Leviticus: Jubilee-Freedom!

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on August 24, 2005

Leviticus 25:8-55

Wednesday Evening

August 24, 2005

Leviticus 25:8-55

“Jubilee – Freedom!”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Leviticus 25. We are two Wednesday nights away, Lord willing, from finishing our
study of the Book of Leviticus. Next Wednesday night, Lord willing, we’ll be
looking at chapter 26, that glorious call to obedience. It’s one of the best
known passages in the Book of Leviticus. And then in chapter 27, again a list of
rules, moral commands for the people of God, and we’ll talk about the
significance of those great commands together, Lord willing, the first Wednesday
night in September. But tonight we’re going to finish our study of Leviticus
25.

Last week we looked at the laws pertaining to the
sabbatical year and to the year of jubilee, and we saw the principle established
there that we belong to God. Everything that we have, everything that we are
comes from Him, and even our time we yield back to Him. We learned many lessons
from that passage. But tonight we’re going to pick up in verse 23 and work our
way to the end of Leviticus 25, and as we begin to read God’s word together, I
want to suggest that you look at this passage in at least three parts.

First of all, if you look at verses 23-28, you will
find commands here about land not being permanently sold out of one family to
another in Israel. Once Israel is in the land, the ideal is that the land which
originated with one family to stay with that family. Now, the passage actually
tells us why. This particular law has generated a great speculation. The passage
actually tells us why this is, and we’ll look at that in the first part.

Secondly, if you look at verses 29-34, you’ll see a
second part of the chapter. In this part of the chapter we are told that these
laws of redemption and jubilee about returning the land to those who have fallen
on economic hard times and had to sell their land, and eventually have that land
redeemed during the jubilee or during the sabbatical year through a kinsman
redeemer or through their own ability to buy the land back…we’re told that
those laws do not apply to houses in walled cities, and those laws do apply to
the Levites. And so, some very interesting commands. You may be scratching your
heads! Why in the world would these be allowed to apply to houses in walled
cities but not apply in the same way to the Levites? Well, we’ll see in just a
few moments why that is.

And then finally, the longest section of the chapter
runs all the way from verse 35 to verse 55, the third portion of the chapter.
And this section of the chapter gives us various instructions about dealing with
the poor and those who have had to go into servitude in Israel, and there are at
least four parts to this particular section. First of all, verses 35-38 deal
with instructions about countrymen who become poor and how Israelites are to
treat their fellow Israelites who have fallen into this situation.

Then in verses 39-43, there are specific commands on
the right treatment of Israelites who serve as indentured servants.

Then in verses 44-46, there are commands indicating
that slaves can be held from the pagan nations around Israel, but not amongst
the children of Israel — not from amongst the children of Israel.

And then finally, in verses 47 to the end of the
chapter, there again [are] rules given about redeeming a poor man out of his
indentured servitude.

So those are the three parts of the chapter: The
first pertaining to this law of redemption of the land; the second pertaining to
cases where that law doesn’t quite apply; and then the third, laws pertaining to
the just treatment of the poor.

So, before we hear God’s word read, let’s look to
Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for this word, and
even though it once again comes from a passage that is more or less obscure, a
passage that we perhaps don’t read as much as we would read the Book of Romans,
or the Gospel of Mark, or the Psalms, or many other parts of the Bible; yet we
acknowledge that this is Your word, and that it is a lamp to our feet and a
light to our way. So surprise us with Your truth, guide us by Your Holy Spirit
that we might understand and live in accordance with Your word. We ask it in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let’s begin by reading the first section of this
passage, and because it’s a long passage, let’s read each of the three sections
discretely, that we can remember better what is being said in each of these
sections.

Beginning in verse 23 – this is God’s word.

“The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is
Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me. Thus for every piece of
your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land. If a
fellow-countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property,
then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold. Or
in case a man has no kinsman, but so recovers his means as to find sufficient
for its redemption, then he shall calculate the years since its sale and refund
the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and so return to this property. But
if he has not found sufficient means to get it back for himself, then what he
has sold shall remain in the hands of its purchaser until the year of jubilee;
but at the jubilee it shall revert, that he may return to his property.”

Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and
inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.

