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The law for the sabbatical and jubilee years brings to a close the laws given to Moses by Jehovah upon Mount Sinai. This is shown by the words of the heading (Leviticus 25:1), which point back to Exodus 34:32, and bind together into an inward unity the whole round of laws that Moses received from God upon the mountain, and then gradually announced to the people. The same words are repeated, not only in Leviticus 7:38 at the close of the laws of sacrifice, but also at Leviticus 26:46, at the close of the promises and threats which follow the law for the sabbatical and jubilee years, and lastly, at Leviticus 27:34, after the supplementary law concerning vows. The institution of the jubilee years corresponds to the institution of the day of atonement (ch. 16). Just as all the sins and uncleannesses of the whole congregation, which had remained unatoned for and uncleansed in the course of the year, were to be wiped away by the all-embracing expiation of the yearly recurring day of atonement, and an undisturbed relation to be restored between Jehovah and His people; so, by the appointment of the year of jubilee, the disturbance and confusion of the divinely appointed relations, which had been introduced in the course of time through the inconstancy of all human or earthly things, were to be removed by the appointment of the year of jubilee, and the kingdom of Israel to be brought back to its original condition. The next chapter (ch. 26) bears the same relation to the giving of the law upon Sinai as Exodus 23:20-33 to the covenant rights in Ex 20:22-23:19.
The Sabbatical Year. - When Israel had come into the land which the Lord gave to it, it was to sanctify it to the Lord by the observance of a Sabbath. As the nation at large, with its labourers and beasts of burden, was to keep a Sabbath or day of rest every seventh day of the week, so the land which they filled was to rest (to keep, שׁבּי שׁבת as in Leviticus 23:32) a Sabbath to the Lord. Six years they were to sow the field and cut the vineyard, i.e., cultivate the corn-fields, vineyards, and olive-yards (Exodus 23:11: see the remarks on cerem at Leviticus 19:10), and gather in their produce; but in the seventh year the land was to keep a Sabbath of rest ( Sabbath sabbathon , Exodus 31:15), a Sabbath consecrated to the Lord (see Exodus 20:10); and in this year the land was neither to be tilled nor reaped (cf. Exodus 23:10-11). זמר in Kal applies only to the cutting of grapes, and so also in Niphal, Isaiah 5:6; hence zemorah , a vine-branch (Numbers 13:23), and mazmerah , a pruning-knife (Isaiah 2:4, etc.).
(Note: The meaning to sin and play, which is peculiar to the Piel, and is derived from zamar , to hum, has hardly anything to do with this. At all events the connection has not yet been shown to be a probable one. See Hupfeld, Psalms 4:1-8 pp. 421-2, note.)
The omission of sowing and reaping presupposed that the sabbatical year commenced with the civil year, in the autumn of the sixth year of labour, and not with the ecclesiastical year, on the first of Abib (Nisan), and that it lasted till the autumn of the seventh year, when the cultivation of the land would commence again with the preparation of the ground and the sowing of the seed for the eighth year; and with this the command to proclaim the jubilee year on “the tenth day of the seventh month” throughout all the land (Leviticus 25:9), and the calculation in Leviticus 25:21, Leviticus 25:22, fully agree.
“ That which has fallen out (been shaken out) of thy harvest (i.e., the corn which had grown from the grains of the previous harvest that had fallen out) thou shalt not reap, and the grapes of thine uncut thou shalt not gather.” נזיר , the Nazarite, who let his hair grow freely without cutting it (Numbers 6:5), is used figuratively, both here and in Leviticus 25:11, to denote a vine not pruned, since by being left to put forth all its productive power it was consecrated to the Lord. The Roman poets employ a similar figure, and speak of the viridis coma of the vine ( Tibull. i. 7, 34; Propert. ii. 15, 12).
