THE PENTATEUCH PART III: LEVITICUS
Lesson 12: Chapters 24-25
The Instructions for the Holy Place, Death Penalty Cases and
the Holy Year Feasts

God of Righteous Justice,
In the Old Covenant commands for observing the holy Sabbatical and Jubilee Years, You called on Your covenant people to show the same kind of mercy and kindness to each other that You demonstrated to them in their liberation from slavery in Egypt and in the gift of the Promised Land.  In the New Covenant Law that Jesus presented in the Sermon on the Mount, He called every New Covenant believer to a higher, more spiritual expression of love in extending to our neighbors, the strangers we meet, and even to our enemies the same kind of love and mercy that we encounter in our relationship with Him.  It is a spiritual art of living that we are incapable of fulfilling on our own—our love must be generated by a spiritual love that wells up from the indwelling presence and sanctification of the Holy Spirit.  Sanctify our works and deeds, Lord, that are the fruit of a life lived in the Spirit, and may we not forget our commitment to demonstrating love and charity as the Israelites forgot theirs.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The Old covenant had its loaves of proposition, but they, as belonging to that covenant, have come to an end.  The New Covenant has its heavenly bread and cup of salvation to sanctify both body and soul.  For as the bread is for the body, the Word suits the soul.
St. Cyril Bishop of Jerusalem (315-385) Catechetical Lecture 4.5

You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name.
The Decalogue, Exodus 20:7

Chapter 24: Instruction for the Holy Place and Death Penalty Offenses

On the surface, there does not appear to be any specific order to this next chapter, but the links to the number seven continue even when the chapter itself seems strangely disjointed.  Chapter 24 is a short collection of various religious laws and civil laws governing blasphemy and other crimes in which innocent life is taken or injury occurs.  This section also includes a restatement of lex talionis, the “law of retaliation,” a concept previously introduced in the Book of the Covenant (Ex 21:23-25) and which will be addressed again in the Deuteronomic Code (Dt 19:21).  The chapter begins with commands concerning two continual offerings in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle.  The next section deals with a case resulting in a death penalty judgment for a man who blasphemed God’s name, followed by a list of five laws pertaining to death or violence.  The section ends with the execution of the man who was guilty of blaspheming God’s divine name.  Yahweh’s divine name is used seven times in the first section (vs. 1-9) and five times in the second section with two references to “the Name,” Ha-Shem (clearly a reference to the use of Yahweh) for another pattern of sevens (vs. 10-23).(1)

Two permanent commands for maintaining the Holy Place

(YHWH used seven times)

vs. 1-9
A case of blaspheming God’s Name

vs. 10-14
Five laws

vs. 16-22
The man who blasphemed God is executed

vs. 23
(YHWH plus references to the divine Name used seven times)
ß     seven laws     à
M. Hunt © copyright 2010

Please read Leviticus 24:1-4: The Menorah’s Perpetual Flame

Law #1: 1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 2 ‘Order the Israelites to bring you crushed-olive oil for the lamp-stand, and keep a flame burning there continually.  3 Aaron will keep it permanently in trim from evening to morning, outside the curtain of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, before Yahweh.  This is a perpetual decree for your descendants:  4 Aaron will keep the lamps permanently trimmed on the pure lamp-stand before Yahweh.

Notice the progression of the day from sundown to the daylight hours.  The instructions for creating the lamp-stand were given in Exodus 25:31-40 and the instructions for the olive oil to fuel the lamp were given in Exodus 27:20-21.  The lamp-stand had seven braches and seven lamps that sat atop the seven branches.  Seven is the number of perfection and fullness, especially spiritual perfection.  The lamp-stand symbolized the presence of God within the Tabernacle.

Question: Where was the Menorah lamp-stand located? See Exodus 40:24.
Answer: On the south side of the Holy of Holies across from the golden table of the Bread of the Presence.

The solid gold lamp-stand illuminated the darkness of the Holy Place.  In the Hebrew text the term used for the curtain that covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies is parokhet ha-‘edut, which the JPS Commentary translates as “the curtain of [the Ark of] the Pact,” referring to the covenant documents of the Ten Commandments that were kept inside the Ark of the Covenant behind the curtain that covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies (page 164).

Question: In Catholic churches how is God’s presence in the Sanctuary Tabernacle signified?
Answer: By a permanently burning candle/oil lamp.

Please read Leviticus 24:5-9: The Permanent Offering of the Loaves of the Presence

Law #2: 5 You will take wheaten flour and with it bake twelve loaves, each of two-tenths of a ephah.  6 You will then place them in two rows of six on the pure table before Yahweh 7 and put pure incense on each row, to make it food offered as a memorial, food burnt for Yahweh.  8 Every Sabbath they will be arranged before Yahweh.  The Israelites will provide them as a permanent covenant.  9 They will belong to Aaron and his sons, who will eat them inside the holy place since, for him, they are an especially holy part of the food burnt for Yahweh.  This is a permanent law.

The twelve loaves are known as the “Bread of the Presence (lechem ha-panim) or the “Bread of Permanent” display (lechem ha-tamid) and were to be placed on the golden table across from the lamp-stand on the north side of the Holy Place (Ex 40:22).  They were a symbolic offering, displayed but not sacrificed. (3)  They represented the twelve tribes of Israel in the presence of Yahweh enthroned in their midst in the Holy of Holies above the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant.  The JPS Commentary identifies the bread as made of leavened dough (page 165).  The bread remained on the table for a week from Sabbath to Sabbath, and thus infused by holiness in close in proximity to God, the loaves were not to be consumed by the laity but only by anointed priests in a state of ritual purity.(2)  The amount of flour for each loaf was two-tenths of an ephah, or about 2.2 liters. Frankincense was sprinkled on the top loaf in each row but it was removed and burned when the bread was eaten each Sabbath.  While it was the practice of pagans to make bread offerings to their gods, the Tabernacle bread offering was renewed weekly unlike pagan bread offerings that were renewed daily (JPS Commentary: Leviticus,  page 43, 165; Mishnah: Menahot 5:1, 7:1.).

