for you, and for your servant and for your maid, and for your hired servant and for your stranger, who sojourns with you.”
So what grew on the land in that seventh year would be for everyone who went out to collect it for themselves. There were to be no organised labour parties, no work on the land organised by the owner. Anyone could go individually and collect what he was able. It was to be an exercise in magnanimity. All could live off what the land naturally produced under God.
“And for your cattle, and for the beasts that are in your land, shall all its increase be for food.”
The produce of the land was also to be left to the cattle and to beasts generally. They too were to be able to enter the land and eat what they would. The more ideal equivalent is portrayed in Isaiah 11:6-9.
That this could not happen in all places at the same time in this way, once the land was not captured as a whole, is clear to us. It could only happen piecemeal. It may well have happened to the land distributed in the first distribution, in the hill country and the lowlands, and later as more was gradually absorbed piecemeal it could be worked into the system. It may even have been observed on a differing basis in different localities. But the leaving fallow of the fields for a year was good practise, and was also practised elsewhere, and would give the soil time to recover and would actually be good for the land. And it was an indicator of God’s purpose of fullness of blessing yet to come.
This year would also have been the year of release mentioned in Deuteronomy 15:1-2 where all loans to fellow-Israelites were to be written off. Although this was no longer to apply once there were no poor people in the land. This attitude was reflected in the teaching of Jesus about giving and lending (Matthew 5:42). And He would point out that in His day ‘you have the poor always with you’ (John 12:8).
The Year of Yubile. The Year of Grand Release (Leviticus 25:8-55 ).
The year of grand release might well never have been put fully into practise throughout the whole of Israel, as it required full ownership of all the land, and as we know some tribes found difficulty in possessing the land (Judges 1:27-36). But we cannot discount the fact that it might well have been put into practise in the early days in the parts which were securely taken. It was certainly expected that it would be (Numbers 36:4). The early enthusiasm would suggest that it would be applied in the early days in those areas where it could be applied, the areas which were securely subjugated, for example in the days of the elders who outlived Joshua (Joshua 2:7), and even beyond in some form. We may even surmise that it was the monarchy with its ways that finally brought it to an end.
But whether fully carried out or not it would certainly provide a guide to the people of what God expected of them in their behaviour towards each other, would emphasise that the whole land belonged in the final analysis to Yahweh, being given to them by Him for their use, and would set their thoughts on good practise with regard to different aspects of commercial life and their attitude towards their ‘brothers’, their fellow-Israelites.
It demonstrated that Yahweh frowned on greed, on the practise of adding field to field and building up large estates for themselves (Isaiah 5:8), while the principles with regard to creditors (compare also Deuteronomy 15:1-2), and bondservice, were no doubt also carried through, at least to some extent, to the advantage of all in the areas where they were practised. The years of first enthusiasm and struggle would be the very time when such principles would carried through. Dogmatism is ruled out, however, for we actually know very little about the behaviour of the tribes from this point of view in the period of Joshua and Judges.
So these provisions of the year of Yubile could well have been put into practise in certain areas, possibly even over hundreds of years, without our being aware of it, even though the organisation and application of it nationally in the land as a whole would probably have been a feat beyond the tribes in periods when they were splintered, or some were subject to foreign rule. Thus its ideal fulfilment would have been restricted due to the circumstances of the time and the continued presence in the land of non-Israelites in large numbers. But that is not to say that no attempt was made to carry it out in some parts, especially in that part first captured in the highlands and in Transjordan.
For we should note how the Book of Ruth gives us glimpses of practises connected with this legislation in the action of the Kinsman Redeemer (Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:4; Ruth 3:9; Ruth 3:13; Ruth 4:3-14), even though it is only brief. And the story of Naboth and his vineyard illustrates how, even in the kingdom which had split off, the rights of a man to his family land were seen as a sacrosanct to a king brought up on God’s laws (1 Kings 21:3-4). That incident also, however, illustrated how foreign ideas of kingship were gradually altering those rights (1 Kings 21:7). Thus if we had we other similar literature we might get a different picture.
