Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentLEVITICUS 25
This chapter deals exclusively with the Jubilee, the super-sabbatical year which followed the seventh sabbatical year, the same being every fiftieth year of the Jewish calendar. Its being legislated in Leviticus ties it emphatically to the ordinary sabbath and to the sabbatical years, meaning that there could not have been, in any strict sense, the keeping of the sabbath day unless these extensions of it in sabbatical years and the ultimate Jubilee were also observed. It is imperative to understand the unity of all the sabbath laws, and it is the failure of present-day sabbatarianism to receive this that utterly discredits and nullifies it. Some people in our times indeed pretend to observe the sabbath day, but they do not keep the sabbath until these Divine extensions of it are also honored. The old Israel was condemned for not observing the sabbath years, and God sent the whole nation into captivity for a period of 70 years to make up for the period of 490 years in which they had failed to observe them (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). Thus, keeping the sabbath days meant nothing unless the sabbath years were also observed.
The very name "Jubilee" is of great interest. It has come to be the name of all great celebrations such as Golden Weddings, etc.; and Queen Victoria celebrated her Jubilee on the 50th anniversary of her coming to the throne of the British Empire (1837-1887). Spelled as "Jubile" in the KJV, the word derives from the Hebrew word for "trumpet,"F1 for it was the blowing of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement that signaled the beginning of the Jubilee. In fact, Tyndale translated the word for Jubilee as "a yere of hornes blowinge," "the trompett yere," and "the horne yere" (Leviticus 25:10,15,28).F2 The word "Jubilee" is an onomatopoetic word, that is, "imitation of a joyful shout, or cry of joy, later accommodated to mean the sound of the trumpet ushering in the season of joy."F3 The word for Jubilee is a very ancient word, and along with certain instructions attending the divine regulations concerning it (as in Lev. 25:30) suggests a time-frame during the second millennium B.C.F4 It is therefore foolish to suppose that, "The Jubilee arose after the downfall of the Judean kingdom."F5 As a matter of fact, the Jewish Scriptures affirm that it was the failure of Israel to observe the sabbatical years for a period of 490 years (seventy of them being not observed) that God sent them into captivity (2 Chronicles 36:20,21) until the land should have its 70 sabbaticals as God had commanded, hence, the duration of the captivity.
The answer of whether or not the Jews ever faithfully observed their Jubilees appears to be that they did not. There is no Biblical reference to their ever having done so, and, in fact, the Jubilee is not mentioned at all except in this chapter, six times in Lev. 27, and once in Num. 36:4, where it is mentioned as an event in the future. Their failure to observe it might have resulted from the difficulty they might have had in determining the date from which they were to begin counting. This would have been true because the better part of a generation was to elapse before they as a whole people actually entered Canaan, and some parts of it were occupied before other parts, and some tribes received their inheritance at different times from others. That very great and important spiritual significance lay in these instructions for the Jubilee is certain, because, when Jesus Christ began his ministry (Luke 4), there appears to be a direct reference to the Jubilee in his words: "He anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives ... to set at liberty them that are bruised ... to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19). Such a declaration is all but a dogmatic affirmation of the Christian dispensation as earth's Jubilee. Of course, it would be the slaves to sin who would be released, and the captives held in the service of Satan who would receive their liberty through Christ.
For other interesting observations regarding the Jubilee, see several paragraphs at the end of this chapter.
Wenham's outline divides the chapter into three divisions:
I. The Jubilee -- a sabbath for the land (Leviticus 25:1-22).
II. The Jubilee -- and the redemption of property (Leviticus 25:23-38).
III. The Jubilee -- and the redemption of slaves (Leviticus 25:39-55).
And Jehovah spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto Jehovah. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruits thereof; but in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto Jehovah: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of itself of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, and the grapes of thy undressed vine thou shalt not gather: it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. And the sabbath of the land shall be for food for you; for thee, and for thy servant and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant and for thy stranger, who sojourn with thee. And for thy cattle, and for the beasts that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be for food.
Jehovah spake unto Moses in mount Sinai
This shows that all related here was delivered to Moses in the first month of the second year after their coming out of Egypt (Numbers 10:11-12).F6 Keil pointed out that the effect of this statement is that of binding together in an inward unity the whole round of laws that Moses received from God upon the mountain, and announced gradually unto the people.F7 The same words are repeated three other times in Leviticus (Lev. 7:38; 26:46; and Lev. 27:34).
The seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest
Despite there having been a certain benefit that accrued to the soil through its lying idle on the seventh year, one cannot believe that it was merely the land's benefit that God had in mind back of the regulations in this chapter. This was an antidote for human greed and an affirmation of God's ownership of the land, and of his concern for the poor and even for the wildlife.
That which groweth of itself
(Of its own accord ... KJV) (Leviticus 25:5). This is of interest, because It is the only example of its in KJV being used as a neuter possessive, which in the KJV was almost always expressed by his as the possessive neuter pronoun. In the KJV of 1611, it is printed it; `that which groweth of it owne accorde'.F8
The sabbath of the land shall be for food
(Leviticus 25:6). This means that what grew of its own accord could be used for food, but that no reaping of the voluntary yield was allowed. Note also that a garden was not prohibited. It was the fields and vineyards upon which the prohibition lay. Exo. 23:10f mentions only the poor and the wild beasts as beneficiaries of this institution;F9 but here the `owner' or tenant is also included.
And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and there shall be unto thee the days of seven sabbaths of years, even forty and nine years. Then shalt thou send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; in the day of atonement shall ye send abroad the trumpet throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather [the grapes] in it of the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.
It is quite obvious that on the year of Jubilee, coming immediately following the seventh sabbatical year, there would have been back to back sabbatical years, and this has been such a problem to some that they have even attempted to make the Jubilee correspond with the 49th year, but the text makes it certain that there were in fact two sabbath years together. "The Jubilee occurred every fiftieth year, and not as some suppose, in the forty-ninth."F10 See Lev. 25:21, where God's instructions mentioned particularly the "three years" increase promised on the year before the two adjacent sabbath years.
The loud trumpet. on the day of atonement ..
(Leviticus 25:9). The word for Jubilee testifies to the antiquity of Leviticus. The title alone (Jubilee) is an indication that it was an institution of great antiquity.F11
Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof
These words are engraved upon the Liberty Bell situated in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, but, in their original context, the words refer to slavery and not to political subjection. Despite this, the words were a powerful motivation in the Revolutionary War.
Ye shall return every man to his possession
The meaning of this was that every Israelite was to be returned to the ancestral lands which belonged to his forebearers. God was the actual Owner of all the land, and any Israelite in possession of it was merely a tenant at will. Whose will? God's will. The occupancy and crops produced by the land in specified years could be sold, but title to the land was not transferable. It always reverted on the Jubilee to their heirs and successors of those persons to whom God had assigned it at the time when Joshua divided the land of Canaan among the Twelve Tribes. People of all times and nations have praised this arrangement, impractical as it most assuredly would be in our own times. The Jubilee stressed God's absolute ownership of the land. It was God's right by creation, and by right of maintenance. The Jubilee discouraged and prevented the endless building of greater and greater estates and effectively prevented the development of a culture in which wealthy owners of most of the land would be able to oppress and defraud the poor. Although most scholars do not believe that Israel ever actually observed the Jubilee, the preservation of land within families of the original persons receiving it seems to have prevailed for a long time. The incidents of Ruth (Ruth 4) and of Naboth (1 Kings 21) show that the law against alienation of the land prevailed in those times, and the case of Naboth in particular shows the hatred of that law by the Monarchy which succeeded in the ultimate nullification of it. Isaiah decried those who lay house to house, and field to field (Isaiah 5:8). These were the monopolists who were buying up all the land, contrary to the Word of God.
And ye shall return every man to his family
(Leviticus 25:9). This elaborates the heralded clause, Proclaim liberty ... to all the inhabitants ... This meant liberty from slavery. Slaves were to be emancipated in every sabbatical year, making six years the maximum time that one could be a slave. The law of the sabbath year and of the Jubilee would not suffer it to be forgotten that the slave was a man, protecting him in every way possible in those times.F12
In this year of jubilee ye shall return every man unto his possession. And if thou sell aught unto thy neighbor, or buy of thy neighbor's hand, ye shall not wrong one another. According to the number of years after the jubilee thou shalt buy of thy neighbor, [and] according unto the number of years of the crops he shall sell unto thee. According to the multitude of the years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of the years thou shalt diminish the price of it; for the number of the crops doth he sell unto thee. And ye shall not wrong one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am Jehovah your God.
These verses simply meant that buying or selling land applied only to the proportionate number of crops before the sabbatical year. The most that could be sold would be 49 crops, and after that the land with its increase reverted to the possessor whose rights were considered unalienable.
Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep mine ordinances and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield its fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety. And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase; then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for the three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the fruits, the old store; until the ninth year, until its fruits come in, ye shall eat the old store.
Despite some ambiguity here, it is clear enough that with fruits for three years specifically promised to be "commanded" by God for Israel, there would be sufficient for back-to-back sabbath years. There appears to be a perpetual extension of the principle inherent in the giving of the manna, wherein a double portion was given on the sixth day to provide for the sabbath (the seventh day) when none could be gathered.
It shall bring forth produce for three years
(Leviticus 25:21). What human being himself could have promised such a thing? Only God could make such a statement, and this makes it clear that none other but God Himself could have given Israel the Law on Mount Sinai.F13 Such a deduction is profoundly true, and it is likewise true in the instance of our Lord Jesus Christ's having promised his faithful followers, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life! (Mark 10:29-30). Only God Incarnate could have said such a thing!
Ye shall do my statutes
The great factor in this whole institution was that God was the perpetual and sole Owner of the land (all of it), and that, just as the Canaanites had forfeited their right to it by their persistent wickedness, Israel too was never anything but a tenant at will (the will of God), so long as, but not any longer than, they were obedient to God's will. The tragic fact is evident that Israel never understood this at all, nor do those today who still imagine themselves to be the Sons of Abraham and insist upon their divine right to Palestine! An even greater tragedy is seen in the tacit acceptance of this falsehood by certain modern nations, including our own, who are leagued in treaties with Israel guaranteeing to that sinful nation an ownership to which they cannot possibly be legally entitled. Our own feeling is that unfolding history will yet rebuke and destroy that error.
And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land. If thy brother be waxed poor, and sell some of his possession, then shall his kinsman that is next unto him come, and shall redeem that which his brother hath sold. And if a man have no one to redeem it, and he be waxed rich and find sufficient to redeem it; then let him reckon the years of the sale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it; and he shall return unto his possession. But if he be not able to get it back for himself, then that which he hath sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubilee: and in the jubilee it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession.
The land is mine
All of the talk in the newspapers of our day about Israel's land, and the integrity of Israel's authority are contrary to this. Following the rejection on the part of official Israel of their divine Messiah, the Son of God himself, God threw them out of their land, to which they could not return for nearly two millenniums, and present world powers that are taking upon themselves the authority to Correct God's action in this matter may yet find that neither their authority nor their power is sufficient to the task. Yet it is an enigma that Christ himself left a glimmer of possibility that the heel of the Gentile would be lifted from Palestine (Jerusalem) at a point in history when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:24). Mighty things are now under way in world history.
The right of redemption, whether by kinsmen, or by one himself, was here made to be unalienable. That failing, the year of the Jubilee still restored every man to his possession. The spiritual overtones of this provision are of the most magnificent dimensions. It is Christ, our near kinsman, who redeems us from sin and restores us to our lost possession of innocence and communion with God. As a footnote in the Polyglot Bible expressed it, "Through sin we had sold ourselves as bondmen to Satan and to our lusts, but our near kinsman, who is Christ, redeemed us. Only He could have done so."F14
Ye are strangers and sojourners with me
(Leviticus 25:23). This is the true status of all men, whether or not they may be aware of it. One of Isaac Watts' hymns has these lines:
Those dear delights we here enjoy
And fondly call our own
Are but short favors borrowed now
To be repaid anon.