Please read Leviticus 24:10-14: A Case of Blasphemy against the Divine Name

10 There was a man whose mother was an Israelite woman and whose father was an Egyptian.  He came out of his house and, in the camp, surrounded by the Israelites he began to quarrel with a man who was an Israelite.  11 Now the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name and cursed it. He was then taken to Moses (his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan).  12 He was then put under guard until Yahweh’s will should be made clear to them. 

This brief narrative provides "case law" as example for the application of the death penalty for blaspheming God’s name (Ex 20:7; Lev 19:12; Dt 5:11).  The narrative describes an altercation between an Israelite of mixed parentage and a full-blooded Israelite.  The details of the narrative include the name of the man’s Israelite mother and grandfather who were from the tribe of Dan, perhaps emphasizing that this was a specific incident involving people known within the community.  The man’s name is not mentioned because part of the penalty for his crime against God is that his name was not to be remembered among the covenant people.  In the heated exchange the half-Israelite man cursed the divine Name of God, in Hebrew ha-Shem. (4)   This was a clear violation of the Law as stated in the Book of the Covenant (Ex 22:27), but it must have been a death penalty offense long before the Sinai Covenant since Job’s wife urged him to end his life by cursing the name of God (Job 2:9).

Question: Can you name three men in Scripture who were falsely accused of blaspheming God?  See 1 Kings 21:8-16; Matthew 25:59-65 and Acts 7:55-58.
Answer: Naboth, Jesus of Nazareth and the deacon St. Stephen were all falsely executed for blasphemy and were executed.

Question: What did the Israelites do with the man who had publically cursed the Name of God?
Answer: He was imprisoned until they could determine God’s will in the matter.

Please read Leviticus 24:15-23: Death Penalty Cases, Other Offenses and the Conclusion

13 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 14 ‘Take the man who pronounced the curse outside the camp.  All those who hear him must then lay their hands on his head, and the whole community most then stone him. 

Question: Why were the witnesses to lay hands on the man’s head before the execution?  See Leviticus 4:13-15 and 16:21.
Answer: To lay hands upon the condemned person was like laying hands on a sacrificial animal.  The defilement of the community caused by the man’s sin will be transferred solely to the life of the condemned man and the community will be cleansed by his just execution.

15 Then say to the Israelites:

Law #4: 16 “Anyone who curses his God will bear the consequences of his sin, and anyone who blasphemes the name of Yahweh will be put to death; the whole community will stone him; be he alien or native-born, if he blasphemes the Name, he will be put to death.

“The Name” refers to “Yahweh,” God’s holy covenant name. The Tanach reads “anyone who pronounces the Name will be put to death,” but this translation is not found in the Septuagint nor among the passages from Leviticus from among the Dead Sea Scrolls, all of which date prior to 68 AD.

Law #5: 17 Anyone who strikes down any other human being, will be put to death.

The death penalty for homicide was first pronounced after the Flood in Genesis 9:5.

Law #6: 18 Anyone who strikes down an animal will make restitution for it: a life for a life.

Law #7: 19 Anyone who injures a neighbor shall receive the same in return, 20 broken limb for broken limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. 

These same topics of homicide, personal injury cases and the law of reciprocity, known by the Latin term Lex Talionis, were discussed in the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 21:12-36 (also see the law of reciprocity mentioned in the Deuteronomic Code in Dt 19:21).  The law of reciprocity was meant to be social and not individual, limiting excessive vengeance.  It is a law that is meant to limit the vengeance that can be taken against an individual or his family and clan, and it was not intended to be applied literally. The punishment must be equal to the crime.  Lex Talionis is also found in the Code of Hammurabi and in the Assyrian laws. 

Summary: As the injury inflicted, so will be the injury suffered.  21 Whoever strikes down an animal will make restitution for it, and whoever strikes down a human being will be put to death.  22 The sentence you pass will be the same, whether on native-born or on alien; for I am Yahweh your God.”’

The court of elders who heard the evidence presented by witnesses were the ones who were responsible for deciding what is equal and fair in the way of compensation for personal injury or loss of property, or in deciding if the evidence warranted the death penalty according to the Law.  The individual or the family that was wronged was not permitted take justice into their own hands by committing acts of vengeance against the perpetrator’s family, and the same laws for Israelites also applied to resident aliens.

Conclusion: 23 Moses having told the Israelites this, they took the man who had pronounced the curse out of the camp and stoned him.  And so the Israelites carried out Yahweh’s order to Moses.

Question: What was the procedure for condemning someone to death under the Law?  See Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy17:6-7 and 19:15-21.
Answer:

  1. In a case of homicide or in any other death penalty case, a death sentence can only be passed on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
  2. A single witness is not enough to sustain capital punishment.
  3. The witnesses must cast the first stones.
  4. A court of priests and judges (elders) will hear the cases and make a fair and equitable decision based on the testimony of witnesses and the severity of the crime.
  5. Crimes within the community were crimes against the entire community, and in executing a criminal the community acted as one entity in stoning the condemned individual.

Any crime within the community defiled the whole community, especially the shedding of innocent blood.  In such cases, especially for cases of homicide where the perpetrator of the crime is unknown, the people were commanded to make this prayer: O Yahweh, forgive your people Israel whom you have redeemed, and let no innocent blood be shed among your people whom you have redeemed, and let no innocent blood be shed among your people Israel.  May this bloodshed be forgiven them! (Dt 21:8).

