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(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—This chapter should properly have followed Leviticus 23:0, since the institutions of the sabbatical year, and the jubile which it discusses, are closely connected with the regulations about the festivals laid down in that chapter. The isolation of these ordinances from the rest of the festivals cannot be satisfactorily explained on any other principle than that which the authorities during the second Temple laid down, viz., that many of the sections are transposed, and that “there is no strict sequence in the Law.”
In Mount Sinai.—That is, in the mountainous regions of Sinai. The expression “mountain” is often used to denote a mountainous tract of country (Numbers 12:9; Deuteronomy 1:2; Joshua 14:12, &c.). Accordingly, this divine communication was made to Moses when the Israelites were encamped in the neighbourhood of Sinai, where they remained in the wilderness for twelve months after their exodus from Egypt (Numbers 10:11-12).
(2) When ye come into the land.—Better, When ye be come into the land, as the Authorised Version renders the same phrase in Leviticus 14:34. (See Note on Leviticus 19:23.) This is the fourth instance in Leviticus of a law being given prospectively which had no immediate bearing on the condition of Israel. (See Leviticus 14:34; Leviticus 19:23; Leviticus 23:10.) According to the authorities during the second Temple this law came into operation in the twenty-first year after the Israelites entered Canaan. As the conquest of the promised land occupied them seven years (Joshua 14:10), and as the division of it between the different tribes took seven years more (Joshua 18:1, &c.), the real cultivation of the land only began at the end of the second seven years. Hence the first seventh year in which laws of the sabbatical year came into operation was the twenty-first year after their entrance into Canaan.
Then shall the land keep a sabbath.—For which the marginal rendering is “rest,” i.e., a sabbath. For the import of this phrase see Note on Leviticus 23:32. The septennial sabbath is to be to the land what the weekly sabbath is to the whole earth. Just as the seventh day is dedicated to God in recognition of His being the Creator of the world, so the seventh year is to be consecrated to Him in acknowledgment that He is the owner of the land. Hence, like the weekly sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:14), the seventh year sabbath is belonging “unto the Lord.” (See Leviticus 25:4.)
(3) Six years thou shalt sow.—See Exodus 23:10.
The fruit thereof.—That is, of the land which is mentioned in the preceding verse, and which includes fields, vineyards, olive-gardens, &c. (See Exodus 23:11.)
(4) The seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest.—Literally, the seventh year shall be a rest of solemn resting, or a sabbath of sabbaths. For the import of this phrase see Note on Leviticus 16:31. Like the weekly sabbath, the seventh year is to be the Lord’s sabbath. The soil is therefore to have a perfect rest.
Thou shalt neither sow thy field.—What constitutes cultivation, and how much of labour was regarded as transgressing this law, may be seen from the following canons which obtained during the second Temple. No one was allowed to plant trees in the sabbatical year, nor to cut off dried-up branches, to break off withered leaves, to smoke under the plants in order to kill the insects, nor to besmear the unripe fruit with any kind of soil in order to protect them, &c. Any one who committed one of these things received the prescribed number of stripes. As much land, however, might be cultivated as was required for the payment of taxes as well as for growing the barley required for the omer or wave sheaf at the Passover, and wheat for the two wave-loaves at Pentecost.
(5) That which groweth of its own accord.—Not only is every owner of land to desist from cultivating it, but the spontaneous growth of the fields from seeds which accidentally fell down at the harvest, as well as from old roots, are not to be gathered, or no harvest is to be made of it.
Neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed.—Literally, thy Nazarite vine, the vine which bears the character of a Nazarite, or of being separated or consecrated to God. As the seventh year is the sabbath of the Lord, being consecrated to Him, the vine of this year is consecrated to Him. Hence the Greek version (LXX.) translates it “the grapes of thy consecration,” and hence, too, the marginal rendering “of thy separations.” The passage is also interpreted “thou shalt not gather the grapes from which thou hast separated and debarred other people, and which thou hast not declared common property.”
(6) And the sabbath of the land.—That is, the growth or produce during this sabbath of the land. For the figure of speech see Lev. 18:38.
Shall be meat for you.—That is, it shall serve as your food, but you must not trade with it, or store it up. Hence, during the second Temple the produce of the sabbatical year could only be used for direct consumption, and was not allowed to be converted first into other articles and then used. Thus, for instance, though wood of that year could be used as firewood, yet it was illegal to convert it first into coal and then use the coal thus obtained from the wood, nor was it legal to convert vegetables into medicines, or to give human food to animals.