“ And the Sabbath of the land (i.e., the produce of the sabbatical year or year of rest, whatever grew that year without cultivation) shall be to you for food, for thee and thy servant,...and for the beasts that are in thy land shall all its produce be for food.” The meaning is, that what grew of itself was not to be reaped by the owner of the land, but that masters and servants, labourers and visitors, cattle and game, were to eat thereof away from the field (cf. Leviticus 25:12). The produce arising without tilling or sowing was to be a common good for man and beast. According to Exodus 23:11, it was to belong to the poor and needy; but the owner was not forbidden to partake of it also, so that there can be no discrepancy discovered between this passage and the verse before us. The produce referred to would be by no means inconsiderable, particularly if there had not been a careful gleaning after the harvest, or the corn had become over-ripe. In the fertile portions of Palestine, especially in the plain of Jezreel and on the table-land of Galilee, as well as in other parts, large quantities of wheat and other cereals are still self-sown from the ripe ears, the over-flowing of which is not gathered by any of the inhabitants of the land. Strabo gives a similar account of Albania, viz., that in many parts a field once sown will bear fruit twice and even three times, the first yield being as much as fifty-fold. The intention of his law was not so much to secure the physical recreation of both the land and people, however useful and necessary this might be for men, animals, and land in this sublunary world; but the land was to keep Sabbath to the Lord in the seventh year. In the sabbatical year the land, which the Lord had given to His people, was to observe a period of holy rest and refreshment to its Lord and God, just as the congregation did on the Sabbath-day; and the hand of man was to be withheld from the fields and fruit-gardens from working them, that they might yield their produce for his use. The earth was to be saved from the hand of man exhausting its power for earthly purposes as his own property, and to enjoy the holy rest with which God had blessed the earth and all its productions after the creation. From this, Israel, as the nation of God, was to learn, on the one hand, that although the earth was created for man, it was not merely created for him to draw out its powers for his own use, but also to be holy to the Lord, and participate in His blessed rest; and on the other hand, that the great purpose for which the congregation of the Lord existed, did not consist in the uninterrupted tilling of the earth, connected with bitter labour in the sweat of his brow (Genesis 3:17, Genesis 3:19), but in the peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, which the Lord their God had given them, and would give them still without the labour of their hands, if they strove to keep His covenant and satisfy themselves with His grace. This intention of the sabbatical year comes out still more plainly in the year of jubilee, in which the idea of the sanctification of the whole land as the Lord's property is still more strongly expressed, and whose inward connection with the sabbatical year is indicated by the fact that the time for observing it was regulated by the sabbatical years (Leviticus 25:8).
The law for the Year of Jubilee refers first of all to its observance (Leviticus 25:8-12), and secondly to its effects ( a) upon the possession of property (vv. 13-34), and ( b) upon the personal freedom of the Israelites (vv. 35-55).
Keeping the year of jubilee. Leviticus 25:8, Leviticus 25:9. Seven Sabbaths of years - i.e., year-Sabbaths or sabbatical years, or seven times seven years, the time of seven year-Sabbaths, that is to say, 49 years - they were to count, and then at the expiration of that time to cause the trumpet of jubilee to go (sound) through the whole land on the tenth of the seventh month, i.e., the day of atonement, to proclaim the entrance of the year of jubilee. This mode of announcement was closely connected with the idea of the year itself. The blowing of trumpets, or blast of the far-sounding horn ( shophar , see at Leviticus 23:24), was the signal of the descent of the Lord upon Sinai, to raise Israel to be His people, to receive them into His covenant, to unite them to Himself, and bless them through His covenant of grace (Exodus 19:13, Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:19; Exodus 20:18). Just as the people were to come up to the mountain at the sounding of the יובל , or the voice of the shophar , to commemorate its union with the Lord, so at the expiration of the seventh sabbatical year the trumpet-blast was to announce to the covenant nation the gracious presence of its God, and the coming of the year which was to bring “liberty throughout the land to all that dwelt therein” (Leviticus 25:10), - deliverance from bondage (Leviticus 25:40.), return to their property and family (Leviticus 25:10, Leviticus 25:13), and release from the bitter labour of cultivating the land (Leviticus 25:11, Leviticus 25:12). This year of grace as proclaimed and began with the day of atonement of every seventh sabbatical year, to show that it was only with the full forgiveness of sins that the blessed liberty of the children of God could possibly commence. This grand year of grace was to return after seven times seven years; i.e., as is expressly stated in Leviticus 25:10, every fiftieth year was to be sanctified as a year of jubilee. By this regulation of the time, the view held by R. Jehuda, and the chronologists and antiquarians who have followed him, that every seventh sabbatical year, i.e., the 49th year, was to be kept as the year of jubilee, is proved to be at variance with the text, and the fiftieth year is shown to be the year of rest, in which the sabbatical idea attained its fullest realization, and reached its earthly temporal close.