The community of Israel, defiled by the man’s curse against God, and acting as a single person, equally bearing the burden of acting as executioners, carried out the sentence of death by stoning the man and thereby cleansing the community of the man’s guilt.  The hands of the witnesses would have been laid upon the man at the sentencing, just as hands are imposed on an animal being sacrificed for the entire community (Lev 4:13-15), and the witnesses to his cursing would cast the first stones.  The public execution of the man condemned after the testimony of witnesses is highlighted against Law #5 which is willful murder by an individual. 

Chapter 25: The Ordained Holy Years

For six years you will sow your land and gather its produce, but in the seventh year you will let it lie fallow and forgo all produce from it, so that those of your people who are poor can take food from it and the wild animals eat what they have left. You will do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
Exodus 23:10-12

You will count seven weeks of years—seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years.  And on the tenth day of the seventh month you will sound the trumpet-call; on the Day of Expiation you will sound the trumpet throughout the land … This fiftieth year will be a jubilee year for you; in it you will not sow, you will not harvest the grain that has come up on its own or in it gather grapes from your untrimmed vine.  The jubilee will be a holy thing for you; during it you will eat whatever the fields produce. 
Leviticus 25:8-9, 11-12

The Sabbath and Jubilee years were to be celebrated as “years of liberation” in memory of the Exodus liberation and the liberation of the Promised Land from Canaanite occupation.  There were three themes associated with the observance of the holy years:

  1. The Israelites were expected to show the same mercy to each other that God had showed to them. 
  2. They were to be reminded that the Holy Land did not belong to them.  The land belonged to Yahweh and He permitted them to work and serve Him just as Adam was commanded to work and serve Him in the holy land that was Eden (Gen 2:15-16).
  3. They were to trust God to provide for them just as they had to trust Him to provide enough manna to last for every seventh day Sabbath rest during the forty wilderness years, and as Adam and Eve had trusted God to provide food for them in Eden.

The Liberation of the Sabbath and Jubilee years

The Sabbath Year Liberation

(every seventh year is a Sabbath Year)
Ex 23:10-13;
Lev 25:1-7; 18-22;
Dt 15:1-11
The Jubilee Liberation

(the year after every seventh Sabbath year is a Jubilee Year)
Lev 25:8-17; 28-55; Dt 15:1-11
For six years fields will be sown but in the seventh year the fields and vineyards will not be sown (Ex 25:3-4) The year after the seventh Sabbatical Year, in the fiftieth year beginning on the tenth of Tishri (Feast of Atonement) the land will continue to rest for a second year  (Lev 25:8)
The fields are to lie fallow, no seed is to be sown, no vineyards pruned for a year and there will be no organized harvest; it is a year of rest for the land (Lev 25:4-5) The fields are to lie fallow, no seed will be sown, no vineyard pruned and there will be no organized harvest for a second year (Lev 25:11, 21-22)
Any crops that grow naturally will be food for the Israelites and their animals (Lev 25:6-7) Any crops that grow naturally will be food for the Israelites and their animals (Lev 25:12)
The poor and wild animals will be permitted to eat from the fields; extend mercy to the poor (Lev 25:7; Dt 15:7-11) The poor and wild animals will be permitted to eat from the fields; extend mercy to the poor (Dt 15:7-11)
At the end of the seventh year all Israelite debts remitted (Dt 15:1-2, 12-18) At the end of the seventh seven year, in the beginning of the year of Jubilee, all Israelite debts remitted (Dt 15:1-2)
The land will rest in the seventh year but in the eighth year grain may be sown (Lev 25:21-22) For two years the land will rest and in the third year crops can be sown and harvested (Lev 25:22)
  There is to be redemption of the land; the land must be returned to the original Israelite owner/tribe.  The land belongs to God and can never be sold (Lev 25:10-13, 23-34)
  Trumpets are to be blown throughout the land and the fiftieth year will be proclaimed a year of liberation (Lev 25:9-10)
  All Israelite slaves and their children will be freed (Lev 25:35-46); an Israelite can only be enslaved for a seven year period outside of a Jubilee year (Ex 21:2; Dt 15:12-18)*
God will provide for Israel in the year the land lies fallow by giving the land abundant harvests in the sixth year, the produce of which will last for three years into the eighth (Lev 25:18-22a)

God will provide for Israel in the years the land lies fallow by giving the land abundant harvests in the sixth year, the produce of which will last for three years into the eighth year and even the ninth (Lev 25:18-22)

M. Hunt © copyright 2010

*The liberation of Israelites slaves/indentured servants only applied in a Sabbath year if the bondage began seven years earlier; an Israelite was never to be keep in servitude beyond six years and all Israelites were freed from bondage in a Jubilee year (Ex 21:1-11; Lev 25:46b).

Please read Leviticus 25:1-7: Instructions for the Sabbatical Year
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and said: 2 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you enter the country which I am giving you, the land must keep a Sabbath’s rest for Yahweh.  3 For six years you will sow your fields, for six years you will prune your vineyard and gather its produce.  4 But in the seventh year the land will have a sabbatical rest, a Sabbath for Yahweh.  You will neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard, 5 nor reap any grain which has grown of its own accord, nor gather the grapes from your untrimmed vine.  6 It will be a year of rest for the land.  But what the land produces in its Sabbath will serve to feed you, your slave, male and female, your employee and your guest residing with you; 7 for your cattle too, and the wild animals of your country, whatever it produces will serve as food.’

Question: When did Yahweh give Moses the divine instructions for keeping the Sabbath year of rest and the Jubilee holy year of rest and liberation?  See Exodus 20:18-21; 21:1; 23:10-12.
Answer: The instructions were first given when Moses was on Mount Sinai prior to covenant ratification.

The key word in this passage is “rest.”  Every seventh year in the Promised Land was to be designated a Sabbath year of the Lord in which the land and the people “rested.”  The obligations for the Sabbath year are found in the Book of the Covenant (Ex 23:10-11) in the Holiness Code (Lev 25:1-7; 18-22), and in the Deuteronomic Code (Dt 15:1-11).  According to divine command the land must be “at rest” and cannot be sown nor can vineyard vines be pruned for a year.  The Sabbath year was meant to remind the people that the land belonged to Yahweh and that He was responsible for their well-being.  The holy year rest obligation was essentially a return to Eden where Adam and Eve trusted God to provide for them in the land He had created for them.    

Question: In addition to the rest for the land and the prohibition against sowing and harvesting for a year, what were other provisions of mercy and liberation associated with the observance of the Sabbath year?  See Exodus 23:11; Deuteronomy 15:1-11 and Nehemiah 10:32.
Answer:  The Israelites must show mercy to the poor, all debts to other Israelites were to be forgiven; the poor and wild animals were to have free access to collect food from all fields.

Please read Leviticus 25:8-12: Determining the Jubilee Year
8 “You will count seven weeks of years—seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years.  9 And on the tenth day of the seventh month you will sound the trumpet-call; on the Day of Expiation you will sound the trumpet throughout the land.  10 You will declare this fiftieth year to be sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the country’s inhabitants.  You will keep this as jubilee: each of you will return to his ancestral property, each to his own clan.  11 This fiftieth year will be a jubilee year for you; in it you will not sow, you will not harvest the grain that has come up on its own or in it gather grapes from you untrimmed vine.  12 The jubilee will be a holy thing for you; during it you will eat whatever the fields produce.

Leviticus 25:10b: You will keep this as jubilee: each of you will return to his ancestral property, each to his own clan.  The key Hebrew word in this verse and in this entire section is the Hebrew word ‘ahuzzah, a term the JPS Commentary translates as “tenured land, land holding” (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 172).  The term refers to land that is settled and worked by permission of the ruler of the land—and that “ruler” is Yahweh. The Israelites are God’s tenants; the land does not belong to them (Lev 25:23).

Question: How was the Jubilee year determined?
Answer: The Israelites were to keep seven Sabbath years and at the end of the forty-ninth year that was the seventh Sabbatical year, they were to proclaim the fiftieth year a Jubilee on the Day of Atonement in the seventh month. (3)

The word translated “jubilee” in Hebrew is yobel.  It is a word that means “trumpet” and referred to the trumpet call that announced the beginning of the celebration of the fiftieth Jubilee year on the Day of Atonement. 

Question: What is the key word associated with the Jubilee year?  See Leviticus 25:10.
Answer:  The key word is “liberation.”

Question: What were the requirements for the land in the Jubilee year?
Answer: It was to be a second year of “rest” for the land without plowing, sowing, or harvesting.  For a second year the Israelites and the resident aliens living among them not to have any organized harvests but everyone was expected to live off only what the land produced naturally. 

Question: Why is the Jubilee a time of “liberation”? What additional commands were part of the Jubilee observances that were not part of Sabbatical year observances?  See Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:39-43; 54-55, Deuteronomy 15:12-18 to help you with your answer.
Answer: Unlike the Sabbath year observances, the people were liberated to return to and redeem their ancestral tribal lands, and any Israelites who were bonded to master were to also to be liberated in the year of Jubilee.

An Israelite was never to be enslaved unless he voluntarily relinquished his freedom in a ceremony in the presence of witnesses (Ex 21:5-7). Instead, Israelites were to be considered bond servants who had to be released after six years in the beginning of the seventh year of service (Lev 25:39-43; Dt 15:1-2, 12-13).

Please read Leviticus 25:13-22: Regulations for Observing the Jubilee Year
13 “In this year of jubilee, each of you will return to his ancestral property.  14  If you buy land from, or sell land to, your fellow-countryman, neither of you may exploit the other.  15 In buying from your fellow-countryman, you will take account of the number of years since the jubilee; the sale-price he fixes for you will depend on the number of productive years still to run.  16 The greater the number of years, the higher the higher the price you will ask for it; the fewer the number of years, the greater the reduction; for what he is selling you is a certain number of harvests.  17 So you will not exploit one another, but fear your God, for I am Yahweh your God.

The ancestral land was not to be sold (Lev 25:14, 23), but it could be leased until the Jubilee when the land had to be returned to the rightful family/clan who had been given stewardship of God’s land.  In leasing the land the owner and the party leasing the land were to observe equitable business practices, calculating the cost according to the number of harvests until the next Jubilee year.  As usual, the command “fear your God” is a warning not to abuse the Law because God will hold the violator accountable; it is a warning found five times in Leviticus (Lev 19:14, 32; 25:17, 36, 43).

Please read Leviticus 25:18-22: Divine Guarantee for the Sabbath and Jubilee Years
18 “Hence, you will put my laws and customs into practice; you will keep them and put them into practice, and you will live securely in the country.  19 The land will give its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live in security.  20 In case you should ask: What shall we eat in this seventh year if we don’t sow or harvest our produce?  21 I shall order my blessing to be on you in the sixth year, which will yield you enough produce for three years.  22 You will have the old produce to eat while you are sowing in the eighth year, and even in the ninth year, you will be eating the old produce, while waiting for the harvest of that year.

Question: Two commands are given concerning God’s laws and customs?  Faithfulness to God’s commands will assure what promise?
Answer: The Israelites are commanded to not only “put” the laws into practice but to “keep” them from generation to generation with the assurance that such faithfulness will give them security in the land.

Question: What assurance did God give if the Israelites were obedient and observed both the Sabbath and Jubilee years? 
Answer: God would bless the land in the sixth year to produce enough to last through the entire Sabbatical year and beyond if the next year was a Jubilee year.

In a Jubilee year when the land rested a second year without ploughing and harvesting God promised the abundance of yield from the land would carry beyond to the third year when they were finally able to plow, sow and harvest at the end of the third year’s growing season.  The Sabbatical years and especially the Jubilee years were meant to test the Israelites trust in Yahweh to provide for them.

Question: What previous test of trusting in God to provide is recalled in the requirement to only sew crops and harvest for six years?
Answer: Obedience to the holy year laws recalls the instructions concerning the manna that could only be collected for six days and God’s provision of a double portion of manna collected on the sixth day to provide food for the people during the Sabbath day rest.

Please read Leviticus 25:23-28: Redemption of the Land
23 “Land will not be sold absolutely, for the land belongs to me, and you are only strangers and guests of mine.  24 You will allow a right of redemption over all ancestral property.  25 If your brother becomes impoverished and sells off part of his ancestral property, his nearest male relative will come and exercise his family rights over what his brother has sold.  26 The man who has no one to exercise this right may, once he has found the means to effect the redemption, 27 calculate the number of years that the alienation would have lasted, repay to the purchaser the sum due for the time still to run, and so recover his ancestral property.  28 If he cannot find the sum in compensation, the property sold will remain in the possession of the purchaser until the jubilee year.  In the jubilee year, the latter will vacate it and return to his own ancestral property.

Question: Beyond the major themes we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, what was God’s message to the Israelites concerning the Promised Land?  Quote the significant passage and the implications for the Israelites. 
Answer: Yahweh will give possession of Canaan to Israel, but the Israelites will not own the land: Land will not be sold absolutely, for the land belongs to me, and you are only strangers and guests of mine (Lev 25:23).

The concept that all the earth belongs to God and the Israelites are guests living in Yahweh’s Holy Land is repeated in 1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 24:1; and 39:12.

Only God has absolute ownership of the Holy Land and just as the Israelites are commanded to observe the seventh day Sabbath of the Lord, the land will also observe a Sabbath every seven years.  In addition to the seventh year Sabbath, twice in every century a year of Jubilee will be observed with an additional year of rest after every seven times seven years—the Jubilee is to be a holy year of rest and liberation.

Question: If an Israelite became impoverished and leased his land, what were the two ways the land could be redeemed prior to the Jubilee year redemption?

Answer: He could raise the money himself and purchase the property with the purchase price adjusted on the number of years until the Jubilee, or a kinsman would exercise the right of redemption and purchase the land.

The kinsman who accepted such an obligation was known as a go’el, a “Kinsman Redeemer.”   It was the duty of the go’el to prevent the alienation of the ancestral lands (Lev 25:23-25; Jer 32:6-9). In the Book of Ruth, Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth return to the family’s ancestral lands in Bethlehem as impoverished widows.  Naomi’s kinsman Boaz accepts the responsibility as their Kinsman Redeemer after it was determined that a closer kinsman did not want to accept the right of redemption.  In Ruth’s case, Boaz fulfilled the role of Kinsman Redeemer by meeting all the qualifications and also by linking the purchase of their land to a levirate marriage with Ruth (Dt 25:5-10), a condition the other kinsman was not willing to fulfill (Ruth 3:11; 4:5-6).

Question: What were the three qualifications the Kinsman Redeemer had to fulfill? See Leviticus 25:25-26; Deuteronomy 25:5-10; and Ruth 3:11?

Answer:

The Qualifications for a Kinsman Redeemer Scripture Passages
1. He must be related by blood to those he redeems Leviticus 25:48-49;
Deuteronomy 25:5, 7-10
2. He must have the resources to pay the price of redemption Leviticus 25:25-26;
Ruth 2:1
3. He must be willing to redeem Deuteronomy 25:7, 9;
Ruth 3:11
M. Hunt © copyright 2010

All three qualifications were necessary to fulfill the role of a kinsman redeemer.  In the Book of Ruth, Naomi’s nearest kinsman had the blood tie, and he had the necessary resources to fulfill the redemption, but he was not willing to redeem Naomi’s land by marrying Ruth.  Boaz, however, was willing to fulfill all three necessary requirements to be the kinsman redeemer. Because of his honorable response to fulfill his duty, God rewarded Boaz of Bethlehem with prosperity and with the legacy of being remembered the ancestor of the great King David, and therefore, the ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 1:1, 4-6).

Please read Leviticus 25:29-31: Redemption of a Dwelling

29 “If anyone sells a dwelling house inside a walled town, he will have the right of redemption until the expiry of the year following the sale.  His right of redemption is limited to the year; 30 and if the redemption has not been effected by the end of the year, the house in the walled town will become the property of the purchaser and his descendants in perpetuity; he need not vacate it at the jubilee.  31 But houses in villages not enclosed by walls will be considered as situated in the open country; they carry the right of redemption, and the purchaser will vacate them at the jubilee.

Question: How did the right of redemption apply to town property?
Answer: The right of redemption applied to town property only in a limited degree.  If the previous owner wanted to redeem the property he had a year from the time of the sale to raise the money to repurchase the property.  If he raised the money within the time period the purchaser could not refuse to allow him to redeem the property.  However, this did not apply to property outside of walled cities.

The limited rule of purchase did not apply to land and its associate dwellings in the open country because those lands were designated ‘ahuzzah; the arable land God the Great King has entrusted to His tenants.  Such land could not be sold; it could only be leased until the Jubilee.

