Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 2. The rest (sabbathises sabbatum). The land was to enjoy the benefit of rest every seventh year, to remind God’s people that he had created the world, and that he still retained dominion over it, (St. Augustine, q. 91, 92,) requiring the spontaneous fruits of that year as a tribute, part of which he gave to the poor. In the mean time, all creatures rested from their labours, and the people were taught to have an entire confidence in Providence. (Calmet) — This law was given in the desert of Sinai, in the month of Nisan, the second year after the exit: but it did not begin to be in force, till the Hebrews entered into the land of Chanaan. (Haydock)
Ver. 5. Reap entirely, but only take a part, ver. 6. — First-fruits. None shall be this year presented to the Lord. Hebrew has the word Nezireka, “Nazareat,” alluding to the custom of those who, out of devotion, let their hair grow; as here only the spontaneous fruits of the unpruned vine were to be eaten; they were separated, as the word also means, or “sanctified,” (Septuagint) being abandoned indifferently for the use of any one that pleased to eat of them, and no longer fenced in by the proprietor, (Calmet) though he might take the first, or choicest fruit, for his own use, (Menochius,) or at least he might take his share like the rest. (Tirinus)
Ver. 7. Cattle. This last term in Hebrew, Septuagint, &c., means “wild beasts,” which must also live. At this period of the seventh year, debts were to be remitted, the law read, &c., Exodus xxi. 2 and Deuteronomy xv. 2, and xxxi. 10. But in the jubilee year, even those Hebrew slaves, whose ears had been pierced, and those who had sold their land, regained their liberty and possessions. (Calmet) — Their children and wives, according to Josephus, went out with them, ver. 41. Houses and suburbs for gardens, &c., might be sold for ever, if they were not redeemed the first year, excepting those of the Levites, ver. 34. (Tirinus)
Ver. 8. Years. It is dubious whether the 49th or the 50th year was appointed for the jubilee. The former year is fixed upon by many able chronologers, who remark, that if two years of rest had occurred together, it would have been a serious inconvenience; and Moses might have said the 50th year for a round number, or comprise therein the year of the former jubilee, as we give five years to the olympiad, and eight days to the week, though the former consists only of four years, and the latter of seven days. (Rader; Scaliger; &c.) But others decide for the fiftieth year, ver. 10. (Philo; Josephus, [Antiquities] iii. 10.; St. Augustine, q. 92.; Salien; &c.) (Calmet) — On the feast of expiation of the 49th year, they promulgated the following to be the year of jubilee. (Menochius) — Usher places the first in the year of the world 2609, 49 years after the partition of the land by Josue in 2560: Salien dates 50 years from the entrance (ver. 2,) of the Hebrews into Chanaan, in the year of the world 2583, six years sooner; and places the first jubilee [in] 2633, immediately after the sabbatic year, which fell in the 32nd year of Othoniel. He supposes that both were proclaimed at the same time, on the 1st of Tisri, Ros Hassana, “the head of the year;” though the heralds went about the country only on the 10th. The writers both of the Synagogue and of the Church generally adopt the 50th for the year of jubilee; and the pretended inconvenience of two years’ rest is nugatory, since God promised a three years’ crop, ver. 21. (Haydock)
Ver. 10. Remission; that is, a general release and discharge from debts and bondage, and a reinstating of every man in his former possessions. (Challoner) — Jubilee: Hebrew jubol means “liberty” (Josephus); “re-establishment” (Philo); (Calmet) — “deliverance” (Abenezra). The Rabbins falsely assert, that a ram’s horn was used on this occasion: but Bochart shews that it is solid and unfit for the purpose. (B. ii. 42.) They also maintain, that from the 1st of this sacred month, as it is called by Philo, till the 10th, the slaves spent their time in continual rejoicings in their master’s house, and on the latter day they were set free. Cunĉus (Rep., i. 6,) observes, that the jubilee was discontinued after the captivity, though the sabbatic year was still kept. (Calmet) — Indeed the Jews were often very negligent in these respects, and God complained and punished them for it, chap. xxvii. 32.; &c. The avarice of the great ones chiefly caused these wise regulations to be despised, though, from time to time, God enforced their observance, that it might be clearly known from what family the Messias sprung. After his birth they were abrogated, as no longer necessary. (Haydock) — Something similar was instituted by Solon, and styled “the shaking off burdens,” for the redemption both of men and goods. (Laertius) (Menochius) — The Locrians could not alienate their patrimony. (Aristotle, polit. ii. 7, and vi. 4.) The Rabbins deviate from the spirit of their lawgiver, when they assert, that persons might sell their inheritance for a greater number of years than 50, if they specified how many, &c. (Selden, Succes. iii. 24.) In the Christian dispensation, the jubilee denotes a time of indulgence, in consequence of the power left by Jesus Christ, Matthew xvi. 19 and 2 Corinthians ii. 10.) The first was given by Pope Boniface VIII in 300; and others were granted every century, till Pope Clement VI reduced the space to 50 years, 1542. Pope Gregory XI would have them dispensed to the faithful every 33 years, and Pope Paul XI every 25th, that more might partake of so great a benefit. This has been done since his time, and the Popes often grant them when the Church is in great danger, and also in the year when they are consecrated. (Calmet) — They are designed to promote the fervour of piety, and the remission of punishment due to sin. (Haydock) — Family. Slaves shall obtain their liberty. This law set a restraint upon the rich, that they might not get possession of too much land, or oppress the poor. Lycurgus, with the same view, established an equality of lands among the Spartans, and Solon acknowledged the propriety of the regulation, which he probably saw practised in Egypt. (Diodorus i.) (Calmet) — The Agrarian laws at Rome, were often proposed; but they caused nothing but confusion and riot. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. Eat them. No wine was to be made of the grapes, nor the corn heaped up, to the detriment of the poor. All is claimed by God, as his own property.