I. All the land is God’s land.

Let’s look at this section of the chapter
together. The law is basically this: in Israel the land could not be permanently
alienated from its original owner. If a person fell into poverty and lost his
field or his property, there had to be opportunities to return that land to the
original owner. It could be bought back by the person simply coming upon better
economic fortunes and thus enabled to buy it back at a reasonable price
according to these instructions from the person to whom he had sold it. It
could be bought by a kinsman redeemer, someone who came and bought the land so
that the sale did not have to go through to someone outside the family. Or, at
that fifty year jubilee, at the seventh of the seven Sabbath years, the land
would automatically revert, according to the law of Moses, to those who had
originally owned it.

Now, you may be asking ‘Why would this be a law that
God would give in Israel?’ Some Old Testament scholars have looked at this and
seen here the basis of communism. Well, this is basically a plan of income
redistribution, or forced economic caps to keep everyone at the same economic
level. I’m a bit suspicious of that kind of exegesis of these passages,
especially since God tells you in verse 23 why He did it. Listen to it again.
“The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine.” Why
is it that God wants the land to stay with the original families that received
it? “Because the land is Mine.” He wants to impress upon the children of
Israel that everything that they have is simply a grant from Him; that the land
belongs to Him, and they are simply sojourners — resident aliens benefiting from
His gift to them. And so this law is designed to impress upon them (and we’ve
seen this…we saw it last week, and we’ve seen it several other times in the
Book of Leviticus) that all the land is God’s and we are pilgrims and stewards.
We’re pilgrims here. This land is ultimately not our final home, and everything
that we have from God we have as a stewardship.

It’s very interesting that Israel was not the only
culture where this was the view: – that the land did not belong to the people.
In Medieval feudalism in Europe in the Middle Ages, the idea was that all of the
land belonged to the overlord, the king, the sovereign, and that it was the
sovereign who dispensed the right of land. You who trace your lineage way back
into the early histories of the American Colonies may well have in the
possession of your family records a land grant to your family from King George
or French or Spanish kings who laid claim to this land and dispersed the land.
The idea behind that was that the land ultimately belonged to the king. It was
his to disperse.

Interestingly, this was also a practice in Japan
during a roughly similar period, where all the land was thought to belong to the
Emperor and through him administrated by the Shogun, and all the people who held
land simply held it in trust for the Emperor through his administrator, the
Shogun.

Well, in Israel here’s the idea: all the land
belongs to God, and therefore it teaches the children of Israel that they are
stewards of what they have from God, and they are pilgrims in this
world…aliens and sojourners with them.

But there are also other lessons to be learned from
this passage as well. Think of it, for instance…these children of Israel are
receiving these laws at Mount Sinai from God through Moses. What had just
happened to them? They had been…what?…out of Egypt? They had been saved. In
specifics, they had been redeemed out of Egypt. These laws beautifully served to
reinforce on a regular basis in the life of Israel living illustrations of what
redemption meant.

A man becomes poor; he becomes indebted; he becomes
financially unsound or impoverished; he loses the ability to maintain his own
property. That property is sold in order to satisfy what he owes. And then,
someone else comes along — a kinsman redeemer — and buys back that land for
him. Now, the children of Israel (we have been told over and over in Exodus and
in Leviticus) had been redeemed by God out of Egypt. They had been bought back
out of Egypt. They had been lost in bondage and in slavery. And so even as those
who had lost their property through impoverishment had, as it were, entered into
a type of bondage and were redeemed out of that bondage either by improved
economic fortunes or by a kinsman who would buy the property back, or by God
Himself simply providing the jubilee year, saw on a regular basis in Israel’s
history in its normal economic transactions frequent illustrations of what it
meant to be redeemed, to be bought back.

Now, that of course would play a significant role
even in the history of Israel; for instance, in the days of Ruth and Boaz, where
Boaz would serve as a kinsman redeemer for the family, for the remnant of the
family of Naomi. And so we have this beautiful picture of the Lord restoring
and buying back. Well, that was a picture that was played out over and over in
the normal course of life in Israel. And see how beautifully that prepared them
to understand redemption in the New Testament? In the New Testament, the
Apostle Paul will tell us — what? — “…the wages of sin is death.” And so our
sin brings about an impoverishment. We become enslaved to that sin, and the
consequence of that sin is death. But what does God do? Through the free gift of
His Son Jesus Christ, He redeems us. He buys us back.