The ideal kingship was intended to carry this idea on. It looked forward to the future Kingly Rule of God. But once the idea of kingship based on the ideas of surrounding countries took over, with its great demands, its taxes, and its need to reward favourites, the large scale fulfilment would become almost an impossibility, and totally unacceptable to the nobles and princes who began wanting more for themselves (thus Isaiah 5:8). The kingdom of God was rejected by the desire for the kingdom of this world. Although some have traced the effects of similar provisions in the kingships of the reforming kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah.
Certainly Ezekiel saw the future in terms of it, and stressed that the true Prince to come would not break this law and thrust people out of the land of their inheritance. ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “If the prince gives a gift to any of his sons, it is his inheritance, it shall belong to his sons. But if he gives a gift from his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his until the year of liberty; then it shall return to the prince . But as for his inheritance, it shall be for his sons. Moreover the prince shall not take from the people’s inheritance, thrusting them out of their possession; he shall give his sons inheritance from his own possession so that My people shall not be scattered, every man from his possession ”’ (Ezekiel 46:16-18).
So the year of Yubile and what lay behind it was Israel’s equivalent of the coming Kingly Rule of God and the everlasting Messianic kingdom put in terms appreciated by an agricultural community.
The Timing and Purpose of the Year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:8-19 ).
The year of Yubile was not just a year like any other year calendarwise. It commenced not on the first of the first month, Abib (Exodus 12:2) but on the tenth of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement. While then, coming at the end of forty nine years, it could be described as ‘the fiftieth’, it was not actually a year like any other year. It was overlapped on one side by the forty ninth year, and on the other by the first year of the new series. We must not tie the ancients down to our strict ideas of calendars.
“And you shall number seven sabbaths of years to you, seven times seven years; and there shall be to you the days of seven sabbaths of years, even forty and nine years.”
The principle was that after seven consecutive sabbatical years (each ending a seven year period) there would come the ‘fiftieth’ year which should be the year of Yubile, the year of grand release.
“Then shall you send abroad the loud ram’s horn on the tenth day of the seventh month; in the day of atonement shall you send abroad the ram’s horn throughout all your land.”
And on the Day of Atonement of that forty ninth year the rams’ horn (shophar) should sound throughout the land and the year of grand release would begin. The forty ninth year would already be a sabbatical year, and therefore a year of solemn thought, thus the solemn Day of Atonement was a good day for commencing the activities of the year of grand release. First Israel could rid itself of its burden of sin, and then it could set about remedying the commercial and agricultural situation for all ‘true-born’ Israelites. All would be restored to the visualised perfect beginning once the land was subjugated and divided among all Israel.
“And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a yubile to you. And you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man to his family.”
It was to be a hallowed year, a year set apart to the glory of Yahweh, a year when Israelite bondservants would gain their release, and all agricultural land and village property would revert to its original owners.
“A yubile shall that fiftieth year be to you: you shall not sow, nor reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of the undressed vines.”
It was to be like the sabbatical years in that the land was to be left fallow, and in it no sowing, reaping or organised gathering of grapes was to take place. Instead all that was in the fields and the vineyards would be open for anyone who wanted it. all could gather to their hearts content, for the produce that year was Yahweh’s.
“For it is a yubile; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat its increase out of the field.”
“For it is a yubile.” Unfortunately we do not really know what yubile means. The term was so obscure that Joshua had to explain it in terms of the shophar, ‘the ram’s horn of Yubile’ (Joshua 6:6-8). This demonstrates the age of the concept. It was thus connected with the triumphal entry into the land. It comes from an unused verbal stem which was connected with running and flowing. But whatever it indicated it was a year of grand release of one form or another, with the releasing of property, bondmen and debts and a period when men reverted to living off the land without labour. It was to be very special to them. It may indicate a time of the flowing forward of God’s purposes.