For thee, and for thy servant . . . —The produce is to be left in the field for the free use of the poor, the servant, &c. (See also Exodus 23:11.) Hence it was enacted during the second Temple that “whoso locks up his vineyard, or hedges in his field, or gathers all the fruit into his house in the sabbatical year breaks this law.” Everything is to be left common, and every man has a right to every thing in every place. Every man could only bring into his house a little at a time according to the manner of things that are in common.”
(7) And for thy cattle.—In accordance with the benign legislation which obtained during the second Temple, the administrators of the law inferred from this verse, and hence enacted, that the fruit of the seventh year may only be eaten by man at home, as long as the kind is found in the field. “As long as the animals eat the same kind in the field thou mayest eat what there is of it in the house, but if the animal has consumed it all in the field thou art bound to remove this kind from the house into the field.” (For the enactment which enjoins the remission of debts in the sabbatical year, see Deuteronomy 15:1-3.) During the second Temple the sabbatical year began on the first day of the month of Tishri, which was the beginning of the civil year. The tillage, however, and the cultivation of certain fields and gardens, were left off in the sixth year. The cultivation of corn-fields ceased from the Feast of Passover, and orchards from Pentecost of the sixth year. The reading of portions of the Law which is enjoined in Deuteronomy 31:10-13, was assigned during the second Temple to the king. At the termination of the seventh fallow year, which coincided with the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles of the eighth year, a wooden platform was erected in the outer court of the Temple, on which the king was seated. The chief of the synagogue took the Book of the Law, and gave it to the head of the synagogue, who gave it to the head of the priests. He gave it to the high priest, and the latter handed it to the king, who stood up to receive it. He then sat down again, and read the following seven sections :—(1) Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 6:3; (2) Deuteronomy 6:4-8; (3) Deuteronomy 11:13-22; (4) Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 15:23; (5) Deuteronomy 16:12-19; (6) Deuteronomy 17:14-20; (7) Deuteronomy 27:1 to Deuteronomy 28:68. The king concluded with the same benedictions, which the high priest pronounced (see Leviticus 16:27), only that he substituted the blessing for the festival for the absolution of sins.
(8) And thou shalt number.—Better, And thou shalt count unto thee, as the Authorised Version renders the same phrase in Leviticus 23:15.
Number seven sabbaths of years.—Better, count seven weeks of years (see Leviticus 23:15). The seven days of each week stand for so many years, so that seven weeks of years make forty-nine years. Hence the explanation in the next clause: “Seven times seven years.” As the observance of the jubile, like that of the sabbatical year, was only to become obligatory when the Israelites had taken possession of the promised land (see Leviticus 25:2), and as the first sabbatical year, according to the authorities during the second Temple, came into operation in the twenty-first year after their entrance into Canaan (see Leviticus 25:2), the first jubile was celebrated in the sixty-fourth year after they came into the land of promise.
(9) Cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound.—Better, cause the blast of the cornet to sound; literally, cause to resound the cornet of loud sound. According to the authorities during the second Temple, the cornets used on this occasion, like those of the Feast of Trumpets or New Year, were of rams’ horns, they were straight, and had their mouth-piece covered with gold.
In the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound.—Better, In the day of atonement shall ye cause the cornet to sound. On the close of the great Day of Atonement, when the Hebrews realised that they had peace of mind, that their heavenly Father had annulled their sins, and that they had become reunited to Him through His forgiving mercy, every Israelite was called upon to proclaim throughout the land, by nine blasts of the cornet, that he too had given the soil rest, that he had freed every encumbered family estate, and that he had given liberty to every slave, who was now to rejoin his kindred. Inasmuch as God has forgiven his debts, he also is to forgive his debtors.
(10) And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year.—Because it is here said “Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year,” the authorities during the second Temple inferred that the good work of the jubile is to begin with the first day of Tishri, which is the beginning of the year, and which ought to be hallowed. Hence as new year was with the Hebrews the preparation for the Day of Atonement, so it also became the prelude to the acts of mercy which finally came into operation on the Day of Atonement. They therefore began counting the cycle of the jubile from the first of Tishri, or new year, though they proclaimed it on the tenth, or on the close of the Day of Atonement. In accordance with this the authorities during the second Temple record that “from the Feast of Trumpets [i.e., Tishri 1] till the Day of Atonement [i.e., Tishri 10], the slaves were neither manumitted to return to their homes, nor were made use of by their masters, but ate, drank, rejoiced, and wore garlands; and when the Day of Atonement came the judges blew the cornet, the slaves were manumitted to return to their homes, and the fields were set free.”
And proclaim liberty . . . unto all the inhabitants—That is, to all the Israelites, who are the true possessors of the land. Hence the ancient authorities conclude that the law of jubile was only in force as long as the whole Jewish nation dwelt in the land, but not after the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, were carried into captivity by Pul and Tilgath-Pilneser kings of Assyria (1 Chronicles 5:26), because “all the inhabitants” of the land dwelt no longer in it. It is from this declaration to proclaim liberty that the year of jubile is also called “the year of freedom” (Ezekiel 46:17).
