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The subject of the sacred seasons is taken up again in this chapter, after the parenthetical insertion of Leviticus 24:1-23. There remain the septennial festive season and that of the half-century—the sabbatical year and the jubilee.
The sabbatical year was instituted not for any supposed physical benefit accruing from it to the land, but, first, as serving for a link between the sabbath and the jubilee by means of the sacred number seven—the sabbatical year being the seventh year, and the jubilee being the year following the seven-times-seventh year; and secondly, and chiefly, as enforcing the lesson of the weekly sabbath in a manner that could not be overlooked, and symbolically, teaching the universal application of the sabbatical law, even where physical needs were not concerned, and in that way suggesting the expectation of a rest to be hereafter attained by all God's creatures. The sabbatical year began with the commencement of the civil year, the 1st of Tisri, just before the autumn sewings, which were intermitted for one year. The ground was not tilled during this year (Leviticus 24:4). There was a release of debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-11), and there was to be public reading of God's Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). During the previous six years the husbandmen had been well aware of the coming sabbatical year, and would have laid by in store accordingly, so as to support themselves and their families during that year. The release of debts inculcated mercy. The command that the Law should be publicly read showed that the intention of the institution was not that the year should be spent in idleness, but that the time saved from ordinary labour was to be given to devotional pursuits. The law of the sabbatical year was so hard of observance by an agricultural people, that it was seldom or never acted upon until the Captivity (see 2 Chronicles 36:21). But after that time it seems to have been religiously kept (see Josephus, 'Ant.,' 11.8, 6; 14.10, 6; 14.16, 2; 15.1, 2; 1 Macc. 6:49; Galatians 4:10; Tacit; 'Hist.,' 5.2, 4).
The jubilee was a joyous year appointed to be observed every fifty years. The cycle of the sabbatical year and the jubilee touched without coalescing. The forty-ninth year was necessarily a sabbatical year, and the following year was the jubilee. It has appeared to some so difficult to believe that two years in which it was not allowable to engage in agricultural work should come together, that they have assumed that the sabbatical year itself, that is, the forty-ninth year, was the year of the jubilee. But this was clearly not the case. Twice in the century the laud was to lie fallow for two years running—from September to the second September following—special preparations having, of course, been made by laying up a store of grain from the abundant harvest promised in the previous year (Leviticus 24:21), and foreign crops being, no doubt, imported to take the place of the usual home crops. In matter of fact, however, these two blank years seldom, if ever, occurred together; for as the sabbatical year was not observed before the Captivity, while there are indications of the existence of the jubilee (1 Kings 21:3; Isaiah 61:1-3), so probably the jubilee ceased to be observed after the Captivity, when the sabbatical year was carefully kept. Supposing that they did come together, the second year in which labour was prohibited would end just in time for the seed to be sown for the next summer's harvest.
The jubilee affected both land and men. Land could only be sold for fifty years, its value immediately after a jubilee had passed being that of fifty harvests, or rather, deducting the sabbatical years and the fiftieth year, of forty-two harvests. If it were sold, it might be bought back by the original owner or any of his relations, counting the number of harvests remaining before the next jubilee, and buying out the previous purchaser with the sum of money thus estimated. No more effective plan could be well devised for preserving the various properties in the families to which they were at first assigned.
The other point chiefly affected by the law of the jubilee was slavery. In ease a brother Israelite became poor, it was the duty of his richer brethren to help him, and to lend him money without interest, to set him up in the world again. But if this did not succeed, the poor man might sell himself as a slave, either to an Israelite or to a foreigner living in the land. In the former ease it had been already enacted that his slavery was not to last beyond six years (Exodus 21:2). To this enactment it was now added that he must be also set free whenever the year of jubilee occurred.
If he became the slave of a non-Israelite, he must be set free, not as before on the seventh year of his slavery, but still at the jubilee. He had also preserved for him the right of being redeemed by any kinsman, the price paid for him being the wages which would be paid up to the next jubilee. In either case, he was to be treated without rigour, and it was the duty of the Israelite magistrate to see that no undue harshness was used by the foreign master. The principle is, as before, that as the land is God's land, not man's, so the Israelites were the slaves of God, not of man, and that if the position in which God placed them was allowed to be interfered with for a time, it was to be recovered every seventh, or at furthest every fiftieth, year. The possession of slaves was not forbidden—the world was not yet ready for such a prohibition. The Hebrews might purchase and own slaves of alien blood, but between Hebrew and Hebrew the institution of master and slave was practically abolished, and superseded (in most respects) by the relationship of master and servant.
And the Lord spake unto Moses in mount Sinai. The purpose of the words, in Mount Sinai, is not to distinguish the place in which the sabbatical law and the law of the jubilee were given from that in which the preceding laws were delivered. The words mean only, "in the Sinai district;'' and they are employed because these laws form the conclusion of the series of laws given while tile people were en-camped under Mount Sinai. The law on vows is, it is true, added to them, but it is by way of appendix.
The sabbath of the seventh year could only be observed when ye come into the land which I give you. The habit of making no distraction in the seventh year during the whole of the life in the wilderness may have led to the neglect of the law after the settlement in Canaan. Another excuse for the neglect may have been a difficulty which would have presented itself of fixing the date from which to count up to the seventh year, as different parts of the land were conquered at different times. According to the law, from New Year's Day of the seventh year to the following New Year's Day, there was to be neither sowing nor pruning, reaping or gathering. The expression, Neither shalt thou gather the grapes of thy vine undressed, would be more literally rendered, the grapes of thy Nazarite vine, the vine with its unpruned tendrils, being likened to the Nazarite with his unshorn locks. As to sowing and reaping, an exception was made with respect to the barley sown and reaped for the Passover sheaf, and the wheat sown and reaped for the Pentecost loaves. The spontaneous fruits of the earth, and they were very large in the rich fields of the valleys and plains, were to be the property of all alike, whether the owners of the land or not, "that the poor of thy people might eat" (Exodus 23:11). And what was left by man was to be food for the cattle and beasts of the field. The cessation of agricultural labours must have served, and may have been intended to serve, as an encouragement to mercantile pursuits, as well as to the study of the Divine Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). The Feast of Tabernacles of the seventh year was specially appointed by Moses as a day for reading the Law to the assembled people (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). And the Mishna appoints the following passages of Deuteronomy to be read on that day:—Deuteronomy 1:1-6; Deuteronomy 6:4-8; Deuteronomy 11:13-22; Deuteronomy 14:22; Deuteronomy 15:23; Deuteronomy 17:14; Deuteronomy 26:12-19; Deuteronomy 27:1-26, Deuteronomy 28:1-68. ('Mish. Sotah.,' 7.8). The other ordinance connected with the sabbatical year, the release of debts to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1-6), was, like the fifth commandment, made of none effect by rabbinical traditions—notably by one which required a debtor, when his creditor said, "I remit," to insist that nevertheless he should accept payment. The moral purpose of the sabbath of the seventh year is well drawn out by Keil:—"In the sabbatical year the land which the Lord had given 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 sacred 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 power for his own use, but also to be holy to the Lord and participate in the 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 the brow (Genesis 3:17, Genesis 3:19), but in tile 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."
Leviticus 25:8, Leviticus 25:9
The word jubile (as it is always spelt in the Authorized Version) is taken from the Hebrew word yovel, and it came to mean a year of liberty (Ezekiel 46:17; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 3.12, 3), because it freed men and lands from the obligations to which they would otherwise have been liable; but originally it signified no more than a cornet-blast, and thence the year of the cornet-blast. The way to find the jubilee year was to number seven sabbaths of years, that is, seven weeks of years (Leviticus 22:15), seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years: then by a blast of the cornet (the word is inexactly rendered trumpet) on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement, the approach of the jubilee in the following year was announced.
This verse contains a short statement of the two purposes of the jubilee:
(1) to proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof;
(2) ye shall return every man unto his possession.
Leviticus 25:11, Leviticus 25:12
So far as the tillage of the land went, the jubilee year was to have the same effect as a sabbatical year.
The Israelites were only tenants of God. They might regard themselves as owners for fifty years, but at the end of every fifty years the land was to come back to him to whom the Lord had assigned it, or to his representative. It might be bought and sold on that understanding, the value of the purchase being four. d by reckoning the price of the harvests up to the next jubilee day; but in this period only "the years of the fruits" were to be counted, that is, the sabbatical years, in which there would be no harvests, were to be deducted. Ye shall not therefore oppress (or overreach) one another by demanding more for the hind than would be its just value under the limitation of the jubilee law.
