Leviticus 25:23-38 ~ 20170402 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/02 Leviticus 25:23-38; Jubilee; Redemption of Land; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170402_leviticus-25_23-38.mp3
The chapter divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase "I am YHWH your God."
The first section of Leviticus 25 extends the calendar begun in chapter 23 and deals with the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. Every seventh day, people and animals were to rest from their labors. There were certain holy times each year that were set apart for specific purposes, days in which no work was to be done, days of rest and worship. Every seventh year, the land was to keep a Sabbath rest. This was the Sabbath year. After seven weeks of years, after 49 years, the fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee. Liberty was proclaimed and a return to property and to families. Rest was required. God's provision was promised. There was a warning not to wrong a neighbor. The focus of the first section is the cycle of work and rest, even rest for the land, and the promise of God's provision.
The second section, verses 23-38, begins with God's claim that the land belongs to him, and concludes with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” The focus of this section is land, its sale and redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.
Verses 39-55 address the situation where a person would sell himself to pay off a debt. In verse 42, God asserts his ownership over the people whom he brought out of the land of Egypt be his servants. This section concludes with “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The focus of the final section is God's people, their sale, and their redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.
Our focus today will be the second section of this chapter.
God Owns the Land
God begins in verse 23 with his assertion of ownership over the land.
This sets the parameters for the discussion of land ownership and sale and release. This speaks to the rest for the land every seventh year and every fiftieth year. God's people would be tempted to argue 'but I can't stop working the land for a whole year! How could we survive?' When we are entrusted with something, especially if it is for a long time, we begin to feel like we own it. We have had access to it for so long that we begin to think of it as belonging to us. God reminds his people 'the land is mine.' The land does not belong to you. I can tell you what you can and can't do with the land, because the land belongs to me.
Tenant farming was a typical arrangement in the ancient world. We see this under Joseph in Egypt. The severity of the famine forced the Egyptians to sell their land to the Pharaoh in order to survive.
So all the land in Egypt was owned by the Pharaoh, but he allowed the people to live on it and work his land in exchange for 20 percent of the produce.
Several of Jesus' parables used the illustration of stewardship; money or a vineyard was entrusted to someone's care, and at some point the owner returned and expected his portion of the harvest or a return on his investment.
God reminds his people “the land is mine.” I'm allowing you to squat on my land, to live on it, to farm it, to use it. But don't forget, it belongs to me. “You are strangers and sojourners with me.” In Leviticus we have heard a lot about the strangers and sojourners in the land. This typically refers to non-Israelites, foreigners. Here God reminds his people, Israel 'you are aliens, strangers in a land not belonging to you. It is my land. I am the King, the great landlord. I set the terms of your occupation and your tenancy. As the landowner, he reserves the right to evict any tenants who refuse to follow his rules. He has done this before. In Leviticus chapters 18 and 20, where God lays out the code of conduct he requires of his people, he reminds them
God is the landowner, and he is evicting the former tenants after excessively generous notification. But this is a warning to his own people. If they refuse to follow his rules, they too will be evicted. God's people are always to keep in mind that they are sojourners and strangers living on God's land.
As such, “the land shall not be sold in perpetuity.” God's people living in God's land are allowed to sub-lease the land to others. But no sales are final, because the land belongs to God. In the first section, introducing the year of Jubilee, God clarified that what is being sold is not the land itself, but the number of harvests until the year of Jubilee, when the land would return to the ones God allotted it to.
Redemption and the Kinsman Redeemer
Here we are introduced to the idea of redemption. This noun shows up 9 times in this chapter, twice in Ruth 4, twice in Jeremiah 32, and once in Ezekiel. Leviticus 25 is key to understanding what redemption means. The verb form shows up 10 times in this chapter, and 12 times in Leviticus 27, a handful of times scattered through the rest of the Pentateuch and the other historical books; 21 times in Ruth, twice in Job, 10 times in Psalms, once in Proverbs, 24 times in Isaiah (x24); and several other occurrences in the prophets. The noun is gullah (gheh-ool-law'), from the verb ga'al (gaw-al'), kinsman redeemer. The same verb is translated 'avenger' in the phrase 'avenger of blood' about 12 times in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 2 Samuel. As we learn from Leviticus and from Ruth, the kinsman redeemer was a near relative who had the ability to right what was wrong in the family. If a brother was in financial trouble, his nearest redeemer had the responsibility to keep the land in the family. In the next section we will see a brother who sells himself into slavery can be redeemed by his kinsman redeemer. In Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, the kinsman redeemer had the responsibility to defend the rights of his kin and avenge his murder. In the poetic and prophetic books, God is the kinsman redeemer of his people. This is the foundation for the concept of the redemption we have in Jesus in the New Testament.
