(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—This chapter should properly have followed Leviticus 23, since the institutions of the sabbatical year, and the jubile which it discusses, are closely connected with the regulations about the festivals laid down in that chapter. The isolation of these ordinances from the rest of the festivals cannot be satisfactorily explained on any other principle than that which the authorities during the second Temple laid down, viz., that many of the sections are transposed, and that “there is no strict sequence in the Law.”
In Mount Sinai.—That is, in the mountainous regions of Sinai. The expression “mountain” is often used to denote a mountainous tract of country (Numbers 12:9; Deuteronomy 1:2; Joshua 14:12, &c.). Accordingly, this divine communication was made to Moses when the Israelites were encamped in the neighbourhood of Sinai, where they remained in the wilderness for twelve months after their exodus from Egypt (Numbers 10:11-12).
Then shall the land keep a sabbath.—For which the marginal rendering is “rest,” i.e., a sabbath. For the import of this phrase see Note on Leviticus 23:32. The septennial sabbath is to be to the land what the weekly sabbath is to the whole earth. Just as the seventh day is dedicated to God in recognition of His being the Creator of the world, so the seventh year is to be consecrated to Him in acknowledgment that He is the owner of the land. Hence, like the weekly sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:14), the seventh year sabbath is belonging “unto the Lord.” (See Leviticus 25:4.)
The fruit thereof.—That is, of the land which is mentioned in the preceding verse, and which includes fields, vineyards, olive-gardens, &c. (See Exodus 23:11.)
Thou shalt neither sow thy field.—What constitutes cultivation, and how much of labour was regarded as transgressing this law, may be seen from the following canons which obtained during the second Temple. No one was allowed to plant trees in the sabbatical year, nor to cut off dried-up branches, to break off withered leaves, to smoke under the plants in order to kill the insects, nor to besmear the unripe fruit with any kind of soil in order to protect them, &c. Any one who committed one of these things received the prescribed number of stripes. As much land, however, might be cultivated as was required for the payment of taxes as well as for growing the barley required for the omer or wave sheaf at the Passover, and wheat for the two wave-loaves at Pentecost.
Neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed.—Literally, thy Nazarite vine, the vine which bears the character of a Nazarite, or of being separated or consecrated to God. As the seventh year is the sabbath of the Lord, being consecrated to Him, the vine of this year is consecrated to Him. Hence the Greek version (LXX.) translates it “the grapes of thy consecration,” and hence, too, the marginal rendering “of thy separations.” The passage is also interpreted “thou shalt not gather the grapes from which thou hast separated and debarred other people, and which thou hast not declared common property.”
Shall be meat for you.—That is, it shall serve as your food, but you must not trade with it, or store it up. Hence, during the second Temple the produce of the sabbatical year could only be used for direct consumption, and was not allowed to be converted first into other articles and then used. Thus, for instance, though wood of that year could be used as firewood, yet it was illegal to convert it first into coal and then use the coal thus obtained from the wood, nor was it legal to convert vegetables into medicines, or to give human food to animals.
For thee, and for thy servant . . . —The produce is to be left in the field for the free use of the poor, the servant, &c. (See also Exodus 23:11.) Hence it was enacted during the second Temple that “whoso locks up his vineyard, or hedges in his field, or gathers all the fruit into his house in the sabbatical year breaks this law.” Everything is to be left common, and every man has a right to every thing in every place. Every man could only bring into his house a little at a time according to the manner of things that are in common.”
Number seven sabbaths of years.—Better, count seven weeks of years (see Leviticus 23:15). The seven days of each week stand for so many years, so that seven weeks of years make forty-nine years. Hence the explanation in the next clause: “Seven times seven years.” As the observance of the jubile, like that of the sabbatical year, was only to become obligatory when the Israelites had taken possession of the promised land (see Leviticus 25:2), and as the first sabbatical year, according to the authorities during the second Temple, came into operation in the twenty-first year after their entrance into Canaan (see Leviticus 25:2), the first jubile was celebrated in the sixty-fourth year after they came into the land of promise.
In the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound.—Better, In the day of atonement shall ye cause the cornet to sound. On the close of the great Day of Atonement, when the Hebrews realised that they had peace of mind, that their heavenly Father had annulled their sins, and that they had become reunited to Him through His forgiving mercy, every Israelite was called upon to proclaim throughout the land, by nine blasts of the cornet, that he too had given the soil rest, that he had freed every encumbered family estate, and that he had given liberty to every slave, who was now to rejoin his kindred. Inasmuch as God has forgiven his debts, he also is to forgive his debtors.