"Not only the year of jubilee, but the sabbatical year also, commenced in the autumn, when the farmers 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 eighth 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" (Keil). The question, What shall we eat? would present itself with double force when the sabbatical and the jubilee years came together. It and the answer to it therefore properly follow on the institution of the jubilee, instead of preceding it, as Ewald, Knobcl, and others demand that it should do.
Leviticus 25:23, Leviticus 25:24
For the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. Many incidental advantages, if some difficulties, arose from the jubilee law (which will be the more appreciated if we compare the evils resulting from slavery and the accumulation of land in a few hands, found in the history of Rome or any other ancient nation); but its essential features, so far as the laud was concerned, was its inculcation of the lesson of the proprietorship of the Lord. Palestine was God's land: he divided it once for all in the time of Joshua among his people, and every fifty years he required that recourse should be had to that original division, in order that in each generation the people might feel themselves to be his tenants, not independent owners, possessores, not domini.
The right of redemption of land sold continued always alive, and might be exercised by the original owner or his kinsman. If not exercised, the owner returned into his possession at any rate in the jubilee year. If a man had to sell his laud, he was bound to offer it to his nearest kinsman first (see Jeremiah 32:7, Jeremiah 32:8).
Houses in walled cities are not subject to the law of restoration at the jubilee, as that law applies only to lands and to men; but houses in the country are subject to the law, as they are regarded only as appurtenances of the land. Houses in cities, being occupied by artisans and built by human industry, not originally assigned in the territorial division, arc not considered in so strict a sense the property of the Lord as the soil is, and may be parted with more readily. Yet the owners, if obliged to part with them, are allowed a year's grace, during which they are to have the right of buying them back. The expression, within a full year, would be more literally rendered during a fixed time, that fixed time having just before been declared to be a year.
The houses of the Levites are, by an exception, subject to the law of jubilee. They constituted the share of the national property which was assigned to the tribe of Levi, and so far stood in the same relation to them as the land did to the other tribes. They therefore returned to the original possessor or his representative in the year of jubilee, and might at any earlier time be redeemed. The words, Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, should rather be rendered, But in respect to the cities of the Levites. There is a difficulty also as to the translation of the clause, And if a man purchase of the Levites, for the word rendered purchase menus elsewhere redeem; but here the Authorized Version would seem to be correct. The sense that it gives is that if any one bought a house of the Levites, he had to render it back in the year of jubilee, just as though it had been land. On the other hand, the land belonging to the Levites, in the suburbs of the Levitical cities, which was used for the pasturage of the flocks of the Levites, could not be sold except to a Levite, and therefore no question between the Levites and members of the other tribes could arise regarding it. The phrase, the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, must be understood, by a hendiadys, to mean, the house that was sold in the city of his possession (see Gesenius, 'Lex.,' s.v. לְ i.b.).
Slavery. It is presumed that no Hebrew will become a slave except on the pressure of poverty, and this poverty his brethren are commanded to relieve; but foreseeing that either want of charity on the part of the rich or unthrift on the part of the poor would certainly bring about slavery, the legislator makes regulations so as to soften its character as far as possible. The literal translation of Leviticus 25:35 is as follows: If thy brother becomes poor, and his hand faileth by thee, thou shalt lay hold of him; a stranger or a sojourner that he may live with thee. The translation of the latter clause adopted by the Authorized Version, yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee, makes the duty of giving charitable support and loans of money to apply to the case of the stranger and sojourner as well as of the Israelite. The other and more probable rendering confines its application to native Israelites. If thy brother becomes poor, and his hand faileth, thou shalt support him as a stranger or a sojourner, that is, treat him with the forbearance shown to resident foreigners, to whose state he had reduced himself by the loss of his land. The command in Leviticus 25:36, Take thou no usury of him, or increase, does not bear upon the general question of taking interest for money when lent to wealthy men or companies for business purposes. It simply forbids the taking of interest or increase of a brother Israelite who had become poor. The history of Rome shows how much cruelty and revolution such an injunction may have prevented. The words, or increase, added to usury, forbid the exaction of any greater quantity of food or clothing (a method of evading the law against usury) than that which had been lent. The injunction was transgressed in the time of Nehemiah, when "he rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother … . Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer" (Nehemiah 5:7, Nehemiah 5:8).
We see the way in which a poor Israelite might become a slave in the case of the sons of the widow whose oil was multiplied by Elisha. "Thy servant my husband is dead; (and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord:) and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen" (2 Kings 4:1). And in the time of Nehemiah, "Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.… And, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards" (Nehemiah 5:3-5). But the fact that an Israelite could not be kept in slavery for more than six years (Exodus 21:2), and that the period of his service had to be still shorter if the jubilee fell before the seventh year, and the further fact that at the time of the jubilee he would not only he free, but recover any ancestral property that he had forfeited, so that he might become once more on an equality with his master, would have made his position totally different from the hopeless, helpless state of the Greek or Roman slave, even without the positive command that he was to be treated, not as a bondservant: but as an hired servant, and as a sojourner. All alike, master and bondsman, were the slaves of God, and therefore not only were they, so far, on an equality one with another, but the master would be encroaching on the right of God if he claimed God's slaves for his own inalienably.
Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God, is paralleled by the New Testament injunction, "And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him" (Ephesians 6:9).
Slavery is not forbidden in respect to non-Israelites. The world was not yet ready for it, as it was not ready in the days of St. Paul.
Rules are laid down for the case of an Israelite who has sold himself for a slave to a non-Israelite. In this case he is not set free at the end of six years, as he would be if his master were a countryman, but in other respects his treatment is to be like that of the man with an Israelite master. He may be redeemed by the value of his work down to the jubilee being paid by himself or his kinsman; he is to be set free when the jubilee comes at any rate; he is to be treated kindly while continuing in his master's service, and his countrymen are to see that no over-severity is used.
The jubilee, being a year of deliverance and joy, came to be a type of the Messianic dispensation, and of the final deliverance and state of happiness which is still to come. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 61:2). We have our Lord's authority for saying that these words bear spiritual reference to his ministry on earth (Luke 4:21). They are partially fulfilled in his kingdom here, and will be fully accomplished at "the restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21) in his kingdom hereafter, when his people shall "rest from their labours" and be delivered from the burden of their debts and emancipated for ever from slavery.
I. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. It is accepted as a fact, not denounced or approved, but recognized and gradually ameliorated.
1. Hebrew slaves are not to be treated with rigour (Leviticus 25:43, Leviticus 25:53), but as hired servants. How different from the state of slaves in the workshops of Greece and Rome!
2. In the ease of Hebrew slaves, the duration of slavery was not to be perpetual. At the end of six years every slave was to be restored to liberty, and at the end of fifty years at the utmost he was to be replaced in a social position which might equal his master's (Leviticus 25:28, Leviticus 25:54).
II. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. It is still accepted as a fact. But:
1. A principle is laid down, which, like leaven leavening the whole lump, could not but cause its destruction. "Ye masters … your Master also" (or, as it would be better translated, "your and their Master") "is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him" (Ephesians 6:9). "Ye call me Master and Lord: and say ye well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:13-15). "Art thou called being a servant (slave)? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant (slave), is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant (slave)' (1 Corinthians 7:21, 1 Corinthians 7:22). "There is neither … bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11).
2. An example is given. St. Paul thus speaks of Onesimus, the runaway slave, now converted to Christianity: "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:… thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels.… For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant (slave), but above a servant (slave), a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself" (Philemon 1:10-17). Contrast the feeling entertained contemporaneously towards slaves in the Roman Empire. "Their growing power was sometimes restrained by legalized murder; they were sold without remorse; they were tortured and beaten and crucified without pity. Even Cicero apologizes to Atticus for being affected by the death of his slave" (Wordsworth, 'Church History,' Leviticus 23:1-44).
III. TEACHING IN THE SECOND CENTURY. "We ought," says Clement of Alexandria, "to treat our slaves as ourselves. They are men as we are; and there is the same God of bond and free; and we ought not to punish our brethren when they sin, but to reprove them. Whatever we do to the lowest and meanest of Christ's brethren, we do to him".
IV. SLOW BUT CERTAIN EXTINCTION OF SLAVERY. There was a long battle to be fought between the selfish and the Christian instinct; but slavery could not coexist with Christianity, and wherever Christianity now stretches, slavery, though it may still linger here and there, is condemned by public sentiment and doomed to extinction.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The fallow year.
cf. Deuteronomy 31:10-13. We have here a ceremonial appendix to the fourth commandment. The land must have its sabbath as well as man, and so every seventh year was to be fallow year for the ground. The necessity of giving land rest is recognized still in agriculture. Continual cropping impoverishes a soil, and reduces it eventually to barrenness. This was one of the grave charges made by political economists against the slavery of North America, that, in consequence of the inefficiency of slave labour, the land was subjected to a monotonous process of cropping, and in consequence killed. The finest virgin soil was being reduced to wilderness, for the land was allowed neither variety nor rest. £ This arrangement in Israel, therefore, was economically most wise. But "the sabbath of the fields" had a wider basis than this mere natural one. It was attended by most important religious results.