This word was rendered pilgrims in the N.T. (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11), a word which captures the precise meaning. It means literally, one who crosses the field, and it came into usage during the Crusades, when all across Europe, it was nothing unusual for settled citizens to see a lonely traveler crossing a clearing or a field on the way to the Holy Land. It came to have a very rich connotation as referring to one who had no certain dwelling place, who had forsaken all in pursuit of some worthy ideal. All life is ephemeral, transitory, short and uncertain. We are here today and gone tomorrow. All of those possessions which would so readily possess ourselves -- all of them shall be the possession of others tomorrow. The land still belongs to God.
And if a man sell a dwelling-house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; for a full year shall he have the right of redemption. And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be made sure in perpetuity to him that bought it, throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubilee. But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be reckoned with the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubilee. Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, the houses of the cities of their possession, may the Levites redeem at any time. And if one of the Levites redeem, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the jubilee; for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel. But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their perpetual possession.
Two exceptions are explained here. A different rule applied to dwellings in walled cities; and special rules applied to houses of the Levites. There is possibly an ambiguity in Lev. 25:33. The marginal reading inserts the negative, making the verse refer to a Levite's house not redeemed. If this is not what is written, then the passage might refer to the case of a Levite who for himself redeemed a property from another Levite, but, in any case, it reverted to the original possessor in the Jubilee.
And if thy brother be waxed poor, and his hand fail with thee; then thou shalt uphold him: [as] a stranger and a sojourner shall he live with thee. Take thou no interest of him or increase, but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest, nor give him thy victuals for increase. I am Jehovah your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, [and] to be your God.
This deals with special duties to a brother. In Lev. 25:35, Orlinsky rendered "means" instead of hand.F15 The word "brother" here carries the connotation of a "brother Israelite," and is not restricted to brothers born of the same parentage. The spirit of Christianity is one with that in view here. A brother in need, compelled through want to borrow, should NOT be charged interest.
And if thy brother be waxed poor with thee, and sell himself unto thee; thou shalt not make him to serve as a bond-servant. As a hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee; he shall serve with thee unto the year of jubilee: then shall he go out from thee, he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return. For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigor, but shalt fear thy God. And as for thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, whom thou shalt have; of the nations that are round about you, of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they have begotten in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall make them an inheritance for your children after you, to hold for a possession; of them shall ye take your bondmen for ever: but over your brethren the children of Israel ye shall not rule, one over another, with rigor.
The great import of these verses is that "no Jew could be a bondslave." As McClaren stated it:
"No Jew was to be a slave. To that broad principle, there were exceptions, as when one voluntarily gave himself up to his creditors, but even he could not be treated as a slave, but as a hired servant, and at Jubilee he went free."F16
"The Jubilee law was a guarantee that no Jew would ever again be reduced to the type of slavery that oppressed Israel in Egypt."F17 Non-Jewish persons could be reduced to slavery, and the Jubilee did not apply to them. There is a distinction that should be noted in "the nations that are round about you" (Leviticus 25:44), and "strangers ... that sojourn among you ... that are with you" (Leviticus 25:45). The reason for this lay in the fact that Israel was commanded to destroy the nations that dwelt in Canaan, thus these would only have existed beyond the borders of Israel, that is, if Israel had obeyed God's command in this matter.
And if a stranger or sojourner with thee be waxed rich, and thy brother be waxed poor beside him, and sell himself unto the stranger [or] sojourner with thee, or to the stock of the stranger's family; after that he is sold he may be redeemed: one of his brethren may redeem him; or his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be waxed rich, he may redeem himself. And he shall reckon with him that bought him from the year that he sold himself to him unto the year of jubilee: and the price of his sale shall be according unto the number of years; according to the time of a hired servant shall he be with him. If there be yet many years, according unto them he shall give back the price of his redemption out of the money that he was bought for. And if there remain but few years unto the year of jubilee, then he shall reckon with him; according unto his years shall he give back the price of his redemption. As a servant hired year by year shall he be with him: he shall not rule with rigor over him in thy sight. And if he be not redeemed by these [means], then he shall go out in the year of jubilee, he, and his children with him. For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am Jehovah your God.
