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The Sabbatical Year


The L ord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the L ord. 3Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the L ord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. 6You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; 7for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

The Year of Jubilee

8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. 14When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another. 15When you buy from your neighbor, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years. 16If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. 17You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the L ord your God.

18 You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. 19The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely. 20Should you ask, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?” 21I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop for three years. 22When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the old crop; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old. 23The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. 24Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.

25 If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. 26If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, 27the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. 28But if there are not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned.

29 If anyone sells a dwelling house in a walled city, it may be redeemed until a year has elapsed since its sale; the right of redemption shall be one year. 30If it is not redeemed before a full year has elapsed, a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31But houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. 32As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites shall forever have the right of redemption of the houses in the cities belonging to them. 33Such property as may be redeemed from the Levites—houses sold in a city belonging to them—shall be released in the jubilee; because the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34But the open land around their cities may not be sold; for that is their possession for all time.

35 If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. 36Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. 37You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. 38I am the L ord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.

39 If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. 40They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. 42For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. 43You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. 44As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.

47 If resident aliens among you prosper, and if any of your kin fall into difficulty with one of them and sell themselves to an alien, or to a branch of the alien’s family, 48after they have sold themselves they shall have the right of redemption; one of their brothers may redeem them, 49or their uncle or their uncle’s son may redeem them, or anyone of their family who is of their own flesh may redeem them; or if they prosper they may redeem themselves. 50They shall compute with the purchaser the total from the year when they sold themselves to the alien until the jubilee year; the price of the sale shall be applied to the number of years: the time they were with the owner shall be rated as the time of a hired laborer. 51If many years remain, they shall pay for their redemption in proportion to the purchase price; 52and if few years remain until the jubilee year, they shall compute thus: according to the years involved they shall make payment for their redemption. 53As a laborer hired by the year they shall be under the alien’s authority, who shall not, however, rule with harshness over them in your sight. 54And if they have not been redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children with them shall go free in the jubilee year. 55For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the L ord your God.

29. And if a man sell a dwelling-house. He here distinguishes houses from lands, providing that the power of redemption should not extend beyond a year; and also, that the purchase should hold good even in the jubilee. A second distinction, however, is also added between different kinds of houses, viz., that houses in towns might be altogether alienated, whilst the condition of those in the country should be the same as that of the lands themselves, as being annexed so as to form part of them. As regarded houses fix towns, because they were sometimes burdensome to their owners, it was an advantage that they might pass into the hands of the rich who were competent to bear the expenses of building. Besides, a house does not supply daily food like a field, and it is more tolerable to be without a house than a field, in which you may work, and from the cultivation of which you may support yourself and family. But it was necessary to except houses in the country, because they were appendages to the land; for what use would there be in harvesting the fruits, if you had no place to store them in? Nay, what would it profit to possess a farm which you could not cultivate? for how could oxen plough without any stalls in its vicinity? Since, then, lands without farm-buildings or cottages are almost useless, and they cannot be conveniently separated, justly did God appoint that, in the year of Jubilee, every rural possession should revert to its former owner.

32. Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites. Another exception, that the Levites should recover the houses they had sold, either by the right of redemption, or gratuitously in the year of jubilee. And this is not only appointed out of favor to them, but because it concerned the whole people, that they should be posted like sentries in the place which God had assigned to them. As to the suburbs, or the lands destined for the support of their cattle, God forbids their alienation, because thus they would have forsaken their proper station and removed elsewhere; whereas it was of importance to the whole people that such a dispersion should not occur.

39. And if thy brother. He now proceeds further, i e., that one who has bought his brother should treat him with humanity, and not otherwise than a hired servant. We have seen, indeed, just above, that the labor of a slave is estimated at twice as much, because the humanity of his master will never go so far as to indulge or spare his slave as if he were a hireling. It is not, therefore, without reason that God puts a restraint upon that rule, which experience shows to have been often tyrannical. Still He prescribes no more than heathen philosophers did, 150150     Seneca de Benef. 3:22. “Servus (ut placet Chrysippo) perpetuus mercenarius est.” See also Sen. Epp. 6:47, in which the following beautiful sentiment occurs: “Haec tamen mei praecepti summa est, Sic cum inferiore vivas, quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere.” viz., that masters should treat their slaves like hired servants. And this principle of justice ought to prevail towards all without exception; but since it was difficult to prescribe the same rule respecting strangers as respecting their brethren, a special law is enacted, that at least they should observe moderation towards their brethren, with whom they had a common inheritance and condition. First:. therefore, it is provided as to Hebrew slaves that they should not be treated harshly and contemptuously like captives (mancipia;) and then that their slavery should come to an end in the year of jubilee. But here the question arises, since their liberty was before accorded to them in the, seventh year, why it is now postponed to the fiftieth? Some get over the difficulty by supposing that 151151     So the Hebrew doctors, and Ainsworth, Caietan, and Willet. Michaelis supposes that servants were regularly restored to freedom after six years’ service, (not on the Sabbatical year, but on the seventh from the sale;) but supposing them bought less than six years before the jubilee, they received their freedom on that year. Laws of Moses, vol. 2 p. 176. — Brightwell. if the jubilee occurred during the six years, they must then be set free, although they had not completed the whole term; but this is too forced a conjecture. The view that most approves itself to me is, that the word יבל, yobel, is extended to mean every seventh year, or, at any rate, that moderation towards those slaves is specially prescribed who were most exposed to violence and other injurious treatment. For they would not have dared to oppress at pleasure their slaves, who were soon afterwards to be free; but those who, by having their ears bored, had subjected themselves to the longer period of slavery, would have been more outrageously harassed, unless God had interposed. And this opinion I freely adopt, that although their slavery lasted to the jubilee, yet flint their masters were to treat them with moderation and humanity. This too is confirmed by what immediately follows, where it is enjoined that the children should be set free with their fathers, which did not take place in the seventh year.

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