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: The laws are given in faith; they are still in the wilderness, and not yet in the Promised Land. And as far as Moses and the people knew, they were only a matter of months from entering in.
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 consecrated to God. This describes a Sabbath of years for the land, where the land receives a rest one year out of seven.
c. Then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord: Obviously, this called Israel to a great deal of faith - they had to trust God that He would provide enough in the six years to see them through the seventh.
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)
b. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you: It was also a powerful testimony of dependence on God; Israel was declaring their belief that God would meet their needs.
i. It was also just plain good ecology! Giving the land a rest every seven years would help restore vital nutrients to the soil that normally would be depleted.
ii. Israel's failure to keep this command determined the length of their captivity; Leviticus 26:34 says that if Israel is not obedient, God will make sure the land gets its Sabbaths by exiling the nation to an enemy land; this was fulfilled in the Babylonian captivity of Israel (2 Chronicles 36:20-21).
iii. Today, many observant Jews 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 Jew can say, "It wasn't my land on the Sabbath year, so it was all right if I worked it."
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 somewhat like a Sabbath year, in the sense that crops were not planted, and the land was given a rest.
i. Many 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 Jews at that time.
b. You shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants: Our founding fathers were aware of the principle of the year of Jubilee and the freedom associated with it; proclaim liberty throughout all the land is inscribed on the Liberty Bell that hangs in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
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 really be "sold" - it could only be leased, and the amount of the lease would be based on how many years there were left until the Jubilee.
i. This assured that no family would be permanently prevented from having land. Every fifty years, every family would have the opportunity to start again.
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. "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)
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 will not only be supplied for the seventh year when they give the land rest, but they will 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 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 added unto us! (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 land of Israel belongs to the Lord, and He is free to distribute it as He wills - therefore, if He decreed it should stay in certain families, that is how it should be done!
b. The land shall not be sold permanently: So, the land could be leased, but never sold - and the lease would always be up 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: This was an important way God reminded Israel that their real home was in heaven with Him, and that they were only strangers and visitors to this earth - even as Christians are today (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13).
2. (24-28) The role of the kinsman-redeemer.
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 kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew: goel). He was a designated close relative who had the right (and responsibility) to buy the poor out of their poverty and loss.
i. The goel is also a wonderful picture of Jesus, our kinsman-redeemer who purchased us from the "slave market" of sin (Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
ii. The book of Ruth describes a kinsman-redeemer transaction; when Naomi returned from Moab, poor and in debt, her nearest kinsman-redeemer 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 kinsman-redeemer balked, Boaz was the next closest kinsman-redeemer, and stepped right in out of love for Ruth (Ruth 3).
b. In the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession: If the kinsman-redeemer was unable to buy his brother out of debt, the land would return to the debtor at the year of Jubilee.
3. (29-34) The exception for urban real estate.
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 real estate (in a walled city); it applied to rural land where for most, the land was more than a place to live, it was a place to earn one's livelihood.
b. The house in the walled city shall belong permanently to him who bought it: In cities, property was pretty much just a place to live - so, 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 exception 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 of the misfortune of a poor brother; instead of making profit off of his misery, the command is 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 is it to us if we give to or help only those whom we know can help us back.
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: In the Mosaic law, if one chronically could not pay his debts, he would have to work off the debt as a servant of his creditor. But these laws command fair, just and compassionate treatment of any Jewish man so unfortunate.
b. Shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee: Not only must such a servant be released when his debt was paid, but he also must be released at the year of Jubilee.
c. 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 among the Jews did not have the same rights as Hebrew slaves sold into servitude because of debt; they could be held as slaves for life, though they had to be treated humanely (Exodus 20:8-11; 21:20-21).
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. After he is sold he may be redeemed again: As in the redemption of land, the kinsman-redeemer would buy the Hebrew slave out of servitude if he could, and the price was reckoned in relation to the year of Jubilee.
b. The children of Israel are servants to Me: God cared so much about the matters simply because first and foremost, each Israelite was to be the slave of the Lord.
© 2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission