Leviticus 25:39-55 ~ 20170409 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/09 Leviticus 25:39-55; Jubilee; Redemption of Slaves; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170409_leviticus-25_39-55.mp3
The chapter, as we have seen, divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase "I am YHWH your God."
The first section of Leviticus 25 deals with the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. Every seventh year, the land was to keep a Sabbath rest to the LORD. After seven weeks of 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.
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 that 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 this final section is God's people, their sale, and their redemption or release in the year of Jubilee. This last section is our focus today; redemption and release of slaves.
Jubilee: Redemption of Slaves
The slavery introduced here was never meant to be. God promises in Deuteronomy 15 that:
The situation of poverty and slavery here is a result of disobedience and sin. God's people did not keep God's rules as they lived in God's land. They hardened their hearts and closed their hands to their brothers in need. And so they missed out on God's ideal for them. The verses immediately preceding these in Leviticus 25 require:
God promised to provide for the needs of his people. He intended that his people would be generous toward one another and toward the foreigners dwelling with them. But God understands our selfish, sinful inclination, and made provision to protect and care for those in desperate circumstances, and through this he also gave us a picture that points ultimately to the liberty proclaimed in Christ Jesus.
Limited Type of Service
In this worst case scenario, where one of God's people becomes so poor that he must sell himself to simply survive, God limits the type of service he could be required to perform. They are to be treated as if they were hired workers, not as slaves. They are not to be treated ruthlessly.
God had rescued his people out of hard slavery in Egypt.
They were to remember their slavery in Egypt, and they were not to treat others the way they had been mistreated. They would also be reminded of the plagues on Egypt, that God comes to the rescue of those who cry out to him for help. If they now became the oppressors, they could expect a similar judgment from God. Verse 43 says “You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.”
Limited Time of Service
God limits the type of their service; God also limits the time of their service. Their hope was not to be removed. In Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15, we see that the time of service of a Hebrew slave was limited to 6 years. On the seventh year he was to go free.
This service was to end with generosity. This was a way to care for those who became poor without simply being a handout. They retained their dignity, were to work in exchange for room and board, and were to be treated with respect. This was a temporary arrangement with a time limit. When they were released, they were to be sent off with all that they needed to keep them from immediately spiraling back into poverty.
We see this arrangement could be so desirable, that a servant on the seventh year could choose to stay. Both Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15 make provision for this.
Here in Leviticus, the time of service is limited to 49 years. It seems Hebrew slaves were to be offered their freedom each Sabbath year. But if they chose to stay, even this was not a completely permanent arrangement. On the Jubilee, even these slaves were to go free. They were to be released with their whole families.
God asserts his ownership over his people. Like the land, God is their owner, and what can be sold is not the person, but his productivity. Like the land, their sale is the sale of years of service until the Jubilee. God is the ultimate owner and he is to be feared. The Israelites belong to him. They are his servants. As we see in Jesus' parable, it is not wise to mistreat a fellow-servant.
Allowance for Non-Israelite Slaves
God makes a distinction between his people and the nations around them.
At first read, we tend to recoil at the implication that God condones slavery. But we need to understand what this does and does not mean, and we need to understand it in its context.
God had given clear instructions to his people to drive out and completely destroy the inhabitants of the land he was giving them, because of their sin, their abominable practices, and to prevent Israel from being led astray by them to worship other gods. In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites understood this and deceived Israel into making a covenant with them, claiming to be from far away. When asked why they did this,
The Gibeonites chose service rather than death They did this to ally themselves with Israel. Notice, they chose this. All the slavery in this chapter is voluntary slavery. The poor Israelite sells himself. The foreigner sells himself. In Exodus 21 and in Deuteronomy 24 the penalty for capturing a person to sell as a slave is death.
Exodus 21:16 is sandwiched between two verses requiring the death penalty for dishonoring parents. Jesus teaches us that some the commands were given to regulate sinful practices 'because of your hardness of heart' (Mt.19:8). God is clear that he is against the slave trade as we understand it. 1 Timothy 1:10 lists enslavers together with other sins that are contrary to sound doctrine and to the gospel.
God makes it clear that he values all life he created, but he also makes a distinction between those who choose to remain his enemies and those who turn and seek to align with him and his people.
Rights of Redemption
Verse 47 introduces the upside down possibility that a native Israelite would sell himself to a foreigner living among Israel. This should not be. God promised to bless his people. But he also promised that if his people turned from him and were disobedient to him, turned to other gods and rejected him, he would send them into captivity. He even says:
This is not what God intended for his people. But this is the consequences for refusing God's good authority.
This section demands that in the regrettable circumstance that this should happen, the right of redemption is retained. The sale is not final. Redemption is possible. In the section we covered last week, we looked at the role of a kinsman redeemer, a close relative who had the responsibility and right to come to the rescue of one who was in trouble. Here it is clarified who can act as a kinsman-redeemer; a brother, an uncle, a cousin, or another close relative may redeem.
Price of Redemption
Verses 50-54 stipulate the terms of the sale and the fair price of redemption. Again, the sale is technically the number of years of service until the Jubilee release.
The price of sale and the price of redemption is to be fair. God's people are to be just in their business dealings. They are not to take advantage of others.
In the closing verse of this chapter, God again reminds us of his rights over his people.
God's people belong to him. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. He purchased them to belong to him. He is the I AM. As their Creator, all people belong to him. As their Kinsman-Redeemer, the people he purchased out of slavery doubly belong to him.
What does all this mean for us? We are not Israel entering the promised land to dispossess the Canaanites. We do not have these social structures of debt and slavery and redemption or release at the Sabbath Year or the Year of Jubilee. Is this nothing more than a bit of interesting ancient trivia? Far from it! This is the language and the context of our treasured redemption. This is our hope and our joy. This is Jesus!
Jesus in his parable in Matthew 18 describes us as having a debt we could never hope to pay.
One talent was about 20 years wages for a laborer. Jesus describes us as owing our King 200,000 years worth of wages. Our offense is against an infinite God. Our debt is incalculable, yet justice demands that the debt be paid back equitably.
Jesus describes us as slaves to sin,
Galatians 4 tells us that we were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world; enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. Titus 3 tells us that we were slaves to various passions and pleasures. Romans 6 tells us that we were slaves of sin, which leads to death, because the wages of sin is death. Our slavery was not 6 years or 49 years; it was eternal. We were created to enjoy God and glorify God. But we sold ourselves as slaves to sin.
Our taskmaster Satan is cruel. He has no concern for our dignity or our well-being. He comes to steal and kill and destroy (Jn.10:10).
But in Luke 4, Jesus stood up to read in the synagogue in Nazareth, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he read:
Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord's favor. He claimed to bring the long awaited Jubilee. He proclaimed good news, liberty to the captives. By announcing the Jubilee, he was declaring that his day was the Day of Atonement.
In Colossians 1 we read that God,
In Colossians 2,
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation. Now we wait...
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org