“In this year of yubile you shall return every man to his possession.”
Repeating the contents of verse 10 in true ancient fashion he repeats that in that year of Yubile every man was to return to his possession, that is would again receive the land originally given to him and his family once the conquest had taken place, the principle behind this being that that family could never totally lose its inheritance whatever went on during the fifty year period. A black sheep in the family could not permanently lose the family its inheritance. In the end it would always revert to them. This repetition then leads on to an expansion to explain the idea more fully.
“And if you sell aught to your neighbour, or buy of your neighbour’s hand, you shall not wrong one another. According to the number of years after the yubile you shall buy of your neighbour, and according to the number of years of the crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of the years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewness of the years you shall diminish its price, for the number of the crops does he sell to you.”
Those who bought or sold property were to take this situation into account. They must not wrong one another. The purchase/sale price must always take into account the time left to the year of Yubile. It must be based on the amount and number of crops which were likely to be produced from the land between the purchase/sale date and the year of Yubile.
“And you shall not wrong one another; but you shall fear your God: for I am Yahweh your God.”
To wrong one another would be against the whole principle of what God was laying down. Its purpose was for the good of all and to prevent excessive greed. In all dealings in these matters they were therefore to fear God, remembering that He Is Yahweh, and therefore act in accordance with all the principles that He had laid down, remembering that they were accountable to Him..
“Wherefore you shall do my statutes, and keep my ordinances and do them, and you shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your fill, and dwell in it in safety.”
For this was His promise. They were to do His statutes and keep His ordinances as laid down through Moses, and He in His turn would ensure that the land yielded its fruit, and that they could eat their fill. And it is doubly stressed that if they did these things they would dwell in safety.
What does the year of Yubile mean to us? It is a concept. It reminds us that God’s purposes go forward to a specific goal, a time when all will be restored and all God’s people will receive the blessings that God has for them, when all will be put right. Whatever the future holds we need not fear, for one day will come the glorious year of Yubile, the year of restoration, the year of liberty. Daniel describes it in Daniel 9:24. It is a reminder of our glorious heavenly future, a future of permanence of blessing that nothing can take away.
The Problem Of Having A Seventh Year Without Sowing and Planting (Leviticus 25:20-21 ).
“And if you shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase, then I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for the three years.”
The first question we must raise here is as to the reference of ‘the seventh year’. Does it signify each sabbatical year after the six years of activity, ‘the seventh year’ as described in Leviticus 25:4, or does it refer to the forty ninth year before the year of Yubile (but which is never elsewhere thought of in terms of the seventh year)? The view followed here is that it has in mind the sabbatical years following each six year period, that is the ‘seventh year’ of Leviticus 25:4, the only seventh year referred to in the passage. Thus in the whole series of forty nine years the eighth and ninth years follow the first seventh year, and that is the first year in which the cause for concern described here would apply. The question is thus relating to all that has been spoken about since Leviticus 25:2.
So the question was, would the observance of the sabbatical year mean that in the seventh year, and in each succeeding seventh year, they would have to go short? No, God assured them, as he had multiplied the Manna on the sixth day so would He multiply His provision so that it covered the years when there was no organised production. As He had already given them evidence with the Manna that He was able to do a similar thing, they had no reason to be afraid.
The need for three years was because while activity on the land would take place in the last months of the sixth year for growth during the sabbatical year, there would be no organised reaping to follow in the first part of the seventh year, and no sowing was to take place within the last part of the sabbatical year, the seventh year, because it was forbidden. Thus the first sowing would be in the eighth year (the last part of the first year in the new series) which would produce growth in the ninth year. This confirms that at this time the year began in the spring (Exodus 12:2).
“And you shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the fruits, the old store; until the ninth year, until its fruits come in, you shall eat the old store.”
Thus in the seventh and the eighth years they would eat ‘the old store’, that which had been laid up in the sixth year.
