Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Taking Advantage of Misfortune Prohibited

Leviticus 25:23-43

“The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.  And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.” (Leviticus 25:23-24)

The land belonged to God, not to the individual.  The individual was granted the right to use it however he might choose, but it belonged to God.   He was just allowing them to use it, and they could not sell it.  If a person had leased it out then wanted it back, they were required to let him redeem it.   In any case it was to be restored the original family in the year of Jubilee.  This insured that neither the government or powerful families could seize the land and enslave the people, as had happened in Egypt four hundred years before.  Every family would have the opportunity to produce food and support themselves, even though they might go through some difficult times.

“If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.  And if the man have none to redeem it, and himself be able to redeem it; Then let him count the years of the sale thereof, and restore the overplus unto the man to whom he sold it; that he may return unto his possession. 

But if he be not able to restore it to him, then that which is sold shall remain in the hand of him that hath bought it until the year of jubilee: and in the jubilee it shall go out, and he shall return unto his possession.” (Leviticus 25:25-28) 

If a person was forced to sell the use of his property to pay debts, he, or his relatives had the right to redeem it at any time, just by paying off the unused portion of the lease.  If he was unable to do so, the land was to be returned during the year of jubilee.

About 4 BC, shortly after Jesus birth, Hillel had started a school broadening the interpretation of the Law.  One of the decrees was that loans using real property as collateral were not necessarily subject to return during the year of jubilee.   Whether they were returned was to be determined by a court.  It was viewed as a major step for making economic progress.  Jesus condemned the practice as a way of ripping off people while pretending to serve God in Matthew 23:14 and various other passages.

“And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it.  And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out in the jubilee. 

But the houses of the villages which have no wall round about them shall be counted as the fields of the country: they may be redeemed, and they shall go out in the jubilee.” (Leviticus 25:29-31) 

Because farmland and homes in small farming communities were necessary to support a family, and were part of the property designated for each family, they could not be sold, only leased or rented.  City homes, on the other hand, were not an integral part of what God had given.  They could be sold, but even they were subject to a one year trial period in case the seller discovered he didn’t want to get rid of it.

“Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, and the houses of the cities of their possession, may the Levites redeem at any time.  And if a man purchase of the Levites, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the year of jubilee: for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel.  But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their perpetual possession.” (Leviticus 25:32-34)

The Levite cities were their inheritance.  As a result even houses in their cities could not be sold, but only leased until the year of jubilee, and the lease could be canceled at any time.  Their gardens in the suburbs could not even be leased out to others.

“And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with thee.  Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee.  Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor lend him thy victuals for increase.   I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” (Leviticus 25:35-38)

They were to help those who were struggling economically, whether he was a Jew or not.  They were to trust God to provide for them and loan without charging any interest.  As Proverbs 19:17 says, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.”
“And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee: And then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.  For they are my servants, which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as bondmen.  Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour; but shalt fear thy God.” (Leviticus 25:39-43) 

They were not to use a person’s indebtedness to enslave him.  He could not be forced to work without pay.  He was to be treated as an employee, with equal wages and freedoms, and his indebtedness was to be canceled in the year of jubilee, leaving him free to return to his family and property.  They were to remember what it had been like when they were slaves in Egypt and not sell their own people into slavery to other people.  They were not to be abusive or demanding in any case, but to demonstrate proper respect.

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