In this case it is not simply financial
impoverishment that we face: it is the ultimate spiritual impoverishment of
death and condemnation, but we are bought out of that death and condemnation by
the work of Jesus Christ, and this particular passage is one of the passages
that would have prepared the children of Israel, because of their regular
economic experience, to understand the beauties of what God was doing through
Jesus Christ when He bought us back from the wages due to us and from the
spiritual impoverishment into which we have fallen by our own choice and by our
own rebellion.

And so in this passage we are not only reminded that
everything — once again, everything that we have — comes from God, and we’re
pilgrims and stewards just like the children of Israel, but we are given a
beautiful picture of redemption in this passage, through this regular process
that was to be instituted in the life of Israel.

Now I should probably say something in passing, and
that is simply this: as far as we know, these laws were not faithfully followed
in Israel outside the time of Moses; and we do know that the prophets themselves
brought charges against the children of Israel that they were not faithful to
keep them. You remember the prophet saying, “Woe to you who add field to field.”
What’s the idea behind that? They’re not following the law set up here in
Leviticus 25; but, even though these laws were not followed faithfully as they
ought, nevertheless there were examples throughout the Old Testament (such as
from the Book of Ruth) when this law of kinsman redemption was put into place
and was illustrated for the people of God.

So there’s the first section: All the land is God’s,
and we are pilgrims and stewards — and what a glorious picture this is to
prepare us to understand what Jesus Christ does on the cross! In His death He
pays the price to redeem us out of the spiritual impoverishment and just
judgment that we have plunged ourselves into deliberately, not simply by an
inadvertent economic disaster, but by our own willful rebellion. What a
beautiful picture that is of being saved out of impoverishment without any
contribution of our own! Our Kinsman Redeemer redeems us back. God buys back
for Himself what is His own.

II. God makes an exception for
the Levites.

Secondly, let’s look at verses 29-34, and
hear God’s word.

“Likewise, if a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, then
his redemption right remains valid until a full year from its sale; his right of
redemption lasts a full year. But if it is not bought back for him within the
space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city passes
permanently to its purchaser through his generations. It does not revert in the
jubilee. The houses of the villages, however, which have no surrounding wall,
shall be considered as open fields; they have redemption rights and revert in
the jubilee. As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites have a permanent
right of redemption for the houses of the cities which are their possession.
What, therefore, belongs to the Levites may be redeemed and a house sale in the
city of this possession reverts in the jubilee, for the houses of the Levites
are their possession among the sons of Israel. But the pasture fields of their
cities shall not be sold, for that is their perpetual possession.”

Now again, in this passage the laws of redemption
and jubilee are said not to apply to houses in walled cities, except for the
Levites’ houses, which are a special case. What is being taught here?

Practically speaking, one thing that may be
indicated is that the open field houses indicate a house and field from which
the owner drew in crops which contributed to the sustentation of his family,
whereas the houses in walled cities were not part of fields that would have been
producing things to eat and to feed the family. And so perhaps some distinction
was being made between these for economic purposes, but the thing I want to draw
your attention to is that even though these houses in walled cities can be sold
and not revert to the original owner, the exception in this case is the Levites.
God is making a permanent provision for the Levites. Their fields can’t be sold
at all — God has given those to them — and their houses, if they are sold,
unlike the other houses in the walled cities, always revert to the Levites in
the year of jubilee. God, in other words, is dealing magnanimously and
generously with His servants, and in that same way is teaching us to deal
magnanimously and generously with His servants.

III. God’s people belong
permanently to the Lord.

Then look at the third portion of this
chapter. If we look at verse 35, we read:

“Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with
regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a
sojourner, that he may live with you. Do not take usurious interest from him,
but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give
him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain. 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.

“If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he
sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. He shall
be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner with you, until the year
of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall
go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers.
For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not
to be sold in a slave sale. You shall not rule over him with severity, but you
are to revere your God. As for your male and female slaves whom you may have —
you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around
you. Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens
among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with
you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your
possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a
possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your
countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one
another.