It shall be a jubile.—This is an abbreviation of the fuller form, “a year of jubile,” used in the other passages of this chapter (see Leviticus 25:13; Leviticus 25:28; Leviticus 25:40; Leviticus 25:50; Leviticus 25:52; Leviticus 25:54), and denotes “a year proclaimed by the blast of the horn,” since the word yôbel signifies both ram’s horn and the sound emitted from it.
And ye shall return every man.—See Leviticus 25:14-16; Leviticus 25:23-28.
Every man unto his family.—See Leviticus 25:39-40.
(11) A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you.—According to the unanimous testimony of the authorities during the second Temple, including Philo (ii. 287-290) and Josephus (Antt. iii. 12, § 3), the jubile was observed every fiftieth year, as is plainly enjoined both in the verse before us and in Leviticus 25:10. As the forty-ninth year is the sabbatical year and the fiftieth year the jubile, there were two successive fallow years.
Ye shall not sow.—As the fiftieth year is jubile, and partakes of the nature of the sabbatical year, sowing and reaping are forbidden.
Neither reap that which groweth of itself in it.—That is, the spontaneous growth of this year is not to be made into a regular harvest and stored up. (See Leviticus 25:5.)
Vine undressed.—See Leviticus 25:5.
(12) Ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.—Better, Ye shall eat its produce from the field. Because it is the jubile, which must be observed as a sacred institution, the spontaneous produce of this year is not to be stored, but as much of it must each time be taken direct from the field as is wanted for daily consumption.
(13) Ye shall return every man unto his possession.—In the year of jubile every man is to be restored to his landed property, whether he had disposed of it by sale or by gift.
(14) Ye shall not oppress one another.—Better, ye shall not overreach any man his brother. Not only does the Law provide against the poor man losing his land for ever, but enjoins that in the temporary sales the buyer and seller are not to take undue advantage of each other’s circumstances. Hence it was enacted that if any one bought or sold anything for a sixth part more than its value the aggrieved party was entitled to have the excess returned to him, and if it amounted to more than a sixth part, the contract could be rescinded altogether. The fact that the phrase which is here translated “one another” in the Authorised Version is varied in the Hebrew in Leviticus 25:17, where it is likewise rendered “one another,” shows that it is not used in this idiomatic sense, but is designed to denote fellow-brethren, members of the same community, those who are related to each other by race and creed, as in Exodus 32:27, Jeremiah 31:34
(15) According to the number of years . . . thou shalt buy.—The promised land, according to the Law, was to be divided by lot in equal parts among the Israelites. The plot which should thus come into the possession of each family is to be absolutely inalienable, and for ever continue to be the property of the descendants of the original possessor. Hence it is here enacted that where a proprietor being pressed by poverty is compelled to sell a field, it could not be bought of him for a longer period than up to the time of the next jubile, when it reverted to the original possessor, or to his family. In purchasing a plot of and the purchaser is to reckon how many years had elapsed since the last jubile, since this would show him the exact period during which he would be entitled to hold it. It thus corresponds to what with us is buying the unexpired term of a lease.
Of thy neighbour.—From this it was deduced that the Israelite who was reduced to poverty could only sell his land to a fellow-Israelite, but not to a Gentile.
The number of years of the fruit he shall sell.—Whilst the purchaser is to take into consideration the number of years which the lease has still to run, the vendor has to consider how many sabbatical years there will be from the time of the sale till next jubile, since the sale was not so much of the land as of the produce of so many years. Hence the fallow sabbatical years are not to be included. As the plural “number of years “is here used, the authorities during the second Temple concluded that the vendor could not sell it for less than two productive years, exclusive of a sabbatical year, a year of barrenness, and of the first harvest if the purchase was effected shortly before the seventh month, with the ripe produce in the field.
(16) According to the multitude of years . . . and according to.—Better, in proportion to the multitude of years . . . and in proportion to, as the words in the original here are not the same which are used in Leviticus 25:15 and at the end of this verse, which are translated “according” in the Authorised Version. Having laid down in the preceding verse the principles of equitable dealings both for the purchaser and vendor, the Lawgiver, in his anxiety lest the distressed seller should be taken advantage of, reverts again to the purchaser, who is enjoined strictly to regulate the purchase price in proportion to the number of years the lease of the field has still to run.
For according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell.—Better, for a number of crops he selleth, that is, the vendor does not sell the land but a certain number of harvests till the next jubile.