Please read Leviticus 25:32-34: Redemption Within Levitical Towns

32 “As regards the towns of the Levites, town houses forming part of their ancestral property will carry a perpetual right of redemption in their favor.  33 If a Levite is the one to be affected by the right of redemption, at the jubilee he will vacate the purchased property and return to his own home, to the town in which he has a title to property.  The houses in the Levites’ towns represent their ancestral property in Israel, 34 and the arable land depending on these towns cannot be sold, being their ancestral property for ever.

Question: Why doesn’t the rule of redemption within a year for town property apply to Levitical towns?  See Numbers 35:1-8.
Answer: The Levites depend on God for their portion. They did not possess any lands in open country.  They were given certain Levitical cities with associated lands as part of their heritage and those could not be sold because the Levites had permanent rights to them, protecting the prosperity of the priestly families.

Please read Leviticus 25:35-43: Redemption of Israelites from Slavery
35 “If your brother becomes impoverished and cannot support himself in the community, you will assist him as you would a stranger or guest, so that he can go on living with you.  36 Do not charge him interest on a loan, but fear your God, and let your brother live with you.  37 You will not lend him money or interest or give him food to make a profit out of it.  38 I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and be your God.  39 If your brother becomes impoverished while with you and sells himself to you, 40 you will not make him do the work of a slave; you will treat him like an employee or guest, and he will work for you until the jubilee year.  41 He will then leave you, both he and his children, and return to his clan and regain possession of his ancestral property.  42 For they are my servants whom I have brought out of Egypt, and they may not be bought and sold as slaves43 You will not oppress your brother-Israelites harshly but will fear your God. [emphasis mine]

The term “brother” refers to “kinsman” or “member of the covenant.”  Notice that twice in this passage God reminded the Israelites that He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt; it is a reminder that will be repeated a third time (Lev 25:38, 42, and 55).  God redeemed the Israelites from slavery and they were never to be enslaved again.  If an Israelite became impoverished, his covenant brothers were to assist him and if he was in extreme poverty he could become an indentured servant, but he could not be enslaved by an Israelite.  The penalty for such an abuse of a covenant kinsman was to fall under God’s judgment.

Question: According to the Law, for how long could an Israelite man or woman be bound as an indentured servant/slave?   Exodus 21:2; Leviticus 25:35-46; Deuteronomy 15:12-16.
Answer: For six years and freed in the seventh year or until the next Jubilee year if it came before the seventh year.

Please read Leviticus 25:44-46: Foreign Slaves
44 “The male and female slaves you have will come from the nations round you; from these you may purchase male and female slaves.  45 As slaves, you may also purchase the children of aliens residing among you, and also members of their families living with you who have been born on your soil; and they will become your property, 46 and you may leave them as a legacy to your sons after you as their perpetual possessions.  These you may have for slaves; but you will not oppress your brother-Israelites.

The same mercy was not extended to the resident aliens who sold their children into slavery or to foreign slaves purchased by Israelites, but remember that no one was barred from the covenant and should a slave or a foreigner decide to submit to the covenant obligations of circumcision he could became a member of the covenant community.  Foreign woman also married into the covenant.  The Moabitess Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:13-22).  Please notice that for its time the Law of the Sinai Covenant was remarkable democratic—one law for all classes of society and in many cases applying to both Israelites and resident aliens.

Please read Leviticus 25:47-55: Israelite Slaves of Resident Aliens
47 “If a stranger or guest living with you gets rich and your brother, in the course of dealings with him, becomes impoverished and sells himself to this stranger or guest, or to the descendant of a stranger’s family, 48 he will enjoy the right of redemption after being sold, and one of his brothers may redeem him.  49 His paternal uncle, his uncle’s son. Or a member of his own family may redeem him; if he has the means, he may redeem himself.  50 By agreement with his purchaser, he will count the number of years between the year of sale and the jubilee year; his sale-price will be proportionate to the number of years, his time being valued as that of an employee.  51 If there are still many years to run, in proportion to their number he will refund part of his sale-price as payment for his redemption.  52 And if there are only a few years still to run before the jubilee year, he will calculate with him what should be refunded for his redemption, in proportion to their number, 53 as though he were hired by the year.  You will see to it that he is not harshly oppressed.  54 If he had not been redeemed in any of these ways, he will go free in the jubilee year, both he and his children; 55  for the Israelites are my servants; they are my servants whom I brought out of Egypt.  I am Yahweh your God.”’

The same rules for an Israelite’s redemption from slavery in the beginning of the seventh year of his bondage or in the Jubilee year, which ever came first, applied to Israelites who were the slaves of resident aliens living within the holy land.

God’s command to keep the fiftieth year Jubilee provided the covenant people with a holy year of liberation and social justice in which the observances of the Sabbath year redemption of debts and the required Sabbath “rest” for the land were observed in addition to the return of the land to its original tribal owner and the liberation of Israelite slaves.  The holy year of Jubilee allowed the Israelites to show the same mercy to each other that Yahweh had shown to them in the event of the Exodus: captives were liberated as the Israelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt, debts were forgiven as God forgave Israel’s transgressions, and Yahweh’s land was “at rest” to be given to the covenant people again the next year as He gave them the land in the conquest. The holy year observance ensured that social justice as maintained among the covenant people and that one segment of the population did not come to dominate and oppress the majority of the covenant people.  The obligations of the Jubilee year were a blueprint for bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots and for reminding the Israelites what it meant trust God and to be grateful for His provisions. 

