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Of the sabbatical year, and the year of jubilee: laws inculcating benevolence and compassion.
Before Christ 1490.
Leviticus 25:1. The Lord spake—in mount Sinai— The particle rendered in, might, with as much propriety, be rendered at, or near. The word sabbath, Leviticus 25:2. &c. would have been better translated throughout this chapter by the word rest, as in the margin of our English Bibles. The first mention of this extraordinary institution is made, Exo 23:11 where the reason of it is, in part, assigned. It was to take place every seventh year, after their settlement in Canaan. The first sabbatical year was celebrated by the children of Israel, as it is thought, on the seventh year after their coming into the land of Canaan: this year was reckoned not from Abib, or March, but from Tisri, or September; but of this see more on Leviticus 25:8.
Leviticus 25:4. A sabbath for the Lord— As the weekly sabbath was a testimony of their belief in and homage to God the Creator, so the yearly sabbath was a public testimony that their land was consecrated to the same God; that he had settled them in it as his true worshippers, and that they held it as tenants under him, their great lord and proprietor. We do not mention the wise and merciful ends of this institution, as they come with more propriety under what we have to say concerning the jubilee.
Leviticus 25:5. It is a year of rest unto the land— It is a known rule in husbandry, that land requires rest; and therefore it is generally laid fallow, in order to recruit its strength: this, doubtless, among others, was a reason for the present institution. The sabbath of the land, in the next verse, signifies the accidental crop which grew in the sabbatical year; sabbath, by a metonymy, being put for the crop of the sabbath, or sabbatical year. Houbigant renders it, erunt terrae quiescentis fructus, the fruit of the earth at rest shall be. The grapes of thy vine undressed, should rather be rendered, as in the margin of our English Bibles, the grapes of the separation; i.e. the grapes which are separated, alienated, or set apart from private property to public utility. See Leviticus 25:11.
Note; (1.) The salvation of the Gospel is a common salvation; and all the great and precious promises of pardon and adoption, strength, consolation, &c. which grow in the field of grace, are to be gathered freely: whosoever will, let him come. (2.) When we have for the few years of life toiled to subdue the stubborn soil of our hearts, we shall at last sit down, and rest from our labours, in the enjoyment of an eternal sabbath in glory.
Leviticus 25:8. &c. And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee— Or, Seven weeks of years unto thee. As the sabbatical year was to be every seventh year, so the year of jubilee was to be every seventh sabbatical year; and though of greater dignity, and honoured with some higher privileges, was, in other respects, the same with the sabbatical year mentioned in the foregoing verses. This is the rather to be noted, as some have conceived that the sabbatical year differed from that of the jubilee. It was proclaimed by sound of trumpet through the whole country upon the great day of atonement, i.e. on the tenth of our September; from whence it is most reasonably concluded, that the sabbatical year also had its commencement at the same time. It is called the year of jubilee, as that word is formed from a Hebrew noun, signifying the sound of a trumpet, which was used to proclaim it. See Exodus 19:13.Genesis 4:21; Genesis 4:21. On this year, not only the usual rest of the sabbatical year was given to the land, Lev 25:11-12 but liberty was proclaimed to all the inhabitants of the land, Leviticus 25:10. Every ancient owner of lands and estates, which had been alienated by sale, was to be restored to his possession: every Israelitish slave, set free, was to return to the family he belonged to; so that, how often so ever a man's estate had been sold or alienated, from one jubilee to another, or how many hands soever it had passed through, yet, in fifty years, the estate must revert to the heirs of the persons who were first possessed of it. Many and great were the advantages arising to the public from these excellent laws respecting the sabbatical year, and the year of jubilee.* 1. The people were thus put in mind that the earth brought not forth of itself, but by the fructifying influences of the divine power, which consequently served to beget in them a trust in God and his providence: therefore God promised to command his blessing upon them in the sixth year, and to make the earth bring forth a triple increase; see 20th and 21st verses. It was a curb to avarice; habituating them to the exercises of humanity towards their slaves and beasts, of mercy and liberality to the poor: and Philo observes, as we have before remarked, that it was also a wise, political contrivance, to let the earth rest in order to recruit its strength. 