(17) Ye shall not therefore oppress one another.—Better, And ye shall not overreach any man his neighbour. (See Leviticus 25:14.)
But thou shalt fear thy God—who pleads the cause of the oppressed, and avenges every injustice. (See Leviticus 19:14.)
(18) Wherefore ye shall do my statutes.—Better, And ye shall do . . . that is, the above named statutes and ordinances respecting the sabbatical year and the jubile, which required great sacrifices.
Ye shall dwell in the land in safety.—As God is Israel’s strong tower and wall of defence, it is by keeping His commandments that the Israelites will enjoy the security which other nations endeavour to obtain by great labour and mighty armies.
And the land . . . her fruit.—He, moreover, who has given Israel these statutes, also controls the operations of nature. Hence, though the observance of His laws would necessitate the abstention from cultivating the soil, the Lord will cause the land to yield an abundant harvest which will richly supply all their wants, and they will safely and quietly dwell therein without being compelled to make raids upon their neighbours for food, or surrender themselves to their enemies for want of provision (1Ma. 6:49; 1Ma. 6:53; Josephus, Antt. xiv. 16, § 2; xv. :1, § 2).
(20) What shall we eat the seventh year ?—The Lawgiver here anticipates an objection on the part of those who are called upon to abstain from cultivating the land in the sabbatical year, and who are overanxious about the provisions of their families.
Behold, we shall not sow.—That is, are forbidden to sow. (See Leviticus 25:4.)
Nor gather in our increase.—That is, we are even prohibited to gather the spontaneous growths and store them up, and are commanded to leave “the increase” in the field. (See Leviticus 25:7.)
(21) Then I will command my blessing. That is, He will send out His Divine command to the soil in the sixth year that it should be a blessing to them, and it shall be done. (See Deuteronomy 28:8; Psalms 42:8; Psalms 44:4; Psalms 68:29.)
It shall bring forth fruit for three years.—Better, it shall bring forth produce. This special blessing will be manifested in the abundant crop of the harvest preceding the sabbatical year. Just as at the institution of the weekly Sabbath, when God enjoined abstention from labour, He sent down a double portion of manna every sixth day to make up for the day of rest (Exodus 16:22-27), so He will exercise a special providence every sixth year by blessing the soil with a treble crop to compensate for giving the land a septennial sabbath. As the sabbatical year began the civil year, viz., 1 Tishri, which was in the autumn or in September, the three years here spoken of are to be distributed as follows: (1) the remainder of the sixth year after the harvest; (2) the whole of the seventh year; and (3) the period of the eighth year till the harvest is gathered in from the seeds sown in the eighth year. It will thus be seen that the question anticipated in Leviticus 25:29, viz., “What shall we eat the seventh year?” properly applies to the eighth year, since the requirements for the seventh year are supplied by the regular harvest of the sixth year, and it is the eighth year for which the harvest of the seventh is wanted. To meet this difficulty, one of the most distinguished Jewish expositors of the Middle Ages translates Leviticus 25:20 : “And if ye shall say in the seventh year ‘What shall we eat’” i.e., in the eighth year. It may, however, be that the question expresses the anxiety which the people might feel in eating their ordinary share in the seventh year, lest there should be nothing left for the eighth year, since in all other years the harvest is ripening for the next year whilst the fruits of the past year are being consumed.
(22) And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit.—Better, And when ye shall sow in the eighth year, ye shall yet eat of the old produce, that is, when at the termination of the sabbatical year the Israelites resume the cultivation of the soil in the eighth year, the abundant crop of the sixth year—the year preceding the sabbatical year—will not only suffice for this year, but will reach till that part of the ninth year when the crops sown in the eighth are ripe and gathered in. Accordingly, the sixth year’s harvest will suffice till the Feast of Tabernacles, or till Tishri 1 of the ninth year.
Until her fruits come in.—Better, until its produce come in, that is, the produce of the eighth year which was gathered in the ninth. Leviticus 25:20, therefore, which states the anticipated question, and Leviticus 25:21-22, which contain the reply, ought properly to follow immediately after Leviticus 25:7, since they meet the difficulty arising from the rest of the land during the sabbatical year. The redactor of Leviticus may, however, have inserted Leviticus 25:20-22 here because the difficulty raised in them, and the reply given to the anticipated question, apply equally to the jubile year. The special Divine interposition which is here promised to meet the requirements of one year’s cessation from cultivating the land will, as a matter of course, be all the more readily vouchsafed when the Israelites will have to exercise greater obedience and faith in the jubile, and abstain two successive years from tilling the ground.