I. THE FALLOW YEAR PROCLAIMED THAT THE LAND BELONGED TO THE LORD. For if the fourth commandment really implies that the people, called from their own work to do God's work on God's day, belong to him, and so are under obligation to obey this call, in the very same way the claim that the land should rest proclaims that the land is his. What was thus claimed in Canaan is only part of a still wider claim; for "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods" (Psalms 24:1, Psalms 24:2). The demand for "a sabbath of rest unto the land" is for "a sabbath for the Lord." He thus stamps the land as his, and had we the clear vision, we might see the "sign manual" of the Lord upon all the world.
II. THE FALLOW YEAR CHANGED AGRICULTURAL INTO PASTORAL LIFE. The people of necessity gave greater attention to the rearing and the tending of cattle. It is evident from Deuteronomy 31:7 that the care of the cattle and of the beasts of the field was specially contemplated by the arrangement. National life would become in consequence more idyllic. A wholesome change would thus be introduced every seventh year, and the people would morally be improved. The population would become more and more humane, and the whole country profit thereby.
Now, in pastoral countries there is of necessity more time for pensive meditation and thought. Pastoral life is in the interests of reflection. It is a providential aid thereto. Hence we see in the sabbatic year the condition supplied for greater thoughtfulness and reflection. If we compare the blank intellectual condition of agricultural labourers, ground down by ceaseless toil, with the thoughtful, poetic mood often met with among shepherds, we can have no difficulty in recognizing the great moral importance of a pastoral year.
III. THE FALLOW YEAR WAS A FINE EXERCISE FOR THE NATIONAL FAITH, For men would naturally ask, "What shall we eat the seventh year?" (Deuteronomy 31:20). And to this the Lord made answer, "Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years" (Deuteronomy 31:21). For a nation to prepare for this fallow year required great faith in God. The sixth year was a year of "great expectations;" they looked to God to provide for the coming year of rest, and thus were drawn up to an exercise of faith and hope of the most profitable description. Amid our multiplied methods of livelihood we are in danger of losing sight of the Divine hand altogether, and of living a low life of sight. And yet, by periodic returns of hard times and- difficulties, the Lord is still calling on us for faith in him, to enable us to serve him. He still desires us to exercise this faith in him, that none of us shall ever suffer real loss in seeking to serve him. "So those who abstain from their labours upon the sabbath," says an old writer in this connection, "it shall never impoverish them, for the blessing of God upon the week-days shall supply all their wants; so the Lord promised, when they shall go up to Jerusalem to serve him at their feasts, that he would keep their land from the incursion of their enemies (Exodus 34:24). We see also (Joshua 5:1, Joshua 5:2), when they were circumcised, the Lord struck such a fear and terror into the hearts of the Canaanites, that they durst not touch them, as Simeon and Levi killed the Shechemites when they were newly circumcised. Never man yet got hurt in the service of God; he shall still find the Lord's protecting hand and blessing in his service."
IV. THE FALLOW YEAR BROUGHT INTO PROMINENCE THE GREAT TRUTH ABOUT THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN. Although the land was to lie fallow, it gave much in the way of spontaneous growth. This became public and common property, so that servant, and maid, and hired servant, and stranger, as well as the rightful owner, "had all things common." In fact, there was, to adopt the modern phraseology, a "commune" established in Canaan so far as the produce of the sabbatic year was concerned. Was this not a recognition of the brotherhood of man, and of the obligation to make some provision for poorer brethren? It was thus the year of charity, when all alike sat at the table of the Divine bounty, and realized thereat their common relation.
It was a similar outcome of the religious spirit which occurred at Pentecost. Then "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common" (Acts 4:32). And although the Christian commune did not work well, but broke down speedily, it showed the true tendency of inspired men. The obligation under which they live to do their best for all about them, especially for those of the household of faith, is cheerfully and gladly recognized. And possibly, in the perfect world and sabbath of the spirit, this community of goods will be found workable, the selfish elements which now cause friction having entirely disappeared.
V. THE FALLOW YEAR AFFORDED SPECIAL FACILITIES FOR PROMOTING NATIONAL EDUCATION. It is evident from Deuteronomy 31:10-13 that the sabbatic year was to be a season of special study of the Law. The Feast of Tabernacles with which it began was to be devoted to the public reading of it. Not only the adults, male and female, but also the children, were to be instructed in it. So that the national desire might very properly find its expression in the words of the Psalm (119:19), which celebrates the Divine Law, "I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me." A pilgrim people in extemporized tents applied themselves in the sabbatic year to the study of God's commandments.
Thus national education was promoted, and this education was of such a character that "the revival of religion" must have resulted if the sabbatic years had been faithfully kept. It would seem from such a passage as Jeremiah 34:14, however, that Israel was not careful about the sabbatic year, and the result was judgment without mercy (Jeremiah 34:17-22). The institution was most valuable, morally and spiritually, but it was disregarded by an apostatizing people, who came in consequence into an inheritance of judgment rather than of blessing.—R.M.E.
cf. Isa 61:1 -13; Luke 4:18, Luke 4:19. We have here a further appendix to the fourth commandment. After seven sabbatic years there came another year, called the jubilee, which was also sabbatic, and during which there was to be a universal restitution. The trumpet was to be blown on the Day of Atonement, and the captives were then to be released, the unfortunate ones who had been compelled to part with their inheritance had it restored to them, and there was a general restoration of heart and of hope throughout the land. It was the year of liberty, of comfort, of restoration; in one word, it was every half-century a bloodless revolution, giving to the entire nation the opportunity of a new departure.
I. THE JUBILEE WAS PRE-EMINENTLY THE LORD'S, AND AS SUCH WAS A HALLOWED YEAR. The fallow year was a year of rest unto the land, the jubilee was a year of liberty and release unto the people, and, as the year which was reached after a series of seven sabbatic years, it was hallowed as no other year was hallowed, to the service of the Lord. His will ruled all the year, just as his will is pre-eminently regarded on the sabbath days. Now, the principle embodied in the jubilee was this: "All members of the community are the direct servants of Jehovah, not the servants of men, and they must therefore have an unfettered body and unencumbered estate, in order to live worthy of their vocation." £ Hence God gave his people in the jubilee who had become "servants of men" through the pressure of the times, release from their bondage; he gave those of them who had disposed of their estates, which they could only dispose of until the jubilee, a new gift of their inheritance; he gave every exile from his home and family through the exigencies of the times, right to return to his family and begin life amid the old associations and without encumbrance. This was surely to show that his service is perfect freedom, and that when his will is done on earth as it ought to be, men shall have such social privileges and such adequate temporal provision as will make life an antepast of heaven!
The only exception to the law of restoration was the case of a house in a walled town, which, if not redeemed within a year, might become the inalienable inheritance of the buyer. It was only by some little possibility of this kind that the stranger could have any footing in the holy land at all. The growth of cities, and of the civilization which cities bring, was thus provided for. If every house as well as field reverted to its former owners, every jubilee would have witnessed an emigration of all but the descendants of the old proprietors, and business would have been brought to n utter standstill. We see in this exception the possibility of a foreign and advantageous element amid the native population.
II. THERE WAS A SLAVERY WHICH TERMINATED, AND A SLAVERY WHICH DID NOT TERMINATE, IN THE YEAR OF THE JUBILEE. The slavery which did terminate was that into which a Jewish debtor had entered, in order to give his service in lieu of the debt. In fact, slavery was the form that the bankruptcy laws took in Palestine. It would be well if some such system were engrafted on our own jurisprudence. A man who has got unfortunately into difficulties might thus honourably redeem his position and his character, instead of compromising both by availing himself of present legal facilities.
On the other hand, foreigners or natives of Canaan might become perpetual slaves to the Jews. In so doing, they shared in Jewish privileges, and had the advantage of Jewish training. This was compensation for the loss of their freedom. Besides, their considerate treatment was carefully secured by the Law of God. It was right, therefore, that it should thus be unmistakably exhibited that other nations were only "hewers of wood and drawers of water" to the Lord's own people. This was what slavery among the Jews embodied.