In the Jubilee liberation the Israelites relived the Exodus experience by extending the same kind of mercy God should them in the Exodus to their fellow Israelites:

The Liberation of the Exodus Expressed in the Jubilee Year of Grace
The Exodus Liberation The Jubilee Liberation
1.  God redeemed the “firstborn” of Israel by paying the debt of their deaths with the blood of the sacrificial victim (Ex 12:1-34) 1.  All the debts of the Israelites to be forgiven (Lev 25:13-17)
2.  God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12:37-51) 2.  All Israelite slaves freed (Lev 25:35-55)
3.  God gave Israel the land He promised the Patriarchs (Gen 12:7; 15:16-18; Josh Chapters 3-4) 3.  The land redeemed and returned to the tribal family entrusted with it (Lev 25:10, 23-34)
M. Hunt copyright September 2005

Only a king of Israel or a High Priest could proclaim a Jubilee year.  However, the leadership failed the community.  Both the seventh year Sabbath and the Jubilee holy year were dropped from the Liturgical Calendar soon after the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land. Greed, a lack of social conscience, and failure to trust God to provide for them led to the failure to observe the Sabbath and Jubilee years.  It was for this reason among many other apostasies that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was dispossessed of the land like the Canaanites they had disposed in the conquest (Lev 18:26-30; 20:22-23).  As for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, they also fell into vile practices and failed to keep the Sabbath years.  Is was because of that failure that Yahweh judged the nation and sentenced Judah to seventy years of exile to atone for the 490 years they failed to keep His Sabbath years.  The people owed Yahweh seventy Sabbath years and so it was God’s judgment that the Holy Land was to lay fallow for seventy years before the return from exile.  There is no evidence that the Babylonians brought any other groups of people into the Holy Land to occupy the land of Judah in those seventy years (Jer 25:1-14; 2 Chr 36:19-23).

THE DIVINE JUBILEE LIBERATION AND
THE NEW EXODUS OF JESUS THE MESSIAH

Proclamation of the Jubilee year: Seven weeks of years shall you count—seven times seven years—so that the seven cycles amount to forty-nine years.  […].  This fiftieth year you shall make sacred by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants.”
Leviticus 25:8, 10 (emphasis mine)

When ancient kings of the Near East first ascended their thrones it was a common practice for the newly ordained king, in a gesture of beneficence, to proclaiming a royal “liberation” by forgiving debts and in freeing indentured slaves within his kingdom (Milgrom, Leviticus, page 2151).  In the Exodus, Yahweh, the Great King, took Israel as His covenant people by proclaiming their liberation from Egyptian bondage.  Later, in the era of the United Monarchy of Israel, King Solomon’s heir was not so generous. Instead of proclaiming “a liberation,” he proclaimed an increase in taxes, a gesture that cost him his throne in a civil war that ended with the division of Israel into two separate kingdoms—inaugurating a period known as the Divided Monarchy.  It was a tragedy that the people continually mourned, even after the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and exiled the ten northern tribes into oblivion in the Gentile nations of the east.  Holy prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel promised that one day God would restore Israel, inaugurating a New Covenant that would unite the two kingdoms into one nation again in a divine Jubilee liberation when the rightful Davidic heir, the promise Messiah, came to liberate the covenant people, purifying them of their filth with clean water, and healing them of their afflictions (Is 61:1-2; Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:24-36; 37:11-28).

In what was probably the fall in 30 AD, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Abraham, son of David (Mt 1:1), left Judah after His baptismal anointing by the priest John son of Zechariah, and traveled north to His home in the Galilee.  On the Sabbath Jesus attended the worship service in the local Nazareth Synagogue, and when He stood up to read they handed Him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.   Jesus selected Isaiah 60:1-2, a passage that spoke of the coming of the Messiah in association with a divine Jubilee when liberty was to be announced throughout the land: He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.’  Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them, ‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing(Lk 4:16-21; emphasis mine).

In His statement that the prophecy was fulfilled, Jesus announced to the congregation that He was the long awaited Davidic Messiah whose coming was promised by the prophets (Jer 23:5-6; Ez 34:23-24).  He proclaimed the divine Jubilee prophesized in Isaiah as Priest-King of the New Covenant (Lk 4:16-22; Lev 25:9-52; 27:17-25; Num 36:2-4).  Beginning His ministry as the legitimate Davidic heir and the Son of God the Great King, it was His right to claim the custom of a newly anointed king in proclaimed a divine Jubilee of liberation to the people He had come to lead out of bondage to sin and death, to heal the sick to cure the blind, to soothe the broken-hearted, to liberate all men and women in bondage to sin and death and finally, to lead His covenant people into the gates of His heavenly kingdom.  It was a mission of the Messiah that was prefigured in the Exodus and in the Jubilee year liberations.  Jesus’ mission was to bring about a “new Exodus” into a Jubilee holy year that was eternal.  This was what He discussed with the prophets Moses and Ezekiel on the Mount of Transfiguration:  About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.  While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:28-31; emphasis mine).

The “New Exodus” Liberation Fulfilled in Jesus Christ
Liberation Fulfilled in Christ
1.  The debt of the curses incurred for failing to keep the Old Covenant Law was forgiven Galatians 3:13: Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree…’
2. He freed us from slavery to sin and death Romans 6:6: We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
3. Through His death, burial, and Resurrection we received the promise of eternal life in the true Promise Land, the Kingdom of Heaven. Luke 23:42-43: Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you. Today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Michal Hunt © copyright 2005

He offered himself for us in order to ransom us from all our faults and to purify a people to be his very own and eager to do good
(Titus 2:14).

