Study Guide

Leviticus Chapter 25

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Chapter 25

The Jubilee Jive

  • Leviticus closes with another three chapter Mt. Sinai or Tabernacle structure, focusing squarely on contract, exchange, and collective responsibility.
  • Chapter 25 sets out instructions pertaining to such matters as property, household management, and provision for the disadvantaged.
  • Chapter 26 is the summary of divine covenant in the traditional form of blessings and curses found in Near Eastern pacts.
  • Chapter 27 elaborates upon people and property pledged to God through the priests and the Levites.

Bono Meets the Bible

  • Chapter 25 starts with a subtle reminder that the best path toward abundance is not to try to exert total control.
  • The Israelites are to work the land for six years and let it rest for the seventh.
  • The year after the seventh such sabbatical is the Jubilee, Israel's reset button for people and property. One advantage of this approach is that the Israelites could stop trying to make time go backwards by running really fast.
  • Every fifty years, most real estate purchased over the previous forty-nine years is returned to its original owner. This helps prevent the rise of an Israelite Donald Trump and reality plays about firing bondservants.
  • Slaves also go free, a feature that centuries later does not go unnoticed by opponents of slavery in the U.S.
  • In one blow, the Jubilee tries to rollback the concentration of property in a small number of wealthy landowners, which is one reason why archaeologists have never found evidence of an Occupy Canaan.
  • However, the legal framework also reflects a growing split between traditionally agricultural society and the shift toward urbanism. While the Jubilee mandates returning land outside walled cities to its original owners, owners of property in cities can keep theirs indefinitely.
  • Leviticus 25:10 summarizes the Jubilee in words that have come to represent concepts of freedom beyond their original focus: "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you: and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family."
  • If it sounds familiar, that might be because "Proclaim liberty through the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" is on the Liberty Bell.

The Fairest Deals of the Land

  • The rest of the chapter provides a range of rules to maintain proportional dealing and to provide for the poor.
  • Property purchased between Jubilees has its price adjusted to reflect the remaining years until the next one.
  • The poor and foreigners (strangers and travelers) are often linked because, like the poor, the foreigners in question do not own land.
  • Israelite landowners cannot use their stronger financial position to exploit poor Israelites. Israelite cannot enslave Israelite, nor can an Israelite exploit his employees. Moreover, an Israelite cannot charge interest to or profit off of a poor Israelite.
  • The reason for such rules, as before in Leviticus, is the relation between God and Israel: "For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God" (25:55).

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