Wenham commented upon the theological reasons that lay behind the special rules forbidding and for redeeming the slavery of Israelites as follows:
"God redeemed his people from Egyptian slavery, to become his servants. It is unfitting, therefore, that an Israelite should be sold into slavery, especially to a foreigner. The jubilee was a guarantee that no Israelites should continue in slavery."F18
Also, note the words "in thy sight" (Leviticus 25:53). This made every Israelite a de facto monitor and policeman regarding any Israelite who was temporarily indentured to a foreigner, with the implication that any abuse of the servant, or any service "with rigor" that might be required, would result in the immediate judgment of the offender.
The following basic principles are evident in the sacred instructions here concerning the Jubilee:
OWNERSHIP OF LAND
It is contrary to the interests of society when the ownership of land is concentrated exclusively in the hands of a wealthy few and the mass of the people reduced to poverty through oppression. This is violated, not merely by those states where the wealthy nobles are virtually the sole owners of the land, but also by the vicious and unprincipled usurpation promulgated by the godless Communists who arbitrarily confiscated all lands to the state. In all nations, where lands tend to become the privilege of the few and not the inheritance of the many, this principle is violated.
THE WORSHIP OF GOD
Inherent in all of these laws concerning various sabbaths of days, of years, and of the fiftieth year, is the principle that God expects the beneficiaries of His grace to worship Him. True religion is basic to any just society. The neglect of the worship of God by any people is the beginning of the destruction of that people. The gross paganism, debauchery, violence, and oppression that characterized the pre-Christian nations were stated by the apostle Paul to have had their beginning in the people's failure to "give thanks to God" (Romans 1:21). All of the wretchedness that followed had its source in their turning away from worship of God.
"Love thy neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) is the all-pervasive moral law that underlies all of these instructions. Special love for a brother that required his next of kin to redeem him, and the watchfulness of all to prevent any abuse of a brother derived from this essential love. The Jubilee also emphasized the fleeting nature of man's life on earth. "You are strangers and sojourners."
OVERTONES OF THE MESSIANIC AGE
A number of spiritual overtones of the richest color are herein. That the nearest of kin alone could redeem one suggests the kinship of Christ for the beneficiaries of his blood-bought redemption. The Jubilee itself is a vivid foreshadowing of the whole Messianic Age, a fact stressed by Jesus Christ in the very beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:18-19). In one's acceptance of the Christian faith and obedience of the gospel, there are five "R's":
Remission of all sins.
Restoration to our Fellowship with God.
Reunion with the Society of the Redeemed.
Repossession of our Forfeited Inheritance.
Rejoicing in the Soul's True Jubilee.
Footnotes for Leviticus 25
1: Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Vol. 1 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1968), p. 164.
2: William Tyndale, The Pentateuch, (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967), pp. 371, 372.
3: William Wilson, Wilson's Old Testament Word Studies (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company), p. 234.
4: Robert P. Gordon, New Layman's Bible Commentary, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 235.
5: George Harford Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Leviticus (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd. 1924), p. 211.
6: Symon Patrick, Lord Bishop of Ely, Critical Commentary on the Old Testament and the New Testament, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1846), from the Private Library of Burt Pauley, Barstow, California).
7: C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 455.
8: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 99.
9: Robert P. Gordon, op. cit., p. 234.
10: William Wilson, op. cit., p. 234.
11: Ronald E. Clements, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Leviticus (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 65.
12: J. M. Fuller, Barnes' Notes, Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 172.
13: Hatham Sorer, Wellsprings of Torah, Leviticus (New York: The Judaic Press, 1969), p. 261.
14: Polyglot Bible, The (Hartford, Connecticut: Case, Lockwood, and Company, 1860), from the Private Library of Burt Pauley, Barstow, California.
15: Harry M. Orlinsky, op. cit., p. 265.
16: Alexander McClaren, Exposition of Holy Scriptures, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmaans Publishing Company, 1959), p. 279.
17: Gordon J. Wenham, op. cit., p. 323.
18: Ibid., p. 322.