And proclaim liberty . . . unto all the inhabitants—That is, to all the Israelites, who are the true possessors of the land. Hence the ancient authorities conclude that the law of jubile was only in force as long as the whole Jewish nation dwelt in the land, but not after the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, were carried into captivity by Pul and Tilgath-Pilneser kings of Assyria (1 Chronicles 5:26), because “all the inhabitants” of the land dwelt no longer in it. It is from this declaration to proclaim liberty that the year of jubile is also called “the year of freedom” (Ezekiel 46:17).
It shall be a jubile.—This is an abbreviation of the fuller form, “a year of jubile,” used in the other passages of this chapter (see Leviticus 25:13; Leviticus 25:28; Leviticus 25:40; Leviticus 25:50; Leviticus 25:52; Leviticus 25:54), and denotes “a year proclaimed by the blast of the horn,” since the word yôbel signifies both ram’s horn and the sound emitted from it.
And ye shall return every man.—See Leviticus 25:14-16; Leviticus 25:23-28.
Every man unto his family.—See Leviticus 25:39-40.
Ye shall not sow.—As the fiftieth year is jubile, and partakes of the nature of the sabbatical year, sowing and reaping are forbidden.
Neither reap that which groweth of itself in it.—That is, the spontaneous growth of this year is not to be made into a regular harvest and stored up. (See Leviticus 25:5.)
Vine undressed.—See Leviticus 25:5.
Of thy neighbour.—From this it was deduced that the Israelite who was reduced to poverty could only sell his land to a fellow-Israelite, but not to a Gentile.
The number of years of the fruit he shall sell.—Whilst the purchaser is to take into consideration the number of years which the lease has still to run, the vendor has to consider how many sabbatical years there will be from the time of the sale till next jubile, since the sale was not so much of the land as of the produce of so many years. Hence the fallow sabbatical years are not to be included. As the plural “number of years “is here used, the authorities during the second Temple concluded that the vendor could not sell it for less than two productive years, exclusive of a sabbatical year, a year of barrenness, and of the first harvest if the purchase was effected shortly before the seventh month, with the ripe produce in the field.
For according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell.—Better, for a number of crops he selleth, that is, the vendor does not sell the land but a certain number of harvests till the next jubile.
But thou shalt fear thy God—who pleads the cause of the oppressed, and avenges every injustice. (See Leviticus 19:14.)
Ye shall dwell in the land in safety.—As God is Israel’s strong tower and wall of defence, it is by keeping His commandments that the Israelites will enjoy the security which other nations endeavour to obtain by great labour and mighty armies.
And the land . . . her fruit.—He, moreover, who has given Israel these statutes, also controls the operations of nature. Hence, though the observance of His laws would necessitate the abstention from cultivating the soil, the Lord will cause the land to yield an abundant harvest which will richly supply all their wants, and they will safely and quietly dwell therein without being compelled to make raids upon their neighbours for food, or surrender themselves to their enemies for want of provision (1 Maccabees 6:49; 1 Maccabees 6:53; Josephus, Antt. xiv. 16, § 2; xv. :1, § 2).
Behold, we shall not sow.—That is, are forbidden to sow. (See Leviticus 25:4.)
Nor gather in our increase.—That is, we are even prohibited to gather the spontaneous growths and store them up, and are commanded to leave “the increase” in the field. (See Leviticus 25:7.)
It shall bring forth fruit for three years.—Better, it shall bring forth produce. This special blessing will be manifested in the abundant crop of the harvest preceding the sabbatical year. Just as at the institution of the weekly Sabbath, when God enjoined abstention from labour, He sent down a double portion of manna every sixth day to make up for the day of rest (Exodus 16:22-27), so He will exercise a special providence every sixth year by blessing the soil with a treble crop to compensate for giving the land a septennial sabbath. As the sabbatical year began the civil year, viz., 1 Tishri, which was in the autumn or in September, the three years here spoken of are to be distributed as follows: (1) the remainder of the sixth year after the harvest; (2) the whole of the seventh year; and (3) the period of the eighth year till the harvest is gathered in from the seeds sown in the eighth year. It will thus be seen that the question anticipated in Leviticus 25:29, viz., “What shall we eat the seventh year?” properly applies to the eighth year, since the requirements for the seventh year are supplied by the regular harvest of the sixth year, and it is the eighth year for which the harvest of the seventh is wanted. To meet this difficulty, one of the most distinguished Jewish expositors of the Middle Ages translates Leviticus 25:20 : “And if ye shall say in the seventh year ‘What shall we eat’” i.e., in the eighth year. It may, however, be that the question expresses the anxiety which the people might feel in eating their ordinary share in the seventh year, lest there should be nothing left for the eighth year, since in all other years the harvest is ripening for the next year whilst the fruits of the past year are being consumed.