The one who sells his own land may redeem it himself if he becomes financially able. This would be highly unlikely, apart from receiving an inheritance. The redemption price is to be a fair price, the price for which the land was sold, less the amount of harvests that have benefited the buyer after the sale. So if there was 30 years until the Jubilee, and the land could generate 1,000 a year, it would be sold for 30,000. If ten years into the contract, a kinsman redeemer came forward to redeem the land, he would pay 20,000, in effect refunding the value of the 20 remaining years. The buyer should have gotten his 10,000 out of the land in the first ten years of his lease.
If there is no one able to redeem the land, it must remain in the possession of the buyer until the Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee, the land reverts to the one God had entrusted it to.
There are some exceptions to these general rules of redemption and release covered in the rest of this section.
Houses in walled cities were an exception to the rule. The seller retained the right to redeem it for one year, after which it became the permanent possession of the buyer. Houses in unwalled villages were counted as land, and were subject to the same redemption and release in the Jubilee.
Then there is an exception to the exception.
The Levites, remember, were not given any land inheritance, only cities scattered within the other tribes of Israel; cities of refuge. Dwellings given to the Levites in these cities could always be redeemed, and they would be released back to them in the Jubilee.
Hospitality to a Brother
Verses 35-38 conclude this section with an exhortation to take care of your brother, and a warning to fear God.
Leviticus 19 told us to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love the stranger as yourself. But we may not feel that this extends to a near relative. We know them. They knew better. 'I'm willing to help my neighbor, and the guy I don't know, but my brother, well, he got himself into this mess. I warned him and he didn't listen. He needs to learn his lesson. I'm not going to bail him out; he'll just do it again.' God says, don't harden your heart to your relative. Treat him at least as well as you would treat a stranger. Take him in. Help him out. Help him get back on his feet. Show hospitality. Don't enable him, but don't take advantage of his vulnerable situation either. We see a similar warning to what we saw in the first section of this chapter.
Redemption is to be a blessing to those in need. Don't turn the blessing into a curse. Don't hold it over his head. Don't take interest from him. Don't capitalize on his misfortune. Genuinely seek to help him get back on his feet. Do for him what you would want him to do for you if it was you who fell on hard times. Do not take advantage of him, but fear God. You were slaves in Egypt. God brought you out and gave you the land. The land you possess is a gift from God. Give a gift to your brother in need.
How do we apply a passage like this? We must remember, this was written to Israel after God rescued them from Egypt and was preparing them to enter Canaan. The land promises were a big deal. But we are not Israel, this is not Canaan, we don't have Levites or walled cities, our property was not apportioned by God, and we don't release property back to its original owner in the year of Jubilee.
Care for your Brothers
But we can draw some principles that do apply to us today. We are not under the kinsman redeemer laws, but it is right to look out for our relatives.
1 John asks:
Acknowledged God's Sovereignty
We may not be in the promised land, but we should recognize God's absolute ownership and right over all that he has made. Psalm 24, quoted in 1 Corinthians 10, says:
God is the Creator of all that is. He made it and he can do with it what he pleases. He retains the authority to make the rules and enforce them. Everything belongs to him and it exists to please him.
We need to be reminded that we have been entrusted with a stewardship, and that we will be called to account for what we have done with what we have been given. We are sojourners and strangers in a land that belongs to another.
Look to the Redeemer
Most importantly, we understand from this passage a little more clearly what redemption is all about. It was the responsibility of a near relative to redeem the one in trouble. Jesus,
Jesus became related to us, became one of us, became human, so that he could be our Kinsman Redeemer. Hebrews says:
He had to be made like his brothers, so that he could redeem us as brothers. Isaiah even goes so far as to say:
Our Creator became our husband to redeem us. Jesus is our Redeemer, our near kinsman, the one who comes to our rescue when we are poor and desperate and beyond all hope. Jesus is our rescue when all other hope is lost.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org