2. It provided against all ambitious designs of private persons, or persons in authority, against the public liberty; for no person, in any of the tribes, was allowed by this constitution to procure such estates as could give them hopes of success in oppressing their brethren and fellow-subjects. They had no riches to bribe indigent persons to assist them; nor could there, at any time, be any considerable number of indigent persons to be corrupted: the power in the hands of so many freeholders of each tribe was so unspeakably superior to any power in the hands of one, or of a few men, that it is impossible to conceive how any such ambitious designs should succeed, if any persons had been found weak enough to attempt them. 3. This equal and moderate provision for every person wisely cut off the means of luxury, with the temptations to it from example: it almost necessarily put the Hebrew nation upon industry and frugality; and yet gave to every one such a property, with such an easy state of liberty, that they had sufficient reason to esteem and value them, and endeavour to preserve and maintain them. 4. A provision was thus made for settling and maintaining a numerous and brave militia of 600,000 men; which, if their force was rightly directed and used, would not only be a sufficient defence against any attempts of their less powerful neighbours, but, considering the natural security of their country, into which no inroads could be made but through very difficult passes, would be a force sufficient to defend them against the more powerful empires. 5. Thus, too, the Almighty excellently provided for fixing the Jews to the land of Canaan, and keeping them united; since all their possessions were so entailed, that the right heir could never be wholly excluded from his estate. 6. Thus a perfect distinction of tribes and families was preserved; for which end their genealogies were of necessity to be carefully kept, that they might be able to prove their right to the inheritance of their ancestors. By this means the tribe and family of the MESSIAH were fully ascertained when he was born, in order that it might be clearly proved that he was of the tribe of Judah, and of the lineage of David, as was foretold of him by the prophets. 7. Further, this institution was made subservient to religion; for the people were then peculiarly to be instructed in the law of God, which was appointed to be read this year in the audience of all Israel, men, women, and children, when they assembled before God at the feast of tabernacles. See Deuteronomy 31:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:8. This excellent institution not only served to these civil and religious uses, but also was typical of the great year of gospel-salvation, which, in allusion to it, is styled by the prophet the year of God's redeemed, and the acceptable year of the Lord, upon which the gospel trumpet proclaimed liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. Read Isaiah 61:1, &c. and Leviticus 27:13. Let it just be observed, that the time when the glad signal of jubilee was given was the 10th day of the seventh month; a day whereon the future expiation of the Messiah was clearly exhibited; see ch. Lev 23:27 and ch. Lev 16:29 and what I have there remarked on the goat that was slain, and on that which was sent away; whereby is signified that our jubilee begins in the atonement of Jesus Christ, as theirs began on the day on which it was prefigured. The intermission of labour, the cancelling of debts, the delivery from bondage, the reversion of all inheritances, bear an evident reference to the great spiritual blessings of the Gospel; which gives rest to our souls, remission of our sins, release from their bondage, and restoration to our glorious and never-failing inheritance in heaven.
* See Cunaeus de Repub. Heb. lib. 1: cap. 3. Lowman's Dissert. on the Civil Government of the Hebrews, p. 47, &c. and L'Enfant and Beausobre's Introduction to the New Testament, p. 165.
Leviticus 25:9. On the tenth day of the seventh month— Calmet observes from Maimonides, that "though the jubilee year began on the first day of the month Tizri, or September, yet neither were the slaves restored to liberty, nor the lands returned to their first owners, till the tenth day of that month. The nine first days were spent in pleasure and festivity, [which, it is to be feared, became too soon,] almost like that of the Romans in their saturnalia, [instead of the exercises of true devotion.] During these nine days the slaves did not work for their masters, but ate and drank, &c. and every one put a crown upon his head. No sooner was the day of solemn expiation come, which is the tenth of Tizri, but the counsellors of the Sanhedrim ordered the trumpets to sound; and at that instant the slaves were declared free, and the lands returned to their old owners." Note; Though civil liberty is precious, how much more to be prized is the liberty of the Gospel—a liberty which leads to no excess, which gives us the victory over ourselves, and ends in the eternal enjoyment of the Sovereign Good!