Others see ‘the seventh year’ in Leviticus 25:20 as referring to the forty ninth year. But it should be noted that the ‘fiftieth year’, the year of Yubile, does not begin at the beginning of the year, the first day of the first month (Abib), but begins on the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement, and thus half way through the year, presumably of the forty ninth year commencing on the first of Abib. It is thus only loosely called the ‘fiftieth year’, for it is a year beginning at a different date.
This is quite in accord with usage in those times when calendars were not strictly worked out. But to speak then of an eighth and ninth year in terms of it would be confusing to say the least. The first year of the new Yubile period probably began in the fiftieth year as well, so that the ‘fiftieth year’ spanned the last part of the forty ninth year and the first part of the following first year which began the new forty nine year period. This would mean that sabbatical years, as we would expect by comparison with the Sabbath, would continue to be on the seventh year as numbered from the previous seventh year without the arrival of the ‘fiftieth year’ changing the sequence. The ‘fiftieth year’ was thus not an agricultural year, in accord with the other years, but a year of accounting on a different basis, in which grand release took place.
The Land Belongs To Yahweh And Cannot Be Passed On Permanently. It Can Either Be Redeemed Early Or Will Be Passed Back At The Year of Yubile (Leviticus 25:23-28 ).
“And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.
The principle is now made clear. The reason that all this was to happen was because the land was Yahweh’s. From this point of view they lived in it, not as owners, but as though they were resident aliens and visitors. That is why it could not be sold in perpetuity. All the land was His. They therefore had no right to sell it, only its use for a number of years.
“And in all the land of your possession you shall grant a redemption for the land.”
Furthermore this meant that they must be willing to guarantee redemption rights to those who through misfortune had been forced to sell the use of their property. This was to apply wherever His people lived in the land.
“If your brother has become poor, and sell some of his possession, then shall his kinsman who is next to him come, and shall redeem that which his brother has sold.”
Indeed when a man became poor and had to sell his land in order to survive, it was incumbent on his nearest male relative to buy the land back as soon as possible, and the purchaser could not refuse to sell. We call this man ‘the Kinsman Redeemer’.
We see this principle in action in the book of Ruth where Boaz acts as Kinsman Redeemer on behalf of Naomi. There Naomi had not yet sold her land, but was having to do so, and Boaz bought it as Kinsman Redeemer. But by putting himself in the position of ‘nearest relative’ he also put himself in a position of having to raise up children in the name of Ruth’s dead husband (Ruth 4:5; Ruth 4:10). While this was not strictly required by the levirate Law which referred to ‘a brother’ (Deuteronomy 25:5-6), it had clearly become the interpretation of that Law, ‘brother’ being given its wider meaning. Thus those who would inherit the land as a ‘brother’ must inherit the wife and raise up seed to the dead man. However, as he was not literally a brother, there was nothing unseemly in his marrying her as well, and it would seem that he was required to do so. The woman and land went together. To take on the land meant to take on the responsibility of the dead man’s family.
The book also illustrates how men were already finding ways round the legislation, i.e. the nearer kinsman who refused by pretending that he could not afford it (Ruth 4:6) when he had already said he would buy it (Ruth 4:4) simply because he did not want to have to raise up seed to Chilion. (Whether he could have taken this course if Boaz had not been willing to take on the responsibility we do not know. It appears to have been a mutually satisfactory arrangement allowed by custom - Ruth 4:7 with Deuteronomy 25:9. The spitting was excluded because it was by satisfactory arrangement).
“And if a man has no one to redeem it, and he has grown rich and finds sufficient to redeem it, then let him reckon the years of its sale, and restore the overplus to the man to whom he sold it; and he shall return to his possession.”
Should a man have no near kinsman wealthy enough to act for him, if he himself later became wealthy later he would still retain the right to buy back his land, giving compensation depending on the number of years still to go to the year of Yubile. So the right of a family to its own original land was very strong, and if one section of a family died out the right passed to the nearest relatives (Jeremiah 32:7-8). But the land must remain in the family. Even if sold it returned in the year of Yubile.