(23) The land shall not be sold for ever.—That is, no plot of the land of Israel must be absolutely alienated from the original proprietor, who has been driven by poverty to sell his patrimony. We have here a resumption of the laws relating to the sale and purchase of land, which have already been briefly stated in Leviticus 25:14-17. Having been interrupted by the insertion of the Divine promise with regard to the sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:20-22), the legislation now proceeds with more directions about the limited sale of land.
For the land is mine.—The reason for this prohibition absolutely to cut off the patrimony from the family, is that God claims to be the supreme owner of the land (Exodus 15:17; Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 14:25; Jeremiah 2:5; Psalms 10:16), and as the Lord of the soil He prescribes conditions on which he allotted it to the different tribes of Israel.
Ye are strangers and sojourners with me.—God has not only helped the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan, but has selected it as His own dwelling-place, and erected His sanctuary in the midst of it (Exodus 15:13; Numbers 35:34). He therefore is enthroned in it as Lord of the soil, and the Israelites are simply His tenants at will (Leviticus 14:34; Leviticus 20:24; Leviticus 23:10; Numbers 13:2; Numbers 15:2), and as such will have to quit it if they disobey His commandments (Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22; Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:63). For this reason they are accounted as strangers and sojourners, and hence have no right absolutely to sell that which is not theirs.
(24) Ye shall grant a redemption for the land.—Being simply tenants at will, and having obtained possession of it on such terms, the land is not even to remain with the purchaser till the year of jubile, but the buyer is to grant every opportunity to the seller to redeem it before that time.
(25) If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold . . . —As poverty is the only reason which the Law here supposes might lead one to part with his field, the authorities during the second Temple concluded, and hence enacted, that it is not allowable for any one to sell his patrimony on speculation. This will account for the horror which Naboth expressed to Ahab of selling his patrimony: “The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to thee” (1 Kings 21:3).
And if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem.—Better, then his nearest kinsman shall come and redeem. If he has thus been compelled by pressure of poverty to sell part of his land, then it is the duty of the nearest relation, or, as the original literally denotes, “the redeemer that is nearest to him,” to redeem the property which his impoverished relative has been obliged to sell. The expression “redeemer” is applied in Hebrew to one who, by virtue of being the nearest of kin, had not only to redeem the patrimony of the family, but to marry the childless widow of his brother (Ruth 3:13), and avenge the blood of his relative (Numbers 35:19-28; Deuteronomy 19:6-12).
(26) And if the man have none to redeem it.—In case, however, he has either no nearest of kin, or if his nearest of kin is himself too poor to perform this duty, which is incumbent upon him, “and himself be able to redeem it,” that is, after he was compelled, by stress of poverty, to sell the property he has become prosperous, so as to be able to redeem it himself; though not distinctly expressed, it is implied that under these altered circumstances he is obliged to redeem his patrimony himself. According to the canonical law, however, he must not borrow money to redeem it.
(27) Count the years of the sale thereof.—To regulate the price of the redemption money the crops were valued which the purchaser had enjoyed since he had acquired the property. This was deducted from what he originally paid for the plot of land, and the difference was returned to him by the vendor, to whom the patrimony reverted. Thus, for instance, if there were thirty years from the time the purchase was effected to the year of jubile, and the vendor or his next of kin redeemed the inheritance either ten or fifteen years after the transaction, he had to return to the purchaser either one-third or half of the purchase money, when the soil was restored to the seller or his next of kin. In the interest of the purchaser, however, it was enacted during the second Temple that the redemption should not take place before he had the benefit of the field for two productive years (see Leviticus 25:15), and that he could claim compensation for outlay on improvements.
Restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it.—That is, an equitable estimate is to be made of what the land is likely to yield from the time of its redemption by the vendor to the jubile, which is to be allowed to the purchaser.
(28) Not able to restore it to him.—That is, if the vendor is unable to return to the purchaser the probable value of the crops between the contemplated redemption and the next jubile year.
Then that which is sold.—In that case the land thus sold is to continue with the purchaser till jubile, when it is to revert to the vendor without any repayment whatever. The design of this law was to secure to each family a permanent interest in the soil, and to prevent the accumulation of land on the part of the greedy few who are ever anxious to join field unto field, thus precluding the existence of landless beggars and too extensive landed proprietors. To the same effect were the laws of inheritance (Numbers 27:6-11; Numbers 36:5-13). Similar laws obtained among other nations of antiquity. Laws were enacted that the lots which were distributed among the inhabitants were neither to be sold nor bought. Solon made it a law that no one should acquire as much land as he wished; whilst Plato held that no individual person is to possess more than four times the quantity of land than the lowest owner, who had only a single lot.