III. THE JUBILEE WAS THE TYPE OF GOSPEL TIMES. Our Lord appropriated the prophecy delivered by Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 61:2; cf. Luke 4:18, Luke 4:19). We are living consequently amid the glorious privileges of the Lord's acceptable year. The gospel, as preached to men, is the trumpet blown at the beginning of the jubilee. It is blown over the completed atoning sacrifice of Christ.
It proclaims, therefore—
1. The pardon of sin. Sin constitutes the great debt, and as sin-burdened hearts feel, the pardon of sin is the great release. What a liberty forgiveness brings!
2. The gospel proclaims freedom from the power of sin. For if God gave us liberty to sin with impunity, it would be no real blessing. He gives us through Christ and his Spirit freedom from the dominion of sin. He takes away the love of sin, which is the real liberty.
3. The gospel proclaims the sanctity of family life. Just as in the jubilee broken family circles were restored again, and social enjoyments regained, so the gospel exalts the family as the unit, and sets its highest sanctions round the home.
4. The gospel has wrought steadily towards the liberties of men. For while there was no "servile war" proclaimed in the apostolic time, but seeds of liberty were left to fructify in the bosom of the race, we know they have sprung into vigorous being, and that it is pre-eminently to the force of gospel truth and principle the battle of freedom and its victory are due.
5. And the gospel is the charter of all wise reform. It might be shown that true progress and the bloodless revolutions of such countries as England and America are due to the force of gospel principles making their hallowed way among men. It is only so far as the will of God is regarded in the politics and policy of nations that true progress and needful revolutions shall be secured.
IV. THE JUBILEE IS ALSO THE TYPE OF THE EVERLASTING REST. "There remaineth," we are told, "a sabbatism to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9). This jubilee of Creation is to be ushered in by the trump of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16). And regarding the heavenly state, we may in this connection remark—
1. That heaven will be an everlasting sabbath. If the jubilee was a sabbath extending over a year, heaven is to be a sabbath extending over an eternity. All time, if such an element is recognized in eternity, will prove consecrated there.
2. All wrongs shall then be righted. All the burdens and injustices and sorrows which we endure here will give place in the jubilee of heaven to the utmost justice and the most scrupulous reward.
3. The Divine family shall be complete. The scattered children of God shall be restored to their rightful place in the great family circle, and the home-feeling shall be the heritage of all.
4. And everlasting progress shall characterize the everlasting rest. For if progress towards perfection is life's most real joy, we can see how heaven itself can afford a field for it. God's infinite nature and boundless operations will not be comprehended in a flash of intuition; but insight will be, let us thankfully believe, the steady growth of ages.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Leviticus 25:1-7, Leviticus 25:18-22
The sabbatic year.
At the close of the original week the sabbath of the seventh day was given; that of the seventh year, on the entrance of the Hebrews into Canaan. The former was a memorial of creation; the latter, of redemption. These are intimately related. There are correspondences between the old creation and the new—the material and the spiritual. The grand effect of redemption will be the constitution of a new creation, in which the mundane system will participate.
I. THE SEVENTH YEAR WAS A "SABBATH OF THE LAND." Then:
1. The soil remained untilled.
(1) In other years it was customary to sow the grain after the Feast of Ingathering, and the vines were pruned in the spring. While we are in this world the greater portion of our time should be occupied in its concerns. This is God's order. The thing in hand should be done with might.
(2) In this year no seed was sown, and there was no dressing of vines. The affairs of this world must not engross all our time and care.
(3) The sentiment of religion must be with us in our earthly business. Religion must limit the time it claims—the intensity with which it is pursued. Thus:
2. The people were taught to trust God.
(1) They lived upon the natural productiveness of the soil. But not without the blessing of God upon it. Natural productiveness without the blessing of God is a poor dependence.
(2) With that blessing, such was the bounty of the sixth year that it carried the nation on to the harvest of the eighth (see Leviticus 25:21, Leviticus 25:22). Thus miraculously was the fruit of three years brought forth in one. This was in perpetuity the miracle of the manna (Exodus 16:22; see also Matthew 4:4).
(3) What reply to this institution can those give who would convict Moses as an impostor? (see Exodus 23:10, Exodus 23:11). No sensible man would have made such a law as this, unless he acted under Divine direction; for the sixth year would have refuted his pretensions. Thus also:
3. The people were taught to hope in God.
(1) Every recurrence of the sabbatic year reminded them of the period before sin entered, in which the earth of its natural strength brought forth plenty.
(2) In it too they anticipated the period when, through the redemption of the gospel, the curse shall be lifted from the earth, and men shall be released from the burden of labour (see Genesis 3:17; Genesis 4:11, Genesis 4:12; Genesis 5:29; also Isaiah 65:17-25; Romans 8:18-23; Revelation 22:3).
II. TURN THE FRUIT OF THE LORD'S LAND WAS FREE.
1. The land is the Lord's.
(1) In this law he asserted his right as Landlord to impose conditions upon his people when he gave them possession of Canaan. All God's gifts carry conditions. This should ever be remembered.
(2) God's laws will regulate the new heavens and earth. They will not then be contravened. Happy will that state be. By loyalty to the laws of God we should now anticipate that state as much as in us lies.
2. This year the tenant shared his benefits with all comers.
(1) What fruit came spontaneously was free to the poor—free to the stranger—free to the cattle—free even to the wild animal. What a lesson of generosity! of public spirit! of kindness to animals! Consider here also the Divine philosophy of rights in property.
(2) Note that the resolution of the primitive Christian Church to have all things in common was not without precedent (see Acts 2:44). Also that in the light of this precedent we may discern their purpose; and learn that when the Spirit shall be poured out upon all flesh, of which the baptism of the Pentecost was but an installment, the consummation will be happy.
(3) But how different are the theories of our socialists! Satan is an adept at setting up counterfeits. The idle vagabond has no objection to be the subject of love from others, if he can thereby live on their property. He would eat without working, in contravention of the apostolic rule (see 1Th 4:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). He has no conception of those spiritual blessings in connection with which alone communism is a happy possibility.
(4) The feeding together of the cattle and wild animals points to the universality of the blessings of the gospel (see Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 56:7-9; Hosea 2:18; Acts 10:11, Acts 10:12). The feeding together of the stranger and poor Hebrew on the holding of the rich sets forth the spirituality of the gospel. These things will be blessedly realized in the sabbaths, viz. of the millennium, and of the heavenly world.
3. There was a release from debts (see Deuteronomy 15:1, Deuteronomy 15:2).
(1) The gospel truly is "the Lord's release."
(2) This release will be perfected in the heavenly state.
III. THE LEISURE OF THIS YEAR WAS RELIGIOUSLY SPENT.
1. The Law was publicly read (see Deuteronomy 31:10, Deuteronomy 31:11).
(1) Our leisure should be largely given to the study of the Word of God.
(2) Leisure should be made for this important duty.
2. If not religiously used, leisure is fruitful in mischief.
(1) The want of a worthy aim is in itself a great mischief. The faculties suffer.
(2) The want of a worthy aim implies the pursuit of that which demoralizes. We are constitutionally active. We cannot sleep away existence.
(3) The curse of labour is a blessing in disguise. All God's curses crop up as blessings somewhere. This must be so, for he is essentially and everlastingly Good. Men who retire from business should give their leisure to Church work.—J.A.M.
The sabbath of the seventh day is commemorative of the rest of God after the work of creation, and anticipative of the rest in heaven for his people after the world's great week of toil and sorrow (see Hebrews 3:1-19, Hebrews 4:1-16). The more to impress these things upon us, to keep alive our gratitude, and to stimulate our faith and hope, he also instituted the sabbaths of the Levitical system. Conspicuous amongst these are the grand sabbaths mentioned in this chapter, viz. that of the seventh year and that of the week of years. This last comes now under review; and we notice—
I. THE TIME OF THE JUBILEE.
1. In its astronomical aspect.
(1) It was regulated by the sun. It was reckoned from the entrance of the children of Israel into Canaan, and recurred at the time of the autumnal harvest.
(2) It was also regulated by the moon. It was counted from the tenth day of the first month, that being the month in which Israel crossed the Jordan.
(3) It was itself an important factor in reconciling solar and lunar time. Forty-nine years is a soli-lunar cycle. The interval from the tenth day of the first month of the year to the tenth of the seventh month of the forty-ninth year is exactly six hundred lunations. The sabbaths are all worked in, as elements of intercalation, and the intercalations of the Levitical system are very superior to those of the Gregorian (see 'Dissertation Concerning the Sabbath; and a Sabbatical Era,' in the third volume of King's 'Morsels of Criticism'). Who but God could have instituted a system so scientifically perfect? (see Genesis 1:14).