The words, “Ye shall proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” are more closely defined by the two clauses commencing with היא יובל in Leviticus 25:10 and Leviticus 25:11. “A trumpet-blast shall it be to you, that ye return every one to his own possession, and every one to his family:” a still further explanation is given in Leviticus 25:23-34 and 39-55. This was to be the fruit or effect of the blast, i.e., of the year commencing with the blast, and hence the year was called “the year of liberty,” or free year, in Ezekiel 46:17. יובל , from יבל to flow with a rushing noise, does not mean jubilation or the time of jubilation ( Ges., Kn., and others); but wherever it is not applied to the year of jubilee, it signifies only the loud blast of a trumpet (Exodus 19:13; Joshua 6:5). This meaning also applies here in Leviticus 25:10, Leviticus 25:11 and Leviticus 25:12; whilst in Leviticus 25:15, Leviticus 25:28, Leviticus 25:30, Leviticus 25:31, Leviticus 25:33, Leviticus 27:18, and Numbers 36:4, it is used as an abbreviated expression for יובל שׁנת , the year of the trumpet-blast.
The other effect of the fiftieth year proclaimed with the trumpet-blast consisted in the fact that the Israelites were not to sow or reap, just as in the sabbatical year (see Leviticus 25:4, Leviticus 25:5). “For it is יובל ,” i.e., not “jubilation or time of jubilation,” but “the time or year of the trumpet-blast, it shall be holy to you,” i.e., a sabbatical time, which is to be holy to you like the day of the trumpet-blast (Leviticus 25:23, Leviticus 25:24).
One of the effects of the year of freedom is mentioned here, viz., the return of every man to his own possession; and the way is prepared for it by a warning against overreaching in the sale of land, and the assignment of a reason for this.
In the purchase and sale of pieces of land no one was to oppress another, i.e., to overreach him by false statements as to its value and produce. הונה applies specially to the oppression of foreigners (Leviticus 19:33; Exodus 22:20), of slaves (Deuteronomy 23:17), of the poor, widows, and orphans (Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 18:8) in civil matters, by overreaching them or taking their property away. The inf. abs. קנה : as in Genesis 41:43. The singular suffix in עמיתך is to be understood distributively of a particular Israelite.
The purchase and sale were to be regulated by the number of years that had elapsed since the year of jubilee, so that they were only to sell the produce of the yearly revenues up to the next jubilee year, and made the price higher or lower according to the larger or smaller number of the years.
Overreaching and oppression God would avenge; they were therefore to fear before Him. On the other hand, if they kept His commandments and judgments, He would take care that they should dwell in the land in safety ( secure, free from anxiety), and be satisfied with the abundance of its produce. In this way Leviticus 25:18-22 fit on exceedingly well to what precedes.
Jehovah would preserve them from want, without their sowing or reaping. He would bestow His blessing upon them in the sixth year, so that it should bear the produce of three ( עשׂת for עשׂתה as in Genesis 33:11); and when they sowed in the eighth year, they should eat the produce of the old year up to the ninth year, that is to say, till the harvest of that year. It is quite evident from Leviticus 25:21 and Leviticus 25:22, according to which the sixth year was to produce enough for three years, and the sowing for the ninth was to take place in the eighth, that not only the year of jubilee, but the sabbatical year also, commenced in the autumn, when they first began to sow for the coming year; so that the sowing was suspended from the autumn of the sixth year till the autumn of the seventh, and even till the autumn of the eighth, whenever the jubilee year came round, in which case both sowing and reaping were omitted for two years in succession, and consequently the produce of the sixth year, which was harvested in the seventh month of that year, must have sufficed for three years, not merely till the sowing in the autumn of the eight or fiftieth year, but till the harvest of the ninth or fifty-first year, as the Talmud and Rabbins of every age have understood the law.