(29) A dwelling house in a walled city.—It is, however, quite different in the case of houses in walled cities. These are not the creation of God (see Leviticus 25:23), allotted by His command to the different tribes of Israel; they are the work of man, who build them up and raze them to the ground at their own will, and according to their fancy. Hence the law of jubile does not apply to these temporary human buildings. Though an Israelite could sell his house without being driven by stress of circumstances to do it, still, as he may feel attached to his home, the Divine law affords him some protection for a limited period, during which he or his family may redeem the building. During the second Temple “a dwelling house in a walled city” was defined to be a house standing within an area of land which was first walled round for the purpose of building upon it human habitations, and in which the houses were afterwards erected. But if the houses were built first, and the city wall afterwards, they do not come within the law here laid down.
Within a full year may he redeem it.—If within a year of the sale he wishes to redeem, the Law gives him the power, or in case he dies empowers his son, to repurchase the property at the same price which he received for it. Besides limiting the period to a year, the Law does not prescribe that the next of kin is to redeem, nor give him the power to do it. During the second Temple it was also enacted that the vendor could not redeem it with borrowed money.
(30) if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year.—That is, either by the vendor or his son. According to the interpretation which obtained during the second Temple, the phrase “full year” is here used for the benefit of the seller, inasmuch as it gives him the advantage of an intercalary year, when he has an additional month, up to the last day of which he could still effect the redemption. Moreover, as the purchaser sometimes concealed himself towards the end of the year, in order to prevent the seller from redeeming his house, it was enacted that the original proprietor should hand over the redemption money to the public authorities when the purchaser could not be found, break open the doors, and take possession of the house; and if the purchaser died during the year, the vendor could redeem it from his heir.
It shall not go out in the jubile.—If the vendor, however, failed to redeem the house within the prescribed period, it was not to be subject to the laws of jubile like the land, but is to remain for ever the property of the purchaser.
(31) But the houses of the villages which have no wall.—Houses in villages, however, form an exception. They are part of the landed property, and hence, like the cultivated land on which they are erected, are subject to the law of jubile.
(32) Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, and the houses.—Better, And as to the cities of the Levites, the houses, that is, the houses which belong to the Levites, in the forty-eight cities given to them (see Numbers 35:1-8; Joshua 21:1-3), are to be exempt from this general law of house property.
May the Levites redeem at any time.—Having the same value to the Levites as landed property has to the other tribes, these houses are to be subject to the jubile laws for fields, and hence may be redeemed at any time.
(33) And if a man purchase of the Levites.—Better, And if one of the Levites redeem it, that is, even if a Levite redeemed the house which his brother Levite was obliged to sell through poverty, the general law of house property is not to obtain even among the Levites themselves. They are to treat each other according to the law of landed property.
Then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out.—Better, then the house that was sold in the city of his possession shall go out, that is, in the year of jubile the house is to revert to the vendor just as if it were landed property. Thus, for instance, the house of the Levite A, which he, out of poverty, was obliged to sell to the non-Levite B, and which was redeemed from him by a Levite C, reverts in the jubile year from the Levite C to the original Levitical proprietor A. It is, however, more than probable that the negative particle has dropped out of the text, and that the passage as it originally stood was, “And if one of the Levites doth not redeem it.” That is, if he does not act the part of the nearest of kin, then the house reverts in the year of jubile to the original Levitical owner, just as landed property. The Vulg. has still the negative particle.
For the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession.—As these houses were all which the Levites possessed, they were as important to them as the land was to the other tribes, hence they were to be treated legally in the same way as the soil.
(34) But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold.—The Levitical cities had both suburbs or commons for their cattle, &c, and fields which they cultivated (Numbers 35:4-5). These outlying fields, which were beyond the suburbs, they are here forbidden to sell. According to the authorities during the second Temple the expression “to sell” here used is to be taken in a wider sense as including diverting any part of it from its original purpose. Hence they say it forbids the Levites not only to sell the field, but to convert it into a suburb, and vice versâ. What is field must always remain field, what is suburb must remain suburb, and what is city must continue to be city.
For it is their perpetual possession.—The estates belong to the whole tribe to all futurity, and the present occupiers have to transmit them intact to their successors. Hence no present owner, or all of them combined, have a right to dispose of any portion of the estates, or materially to alter it. They must hand these estates down to their successors as they receive them from their predecessors.
(35) And if thy brother be waxen poor.—This part of the jubile laws which relates to the manumission of the Israelites who through poverty are compelled to sell themselves as bondsmen (Leviticus 25:39-55) is introduced by a pathetic appeal to the benevolence of the people to bestow brotherly help to the poor (Leviticus 25:35-38).