“Now if the means of a stranger or a sojourner with you becomes
sufficient, and a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to him as to
sell himself to a stranger who is sojourning with you, or to the descendants of
a stranger’s family, then he shall have redemption right after he has been
sold. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may
redeem him, or one of his blood relatives from his family may redeem him; or if
he prospers, he may redeem himself. He then with his purchaser shall calculate
from the year when he sold himself to him up to the year of jubilee; and the
price of his sale shall correspond to the number of years. It is like the days
of a hired man that he shall be with him. If there are still many years, he
shall refund part of his purchase price in proportion to them for his own
redemption; and if few years remain until the year of jubilee, he shall so
calculate with him. In proportion to his years he is to refund the amount for
his redemption. Like a man hired year by year he shall be with him; he shall
not rule over him with severity in your sight. Even if he is not redeemed by
these means, he shall still go out in the year of jubilee, he and his sons with
him. For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought
out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Now this is a complex passage and raises many
questions, but the basic point is very clear: in Israel even those forced into
servitude by extreme poverty were to be treated justly and they were not to be
permanent slaves. They were to be released from their obligations in the year of
jubilee, and they were always eligible to be bought out of their slavery, either
by themselves or by a kinsman redeemer. And the principle is repeated on
numerous occasions. Did you notice, for instance, in verse 55 — why is this law
to be kept?

“For the sons of Israel are My servants; they are My servants whom I brought out
of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

The idea is this: God’s servants cannot belong
permanently to another master. Jesus, of course, said “No man can serve two
masters.” And the Apostle Paul, you remember, speaking to freed slaves,
encouraged them not to become slaves again, that they might more freely serve
their Master. And so in this passage the principle is this: God’s people are
His servants, and it is best that they be free to serve Him.

But clearly, throughout this passage one of the
things that is being stressed is the privilege of being part of the people of
God. Verses 44-46, in which the laws pertaining to permanent slavery of
non-Israelites here are primarily there to illustrate to the Israelites the
privilege that they have as being part of the people of God. They are always
eligible for redemption out of servitude through either the kinsman redeemer or
through their own proceeds, if they have indeed come out of their impoverishment
through their work.

Furthermore, they are to be treated rightly. They
are to be treated, even in indentured servitude, as hired men. They are to be
treated with dignity. Over and over in this passage we see first the recognition
of God’s ownership of everything, and, secondly, His sovereignty and lordship
over His people. And this is to lead the children of Israel first of all to be
magnanimous and compassionate in the way that they treat the poor and destitute
amongst their own people. Over and over in this passage, laws are set in place
which are designed to look out for the best interests of those who are poor and
destitute. The reminder is that if God cares for the Levites, and if God cares
for the poor, and if everything belongs to God, then God’s people also should be
magnanimous and compassionate in their treatment of the poor and the destitute.

But again, this passage also emphasizes that we are
first and foremost to be servants of God, and we’re to do nothing in regard to
either adding land to land so that we become fixed upon serving ourselves, nor
are we to do something in terms of a permanent servitude to another that would
keep us from giving our whole service to the living God, because He owns
everything and He is the Master who redeemed us out of the land of Egypt.

We ourselves face the same kind of struggles and
temptations in this world: the desire to acquire much can occupy the attention
of a professing Christian, so that that Christian, rather than serving God,
serves things. That’s why Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and things.” And so
we should not enslave ourselves to things.

On the other hand, our very manifestation of the
heart of God is going to show itself in our concern for those who are less
fortunate in our midst, especially fellow Christians. And in this passage, these
laws are made especially for the children of Israel — although I hasten to say
that you’ll remember that Leviticus 17-18 and Exodus 21-24 has even made laws
pertaining to non-Israelites and to slaves for their fair treatment, but this
passage stresses especially that the people of God should look out for those who
are amongst the people of God who are in need, who are destitute, who are in
extreme poverty. And so our compassion ought to be a reflection of God’s
compassion to us. He redeemed us out of slavery, and so we have a heart for
caring for those among us who are less fortunate.

Let’s look to God in prayer and thank Him for His
word.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the truth
of Your word, and we recognize that even though these laws may be obscure, and
though they are not like anything that has been practiced in our land for many,
many years, yet the principles which you set forth here still pertain to us.
Everything belongs to You; we are Your servants; and You call upon us to treat
our fellow believers with kindness and compassion, and to look out for those who
are poor and destitute and in extreme poverty. We ask, O God, that You would
give us Your heart in our dealings, that the way that we deal with one another
would honor You, would be a witness to Your grace, and would encourage those who
are in need. We ask that You would go with us this night to our homes, that You
would bless and keep us, that You would forgive us, and that You would grow us
in grace, all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Would you stand for God’s blessing.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the
Father and our Lord Jesus the Christ. Amen.

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