Leviticus 25:10. Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year— i.e. Ye shall distinguish it from all other years in the manner here appointed. The Hebrew is, the year of the fiftieth year, which may either signify the year preceding the fiftieth year, or the fiftieth year; a round number for 49. Calculators also should remember the great difference between the commencement of the Jewish ecclesiastical and civil year. This and the 11th verse plainly prove what we have observed in a former note, that the year of jubilee was only a more solemn sabbatical year. There is no mention of the jubilees, but while the twelve tribes were in possession of the land of Canaan: the Talmudists pretend that they ceased when the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh were carried into captivity; and they are not at all mentioned under the second temple, though the sabbatical years continued still to be observed. Some learned men have attempted to prove, by a calculation which appears pretty exact, that if the Jews had still observed their jubilees, the fifteenth year of Tiberius, when John the Baptist first began to preach, would have been a jubilee, and consequently the last; since fifty years after that the Jewish commonwealth was no longer in being. This particular is of some consequence in our disputes with the Jews, who pretend that the Son of David will come during the last jubilee: and this also exactly agrees with the design of the Gospel, and the end of John the Baptist's coming; which was to proclaim the grand jubilee, the spiritual freedom of the children of God, foretold by Zec 9:14 and prefigured by the jubilees of the Jews. See Lamy Appar. chron. p. 142 and L'Enfant, &c. With respect to the chronological disputes concerning the aera of the first jubilee, we take not upon us to determine any thing: following Bishop Usher, we refer to his annals, and to the other writers who have treated on the subject.
Ye shall return every man unto his possession, and—unto his family— This law, which may be called the Agrarian law of the Jews, was so famous, that the heathens themselves took notice of it; insomuch, that Diodorus Siculus says, lib. 11: that it was not lawful for the Jews to sell their own inheritances, i.e. to alienate them for ever from their families. Jameson well observes, that as Moses revived several of the ancient and primitive institutions of the patriarchs, so this appointment of restoring all slaves to their liberty, after a certain term of years, seems to have been one. Considering that all mankind are free by nature, it is highly probable that it was an original institution in the first laws of nations, that no person should absolutely lose his freedom. Many of the ancient heathen writers intimate, that there was such an appointment in the days of Saturn; and in commemoration of this original state of freedom, the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and others, celebrated annually a sort of saturnalia, wherein all slaves for a time enjoyed their freedom.
Leviticus 25:14. Ye shall not oppress one another— This would be rendered more properly, shall not deceive one another; for the context evidently proves that deceit, not oppression, was here the evil guarded against. The Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, &c. render it deceive.
Leviticus 25:17. But thou shalt fear thy God— See Proverbs 16:6.
Leviticus 25:18. Ye shall dwell in the land in safety— Hebrew, boldly, without fear. For the original word בטח betach, says Dr. Beaumont, signifies both the confidence or boldness which men, who trust in God, and walk in his ways, have within themselves; and that safety and secure estate wherein God settleth them from danger of evil.
Leviticus 25:20, &c. And if ye shall say, &c.— This increase which the Lord promises to give in the sixth year, was a continual proof to the Jews of his regard to them, of his immediate government, and consequently of his particular providence over them; another striking advantage of the present institution! The supply of this sixth year was to be sufficient for three years, i.e. for the whole seventh, the eighth when they sowed afresh, and for part of the ninth till they reaped the fruits of the eighth year. This wise law respecting the sabbatical year, and the year of jubilee, affords us a full proof of the divinity of the Mosaic institution; for, had not the Jews been immediately under the divine protection and providence, it would have been impossible for them to have observed this law.