“But if he is not able to get it back for himself, then that which he has sold shall remain in the hand of him that has bought it until the year of yubile: and in the yubile it shall go out, and he shall return to his possession.”
Should he find himself in a position that he has no Kinsman Redeemer, and of not himself gaining sufficient wealth, then he would have to wait until the year of Yubile, but at the year of Yubile the land passed back to him anyway, and he could take possession of it, the buyer meanwhile having retained the use of it up to this date. Thus all were dealt with fairly.
The principle from all this for us is the concern that we should have that we share our good things with others. Our aim should not be to grab as much as we can for ourselves but to ensure that all share the good things of life, and that we do not claim for ourselves more than a reasonable proportion.
Dwelling Houses In Walled Cities Are Exempt From Yubile (Leviticus 25:29-31 ).
“And if a man sells a dwelling-house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; for a full year shall he have the right of redemption.”
But if a man sold a house in a walled city the situation was different. He was given one year in which to redeem it. This was because this was a property built or bought by choice in a city which was for defensive purposes. It was not connected with his inheritance given to him by Yahweh.
Yahweh did not see walled cities as necessary in His inheritance. When the ideal time came Israel would be known as ‘a land of unwalled villages’ and would be secure from even the most devastating of enemies (Ezekiel 38:11) because they would be trusting in Yahweh. And houses in unwalled towns would probably have land connected with them.
We must not compare this situation with our own property ideas. The walled cities were mainly formed so that people could build their houses there where they could enter to be ‘safe’ from marauders. House and inherited land were totally separate. Apart from the largest cities most ‘cities’ were in fact not planned, but ‘grew up’, with houses huddled together at random, with a narrow ‘street’ round the inside of the wall (a wall on which houses had also been built) and an open space by the gate of the city. Once all spaces were filled no more building could take place, but one house could be built on to another and those already there could be sold on, subject to any regulations. They were clearly not seen as part of God’s overall long term plan.
“And if it is not redeemed within the space of a completed year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be made sure in perpetuity to him who bought it, throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the yubile.”
If the house sold through necessity in the city was not redeemed within a full year (presumably twelve moon periods, unless ‘completed year’ was intended to mean 365 days, a concept probably known at that time) then it belonged to the purchaser in perpetuity.
“But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be reckoned with the fields of the country. They may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the yubile.”
But houses in unwalled towns were seen as part of the agricultural and pasture land around the towns and could be redeemed along with the land, and returned to the original owner in the year of Yubile.
When Jesus taught us to pray He included the thought that we could ask for basic provision, our daily bread. Then the concentration turned on to spiritual need. The fact that houses in walled cities were not included in Yubile demonstrated the same principle. God provided for His people’s basic needs, not for their luxuries. That was up to them.
Houses In The Cities Of The Levites Are Redeemable At Any Time (Leviticus 25:32-34 ).
This special provision for Levites was because they did not have fields of their own. Their houses were their possession. God was their inheritance.
“Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, the houses of the cities of their possession, the Levites may redeem at any time.”
In the cities of the Levites (including the priests) the houses were given to them by God as a possession. They had no fields which were their personal possession. Thus their houses were treated as their inheritance in the land and were permanently redeemable or returned to the original owner in the year of Yubile. These cities included the six cities of refuge, and the forty two others to be allocated to the Levites (Numbers 35:1-8; see Joshua 20-21). The six represented twice three (three on each side of Jordan) which indicated completeness. The remainder were six times seven, completeness with divine perfection.
“And if one of the Levites redeem, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the yubile; for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel.”
The general intent of this verse is clear although the detail is a little problematic. The important point is that each property in a Levite city returned in the year of Yubile (‘goes out’) to its original Levite owner, and the whole city therefore returned to its combined Levite owners, because being Levites this was their permanent possession in the land.