Until her fruits come in.—Better, until its produce come in, that is, the produce of the eighth year which was gathered in the ninth. Leviticus 25:20, therefore, which states the anticipated question, and Leviticus 25:21-22, which contain the reply, ought properly to follow immediately after Leviticus 25:7, since they meet the difficulty arising from the rest of the land during the sabbatical year. The redactor of Leviticus may, however, have inserted Leviticus 25:20-22 here because the difficulty raised in them, and the reply given to the anticipated question, apply equally to the jubile year. The special Divine interposition which is here promised to meet the requirements of one year’s cessation from cultivating the land will, as a matter of course, be all the more readily vouchsafed when the Israelites will have to exercise greater obedience and faith in the jubile, and abstain two successive years from tilling the ground.
For the land is mine.—The reason for this prohibition absolutely to cut off the patrimony from the family, is that God claims to be the supreme owner of the land (Exodus 15:17; Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 14:25; Jeremiah 2:5; Psalm 10:16), and as the Lord of the soil He prescribes conditions on which he allotted it to the different tribes of Israel.
Ye are strangers and sojourners with me.—God has not only helped the Israelites to conquer the land of Canaan, but has selected it as His own dwelling-place, and erected His sanctuary in the midst of it (Exodus 15:13; Numbers 35:34). He therefore is enthroned in it as Lord of the soil, and the Israelites are simply His tenants at will (Leviticus 14:34; Leviticus 20:24; Leviticus 23:10; Numbers 13:2; Numbers 15:2), and as such will have to quit it if they disobey His commandments (Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22; Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:63). For this reason they are accounted as strangers and sojourners, and hence have no right absolutely to sell that which is not theirs.
And if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem.—Better, then his nearest kinsman shall come and redeem. If he has thus been compelled by pressure of poverty to sell part of his land, then it is the duty of the nearest relation, or, as the original literally denotes, “the redeemer that is nearest to him,” to redeem the property which his impoverished relative has been obliged to sell. The expression “redeemer” is applied in Hebrew to one who, by virtue of being the nearest of kin, had not only to redeem the patrimony of the family, but to marry the childless widow of his brother (Ruth 3:13), and avenge the blood of his relative (Numbers 35:19-28; Deuteronomy 19:6-12).
Restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it.
Then that which is sold.—In that case the land thus sold is to continue with the purchaser till jubile, when it is to revert to the vendor without any repayment whatever. The design of this law was to secure to each family a permanent interest in the soil, and to prevent the accumulation of land on the part of the greedy few who are ever anxious to join field unto field, thus precluding the existence of landless beggars and too extensive landed proprietors. To the same effect were the laws of inheritance (Numbers 27:6-11; Numbers 36:5-13). Similar laws obtained among other nations of antiquity. Laws were enacted that the lots which were distributed among the inhabitants were neither to be sold nor bought. Solon made it a law that no one should acquire as much land as he wished; whilst Plato held that no individual person is to possess more than four times the quantity of land than the lowest owner, who had only a single lot.
Within a full year may he redeem it.—If within a year of the sale he wishes to redeem, the Law gives him the power, or in case he dies empowers his son, to repurchase the property at the same price which he received for it. Besides limiting the period to a year, the Law does not prescribe that the next of kin is to redeem, nor give him the power to do it. During the second Temple it was also enacted that the vendor could not redeem it with borrowed money.
It shall not go out in the jubile.—If the vendor, however, failed to redeem the house within the prescribed period, it was not to be subject to the laws of jubile like the land, but is to remain for ever the property of the purchaser.
May the Levites redeem at any time.—Having the same value to the Levites as landed property has to the other tribes, these houses are to be subject to the jubile laws for fields, and hence may be redeemed at any time.
Then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out.—Better, then the house that was sold in the city of his possession shall go out, that is, in the year of jubile the house is to revert to the vendor just as if it were landed property. Thus, for instance, the house of the Levite A, which he, out of poverty, was obliged to sell to the non-Levite B, and which was redeemed from him by a Levite C, reverts in the jubile year from the Levite C to the original Levitical proprietor A. It is, however, more than probable that the negative particle has dropped out of the text, and that the passage as it originally stood was, “And if one of the Levites doth not redeem it.” That is, if he does not act the part of the nearest of kin, then the house reverts in the year of jubile to the original Levitical owner, just as landed property. The Vulg. has still the negative particle.
For the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession.—As these houses were all which the Levites possessed, they were as important to them as the land was to the other tribes, hence they were to be treated legally in the same way as the soil.
For it is their perpetual possession.—The estates belong to the whole tribe to all futurity, and the present occupiers have to transmit them intact to their successors. Hence no present owner, or all of them combined, have a right to dispose of any portion of the estates, or materially to alter it. They must hand these estates down to their successors as they receive them from their predecessors.
And fallen in decay with thee.—Literally, and his hand wavered with thee, that is, when it is weak and can no longer render support, or gain a livelihood. As the laws of jubile guard the future interests of the Israelite who is driven by stress of poverty to sell his patrimony, the Lawgiver now points out the duties of each member of the community to the impoverished brother who has to wait till the year of jubile for the restoration of his property, but who in the meantime is unable to support himself.
Then thou shalt relieve him.—Literally, thou shalt lay hold of him. When his hand is thus trembling, it is the duty of every Israelite to support his weak hand, and enable it to gain a livelihood.
Though he be a stranger, or a sojourner.—Better, as a stranger and a sojourner, that is, he is not to be treated like an outcast because he has been compelled by poverty to sell his patrimony, but is to receive the same consideration which strangers and sojourners receive, who, like the unfortunate Israelite, have no landed property. (See Leviticus 19:33-34.)
And be sold unto thee.—The voluntary disposal of his own liberty for a money consideration the Israelite could only effect by stress of poverty.
Thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant.—Under these circumstances he is not to be treated like heathen slaves who are either purchased or captured, and made to do the menial service which these Gentile slaves have to perform. The authorities during the second Temple adduce the following as degrading work which the Israelite bondman is not to be put to: He must not attend his master at his bath, nor tie up or undo the latchets of his sandals, &c., &c.
Shall serve thee unto the year of jubile.—Nor could he be kept beyond the year of jubile. This terminated the sale of his services just as it cancelled all the sales of landed property.
They shall not be sold as bondmen—That is, as personal property or chattels. The authorities during the second Temple, however, interpreted this clause to mean that an Israelite is not to be sold by proclamation or in public places, but privately, and in an honourable manner, with all possible consideration for his feelings.
Of the heathen that are round about you.—These are to be purchased to do the necessary work. The Israelites, however, were restricted to the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites, and the Syrians, who were their neighbours, but were not permitted to buy any slaves from the seven nations who were in the midst of them, and whom they were ordered to destroy (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
And they shall be your possession.—These, but not the Hebrews, the masters may hold as their absolute property.
They shall be your bondmen for ever.—These are not subject to the laws of jubile. They remain in perpetual serfdom unless they or their friends redeem them, or their master has maimed any one of them. In case of injury the master is obliged to manumit him (Exodus 21:26-27). The authorities during the second Temple enacted that the master’s right, even with regard to this kind of bondmen, is restricted to their labour, but that he has no right to barter with them, to misuse them, or to put them to shame.
Over your brethren . . . ye shall not rule . . . with rigour.—In contrast to these heathen bondmen the Jewish bondmen are here designated “brethren.” They are co-religionists, who have been reduced to temporary servitude, but who are, nevertheless, fellow-heirs with them in the land of their possession. Hence the greatest consideration was to be shown to them in these adverse circumstances. The authorities during the second Temple have therefore enacted that there must be no difference between the daily food, raiment, and dwelling of the master and his Hebrew slave, and that the master and the servant are alike in these respects.
And thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor.—Better, and thy brother by him wax poor, that is, the Israelite who traded with him is unfortunate in business, and is reduced to poverty.
And sell himself unto the stranger or sojourner by thee.—Better, and sells himself unto the stranger-sojourner by thee. The two terms as before describe the same person—the stranger who has become a sojourner. Hence the Chaldee Version translates it, “and sells himself to the uncircumcised stranger who is with thee.”
Or to the stock of the stranger’s family.—That is, the offshoot or descendant of a foreign family.
And the other shall not rule with rigour over him.—Better, he shall not rule, &c, that is, the heathen master. The words “and the other” are not in the original, and the sense of the passage is quite plain without them.
In thy sight.—The Israelite is here admonished not to be a tacit spectator of the cruel treatment of his brother Israelite by a heathen master, and though he is not to resent in the same way in which the Lawgiver himself resented it (Exodus 2:11-12), still he is to remonstrate with the cruel Gentile, and invoke the protection of the powers that be.