What was already implied in the laws relating to the purchase and sale of the year's produce (Leviticus 25:15, Leviticus 25:16), namely, that the land could not be alienated, is here clearly expressed; and at the same time the rule is laid down, showing how a man, who had been compelled by poverty to sell his patrimony, was to recover possession of it by redemption. In the first place, Leviticus 25:23 contains the general rule, “the land shall not be sold לצמיתת ” (lit., to annihilation), i.e., so as to vanish away from, or be for ever lost to, the seller. For “ the land belongs to Jehovah: ” the Israelites, to whom He would give it (Leviticus 25:2), were not actual owners or full possessors, so that they could do what they pleased with it, but “strangers and sojourners with Jehovah” in His land. Consequently (Leviticus 25:24) throughout the whole of the land of their possession they were to grant גּאלּה release, redemption to the land. There were three ways in which this could be done. The first case (Leviticus 25:25) was this: if a brother became poor and sold his property, his nearest redeemer was to come and release what his brother had sold, i.e., buy it back from the purchaser and restore it to its former possessor. The nearest redeemer was the relative upon whom this obligation rested according to the series mentioned in Leviticus 25:48, Leviticus 25:49. - The second case (Leviticus 25:26, Leviticus 25:27) was this: if any one had no redeemer, either because there were no relatives upon whom the obligation rested, or because they were all too poor, and he had earned and acquired sufficient to redeem it, he was to calculate the years of purchase, and return the surplus to the man who had bought it, i.e., as much as he had paid for the years that still remained up to the next year of jubilee, that so he might come into possession of it again. As the purchaser had only paid the amount of the annual harvests till the next year of jubilee, all that he could demand back was as much as he had paid for the years that still remained.
The third case was this: if a man had not earned as much as was required to make compensation for the recovery of the land, what he had sold was to remain in the possession of the buyer till the year of jubilee, and then it was to “go out,” i.e., to become free again, so that the impoverished seller could enter into possession without compensation. The buyer lost nothing by this, for he had fully recovered all that he paid for the annual harvests up to the year of jubilee, from the amount which those harvests yielded. Through these legal regulations every purchase of land became simply a lease for a term of years.
Alienation and redemption of houses. - Leviticus 25:29, Leviticus 25:30. On the sale of a dwelling-house in a wall-town (a town surrounded by a wall) there was to be redemption till the completion of the year of its purchase. ימים , “ days (i.e., a definite period) shall its redemption be; ” that is to say, the right of redemption or repurchase should be retained. If it was not redeemed within the year, it remained to the buyer for ever for his descendants, and did not go out free in the year of jubilee. קם to arise for a possession, i.e., to become a fixed standing possession, as in Genesis 23:17. לא אשׁר for לו אשׁר as in Leviticus 11:21 (see at Exodus 21:8). This law is founded upon the assumption, that the houses in unwalled towns are not so closely connected with the ownership of the land, as that the alienation of the houses would alter the portion originally assigned to each family for a possession. Having been built by men, they belonged to their owners in full possession, whether they had received them just as they were at the conquest of the land, or had erected them for themselves. This last point of view, however, was altogether a subordinate one; for in the case of “the houses of the villages” (i.e., farm-buildings and villages, see Joshua 13:23, etc.), which had no walls round them, it was not taken into consideration at all.
Such houses as these were to be reckoned as part of the land, and to be treated as landed property, with regard to redemption and restoration at the year of jubilee.
On the other hand, so far as the Levitical towns, viz., the houses of the Levites in the towns belonging to them, were concerned, there was to be eternal redemption for the Levites; that is to say, when they were parted with, the right of repurchase was never lost. עולם (eternal) is to be understood as a contrast to the year allowed in the case of other houses (Leviticus 25:29, Leviticus 25:30).