AV translates ‘if a man purchase of the Levites’, (i.e. a non-Levite buying Levite property) but this is probably not right as the same verb is unquestionably used in context above to mean ‘redeem’, and the root is g’l (redeem, redeemer). Thus we must translate ‘redeem’ and understand accordingly. It may refer to a Levite redeeming the property on behalf of another Levite or the Levites in general redeeming property in their city which a poor Levite had had to sell. If so it could not be kept beyond the year of Yubile. It returned to its original Levite owner. As indeed the whole city returned to its Levite owners.
“But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their perpetual possession.”
However, Levite fields surrounding the city could not be sold. They belonged to the Levites as a whole. They were their permanent possession.
Those who through dedication to God lose what is looked on as normal to men can be sure that God will watch over their needs and especially provide for them. In the words of Jesus, ‘Every one who has left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life’ (Matthew 19:29).
What The People of Israel’s Attitude Must Be Towards Their Brothers (Leviticus 25:35-43 ).
“Brothers” here means fellow-Israelites who got into financial difficulties, who were to be treated with especial loving concern.
They Must Assist The Recovery Of Their Brother Who Falls On Hard Times Without Seeking To Gain From Him (Leviticus 25:35-38 ).
“And if your brother has grown poor, and his hand fail with you, then you shall uphold him. As a stranger and a sojourner shall he live with you.”
If a fellow-Israelite grew poor and failed financially among them for one reason or another, he was to be ‘upheld’. He must be shown the same loving concern as a resident alien or foreigner (compare Leviticus 19:34), whom the laws of hospitality required should be welcomed (although not always carried out the principle was firm). He must not be downgraded and made to feel a failure. He must be given opportunities to work and to earn a living.
“Take no interest of him or increase, but fear your God; that your brother may live with you. You shall not give him your money on interest, nor give him your victuals for increase.”
If money was lent to him, as it should be if he needed it (Deuteronomy 15:8), then interest must not be charged. The loan must not be reduced in any way. And in fact at the end of the seven years relief period described in Deuteronomy 15:1-2, the loan was to be written off (Deuteronomy 15:2). If victuals were given to him no profit must be made out of them. No additional charge must be made. They must fear their God, the great Deliverer Who stooped to deliver them all from hardship in Egypt when they were all failing financially, and give the fellow-Israelite every opportunity for a recovery.
The fact that the seventh year of release resulted in loans being written off was not, however, to prevent lending. They were to lend out of compassion. Compare here Deuteronomy 7-11, ‘If there be with you a poor man, one of your brethren, within any of your gates in your land which Yahweh your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother; but you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need of what he wants. Beware that there be not a base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nothing; and he cry to Yahweh against you, and it be sin to you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing Yahweh your God will bless you in all your work, and in all that you put your hand to. For the poor will never cease out of the land. Therefore I command you, saying, You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor, in your land.’
Jesus put it this way, ‘Give to him who asks of you, and from him who would borrow from you, do not turn away’ (Matthew 5:42), and again ‘let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). The point is not that we should be soft touches but that we should be concerned enough to help those in real need. Giving a drunkard or a drug addict a handout is not a kindness, taking them for a meal is.
“I am Yahweh your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.”
And this the reason why they should behave in this way was because they recognised that what they were doing they did under the eye of Yahweh their God, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt with the purpose of giving them the land of Canaan. He would not be charging them interest or gaining any profit out of them. He was revealing His love and compassion towards them. Thus they must do the same for their fellow-Israelites in accordance with His covenant. For He is their covenant God.
They Must Not Treat Fellow-Israelites As Bondservants (Leviticus 25:39-43 ).
“And if your brother be grown poor with you, and sell himself to you, you shall not make him to serve as a bondservant.”
In days when there was no state aid a man could through bad luck or illness or violence easily find that he had to sell his land, and after a time be left with little money to keep his family alive. He could reach such a stage that his only option was to sell himself as a bondservant so as to provide for his wife and children. If that happened to a fellow-Israelite he was not to be treated as a bondservant. He should simply be taken into service. Note that only he could be taken into service, not his family.
“As a hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with you. He shall serve with you to the year of yubile,”
For he should be treated in the same way as a hired-servant or a resident alien, as a free man while enjoying the security enjoyed by a bondservant, until at the year of Yubile he would receive back his land.
“Then shall he go out from you, he and his children with him, and shall return to his own family, and to the possession of his fathers shall he return.”
Once the year of Yubile came he would be free to go back to his land, once more totally free, together with his wife and children, (the wife as ever always assumed as part of himself). They were not to be put in bondservice.
The same principle applies between Christians. We should treat fellow-Christians well, whether we employ them, or are responsible for them, remembering that they are our brothers and God’s men. But they too should not take advantage of the situation. Responsibility lies on both sides.
“For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen.”
And the reason that fellow-Israelites should not be treated as bondservants was that they were of those whom Yahweh had delivered from bondage. He had brought them from the land of Egypt. He had declared them free, therefore they could never again be put in bondage while the covenant remained firm.
“You shall not rule over him with rigor, but shall fear your God.”
Thus their Israelite masters were not to treat them roughly or severely as they had all been treated in Egypt, but as fellow members of the covenant, because as masters they feared God.
Regulations Regarding Foreign Bondservants (Leviticus 25:44-46 ).
Foreign bondservants were necessarily in a different position for they had no hope of a future restoration of land. It may be asked why foreign bondservants were allowed at all. The answer is because of demand by the foreign bondservants. They came to Israel poor, hungry and with nothing, seeking and begging for a permanent position. They bound themselves to work for the keep of themselves and their families. They did not want to be hired servants who could be taken on and fired. They wanted permanent security, and they received that in bondservice. Had there been no provision for this they would simply have gone away empty and hungry, and starved. The Law was practical. It was for running a country as it was, not a Utopian ideal which could never work in practise because of the condition of men’s hearts.
Israel was not a bad place to do bondservice compared with some other places. They had kinds of protection under the Law which few other countries gave them. And it would not have been a kindness to ban such bondservice. For any theoretical alternative would simply have been redundant, and they would have had to go elsewhere where conditions were worse. The Israelites were not angels. Their behaviour in the wilderness revealed that. As we know they were not very faithful in keeping the covenant as it was. Thus they had to be catered for as they were. And poor aliens needed the security of bondservice. For them it was not an option, it was a necessity. It was in fact a way of life often taken by choice. They would not want it banned.
“And as for your bondmen, and your bondmaids, whom you shall have, of the nations that are round about you, of them shall you buy bondmen and bondmaids.”
So permission was given for Israelites to buy bondservants of the nations who were to be round about them. But they were to love them as they loved themselves (Leviticus 19:34). They were to protect their interests (Leviticus 19:20-22; Exodus 20:10; Exodus 21:20; Exodus 21:26; Exodus 21:32). If they were Habiru (wandering, unattached peoples) they would have the normal Habiru seven year contracts with generous provision for when they left (Exodus 21:2-6; Deuteronomy 15:12-18 - note the implication that many would want to stay longer) as also at Nuzi. But the standard of their lives would in the end not depend on the law but on the kindness or otherwise of their masters. And many of them had no other option before them. A general manumission would have done them no good. They would simply have had to seek bondservice elsewhere, usually under worse conditions.
“Moreover of the children of the strangers that sojourn among you, of them shall you buy, and of their families that are with you, which they have begotten in your land. And they shall be your possession.”
Again they could ‘buy’ bondservants of resident foreigners living among them, that is enter into a contract with them of permanent service in return for permanent shelter and keep for them and their families. And they would belong to them to be treated with all the care shown for valuable assets. We should remember that life was in fact hard for all. Survival was a struggle for all.
“And you shall make them an inheritance for your children after you, to hold for a possession; of them shall you take your bondmen for ever, but over your brethren the children of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with rigor.”
These bondmen and bondwomen became a permanent part of the ‘household’ and would therefore continue on from father to son. They were there in perpetuity. They had nowhere else to go. But this was never to be true of ‘Israelites’ within the covenant. They were to be treated in a much more ‘brotherly fashion’, remembering that at the year of Yubile they would return to their own land.
In the nature of what human beings are necessary distance had to be kept between a master and his bondservants so that they would retain respect of him and not take advantage of what they saw as ‘softness’. There are always some who will do so. The path of a godly master is not always an easy one. But he must still have respect for those beneath him.
(We must not read back into their way of life our ideas of slavery. We should remember, for example, that in Egypt all men were slaves. Even the Grand Vizier. They were slaves to Pharaoh. Only the priests were ‘free’, but they were bound by their own rigid hierarchy. Everything Egyptians possessed they had from Pharaoh, and owed to him, and he had the power of life and death over them. There was a sense in which Israel were like that with Yahweh. They were slaves to Yahweh. So they did not see the concept of ‘slavery’ as the cruel thing that we see it as. It was a way of life for all, a matter of degrees. They would have understood no other. In the end all men were slaves, slaves to their gods, slaves to the king, slaves to their tribe, slaves to their family. There were levels of slavery but all were slaves. What mattered was how it was handled. ‘Freedom’ was limited to the very few and was a concept that would take thousands of years to grow into. They could not in fact have coped with ‘freedom’. We can only enjoy freedom because of the framework that has taken hundreds of years to put in place. The concepts in this chapter were a genuine beginning to freedom).
An Israelite Member of the Covenant Must Always Be Able to Buy His Freedom At Any Time (Leviticus 25:47-55 ).
“And if a stranger or sojourner with you be grown rich, and your brother be grown poor beside him, and sell himself to the stranger or sojourner with you, or to the stock of the stranger’s family; after he is sold he may be redeemed: one of his brothers may redeem him; or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or any who is of near kin to him of his family may redeem him; or if he is grown rich, he may redeem himself.”
There was here a recognition that foreigners and resident aliens and their families in Israel might grow rich. They might even grow so rich that they took poor Israelites as bondmen. But it was always open for the bonds of those bondmen to be redeemed at any time. It could be by a relative, a near kinsman, or even by themselves. Even a bondman could grow rich. But whatever happened he became free in the year of Yubile.
“And he shall reckon with him who bought him from the year that he sold himself to him to the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall be according unto the number of years; according to the time of a hired servant shall he be with him.”
Thus the price to be paid for his freedom took into account the number of years to yubile, just as the price he had received had taken it into account. For in the end he was with him as a hired servant, not as a permanent bondman, and must be treated as such.
“If there be yet many years, according to them he shall give back the price of his redemption out of the money that he was bought for. And if there remain but few years to the year of jubilee, then he shall reckon with him; according to his years shall he give back the price of his redemption.”
Thus prices of sale and redemption of bonds could be high or low depending on the number of years to yubile. If the bond was for many years’ service the price could be high, if only for a few the price could be low.
“As a servant hired year by year shall he be with him: he shall not rule with rigor over him in your sight.”
But in any case the Israelite must be treated like a servant hired year by year, not as a bondman. He was not to be treated harshly.
“And if he be not redeemed by these means, then he shall go out in the year of yubile, he, and his children with him.”
And whatever happened he and his family went free in the year of Yubile.
“For to me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.”
And the basis behind all this was that the people of His covenant, ‘the children of Israel’, were His servants. He was their Master. Thus all other relationships were subject to that. And He, as Yahweh their God, had delivered them from the land of Egypt. He was the One Who was there with them and held the future in His hands.
We are reminded in all this that we too have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19) by One Who is our brother and Redeemer. He has paid a great price, for ‘you were not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold -- but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Peter 1:18-19). He gave Himself a redemption price on behalf of many (Mark 10:45). And through Him we are in bondage no longer.