Note; 1. They who follow God's will may safely trust him for a provision. 2. It would be a shame to a Christian if he had less faith than a Jew, and if we should be more afraid of wanting bread than they were. 3. With the blessing of God a little will go far; so that, like the widow's cruse, we shall still have enough and to spare.
Leviticus 25:23. The land shall not be sold for ever— That is, absolutely and irredeemably: the reason of which is subjoined, because God considered himself as the peculiar lord and proprietor of this land, and the people as his immediate tenants and usufructuaries: which points out to us the striking peculiarity of the Jewish state and polity; a theocracy, under which they lived not only as subjects, but as tenants to God, their king and their lord.
Leviticus 25:24. And in all the land—ye shall grant a redemption— See chap. Leviticus 27:20. Provision is made in this and the following verses for the redemption of such land as a man had been obliged to sell through poverty. If any of his relations would redeem it, or if himself should become able afterwards to redeem it, he was to be allowed to do so before the year of jubilee; due consideration being had to the circumstances of the case.
Leviticus 25:25. If any of his kin come to redeem it— The word גאל goel, a redeemer, signifies also a near kinsman; to whom the right of redeeming lands, houses, or persons, and also the avenging of blood, belongs: which kinsman, in this work of redeeming, was often a figure of Christ, who being near to us, and allied in the flesh, in that he took part of the same flesh and blood with us, (Hebrews 2:14.) is called our גאל goel; our Redeemer, or Deliverer; (Isaiah 59:20. Romans 11:26.) who hath redeemed us, and our heavenly inheritance to us, in our low, distressed, and poor estate. Hosea 13:14. 1Th 1:10. 2 Corinthians 8:9. Romans 8:10. Dr. Beaumont.
Leviticus 25:29-31. If a man sell a dwelling-house, &c.— Great difference is here made between houses in walled cities, and in the country: the former, if sold, were either to be redeemed within the compass of a year, or else to return no more to the first owner, not even at the jubilee; whereas houses in the country, which had lands of inheritance annexed to them, or were themselves estates of inheritance from the first division of the country, were to be counted as the fields of the country, that is, they were to fall under the same law with the lands whereof they were an appendage, and so might be redeemed at any time. See Leviticus 25:10; Leviticus 25:23. Several reasons are assigned for this distinction between houses in cities and those in villages: the principal one seems to be, that families were not distinguished by houses in cities as they were by those in the country, which were annexed to their lands, and therefore to be considered as a part of the inheritance. Le Clerc adds, that the houses in the country were necessary for the convenience of cultivating the lands; whereas men bred to husbandry might dispense with the want of town-houses. Men in cities too, we may observe further, being usually in trade, and their livelihood often depending upon their situation, the law of redemption, if it had taken place in cities, might have subjected them to many difficulties and inconveniencies.
Leviticus 25:30. The house that is in the walled city— In the Hebrew it is, in a city that hath not a wall: but because this seems contrary to the former, it is written and noted in the margin of our English Bibles to be read, hath a wall. See chap. Lev 11:22 for a like double reading. And it seems that the meaning is, that if it were in a city which some time had a wall, but for the present had none, or a very ruinous one, (as was the case of Jerusalem, 2 Kings 25:10.) then the order here given should stand for the sale of the house. Beaumont.
Leviticus 25:31. They may be redeemed, and, &c.— It is very evident that the and here would be rendered more properly else, or otherwise.
Leviticus 25:32. Notwithstanding, the cities of the Levites, &c.— The Levites' city-houses are exempted from the general law respecting houses in cities; the reason for which is given in the 33rd verse, For the houses of the cities, &c. The body of the Levites being a standing and perpetual body, they could not absolutely alienate their houses or lands. See Numbers 18:21; Numbers 35:2.Deuteronomy 18:2; Deuteronomy 18:2.
Note; We are taught here, in the near kinsman and redeemer, to behold Jesus, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, who, when we had sold all, and were become incapable of recovering our inheritance, paid down the purchase, and restored the lost title.