2. In its theological aspect.
(1) The jubilee dated from the great Day of Atonement. Some compute that the very year in which Christ suffered was the year of jubilee, and the last of the Levitical series.
(2) Its provisions were typical of gospel mysteries. As the jubilee ended the yoke and burden of the slave, so the bringing in of the gospel released us from the yoke and burden even of the ceremonial Law itself.
(3) When the gospel is received by faith, it introduces us into a spiritual rest from the burden and yoke of sin.
(4) The rest of the soul in Christ is an earnest of the rest in heaven. This last also springs from the great atonement of Calvary.
II. THE PROCLAMATION OF THE JUBILEE.
1. This foreshadowed the preaching of the gospel.
(1) It was by sound of trumpet. Some suppose that the jubilee had its name (יובל) from a particular sound of the trumpet.. The word jobel (יבל) is used for a trumpet in Exodus 19:13. The gospel should have a certain sound (see 1 Corinthians 14:8).
(2) The trumpet was sounded over the sacrifices. This foreshowed the connection between the great atonement of Christ and the blessings of salvation. The preaching of the gospel is the preaching of the cross. "The great liberty or redemption from thraldom, published under the gospel, could not take place till the great atonement—the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus—had been offered up (Clarke).
(3) The trumpet was sounded throughout the land (Exodus 19:9).
(a) If the land of Canaan be taken as a specimen of the world at large, then was this a prophecy of the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth.
(b) But if the land be taken in a restricted sense as applicable to the people of the Law in contradistinction to the heathen, then the teaching is that those only who renounce sin by repentance are concerned in the blessings of the gospel.
2. The trumpet also suggests the judgment.
(1) The jobel, or trumpet, sounded the giving of the Law (Exodus 19:13). It called attention to the Law as the standard by which we shall be judged. The trumpet will sound at the last day,
(a) to awaken the dead (1 Corinthians 15:52);
(b) to summon all men to the tribunal.
(2) The jubilee trumpet was the trumpet of a seventh period. There was the trumpet of the seventh day; again, of the seventh year; and now again, of the sabbath of a week of sabbatic periods. To these correspond the seventh of the seven great trumpets of the Apocalypse, which proclaims the judgment.
(3) While to the wicked the trumpet of the judgment is a fearful alarm, to the good it is a joyful sound. If we sing of judgment we must also sing of mercy (Psalms 101:1). The seventh trumpet heralds in the reign of peace.
III. THE BLESSINGS OF THE JUBILEE.
1. It proclaimed a release.
(1) As to the person. The slave was released from the hand of his brother; from the hand of the stranger. Whom the Son maketh free is free indeed.
(2) As to the land. Every man returned to his possession. Adam Clarke derives the word jubilee (יובל) from hobil (הוביל), to cause to bring back, because estates, etc; which had been alienated, were then brought back to their primitive owners. No true believer can be deprived of his share in the land of promise (see Ephesians 1:14; Hebrews 11:9-14).
2. It was a season of joy.
(1) The poor then rejoiced in plenty. In the sabbatic year the fruit of the Lord's laud was free. In the year of jubilee every man returned to his possession.
(2) The generous rejoiced in the prosperity of the poor. No doubt there were churls. Such persons are never to be envied; least of all in a season of rejoicing. Heaven would be hell to the churl.
(3) The spectacle of blessedness periodically witnessed in sabbatic years and jubilees encouraged generous habits of thought, feeling, and action. Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.—J.A.M.
This subject is intimately connected with that of the jubilee; and the redemption of the Law prefigured that of the gospel, which also stands intimately related to the glorious jubilee of the great future. In this light we have to consider—
I. THE NATURE OF THE REDEMPTION. This we may view:
1. In respect to the possession.
(1) Canaan may be taken as a specimen of the earth at large. The Hebrew word for that land (ארץs the term also for the whole world. In the largest sense the earth was given to mankind for an inheritance (Genesis 1:26-29; Psalms 8:5-9; Psalms 115:16). If the Israelites were ever reminded that they had their possession of Canaan from God (Leviticus 25:23), we must never forget that we have nothing that we receive not (John 3:27; 1 Corinthians 4:7; James 1:17).
(2) The Hebrews held their possession upon the tenure of faith and obedience (Deuteronomy 1:34-36; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Hebrews 3:18, Hebrews 3:19). Such also is the tenure upon which the earth at large is held. And as the expulsion of Adam from Eden vividly brought home to him his forfeiture of right to the earth, so did the forfeiture of Canaan keep alive in the Israelite the remembrance of the consequences of the Fall.
(3) The land of Canaan was not only a specimen of the earth at large, but also of a type of the new earth of the future. Eden also was a "like figure." Like the garden, Canaan was "the glory of all lands" (Deuteronomy 8:7-10; Ezekiel 20:6, Ezekiel 20:15). So in the institution of the law of redemption we have bodied forth the means by which we shall recover our interest in the earth (see Luke 21:28; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30).
(4) While Satan is the god of this world, the true heir may be kept out of his inheritance, but his title cannot be ultimately defeated. This was one of the important lessons of the jubilee, and of the law of redemption (Leviticus 25:23, Leviticus 25:24, Leviticus 25:28; see also Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 11:9-14).
(5) As the possessions of the Levites were inalienable (Leviticus 25:34), so the "kingdom of priests" shall for ever enjoy their possessions in the renovated earth (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6). We may view this subject:
2. In respect to the person.
(1) By sin we have not only forfeited our right to Eden, to Canaan, to the old earth, to the new earth, but we have also become enslaved. The habit of evil is a chain of iron. The terror of death is formidable bondage. The tyranny of Satan is merciless. Bad enough to have our liberties sold to a fellow-man; but to be sold over to this "stranger" from the infernal world is intolerable.
(2) But there is redemption for the Hebrew slave. He may redeem himself if he have the means. His next of kin has the right of redemption (Leviticus 25:25, Leviticus 25:26). He may be redeemed by his brother Hebrew (see Nehemiah 5:8). So to the truly penitent, who like the Hebrews are the people of the Law, there is the redemption of the gospel.
(3) But the Law has no provision for the redemption of the stranger who cannot purchase freedom for himself. Yet might he be the subject of mercy. The gospel reaches those whom the Law discourages. The pagan slave might become a Jewish proselyte, and be released in accordance with the Law. So those who are furthest off may in true repentance be brought nigh to God.
(4) But the mercy of the gospel has its limits. It may be forfeited by obstinacy. It may also be forfeited by neglect. A year only is allowed in which to redeem a house in a city (Leviticus 25:30). The house is a common figure for the people; and the interpretation of the year of recovery may be seen in Isaiah 61:2; Isaiah 63:4; 2 Corinthians 6:2. If taken in time, the whole city of God may be redeemed; but the period of probation missed, the case is hopeless. Consider—
II. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE REDEEMER.
1. A slave might redeem himself.
(1) That is, if it be in the power of his hand. Under favourable conditions of earning and saving, this might become possible.
(2) But when the slave is the sinner and he is in bondage to the justice of God, this is impossible. Our deeds are sin. And the wages of sin is death.
2. The near kinsman is the legal redeemer.
(1) This kinsman was a type of Christ. Bishop Patrick quotes a rabbi, who says, "This Redeemer is the Messiah, the Son of David." Job speaks of Messiah as his Redeemer (Job 19:25). So is he elsewhere termed in Scripture (see Isaiah 59:20; Romans 11:26).
(2) To be qualified to redeem, Jesus became our Kinsman by taking up our nature. As any Hebrew brother might become a redeemer, so Jesus, in our flesh, became "the brother of every man," that he might redeem. Job speaks of seeing his Redeemer in his flesh, or incarnate—for this I take to be the sense.
(3) Every near kinsman may not have it in his power to become a Goel or Redeemer. No mere human being can give to God a ransom for his brother (Psalms 49:7). But Christ is a competent Redeemer, having in his Godhead all resources.
(4) We can imitate Christ as redeemers of our brethren only by endeavouring instrumentally to recover them from the snares of Satan.
(5) What a blessing is liberty! "Whom the Son maketh free is free indeed."—J.A.M.
Justice and mercy.
The equity of the Mosaic laws has striking illustrations in the words now under review. We see it—
I. IN THE KINDNESS ENJOINED TOWARDS THE POOR.
1. Their necessities are to be relieved.
(1) Though they be strangers. The stranger "with" the Hebrew, and so, subject to his law, is recognized as a brother (see Leviticus 25:35, Leviticus 25:36).
(2) Usury is not to be taken from the poor. "That thy brother may live." Rights of property must not override those of existence (Matthew 6:25). "That thy brother may live with thee." The hands of the poor are as necessary to the rich as is the wealth of the rich to the poor.
2. The reasons for mercy are edifying.
(1) "I am the Lord your God." I stand in covenant relationship to you. I have a right to require this of thee.
(2) I "brought thee out of the land of Egypt." The remembrance of thy miseries in Egypt should influence thee to consider those of the poor stranger by thee.
(3) I "gave you the land of Canaan." Gratitude to me should move thee. I can yet more gloriously reward thy mercy in giving thee inheritance in the heavenly Canaan.
II. IN THE KINDNESS ENJOINED TOWARDS THE SLAVE.
1. The Hebrew must show it.
(1) Not to his brother only, but also towards the stranger.
(2) Yet there is a difference. The Hebrew slave goes out in the jubilee; but the power of a Hebrew master over the stranger is not then removed. This law prefigured the dominion which the righteous will have over the wicked in the morning, viz. of the resurrection (see Psalms 49:14).
(3) The stranger, by becoming a proselyte, might claim the privilege of the Hebrew. So may the wicked, by repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus, become a Christian, and enjoy the privileges of the righteous.
2. The stranger must show it.
(1) The stranger is presumed to be not so merciful as the Hebrew. Privileges of grace should make men generous.
(2) The cruelty of the wicked must be restrained by the laws of the good.
III. IN THE DETERMINATION OF THE RANSOM PRICE. In this determination:
1. The rate of wages is an element. The principles of hired service should be remembered by masters in the treatment of slaves.
2. This rate was then multiplied into the years prospective to the jubilee.
(1) This determination of the rate was in favour of the slave; for if the law had not settled it, then it must be settled by agreement, in which case the master would be in a position to drive a hard bargain to the prejudice of the slave. Law should, for the same reason, control the claims of landlords where they prejudice the rights of their tenantry.
(2) In this law there is equity also with respect to the master. Any difference in the value to him of a slave over that of a hired servant is compensated in the risk of life, in which, after the redemption, he has now no pecuniary concern.
IV. IN THE DIFFERENCE OF THE LAW RELATING TO A COUNTRY HOUSE AS COMPARED WITH A HOUSE IN A WALLED CITY.
1. The country house returned to the owner of the land.
(1) This house is presumed to be simply a residence. The inconvenience of removal of residence is not formidable.
(2) To a Christian the removal of residence from this world should not be formidable.
2. The house in the walled city did not so return.
(1) Such a house may be presumed to be a place of business. In this case, establishment in a locality is often of great importance. Landlords should consider the interests of their tenants as well as their own.
(2) But within the first twelve months after the sale of a house in a walled city, the owner bad a power of redemption. This was before the business could be said to be established. It gave the seller an opportunity to repent of a bargain which may have been forced upon him by the pressure of a temporary necessity.
(3) What a mercy that the sinner has space for repentance!—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
This was certainly one of the most striking institutions which God gave to Israel. It was, in a high degree, disciplinary. Rightly taken, it would engrave sacred truth on their minds more deeply and effectually than either word or rite. It was calculated—
I. TO TEACH THEM THE TRUTH AS TO THE DIVINE OWNERSHIP. God claimed to be the One Proprietor of the land. He had given it to the nation by his direct guidance, and by his interposing power. To him it belonged, and those who occupied were to feel that they held everything at his good pleasure. What could more effectually and impressively teach this than the right which God reserved, to require them to do what he thought was best with the soil—to cultivate it or to leave it untilled? How difficult we find it to realize as we should that we hold everything as tenants at the Divine will; that we must be ready at his word to lay down that which we most regard as "our own;" that we are but "strangers and sojourners with God" (Leviticus 25:23)!
II. TO INCULCATE MODERATION IN TEE USE OF THAT WHICH THEY POSSESSED. Making haste to be rich, men too often exhaust themselves and the objects on which they work. How often is land impoverished by the incessant demand the agriculturist makes upon it! God demanded that the rich land he gave Israel should not be rendered infertile by their drawing immoderately on its virtue. He would have us use prudently, as those who look forward, the things which he puts in our power. The lesson particularly applies, in our time, to the use we make of our physical and mental powers; we should give these full measure of rest, a restorative sabbath, that they may serve us the better and the longer.
III. TO ENCOURAGE A SENSE OF BROTHERHOOD AND KINDNESS OF HEART. (Leviticus 25:6, Leviticus 25:7.) Of that which was spontaneously produced all might freely partake. The land was for the nation, and not merely for those whose names were enrolled as proprietors. The husbandman was to be trained to see his neighbours, whatever their condition or relation to himself, gathering the fruits of his land. This sabbatic institution said practically to him, and says to us, "God has given the earth and all it bears to the many and not to the few, to all classes of the people: cause all to rejoice in the abundance of his gifts."
IV. TO TEST THEIR MORAL AND RELIGIOUS DISPOSITION.
1. It would test their obedience. They would be under some temptation to make the ordinary use of their opportunity, and to secure a harvest by tillage. This word of the Lord tried them; the obedient regarded, the disobedient disregarded, his will.
2. It would also test their industrial virtues. Perhaps there was more room left for daily activity than some have imagined. "Each day would still present certain calls for labour in the management of household affairs, the superintendence or care of the cattle, the husbanding of the provisions laid up from preceding years, and the execution, perhaps, of improvements and repairs." Nevertheless, there must have been some temptation to abuse the long holiday. A wise man has said that nothing is so certain a criterion of character as the way in which men spend their leisure hours. The idle are tempted to vacancy or folly; the wise find an opportunity for
(1) real recreation, for
(2) self-improvement, for
(3) service of others, for
(4) the worship of God (see Deuteronomy 31:9-13).—C.
Year of jubilee:
1. A nation's joy. On every fiftieth year of national life, as the sun went down on the great Day of Atonement, when the sins of the nation had been forgiven, and peace with God was once more assured, the sound of many trumpets ushered in the blessed year of jubilee. Then
(1) the forfeited patrimony was restored to its rightful heir (Leviticus 25:10, Leviticus 25:13, Leviticus 25:28, Leviticus 25:41); then
(2) the bondsmen were free once more (Leviticus 25:10, Leviticus 25:41-54); then
(3) members of the same family, long separated, were reunited (Leviticus 25:10, Leviticus 25:41); then
(4) the ties which bound man to man throughout all classes and conditions of the nation were to be recognized and honoured (Leviticus 25:12-14, Leviticus 25:17, Leviticus 25:35, Leviticus 25:36); then
(5) the relation in which Israel stood to Jehovah was to be distinctly and peculiarly realized (Leviticus 25:17, Leviticus 25:18, Leviticus 25:23, Leviticus 25:38, Leviticus 25:55); and then
(6) in holy joy the favoured nation was to be glad in the prosperity which came from God (Leviticus 25:19).
No nation now can expect to enjoy such an institution as this; we must learn to dispense with such miraculous arrangements as that which made the year of jubilee a possible thing to Israel (Leviticus 25:20-22). It is our national wisdom to bring about, by
(1) wise and equal laws, and by
(2) virtuous and godly lives, the happy estate in which the people of God found themselves when the trumpets of jubilee announced that a new era of liberty, sufficiency, piety, prosperity, had begun.
A nation may truly rejoice, and may feel that its jubilee is approaching, when it is attaining to:
1. Freedom from degrading poverty; the community not being constituted of a few wealthy men and a multitude of paupers, but being composed of those who earn an honourable livelihood by self-respectful industry, there being general, widespread prosperity.
2. The possession of liberty—individual and national, civil and religious; every cruel, degrading, injurious bond being broken, and all men being free to exercise their God-given faculties without hindrance or restraint.
3. Domestic well-being; purity, love, order in the household.
4. Piety; the recognition of indebtedness to God, and a full and deep understanding that we are, above all things, his servants.
5. Charity; a kind and generous regard to those who are "waxen poor and fallen into decay;" a ready hand to help the needy, and give them a new start in the race of life. Let a nation only be advancing in these elements of goodness and prosperity, and it may rejoice greatly in its inheritance, for then "God, even our own God, will bless it;" and though no trumpet sound the note of jubilee, then shall its "light break forth as the morning … and its righteousness shall go before it; and the glory of the Lord shall be its reward" (Isaiah 58:8).—C.
Year of jubilee: II. The world's redemption.
The whole Christian era is one long year of jubilee. It is "the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:19). That "acceptable year," the fiftieth year in the Jewish calendar, was a year of
(1) emancipation (Leviticus 25:10);
(2) readjustment of social relations (Leviticus 25:10, Leviticus 25:39-41, Leviticus 25:43, Leviticus 25:54);
(3) national regeneration (Leviticus 25:10, Leviticus 25:13). The land rested a second year, and recovered any virtue it may have lost, and the old patrimonies reverted to the heirs of the original owners;
(4) rest from cultivation (Leviticus 25:11);
(5) abounding joy.
These, in a deeper, a spiritual sense, are the characteristics of the Christian era:
1. It is a time of spiritual emancipation. Sin is the slavery of the soul; "men are "holden with the cords of their sins" (Proverbs 5:22). They are in the bondage of selfishness, or of worldliness, or of one or other (or more than one) of the vices, or of the fear of man, or of a foolish and frivolous procrastination. To accept Jesus Christ as Saviour of the soul and Lord of the life is to be released from these spiritual fetters.
2. Social readjustment. Christianity, indeed, effects no immediate revolution in the forms of social life. It does not say to the slave, "Escape from thy master" (1 Corinthians 7:20); it does not give directions as to the way in which human relations are to be organized. But it infuses a new spirit into the minds of men; it introduces those principles of righteousness and those feelings of considerateness which silently, but most effectually, "make all things new." It drops the seed of "charity" in the soil of human nature, and behold a goodly tree springs therefrom, the leaves of which are for the healing of the social sores of all the nations.
3. Individual and national regeneration. The soul that receives Jesus Christ as its Lord, and the nation that surrenders itself to his holy and beneficent rule, make an entirely new departure in their course. So great and radical is the change which is thereby effected, that the Truth himself speaks of it as a "regeneration" (John 3:1-36). In Christ we are born again, or born from above. We enter on a new life, the life of faith, love, humility, zeal, holy service, godliness, anticipation of future blessedness.
4. Rest of soul. The rest of body enjoyed in the year of jubilee has its analogue in the rest of soul which we enjoy in the acceptable year of the Lord—rest from
(1) a burdensome sense of condemnation;
(2) self-reproach, remorse;
(3) spiritual struggle and disquietude;
(4) anxious, torturing fears.
5. Joy in God. In this "acceptable time" we have not only peace, but we also "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:11). We are bidden to "rejoice in the Lord alway" (Philippians 4:4); and though there may be found in the sorrows of others as well as in our own and in the difficulties and depressions that attend us here too much of cloud and shadow to feel that it is always jubilee-time with us in our homeward journey, yet the felt presence of our Saviour, his unchanging friendship, the blessedness of doing his work, honouring his Name, and even hearing his holy will, the view of the heavenly land,—these will "put a new song into our mouth," a real gladness into our heart, the brightness and music of the "acceptable year" into our Christian life.—C.
Year of jubilee: III. The blessed kingdom.
It may be thought that, while it is indeed true that the year of jubilee has a true counterpart in that dispensation of spiritual emancipation, social readjustment, regeneration, rest, joy, in which we stand; yet, on the other hand, there is so much of detraction in the sins and sorrows of the present time as to make the one but a very imperfect picture of the other. There is truth in this thought: it is only in a qualified sense that we can speak of the Christian era as a time of jubilee. Its perfect realization is yet to come; its true and glorious fulfillment awaits us, when the blessed kingdom of the Son of God shall have come in all its fullness and the latter-day glory shall appear; then there shall be—
1. Emancipation from all bondage. Every fetter shall be struck from the soul, as well as from the body, and we ourselves shall be free in all "the glorious liberty of the children of God."
2. Restitution. We shall recover the heritage forfeited by sin; the estate which our Father intended to bestow originally on all his human children will then revert to us, and we shall "return every man unto his possession" (Leviticus 25:13). We shall know by blessed experience what God designed for holy manhood.
3. Regeneration. So great and blessed will be the change, the new conditions under which we shall live, that we shall feel that a "new heaven and a new earth" have been created. God will have made "all things new" to us.
4. Reunion. We shall "return every man unto his family" (Leviticus 25:10). Parents and children, brothers and sisters, pastor and people, long-separated friends, will gather again in the same home, and "join inseparable hands" of holy, heavenly reunion.
5. Reign of love. If there be gradation, inferiority, rule, and service there, all "rigour" will be unknown (Leviticus 25:46). Our "brother will live with us" (Leviticus 25:35, Leviticus 25:36) in love; all rule will be beneficent; all service sweet and cheerful.
6. Perfect service of the Supreme. "Unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants" (Leviticus 25:55). There is no fairer promise in the Word of God concerning the future than this—"his servants shall serve him" (Revelation 22:3). Then shall we attain to the ideal of our humanity when, escaping from ourselves, we shall, in thought and feeling, in word and deed, consciously and unconsciously, be serving God in stainless, uninterrupted ministry. Then God will be "all in all."
7. Rest and joy. The toil and care of earth will be left behind, will be lost in the endless sabbath, and we shall "enter into rest." Only those happy activities will await us in which we shall engage with untiring energy and unfading joy.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
The sabbatical year.
Rest of the land, as the physical source of blessings, as the consecrated portion of God's people.
I. THE NATURAL BASIS OF RELIGION. Creation. Providence. Moral government. "Man is one world, and hath another to attend him" (George Herbert). The ascent of the higher nature from the lower. The subordination of the material and temporary to the immaterial and eternal. Care of all life involved in the covenant of God with his people. The life of the vegetable world, the life of the animal world, viewed in their relation to higher purposes of God. Art is perfected only in the atmosphere of religion. Science, both theoretic and applied, requires to be pervaded with religious spirit, or becomes atheistic, worldly, and corrupt.
II. THE BLESSING OF GOD ON HIS PEOPLE. "A sabbath for the Lord," that he may rejoice with his children.
1. Material blessings promised: "All these things shall be added unto you;" "he careth for you; godliness hath the promise of the world which now is."
2. Rest in the Lord, over all the land, in all states and conditions, eventually in all men. The resting land typical of the Divine promise of a restored earth and regained paradise. The weekly sabbath enlarged. Time expanding to eternity. Special opportunities granted for the larger spiritual culture.—R.
The year of jubilee.
Accumulation of sabbaths and sabbatical years; climax of rest. Proclaimed on Day of Atonement. Outcome of the original covenant. Specially soul-stirring and delightful, "waked up the nation from the very center of its moral being." "All estates and conditions of the people were permitted to feel the hallowed and refreshing influence of this most noble institution. The exile returned; the captive was emancipated; the debtor set flee; each family opened its bosom to receive once more its long-lost members; each inheritance received back its exiled owner. The sound of the trumpet was the welcome and soul-thrilling signal for the captive to escape; for the slave to cast aside the chains of his bondage; for the man-slayer to return to his home; for the ruined and poverty-stricken to rise to the possession of that which had been forfeited. No sooner had the trumpet's thrice-welcome sound fallen upon the ear than the mighty tide of blessing rose majestically, and sent its refreshing undulations into the most remote corners of Jehovah's highly favoured land." Regard it
I. SOCIALLY. An example of wise and beneficent legislation. As:
1. Security against accumulation of property in the hands of the few, to the oppression of the many.
2. Relief to inevitable reverses of fortune.
3. Maintenance of family life and bonds of natural affection.
4. Destruction of slavery.
5. Promotion of equality of condition and opportunity.
6. Preservation of hopefulness and cheerfulness in society.
7. Avoidance of litigation and social strife.
II. MORALLY. An abiding support of the higher moral sentiments.
1. Benevolence and compassion.
3. Personal liberty.
III. SPIRITUALLY. A type of realized salvation by Divine grace.
1. Proclaimed on Day of Atonement; fruit of reconciliation with God.
2. Universality of the offered deliverance, independent of human merits.
3. Promise of restored human condition—the "meek inheriting the earth."
4. The jubilee of heaven—"glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21; cf. Isaiah 66:12-23; Luke 4:16-22; Revelation 11:15; Revelation 14:6, Revelation 14:7; Revelation 21:1-27).—R.
The law of personal servitude.
I. GENERAL PRINCIPLE, love of our neighbour. Servitude admitted in that early stage of the world, but limited and modified, and its extinction provided for in that principle of love and compassion which was seized and exalted by the gospel. God's method to subdue and extinguish effects of man's fall by the vital force of higher motive. Distinction between strangers and fellow-Israelite preserved the covenant, therefore the religion which taught love and saved the stranger.
II. LESSON OF UNSELFISHNESS AND UNWORLDLINESS. All servants of the Lord. All property his. The underlying facts of redemption, "bought with a price, therefore glorify God," etc.—R.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
The sabbatical year.
All the Divine institutions are marked by practical wisdom, and doubtless subserved many purposes which are not distinctly mentioned in the Law. To celebrate a year of abstinence from agricultural labour must have benefited the ground itself, as well as tended to produce a spirit of brotherhood amongst all classes of the people. For in that year the natural uncultivated produce of the soil was free to be partaken of by the poorest. But we shall concern ourselves chiefly with the reasons given in the Law for the observance of the sabbatical year.
I. THE PROPRIETORSHIP OF THE LAND IS CLAIMED BY GOD. "The land is mine" (Leviticus 25:23). As proprietors occasionally shut up a path for a day in order to prevent its being claimed as public property, so God refuses every seventh year to let the Israelites do what they please with the land, in order to remind them of the fact that he is the real owner whose grace bestowed the tenancy on them. Men are but stewards. God's dominion is universal over their persons and possessions. Nothing that man is or has can be exempted from the need of consecration. The conditions of tenancy must be complied with. If the people were unwilling to observe the terms, let them quit their holding, and start somewhere for themselves. But where shall we procure aught by our own exertions apart from the favour of the Almighty? Our very existence is due to him. Useless, then, is it to quarrel with the lease of our premises.
II. MAN IS TAUGHT THAT HE HAS OTHER DUTIES THAN THAT OF PROVIDING FOR HIS PHYSICAL WANTS. Work is the fundamental necessity, the burden laid upon us by the declaration, "In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread." Mere idleness is disgraceful. Yet by this command of the text God asserts that rest is a duty as well as toil The one does indeed fit us for the other. Recreation is by no means sinful, and that is a narrow, false view which deems it so. God's rest after the work of creation has for ever hallowed legitimate relaxation. Rest from servile labour may be properly employed in holy service. It was during this sabbatical year that the Law was to be read in the bearing of the entire people. Man does not find his noblest end in the industrial pursuit of his daily occupation. He is not always to be surveying the same span of earth. He may lift up his head, and rejoice in upward thoughts and wider prospects. This world is not man's final home. So we may without violence interpret the statement, "Ye are strangers and sojourners with me." It refers primarily to the placing of Israel in a land which did not belong to them, but it conveys a deeper lesson, one of pertinent application to modern circumstances. Many fancy that if they diligently attend to their business and pay their way, they do all that can be demanded of them. Such low-thoughted action is here rebuked.
III. TIMID FORETHOUGHT INQUIRES AS TO THE FEASIBILITY OF COMPLIANCE WITH THE ENACTMENT. "What shall we eat the seventh year?" Man is expected to use his reason, and to anticipate the future. Ushered into the world the most helpless of animals, he is enabled to surround himself with ample might and resources. One harvest suffices to fill his granaries till they are replenished by the stores of another year. Is he to run in the teeth of prudence, and to neglect the usual tillage operations? The requirement of the Law is superior to such scruples. It may seem unreasonable conduct, unbelief may suggest terrible eventualities, but if the wilt of God has been clearly expressed, the devout Israelite dares not falter. There are many Divine precepts which appear to impose trying obligations upon the faith of God's people. Some have feared to risk the loss involved in renouncing Sunday trading. Some have refused to sacrifice any portion of their time or profits to engage in religious work. The livelihood of themselves and families has been the one prominent object. Too often the necessary provision is rated too high, and luxuries are included among the essentials. There are others to whom the question suggests itself, "How can I compete with my rivals if I adhere to moral laws and discountenance all practices savouring of dishonesty? To make a profession of Christianity may entail the loss of position and worldly esteem."
IV. GOD PROMISES THAT NOTHING SHALL BE LOST THROUGH OBEDIENCE TO his STATUTES. "I will command my blessing upon you." The sixth year shall bring forth fruit for three years. Of course, this supposes a supernatural association of conduct and prosperity which is not to be looked for in the ordinary course of providence. Yet the promise of blessing upon the faithful is for every generation. There is a full recompense guaranteed for all tribulation endured in the service of righteousness. Nor are the instances few in number where men have in modern times experienced the truth of the assertion that God withholds no good thing from them that walk uprightly, that the righteous are not forsaken, nor have their poor been obliged to beg for bread.
Recently a Greek newspaper owned that since it had discontinued its Sunday issue, its profits had increased rather than diminished. This, at least, is certain, that he makes a good investment who takes shares in God's companies formed for righteous purposes. Such shall realize the double assurance of" safety" and "abundance" (Leviticus 25:19). Note our Lord's reply to Peter asking, "What shall we have then?" Moses esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt." Let the promises of God's Word scatter all doubt and hesitation! His counsel may appear strange as it did to King Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:20), but the result shall verify his wisdom. "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" In keeping his commandments there is great reward. It is good for this life, and even better for the life to come.—S.R.A.
Servants of God.
The Law contains other than ceremonial regulations. Many of its precepts are moral in the highest degree, and breathe the spirit of purest Christianity. Indeed, the Christian Church, with the relationship of its members, its benefits, and obligations, is clearly outlined in the nation of Israel; rather, however, sad to say, in its constitution than in actual observance of its conditions. Little alteration is needed to suit the injunctions of this passage to modern circumstances.
I. GOD'S SERVANTS ARE SO BY VIRTUE OF WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THEM. "They are my servants which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt." Redemption from the iron furnace of affliction was the ground on which Jehovah continually claimed the Israelites as his own peculiar property. "I have broken the bonds of your yoke." So God gave his Son as the price of man's ransom from sin, and Christ is said to have purchased the Church of God with his own blood. Paul delighted to call himself a "bondservant" of Christ in the superscription of his Epistles. To the goodness of God the Israelites owed their preservation and their installation in a goodly land. Gratitude constrains to faithful service. We have but to review the past to notice numberless golden bands that attach us to the Redeemer. The matchless character of our God furnishes sufficient reason for executing his commands, but this character is best evidenced by a survey of the deeds of sovereign love that have made us what we are and placed us where we are.
II. GOD'S SERVICE PRECLUDES OUR BEING IN BONDAGE. We cannot serve two masters, and if we belong to God, others cannot claim absolute lordship over us. "They shall not be sold as bondmen," for this would signify that God's ownership is disputed. Only the foreigner can be treated as a slave without insulting Jehovah. Slavery is thus really condemned, though permitted with restrictions. The Law must not be too far in advance of the morality of those who are to keep it, lest it overshoot the mark and prove powerless to guide and instruct. What was granted in earliest ages may be altogether unpardonable in days of modern illumination and progress. We shall be judged according to the light we have to direct our steps. The truth shines dearly forth that to serve God is truest freedom. It accords with the noblest dictates of our nature; reason and conscience glorify such obedience. Like the railway train, we fulfill our highest functions, not by deserting but by running upon the lines laid down for our advance. See the warnings addressed to Christians by Jesus Christ (Matthew 8:34), Paul (Romans 6:16), and Peter (2 Peter 2:19). When we are actuated by the suggestions of the tempter, we rebel against God's authority and proclaim ourselves unworthy servants. And to seek to ensnare others or to induce them to act contrary to Divine instructions, is even worse than to have been brought into bondage ourselves. God will not brook these infractions of his majesty.
III. THE SERVANTS OF GOD ARE BOUND TO AVOID ALL HARSH TREATMENT OF ONE ANOTHER. Unjust dealing is reprobated. Bad in any case, it is peculiarly offensive here. The people of God are not to forget that they are brethren in the employment of the one master. "If that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him," is the New Testament version of the command, "Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God" (Leviticus 25:43). Christian brotherhood is not intended to upset the constitution of a society in a fruitless endeavour after social equalization. Distinction of rank and class is recognized by the Apostle Paul, and proper regard must be paid to those in authority. The servant is not to despise his master because the latter is a brother in Christ; on the other hand, the masters are to forbear threatening, "knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven" (Ephesians 6:9). It cannot be pleasing to Christ to see an unfair advantage taken of a brother Christian's hour of weakness. Such conduct virtually dishonours the Master whom we profess to serve, it offends "one of these little ones." And further, fellow-servants should relieve each other's wants. There is a "bond" of union between them, and love and regard for the Master must lead them to see that in giving to the poor they are lending unto the Lord. "One is your Master" (Instructor), "and all ye are brethren." To collect for the Church poor at the observance of the Lord's Supper is a happy recognition of this truth. Many are the vicissitudes of life that befall the most honest and industrious. Changes of fortune merit our sympathy, and the cloud is beautified with rainbow hues when the sun of brotherly love shines athwart its darkness. Another's fate may at any time become our own. How it will mitigate our grief to know that in our season of elevation and prosperity we were not unmindful of the woes of others! "Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in the time of trouble." "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."—S.R.A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 25". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29