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Leviticus 25:39-55; Jubilee – Redemption of Slaves

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.”

1-22 rest for land; Sabbath year and Jubilee

23-38 redemption or release of land

39-55 redemption or release of people

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

Leviticus 25:39 “If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

The slavery introduced here was never meant to be. God promises in Deuteronomy 15 that:

Deuteronomy 15:4 But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— 5 if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you. 7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.

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:

Leviticus 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 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.

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.

Exodus 1:13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

Exodus 2:23 …the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.

Exodus 6:9 …they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

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.

Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

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.

Deuteronomy 15:16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same.

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.

Ultimate Ownership

Leviticus 25:40 …He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God.

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.

Leviticus 25:44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. 45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

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,

Joshua 9:24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.

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 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to 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:

Deuteronomy 28:68 And the LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

This is not what God intended for his people. But this is the consequences for refusing God’s good authority.

Leviticus 25:47 “If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, 48 then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself.

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.

Leviticus 25:50 He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. 51 If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. 52 If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. 53 He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. 54 And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee.

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.

God’s Possession

In the closing verse of this chapter, God again reminds us of his rights over his people.

Leviticus 25:55 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.

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.

Application

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.

Matthew 18:23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

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,

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave 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:

Luke 4:18

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [cf. Isaiah 61:1-2]

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,

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

In Colossians 2,

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

From the cross, before he gave up his spirit Jesus declared ‘It is finished’; [τετελεσται] ‘the debt has been paid in full’ (Jn.19:30).

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation. Now we wait…

Titus 2:13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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April 10, 2017 - Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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