Ver. 14. Grieve. Hebrew, “deceive not.” St. Chrysostom observes, that to engage another to sell us any thing for what we know is beneath its value, is theft. (Grotius, Jur. ii. 12.) The Rabbins also decide that, if an Israelite be defrauded a sixth part, restitution must be made, ver. 17. (Selden, Jur. vi. 6.)
Ver. 21. Three years. After the harvest of the sixth year was gotten in, the land rested from September to September, the beginning of the 8th year, when it was tilled again. Nothing would be ripe till about March; yet the harvest of the 6th year would suffice to furnish food till that time, or even for a year longer, as it would be requisite, when the year of jubilee succeeded that of rest, ver. 8. (Haydock)
Ver. 23. For ever. Samaritan version, “absolutely.” The only exception to this law is, when a person makes a vow to give some land to the Lord, and will not redeem it, chap xxvii. 20. In that case, God re-enters upon his property, and it belongs to his priests. (Calmet)
Ver. 27. Fruits. An estimation shall be made of what the buyer would probably have gotten for the fruits of the land, till the year of jubilee, and that sum shall be given to him; (Calmet) or what benefit he has already derived from the land shall be computed; so that, if he purchased it for 100 sicles, and had received the value of 80, he should be content with the addition of 20 more, ver. 53. (Haydock)
Ver. 29. City. These houses are of greater consequence, and therefore God dissuades his people from selling them; though if they think proper to do so, he holds out an encouragement to those who buy, that they may afford a better price, on the prospect of keeping possession for ever. (Menochius)
Ver. 33. Owners. The Levites had no other possessions, but these cities and 2000 cubits of land around them. The priests might buy of one another, Jeremias xxxi. 7.
Ver. 35. And thou. Hebrew, “thou shalt receive him: and of the stranger….(36) take no usury.” There are two precepts; to relieve those in distress, and not to injury any one. (Calmet)
Ver. 40. Hireling, who has engaged to work for a term of years, either of six, or at most 49. After the year of the jubilee, he might enter into fresh engagements with his late master. (Haydock) — The Hebrews have always hated slavery. We have never been slaves to any, John viii. 33. They were not allowed to part with their liberty, except from absolute distress; (Maimonides) and then they do not submit to what they call intrinsical slavery. — [Ver. 41.] Children. His wife and children were not made slaves with him. But if his master gave him a second wife, her children belonged to their common master. (Selden, Jur. vi. 1.)
Ver. 45. Servants, or slaves, whom you may treat with greater severity than the Hebrews, and keep for ever, even though they may have embraced the true faith. But still you must remember that they are your brethren.
Ver. 47. Stranger, or Gentile, who engages at least to keep the precepts given to Noe[Noah]. (Haydock)
Ver. 49. Himself. He might have saved up something by greater industry. The Athenians allowed their slaves the same privilege. (Calmet)
Ver. 53. Wages. Hebrew, “as a yearly hired servant shall he be with him.” What was customarily given to a hired servant for a certain number of years, might be a rule to judge how much was to be paid for redemption. (Haydock) — Thus if a man had engaged to serve 20 years for 100 sicles, and at the expiration of 10 years wished to redeem himself, he might do it for half that sum. Some think, that those Hebrews who had sold themselves to a Gentile, sojourning among them, could not take the benefit of the sabbatic year, (Exodus xxi. 6,) because Moses is silent on this head. But this argument is not satisfactory. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The law of the seventh and of the fiftieth year of jubilee.
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses* in Mount Sinai, saying:
2 Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: When you shall have entered into the land which I will give you, observe the rest of the sabbath to the Lord.
3 *Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and shalt gather the fruits thereof:
4 But in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath to the land, of the resting of the Lord: thou shalt not sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.
