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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 25

 

 

Verses 1-7

Leviticus 25. The Year of Sabbath and of Jubile.

Leviticus 25:1-7. The Year of Sabbath (H).—This is an ancient Hebrew institution (p. 102), cf. Exodus 23:10*, where the law of a fallow every seventh year is set side by side with that of the rest every seventh day. In Ex., however, apart from this reference, there is no suggestion that the sabbath year is to be the same for the whole country, nor is this actually stated here. Only that which grows up without human labour is to be eaten. "Undressed (Leviticus 25:5) is literally "Nazirite-like" (the "hair" being allowed to grow); cf. Leviticus 19:23. In the seventh year Hebrew slaves were to be released and debts remitted (Exodus 21:2, Deuteronomy 15:1; Deuteronomy 15:12, Jeremiah 34:8-16). The origin of the law was possibly an agricultural custom with humanitarian and religious motives supervening.


Verses 8-38

Leviticus 25:8-38. The Year of Jubile.—This law contains two large provisions, the return of estates to their original owners, and the liberation of Hebrew slaves, both in the fiftieth year. It also contains a section which refers to the sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:17-24) and a law against the exploitation of poor Israelites (Leviticus 25:35-38). Of these the second at least (as perhaps the first) belongs to H. With the law of Jubile the case is different (see p. 102). A "right of redemption" certainly did exist (cf. Ruth 3 and Jeremiah 32:7, and the reference to the "year of liberty," Ezekiel 46:17); but where we should have expected a reference to this law had it been known (Isaiah 5:8, Micah 2:5, Nehemiah 5:11; Nehemiah 10:31; cf. Chapman, Introd. to Pent., p. 129) there is a significant silence. It is easiest to understand the appearance of the law if we suppose the idea of the Jubile to have arisen after the downfall of the Judæan kingdom, when the evils of the "latifundia" could be attacked by legislators who could work, as it were, in vacuo. As an ideal, however, it deserves high praise, and it forms the most explicit statement of the two deep-rooted Hebrew convictions, alike social and religious, that the unlimited growth of estates was contrary to the will of Yahweh, the real and sole owner of the land (see especially Leviticus 25:23), and that Hebrews must always be treated by Hebrews in the last resort as brothers. The section contains many marks of the special language of H, though it has apparently been worked over later.

Leviticus 25:8-18. The Proclamation of the Year of Release.—The analogy between Jubile and Pentecost is clear. "Jubile" is probably derived from a word meaning "ram" (ram's horn trumpet). On the seventh month as the beginning of the year, cf. Leviticus 16. According to this law, there can be no permanent alienation or sale of property (cf. 1 Kings 21:1-16), but only a lease, with its price regulated according to the distance of the Jubile year.

Leviticus 25:19-22. A practical difficulty connected with the seventh year of fallow (cf. Leviticus 25:6). It seems to be here assumed that the year begins in spring (as according to the later reckoning), hence there is neither harvest nor sowing; thus in the next year also there will be no harvest and nothing to eat till the harvest of the year after. It is said that in modern Palestine when a field lies fallow there is no sowing till after three seasons' ploughing. This difficulty, however, is not implied in Exodus 23:10 f. For the sentiment, cf. Exodus 16:23.

Leviticus 25:23-28. Redemption at the Jubile.—If possible, alienated land is to be redeemed before the Jubile, if necessary by the help of a relative. In each case, the price is to be in proportion to the interval before the fiftieth year, when the land will "go out," i.e. revert to its original owner automatically.

Leviticus 25:29-34. Urban Property.—An exception is made in this case: if not repurchased within a year the transference is absolute. The general idea of "redemption" goes back to the period when Hebrew life was almost entirely agricultural and rural, and walled cities mostly Canaanite. Levitical property, however, does not come under this exception; Leviticus 25:33 should probably read. "If a Levite does not redeem his property before the jubile, it shall revert to him then."

Leviticus 25:35-38. Generosity.—A broad command to prevent anything approaching pauperism, characteristic of H. The same rule is obeyed by the different castes in India and makes a poor-law unnecessary. Usury does not simply mean "unwarrantably high interest." In a community of small holders, to ask a return for a loan would be to take an unneighbourly advantage of another's need (p. 112).


Verses 39-46

Leviticus 25:39-46. An extension of Exodus 21:2*, Deuteronomy 15:12*, from the master's point of view, substituting for slavery proper a mild kind of serfdom, but for the seventh year the fiftieth. To foreign slaves, however, the law is not to apply (cf. Deuteronomy 15:3; Deuteronomy 23:20). Cf. Johns, C. H. W., Relations between Laws of Babylonia and Laws of Hebrews, pp. 41ff. On slavery in Israel see p. 110.


Verses 47-55

Leviticus 25:47-55. Redemption of Hebrews from Aliens.—The right of redemption is to hold in the case of a Hebrew who has sold himself to a resident alien. His services are regarded as leased till the fiftieth year, and the price to be paid for his freedom by a relative will vary with the number of years to run. He is to be treated like a wage earner. Just as Yahweh alone is the owner of the land, so Israelites can be slaves of Him alone.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 25:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/leviticus-25.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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