Leviticus 25:35. And if thy brother be waxen poor— The two great benefits of the year of jubilee were, a restoration to possessions and to freedom, Leviticus 25:10. Such particulars as respect possessions being settled, the case of freedom, or the release of servants and slaves, comes next to be considered: wherein the benevolence of the divine Lawgiver is very observable, inculcating upon the people the utmost compassion and charity towards their brethren in decay, to proselytes and strangers, as well as to native Jews: for so the sacred writer himself here explains the word brother.
Leviticus 25:36. Take thou no usury of him, &c.— This is explained by the next verse. See Exodus 22:25. That thy brother may live with thee, signifies that he may prosper and thrive, &c. for, to live, in the Scripture, frequently signifies to be comfortable; Deuteronomy 8:1. A stronger motive to induce the people to be free and disinterested in their benevolence could not well be urged, than the free and disinterested benevolence of God to them, Leviticus 25:38.
REFLECTIONS.—God will have particular regard paid to his poor people, and no difference must be made between the home-born and the stranger. Wherever poverty is, it is a demand for our assistance. They must pity, and, out of their abundance, supply their wants; and as a small sum lent to the industrious poor is often the greatest charity which can be done them, as enabling them to work for themselves, they may not take any usury for it. These are laws still in force; for though interest from those who use our money to traffic and make gain with is lawful, yet many times the same charity which bids us freely give to one obliges us freely to lend another. The rich must not live for themselves merely, or engross all; God expects that, as he has given the poor life, we should make their subsistence comfortable.
Leviticus 25:40. He shall—serve thee until the year of jubilee— In Exo 21:2 it is said, that an Hebrew servant being bought should serve only six years, and go out in the seventh. The difference between these passages is supposed to consist in this: that the case in Exodus refers to such slaves as were sold by others; while the present refers to such as sold themselves, and who consequently might dispose of themselves for a longer period than it would have been equitable and humane to have assigned to those who were sold without their own consent.
Leviticus 25:42-43, &c. For they are my servants, &c.— A great distinction is made between native Israelites and strangers in the case of servitude; and the reason urged is, that the meanest Israelite, as well as the richest, was redeemed from Egyptian bondage, and had this honour, to be the peculiar servant and worshipper of the true God: the dignity therefore of his character, and his relation to God the common master, entitled him to good usage from his brethren, and was to secure him from oppressive slavery and rigour, like that which the Egyptians exercised over the Israelites. Exodus 1:13-14. In consequence of this their external privilege, the Jews always valued themselves as a free people, according to a distinction which their rabbis make between internal and external liberty; averring that the latter may be lost, but the former never can: but, alas! how little did those rabbis know of the fall of man! And is not every one a slave internally, who is in subjection to irregular passions and appetites? But it must be granted, that human laws or external coercion cannot restrain the movements of the mind. May we not just hint, that if the appropriation of the Israelites to one common master and deliverer was a sufficient reason why they should never make slaves of each other, certainly that relation, in which all men now stand to the great Lord and Redeemer of the world, is a sufficient reason universally to abolish the unchristian practice of slavery at present?
Leviticus 25:47-54. If a sojourner—wax rich, &c.— Equitable in all his laws, God here provides that the sojourner in Israel should have the same legal advantages with the native: to whom, if reduced, though he grants the peculiar privilege of being redeemed before the jubilee, if he has it in his power, or, if he has not, of receiving the benefit of the year of jubilee, yet he takes care that full compensation shall be made to the sojourner, and that the price of redemption shall be exactly paid to him.
REFLECTIONS.—1. Our servants, being of the same flesh and blood with ourselves, have as much right to our kindness and good usage as we have to their service and fidelity. He knows not the gentle sway of a Saviour's love in his heart, who, becoming insolent, unreasonable, or fretful, is a lion in his house, and frantic among his servants. 2. Though the sinner has sold himself, blessed be God, the right of redemption remains good, and we have one of our brethren able and willing to pay the price, and set the poor soul at liberty from the servitude of sin.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Leviticus 25". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29