5 What the ground shall bring forth of itself, thou shalt not reap: neither shalt thou gather the grapes of the first-fruits as a vintage: for it is a year of rest to the land:
6 But they shall be unto you for meat, to thee and to thy man-servant, to thy maid-servant and thy hireling, and to the strangers that sojourn with thee:
7 All things that grow shall be meat to thy beasts and to thy cattle.
8 Thou shalt also number to thee seven weeks of years, that is to say, seven times seven, which together make forty-nine years:
9 And thou shalt sound the trumpet in the seventh month, the tenth day of the month, in the time of the expiation in all your land:
10 And thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee. Every man shall return to his possession, and every one shall go back to his former family:
11 Because it is the jubilee and the fiftieth year. You shall not sow, nor reap the things that grow in the field of their own accord, neither shall you gather the first-fruits of the vines,
12 Because of the sanctification of the jubilee: but as they grow you shall presently eat them.
13 In the year of the jubilee all shall return to their possessions.
14 When thou shalt sell any thing to thy neighbour, or shalt buy of him; grieve not thy brother: but thou shalt buy of him according to the number of years from the jubilee,
15 And he shall sell to thee according to the computation of the fruits.
16 The more years remain after the jubilee, the more shall the price increase: and the less time is counted, so much the less shall the purchase cost. For he shall sell to thee the time of the fruits.
17 Do not afflict your countrymen, but let every one fear his God: because I am the Lord your God.
18 Do my precepts, and keep my judgments, and fulfil them: that you may dwell in the land without any fear,
19 And the ground may yield you its fruits, of which you may eat your fill, fearing no man’s invasion.
20 But if you say: What shall we eat the seventh year, if we sow not, nor gather our fruits?
21 I will give you my blessing the sixth year, and it shall yield the fruits of three years:
22 And the eighth year you shall sow, and shall eat of the old fruits, until the ninth year: till new grow up, you shall eat the old store.
23 The land also shall not be sold for ever: because it is mine, and you are strangers and sojourners with me.
24 For which cause all the country of your possession shall be under the condition of redemption.
25 If thy brother, being impoverished, sell his little possession, and his kinsman will, he may redeem what he had sold.
26 But if he have no kinsman, and he himself can find the price to redeem it:
27 The value of the fruits shall be counted from that time when he sold it: and the overplus he shall restore to the buyer, and so shall receive his possession again.
28 But if his hands find not the means to repay the price, the buyer shall have what he bought, until the year of the jubilee. For in that year all that is sold shall return to the owner, and to the ancient possessor.
29 He that selleth a house within the walls of a city, shall have the liberty to redeem it, until one year be expired:
30 If he redeem it not, and the whole year be fully out, the buyer shall possess it, and his posterity for ever, and it cannot be redeemed, not even in the jubilee.
31 But if the house be in a village, that hath no walls, it shall be sold according to the same law as the fields: if it be not redeemed before, in the jubilee it shall return to the owner.
32 The houses of Levites, which are in cities, may always be redeemed:
33 If they be not redeemed, in the jubilee they shall all return to the owners, because the houses of the cities of the Levites are for their possessions among the children of Israel.
34 But let not their suburbs be sold, because it is a perpetual possession.
35 If thy brother be impoverished, and weak of hand, and thou receive him as a stranger and sojourner, and he live with thee,
36 Take not usury of him, nor more than thou gavest: fear thy God, that thy brother may live with thee.
37 Thou shalt not give him thy money upon usury, nor exact of him any increase of fruits.
38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that I might give you the land of Chanaan, and might be your God.
39 If thy brother, constrained by poverty, sell himself to thee, thou shalt not oppress him with the service of bond-servants:
40 But he shall be as a hireling, and a sojourner: he shall work with thee until the year of the jubilee,
41 And afterwards he shall go out with his children, and shall return to his kindred and to the possession of his fathers.
42 For they are my servants, and I brought them out of the land of Egypt: let them not be sold as bond-men:
43 Afflict him not by might, but fear thy God.
44 Let your bond-men, and your bond-women, be of the nations that are round about you.
45 And of the strangers that sojourn among you, or that were born of them in your land, these you shall have for servants:
46 And by right of inheritance shall leave them to your posterity, and shall possess them for ever. But oppress not your brethren, the children of Israel, by might.
47 If the hand of a stranger, or a sojourner, grow strong among you, and thy brother being impoverished sell himself to him, or to any of his race:
48 After the sale he may be redeemed. He that will of his brethren shall redeem him:
49 Either his uncle, or his uncle’s son, or his kinsman, by blood, or by affinity. But if he himself be able also, he shall redeem himself,
50 Counting only the years from the time of his selling unto the year of the jubilee: and counting the money, that he was sold for, according to the number of the years and the reckoning of a hired servant.
51 If there be many years that remain until the jubilee, according to them shall he also repay the price.
52 If few, he shall make the reckoning with him according to the number of the years, and shall repay to the buyer for what remaineth of the years,
53 His wages being allowed for which he served before: he shall not afflict him violently in thy sight.
54 And if by these means he cannot be redeemed, in the year of the jubilee he shall go out with his children.
55 For the children of Israel are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt.
1: Year of the World 2514.
3: Exodus xxiii.10