“And whoever (if any one) redeems, i.e., buys, of the Levites, the house that is sold and (indeed in) the town of his possession is to go out free in the year of jubilee; for the houses of the Levitical towns are their (the Levites') possession among the children of Israel.” The meaning is this: If any one bought a Levite's house in one of the Levitical towns, the house he had bought was to revert to the Levite without compensation in the year of jubilee. The difficulty connected with the first clause is removed, if we understand the word גּאל (to redeem, i.e., to buy back), as the Rabbins do, in the sense of קנה to buy, acquire. The use of גּאל for קנה may be explained from the fact, that when the land was divided, the Levites did not receive either an inheritance in the land, or even the towns appointed for them to dwell in as their own property. The Levitical towns were allotted to the different tribes in which they were situated, with the simple obligation to set apart a certain number of dwelling-houses for the Levites, together with pasture-ground for their cattle in the precincts of the towns (cf. Numbers 35:1. and my Commentary on Joshua, p. 453 translation). If a non-Levite, therefore, bought a Levite's house, it was in reality a repurchase of property belonging to his tribe, or the redemption of what the tribe had relinquished to the Levites as their dwelling and for their necessities.
The field of the pasture-ground of the Levitical towns was not to be sold. Beside the houses, the Levites were also to receive מגרשׁ pasturage for their flocks (from גּרשׁ to drive, to drive out the cattle) round about these cities (Numbers 35:2-3). These meadows were not to be saleable, and not even to be let till the year of jubilee; because, if they were sold, the Levites would have nothing left upon which to feed their cattle.
The second effect of the jubilee year, viz., the return of an Israelite, who had become a slave, to liberty and to his family, is also introduced with an exhortation to support an impoverished brother (Leviticus 25:35-38), and preserve to him his personal freedom.
“If thy brother (countryman, or member of the same tribe) becomes poor, and his hand trembles by thee, thou shalt lay hold of him;” i.e., if he is no longer able to sustain himself alone, thou shalt take him by the arm to help him out of his misfortune. “Let him live with thee as a stranger and sojourner.” וחי introduces the apodosis (see Ges. §126, note 1).
If he borrowed money, they were not to demand interest; or if food, they were not to demand any addition, any larger quantity, when it was returned (cf. Exodus 22:24; Deuteronomy 23:20-21), from fear of God, who had redeemed Israel out of bondage, to give them the land of Canaan. In Leviticus 25:37 וחי is an abbreviation of וחי , which only occurs here. - From Leviticus 25:39 onwards there follow the laws relating to the bondage of the Israelite, who had been obliged to sell himself from poverty. Leviticus 25:36-46 relate to his service in bondage to an (other) Israelite. The man to whom he had sold himself as servant was not to have slave-labour performed by him (Exodus 1:14), but to keep him as a day-labourer and sojourner, and let him serve with him till the year of jubilee. He was then to go out free with his children, and return to his family and the possession of his fathers (his patrimony). This regulation is a supplement to the laws relating to the rights of Israel (Exodus 21:2-6), though without a contradiction arising, as Knobel maintains, between the different rules laid down. In Ex 21 nothing at all is determined respecting the treatment of an Israelitish servant; it is simply stated that in the seventh year of his service he was to recover his liberty. This limit is not mentioned here, because the chapter before us simply treats of the influence of the year of jubilee upon the bondage of the Israelites. On this point it is decided, that the year of jubilee was to bring freedom even to the Israelite who had been brought into slavery by his poverty, - of course only to the man who was still in slavery when it commenced and had not served seven full years, provided, that is to say, that he had not renounced his claim to be set free at the end of his seven years' service, according to Exodus 21:5-6. We have no right to expect this exception to be expressly mentioned here, because it did not interfere with the idea of the year of jubilee. For whoever voluntarily renounced the claim to be set free, whether because the year of jubilee was still so far off that he did not expect to live to see it, or because he had found a better lot with his master than he could secure for himself in a state of freedom, had thereby made a voluntary renunciation of the liberty which the year of jubilee might have brought to him (see Oehler's art. in Herzog's Cycl., where the different views on this subject are given).
Because the Israelites were servants of Jehovah, who had redeemed them out of Pharaoh's bondage and adopted them as His people (Exodus 19:5; Exodus 18:10, etc.), they were not to be sold “a selling of slaves,” i.e., not to be sold into actual slavery, and no one of them was to rule over another with severity (Leviticus 25:43, cf. Exodus 1:13-14). “Through this principle slavery was completely abolished, so far as the people of the theocracy were concerned”' ( Oehler).