And fallen in decay with thee.—Literally, and his hand wavered with thee, that is, when it is weak and can no longer render support, or gain a livelihood. As the laws of jubile guard the future interests of the Israelite who is driven by stress of poverty to sell his patrimony, the Lawgiver now points out the duties of each member of the community to the impoverished brother who has to wait till the year of jubile for the restoration of his property, but who in the meantime is unable to support himself.
Then thou shalt relieve him.—Literally, thou shalt lay hold of him. When his hand is thus trembling, it is the duty of every Israelite to support his weak hand, and enable it to gain a livelihood.
Though he be a stranger, or a sojourner.—Better, as a stranger and a sojourner, that is, he is not to be treated like an outcast because he has been compelled by poverty to sell his patrimony, but is to receive the same consideration which strangers and sojourners receive, who, like the unfortunate Israelite, have no landed property. (See Leviticus 19:33-34.)
(36) Take thou no usury of him, or increase.—The first thing to be done to the impoverished Israelite is to supply him with the means to recover himself without any interest. The authorities during the second Temple defined the words which are translated “usury” (nesheck) and “increase” (tarbith, or marbith) as follows: If a person lends to another a shekel worth four denarii, and gets in return five denarii, or if he lends him two sacks of wheat, and receives back three, this is usury. If one buys wheat for delivery at the market price of 25 denarii a measure, and when it rises to 30 denarii he says to the vendor, “Deliver me the wheat, for I want to sell it and buy wine,” and the vendor replies,” I will take the wheat at 30 denarii and give thee wine for it,” though he has no wine, this is increase. The “increase” lies in the fact that the vendor has no wine at the time, and that he may possibly lose again by the rise in wine. Accordingly the former is a charge upon money, whilst the latter is on products.
(37) Thou shalt not give him.—This is simply an emphatic repetition of the declaration in the foregoing verse, and favours the ancient distinction between the two terms.
(38) Which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt.—For this appeal to the signal act of redemption from Egypt, see Lev. 12:45.
(39) And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor.—Better, And if thy brother be waxen poor by thee, that is, after supporting his tottering hand, as prescribed in Leviticus 25:35-38, and making all the charitable efforts to help him, they fail, and he still finds himself in extreme poverty, and unable to obtain a livelihood.
And be sold unto thee.—The voluntary disposal of his own liberty for a money consideration the Israelite could only effect by stress of poverty.
Thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant.—Under these circumstances he is not to be treated like heathen slaves who are either purchased or captured, and made to do the menial service which these Gentile slaves have to perform. The authorities during the second Temple adduce the following as degrading work which the Israelite bondman is not to be put to: He must not attend his master at his bath, nor tie up or undo the latchets of his sandals, &c., &c.
(40) But as an hired servant.—The master is in all respects to treat him as one who disposes of his service for wages for a certain time, and will then be his own master again.
Shall serve thee unto the year of jubile.—Nor could he be kept beyond the year of jubile. This terminated the sale of his services just as it cancelled all the sales of landed property.
(41) And then shall he depart from thee.—At the same time that he regains his liberty, and takes with him his family, the patrimony which he sold also reverts to him.
(42) For they are my servants.—This is a clue to the whole system of Hebrew servitude. These poverty-stricken men, who are driven to sell themselves to their fellow-Israelites, God claims as His servants. God is their Lord as well as their master’s Lord. He delivered them both alike from bondage to serve Him. There is, therefore, no difference between bond and free.
They shall not be sold as bondmen—That is, as personal property or chattels. The authorities during the second Temple, however, interpreted this clause to mean that an Israelite is not to be sold by proclamation or in public places, but privately, and in an honourable manner, with all possible consideration for his feelings.
(43) Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour.—The master is forbidden to tyrannise over him as if he were a slave without any rights.
(44) Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen.—Rather, As for thy bondmen and bondmaids which thou must have of the heathen, &c. As the Law forbids the Israelites to have their brethren as bondmen, or employ them in menial work which belongs to the slaves, the Lawgiver anticipates a difficulty which the Hebrews might raise against these enactments. If they are not to be engaged in this work, who then is to do it? Hence the reply in the verse before us.
Of the heathen that are round about you.—These are to be purchased to do the necessary work. The Israelites, however, were restricted to the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, and the Syrians, who were their neighbours, but were not permitted to buy any slaves from the seven nations who were in the midst of them, and whom they were ordered to destroy (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
(45) Moreover of the children of the strangers.—Besides the surrounding nations, the Hebrews are also permitted to obtain their slaves from those strangers who have taken up their abode in the Holy Land. By these strangers the ancient authorities understand those who have been permitted to settle down among the Jews on condition that they submit to the seven commandments given to Noah, but have not embraced Judaism. Hence the Chaldee Version translates this phrase, “the children of uncircumcised strangers.”
And they shall be your possession.—These, but not the Hebrews, the masters may hold as their absolute property.
(46) And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children.—That is, they may appropriate them to themselves, as their personal property, which is transmissible as inheritance to posterity with the family land.
They shall be your bondmen for ever.—These are not subject to the laws of jubile. They remain in perpetual serfdom unless they or their friends redeem them, or their master has maimed any one of them. In case of injury the master is obliged to manumit him (Exodus 21:26-27). The authorities during the second Temple enacted that the master’s right, even with regard to this kind of bondmen, is restricted to their labour, but that he has no right to barter with them, to misuse them, or to put them to shame.
Over your brethren . . . ye shall not rule . . . with rigour.—In contrast to these heathen bondmen the Jewish bondmen are here designated “brethren.” They are co-religionists, who have been reduced to temporary servitude, but who are, nevertheless, fellow-heirs with them in the land of their possession. Hence the greatest consideration was to be shown to them in these adverse circumstances. The authorities during the second Temple have therefore enacted that there must be no difference between the daily food, raiment, and dwelling of the master and his Hebrew slave, and that the master and the servant are alike in these respects.
(47) And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee.—Better, And if the hand of a stranger, and that a sojourner, attain riches by thee, that is, a stranger who has become a sojourner, or who has taken up his abode among the Israelites, and become prosperous by trading. Such a one had only to submit to the seven commandments given to Noah, and hence had not joined the Jewish religion. For this reason the Chaldee Version translates it, “And if the hand of an uncircumcised sojourner with thee wax strong.”
And thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor.—Better, and thy brother by him wax poor, that is, the Israelite who traded with him is unfortunate in business, and is reduced to poverty.
And sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee.—Better, and sells himself unto the stranger-sojourner by thee. The two terms as before describe the same person—the stranger who has become a sojourner. Hence the Chaldee Version translates it, “and sells himself to the uncircumcised stranger who is with thee.”
Or to the stock of the stranger’s family.—That is, the offshoot or descendant of a foreign family.
(48) He may be redeemed again.—The law which applies to a heathen who sold himself to a Hebrew is reversed in this case. Whilst the heathen cannot be redeemed, and is to remain a bondman for ever, the Israelite who sells himself to a heathen may be redeemed. Indeed, according to the interpretation which obtained during the second Temple, this passage enjoins it upon his relations and the congregation to redeem him as soon as possible. Hence the ancient Chaldee Version translates it, “his redemption must be effected forthwith.”
(49) Either his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him.—That is, any of his relatives are to redeem him, which is not the case when an Israelite sells himself to one of his own nation. Hence the Jewish canons enacted that “if a Hebrew is sold to a stranger, and is unable to redeem himself, his kinsmen must redeem, nay, the Sanhedrin are to compel his kinsmen to redeem him lest he should be lost among the heathen. If his kindred do not redeem him, and if he cannot redeem himself, every man of Israel is commanded to redeem him. But if he is sold to an Israelite his kindred may not redeem him, nor may he borrow money to redeem himself, nor redeem himself by instalments.” In accordance with this injunction we find the Jews declare “we after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews which were sold unto the heathen, and will ye even sell your brethren, or shall they be sold unto us?” (Nehemiah 5:8).
(50-52) And he shall reckon with him.—That is, either the man himself when he is able to redeem himself, or his kindred. The authorities during the second Temple rightly point out that this passage enjoins the Hebrew to treat the heathen master fairly by duly compensating and compounding for the number of years he has still to serve till jubile, and to take no advantage of the idolater.
(53) And as a yearly hired servant shall he be.—Better, As a yearly servant, &c, without the “and,” which is not in the original, and is not wanted. That is, as long as he is in service his master must not treat him like a slave, but is to behave to him as if he were simply one who hires out his services from year to year, and who, after a short time, will be his own master again.
And the other shall not rule with rigour over him.—Better, he shall not rule, &c, that is, the heathen master. The words “and the other” are not in the original, and the sense of the passage is quite plain without them.
In thy sight.—The Israelite is here admonished not to be a tacit spectator of the cruel treatment of his brother Israelite by a heathen master, and though he is not to resent in the same way in which the Lawgiver himself resented it (Exodus 2:11-12), still he is to remonstrate with the cruel Gentile, and invoke the protection of the powers that be.
(54) If he be not redeemed in these years.—Better, If he be not redeemed by these, that is, by the relations or the means indicated in Leviticus 25:48-49, he is to go out free in the year of jubile. (See Leviticus 25:41.) The heathen is to submit to the laws of jubile as much as the Hebrew.
(55) For unto me the children of Israel are servants.—See Leviticus 25:38; Leviticus 25:42.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Leviticus 25". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30