Question for group discussion:

Not only did Jesus graciously proclaimed a divine Jubilee liberation when He began His ministry as the Priest-King of the New Covenant, but He also came to fulfill the role of the supreme Blood Redeemer, redeeming His kinsmen and all people who united themselves to Him through the shedding of His blood on the Cross
Question: Discuss the ways Jesus fulfilled the qualifications for a go'el haddam (blood redeemer) according to the Old Covenant Law. Use the chart in handout #3 and look for comparisons between Jesus willingly fulfilling His role as mankind's supreme Blood Redeemer and Boaz's role as the Blood Redeemer in the story of Ruth. See the Book of Ruth and the Bible passages listed in handout #3; also see CCC # 601-2, 605, 607-9, 773, 802.
Answer:

Old Testament Qualifications for a Go'el Haddam (Blood Redeemer) Fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth the Supreme Kinsman Redeemer
The Blood Redeemer must be related by blood to those he redeems (Lev 25:23-25, 48-49; Dt 25:5, 7-10). Jesus was related by blood to the people of Judah and to those adopted into the family of God through His baptism of blood on the altar of the Cross (Jn 1:14; Rom 1:3; Phil 2:5-8; Gal 4:4; Heb 2:14-17).
The Blood Redeemer must have the resources to pay the price of redemption (Lev 25:25-26; Ruth 2:1). Jesus was willing to pay the price of redemption (1 Cor 6:20; 1 Pt 1:18-19).
The Blood Redeemer must be willing to redeem (Dt 25:7, 9; Ruth 3:11). Jesus Christ was willing to redeem (Mt 20:28; Jn 10:15-18; Heb 10:7; 1 Jn 3:16).
M. Hunt © copyright 2010

Not only did Jesus fulfill the role of the Go'el Haddam (Blood Redeemer) in redeeming His kinsman the Apostles so they could become the spiritual fathers of the New Covenant people of God and the other Jewish disciples who became the first priests and missionaries of the Gospel, but He redeemed the earth from the power of Satan and founded the earthly kingdom of the universal Church. He also opened the gates of the Holy Land of Heaven that had been closed since the fall of Adam, claiming the land of the eternal kingdom for His people to liberate them from the darkness of the grave. Finally, Jesus fulfilled the role of the Blood Redeemer in offering Himself as the eternal Bridegroom for the Church as His Bride. All the Old Testament Laws, feasts, liturgical sacrifices, Sabbath years, Jubilee years, and covenant promises were fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

Question: In Leviticus 25:35-37 the Sinai Covenant defined usury as a sin. What did Jesus teach about usury (see Mt 5:42 and Lk 6:30). How is usury defined today by the Church (see the Catholic Dictionary) and is it a sin to expect profit from an investment? What obligations are we under in the investments we make? See CCC 2269 and 2449.
Answer: The Catholic Dictionary defines usury as: "Taking of excessive interest for the loan of money is the modern understanding of usury. In essence, however, usury is the acceptance of a premium for the mere use of a thing given in loan. Objectively, it is the acceptance of a premium paid for a pure loan. The word has come to mean taking advantage of another who is in need. As such, it is forbidden by the natural law, because it is contrary to commutative justice. In the case of the poor, it is also a sin against charity."

In Jewish and Christian tradition, usury meant taking any interest for a loan. It was forbidden under the prohibitions of the Sinai Covenant in relation to the Israelite's kinsmen (Ex 22:25; Lev 25:35-37), but it was permitted in business practices with Gentiles. Jesus, in explaining the precept of charity, made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. He stated that loans must be gratuitous (see Mt 5:42 and Lk 6:30). The Catholic Church has reflected on Jesus' teaching and the concept of usury for centuries and her teaching is unchanged: where something is loaned and later returned in kind only, no profit may be made by reason of the contract itself. Circumstances spelled out and relative to the economic position of the lender and the person who is the borrower may be involved and change the effects of the contract. According to the teachings of the Church, four external circumstances have an economic value and therefore constitute titles to a proportionate compensation over and above the restitution of what was originally loaned to the borrower. These are:

  1. Actual damage to that which was loaned
  2. Loss of profit because of the loan
  3. The risk to the object loaned
  4. A danger or penalty suffered the lender from a delay in returning what was lent

By the end of the 18th century, the distinction between usury and interest from investing funds was recognized in civil law. Investment changed the function of money in that loaning money did involve loss of profit to the lender and the risk of loss from delay in repaying the money loaned. The Church also recognized the distinction so that now only exorbitant interest is called usury and is considered morally wrong. However, the Church's basic teaching on the subject of usury has not changed. Injustice surrounding money that is lent was and remains condemned. What has changed is the economic system of capitalism and investment. As this changed, the circumstances under which an injustice is committed changed. The Church necessarily permitted what was no longer considered unjust, which is investment that is meant to benefit both the lender and the borrower. However, we are still morally responsible for those usurious and avaricious dealing that lead to injustice or investments in companies that contribute to the death of the innocent. "Unintentional killing," according to CCC 2269, "is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone's death, even without the intention to do so." Included in this moral offense is contribution to or investing in a business in which abortions claim the life of unborn babies.

Endnotes:
1. Ha-Shem, as an implicit way of referring to God as "the Name" instead of using the divine Name became proverbial in later Jewish literature and is used in the modern Tanach translations.
2. Food was sanctified by being presented to God in the "wave offering" in which the priest offered the meat of a sacrificed animal, or grain, or loaves of bread to God in an upward motion, and then God, in His generosity, shared the food He sanctified with His priests or His people in the downward gesture. The "Bread of the Presence" was an offering that God accepted and sanctified and which was placed in His Tabernacle every Sabbath. The bread remained in His Presence on the golden table in the Holy Place for seven days until His priests ate the offering that God shared with them on in the Holy Place on the following Sabbath, when newly sanctified loaves were placed on the table.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.