As the Israelites could only hold in slavery servants and maid-servants whom they had bought of foreign nations, or foreigners who had settled in the land, these they might leave as an inheritance to their children, and “through them they might work,” i.e., have slave-labour performed, but not through their brethren the children of Israel (Leviticus 25:46, cf. Leviticus 25:43).
The servitude of an Israelite to a settler who had come to the possession of property, or a non-Israelite dwelling in the land, was to be redeemable at any time. If an Israelite had sold himself because of poverty to a foreign settler ( תּושׁב גּר , to distinguish the non-Israelitish sojourner from the Israelitish, Leviticus 25:35), or to a stock of a foreigner, then one of his brethren, or his uncle, or his uncle's son or some one of his kindred, was to redeem him; or if he came into the possession of property, he was to redeem himself. When this was done, the time was to be calculated from the year of purchase to the year of jubilee, and “the money of his purchase was to be according to the number of the years,” i.e., the price at which he had sold himself was to be distributed over the number of years that he would have to serve to the year of jubilee; and “according to the days of a day-labourer shall he be with him,” i.e., the time that he had worked was to be estimated as that of a day-labourer, and be put to the credit of the man to be redeemed.
According as there were few or many years to the year of jubilee would the redemption-money be paid be little or much. בּשּׁנים רבּות much in years: רבּות neuter, and בּ as in Genesis 7:21; Genesis 8:17 etc. לפיחן according to the measure of the same.
During the time of service the buyer was to keep him as a day-labourer year by year, i.e., as a labourer engaged for a term of years, and not rule over him with severe oppression. “ In thine eyes, ” i.e., so that thou (the nation addressed) seest it.
If he were not redeemed by these (the relations mentioned in Leviticus 25:48, Leviticus 25:49), he was to go out free in the year of jubilee along with his children, i.e., to be liberated without compensation. For (Leviticus 25:55) he was not to remain in bondage, because the Israelites were the servants of Jehovah (cf. Leviticus 25:42).
But although, through these arrangements, the year of jubilee helped every Israelite, who had fallen into poverty and slavery, to the recovery of his property and personal freedom, and thus the whole community was restored to its original condition as appointed by God, through the return of all the landed property that had been alienated in the course of years to its original proprietor the restoration of the theocratical state to its original condition was not the highest or ultimate object of the year of jubilee. The observance of sabbatical rest throughout the whole land, and by the whole nation, formed part of the liberty which it was to bring to the land and its inhabitants. In the year of jubilee, as in the sabbatical year, the land of Jehovah was to enjoy holy rest, and the nation of Jehovah to be set free from the bitter labour of cultivating the soil, and to live and refresh itself in blessed rest with the blessing which had been given to it by the Lord its God. In this way the year of jubilee became to the poor, oppressed, and suffering, in fact to the whole nation, a year of festivity and grace, which not only brought redemption to the captives and deliverance to the poor out of their distresses, but release to the whole congregation of the Lord from the bitter labour of this world; a time of refreshing, in which all oppression was to cease, and every member of the covenant nation find his redeemer in the Lord, who brought every one back to his own property and home. Because Jehovah had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt to give them the land of Canaan, where they were to live as His servants and serve Him, in the year of jubilee the nation and land of Jehovah were to celebrate a year of holy rest and refreshing before the Lord, and in this celebration to receive foretaste of the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, which were to be brought to all men by One anointed with the Spirit of the Lord, who would come to preach the Gospel to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to bring liberty to the captives and the opening of the prisons to them that were bound, to proclaim to all that mourn a year of grace from the Lord (Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 4:17-21); and who will come again from heaven in the times of the restitution of all things to complete the ἀποκατάστασις τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ Θεοῦ , to glorify the whole creation into a kingdom of God, to restore everything that has been destroyed by sin from the beginning of the world, to abolish all the slavery of sin, establish the true liberty of the children of God, emancipate every creature from the bondage of vanity, under which it sighs on account of the sin of man, and introduce all His chosen into the kingdom of peace and everlasting blessedness, which was prepared for their inheritance before the foundation of the world (Acts 3:19-20; Romans 8:19.; Matthew 25:34; Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 1:4).
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Leviticus 25". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany