The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai, 2“Tell the Israelites that when they enter the land I am giving them, the land must observe a Sabbath to the LORD. 3Sow your seed, prune your vines and gather the crops for six years, 4but the seventh year must be a year of rest, a Sabbath year. Do not sow your seed or prune your vines, 5and do not harvest whatever grows in the fields, and don’t gather the grapes; give the land a year of rest. 6Whatever the land produces of itself you and your servants and hired hands and foreigners passing through may eat, 7and so may your livestock and the wild animals of the land.
8“Then, count off seven sabbath years, forty-nine years in all, 9and on the tenth day of the seventh month, Yom Kippur, have the trumpet sounded throughout the land, 10and celebrate the fiftieth year by proclaiming freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee year. All of you will return to your property and your family. 11In the Jubilee year do not plant or reap what grows voluntarily or pick the grapes from the unpruned vines. 12The Jubilee will be sacred to you, and you may eat only what the field produces of itself.
13“In the Jubilee every one of you is to return to your property. 14If you buy from or sell to your neighbor you must be honest. 16When you buy land from your neighbor you must be charged only for the years that remain until the next Jubilee, because you are actually purchasing a certain number of harvests. 17Respect your God, and do not cheat one another, for I am the LORD.
18“Faithfully observe my instructions and keep my laws so that you may live in safety in the land. 19The land will yield its produce and you can eat all you want and live in peace. 20If you’re wondering what you can eat in the seventh year, having not sown or gathered your crops, 21I will reward you in the sixth year and the land will yield three years’ worth of crops. 22So, when you plant in the eighth year you will be eating from last year’s harvest and that will sustain you until the ninth year’s produce. 23You may not sell the land in perpetuity because it is my land, and you are my tenants and foreign settlers. 24Throughout the territory you hold, you must assure the renewal of the land.
25“If any of your relatives become poor and have to sell some property, the next of kin must redeem what has been sold. 26If there is no next of kin available, and the seller begins to prosper and can redeem it himself, 27the years since it was sold are computed and the years remaining until the Jubilee will be refunded to the one who bought it and the property will be returned. 28If the seller is never able to repurchase it, it will remain with the purchaser until the year of Jubilee, and then returned to the original owner.
29“If someone sells a house within a walled city, it may be redeemed anytime during the following year. 30If not, it belongs to the purchaser from then on and will not be released in the Jubilee. 31However, houses in unwalled villages are in the same class as property in the open country and must be returned in the Jubilee. 32In the cities that belong to the Levites, the Levites will have the right of redemption of their houses at any time, 33and houses they might have sold in a city belonging to them must be released in the Jubilee. 34The fields surrounding the Levite cities are their permanent possession and may not be sold.”
35“If any of your relatives fall into poverty and become dependent on you, you must provide for them and they will live among you as resident foreigners. 36Don’t try to profit from them but respect your God and let them live among you. 37Don’t lend money to them with interest or sell food to them at a profit. 38Remember that I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and be your God.
39“If anyone who is dependent on you becomes so poor they have to sell themselves to you, don’t treat them as slaves. 40Treat them as hired hands and free them in the year of Jubilee. 41Then they, with their children, will be free from you and may return to their own family and their ancestral property. 42They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, and they may not be sold or treated as slaves. 43Do not treat them harshly. Remember your God.
44“You may acquire slaves from the nations around you 45or from the foreigners living among you even if they are born in your land, they may be purchased as slaves, 46and they are property you may pass down to your children as an inheritance. They may be treated as slaves, but you may not lord it over your fellow Israelites.
47If foreigners living among you become wealthy and any of your relatives sell themselves to them or to one of the foreigner’s relatives, 48they retain the right of redemption by one of their brothers 49or uncles or nephews, or any of their relatives, and they retain the right to redeem themselves should they become prosperous. 50In such cases they will compute with the purchaser the amount of the purchase from the time they were purchased until the Jubilee year and that shall be the price of their freedom. 51If the Jubilee is many years away they will pay for their freedom according to the purchase price, 52and if only a few years remain they will pay accordingly. 53They will be under the authority of their foreign owner as a laborer hired by the year and must not be treated badly. 54If they are not redeemed they will go free, along with their children, in the Jubilee year. 55The people of Israel are my servants, for I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt.”
1-7: The people must practice holiness (be set apart from other people in the way they live) even in their ownership and use of the land. Although their entry into Canaan will not be for another 38 years, as far as Moses knows it is imminent, so he tells them that when they enter the land, they must understand that the land itself is holy to the Lord and must be allowed to observe a Sabbath rest of one year every seven years. They may eat whatever the land produces of itself, but they may not plant or cultivate during the seventh year.
8-12: Every 50th year, called Jubilee, is also to be an observance of Sabbath rest for the land.
13-17: It is expected that the land as allocated to the twelve tribes will remain with the tribes as allocated. Therefore, in the Jubilee year all land is to be returned to the family of its original owners. The Jubilee year thus makes necessary other provisions having to do with the value of land that is sold or bought because it is really being leased for the number of years remaining until the next Jubilee year. Most scholars find little evidence that the Jubilee year was ever regularly observed after they entered the promised land.
18-24: The people are assured that the land will produce enough in the sixth year for them to lay aside stores for the Sabbath and Jubilee years. They are to understand that the land belongs to God, and they the caretakers of it. A high level of stewardship is demanded of God’s people.
25-28: Rules are laid out to cover the repurchase of land that is sold because of financial difficulties.
29-34: Houses in walled cities may change hands permanently because the land does not belong to the individual. Houses in the small villages, however, are on land belonging to the individual and are subject to the Jubilee laws. Houses and lands belonging to Levites receive a special consideration because of their unique situation regarding land ownership.
35-38: Kinfolk are to be treated as family. Don’t turn them away if they need a place to stay and don’t charge them interest if they borrow from you.
39-46: It is decreed that God’s people may never buy or sell one another into slavery. They may become indentured should poverty make that necessary but must be released in the jubilee year. Foreigners, however, may be acquired as slaves and bequeathed to one’s heirs as any other property.
47-55: The people of Israel are to be God’s servants and nobody else’s. If, by reason of poverty, they sell themselves to a resident alien, the law of the land is that they may be redeemed at any time by a relative or by themselves, the price of redemption decreasing as the year of jubilee approaches. In the year of jubilee any Israelite held as a slave must be freed.
Slavery was a common practice in those days, but it was nothing like the organized and barbaric slave trade developed during the colonization of the western world in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. And what we read in this chapter is certainly more humane than the practice of most cultures in the time of Moses as well. Note, too, that the acquisition of slaves seems to be somewhat based upon the needs of the person who is being bought – in other words, it is a way of ameliorating the effects of poverty.