“If a member of your people has become poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him do the work of a slave. Rather, you are to treat him like an employee or a tenant; he will work for you until the year of Jubilee. Then he will leave you, he and his children with him, and return to his own family and regain possession of his ancestral land. For they are my slaves, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; therefore they are not to be sold as slaves. Do not treat him harshly, but fear your God.”-Leviticus 25:39-43
Up until now we’ve dealt with the Jubilee Year and redemption as it applies to land property.
However, from verse 39, the content takes a sharp turn and begins discussing HUMAN property, specifically those folks who became bondservants or slaves due to financial difficulties.
Let’s take a look at verse 35.
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.”
Here we’re presented with a situation where a person described as a “fellow Israelite” (some Bibles say “kinsman” or “brethren”) has fallen on hard economic times and owes a debt to someone he is unable to pay.
Furthermore, the status of this particular Israelite is similar to that of a “resident alien” in the sense that he has to work for his wages because resident aliens are NOT allowed to hold land.
In other words, the situation we’re presented with here is of a peasant Israelite who does NOT own any land he can grow food on, therefore the only way he can survive is to work for someone else.
The Hebrew word used for “fellow Israelite” in these verses is ACH.
ACH literally means “brother” but was also a common word that meant “countryman”.
Hence, the poor person being presented here could have been a close relative or simply an Israelite.
Nevertheless, whether a close relative or not, all Israelites were to be considered “brothers” of one another and thus were NOT to charge one another interest on money or goods loaned out, especially in a situation when the borrower is poor because he has no choice and that would be taking unfair advantage of him.
Let’s take a look at verse 39.
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves.”
This is a case where the financial situation of the poor person has declined to the point where he has no choice but to sell himself off as an indentured servant to the party to whom he owes the debt.
What usually happened in a situation like this is that the poverty-stricken Israelite and his family lived on the property of the person for whom he would be working.
Now here’s the important thing to know.
This indebted person did NOT become a slave.
It’s NOT like he was a piece of property that had been purchased.
He was more like an employee who worked for his creditor and his creditor alone.
Recall from an earlier post I taught that the real owner of the land was NOT the People of Israel but YHWH alone!
I also said that what the people of Israel hold with regards to the land is really a leasehold (an eternal leasehold however).
Well, the same principle applied to the people of Israel.
Just as the land belongs to God, so too do all Israelites belong to God
The Hebrews are God’s HOLY property.
He REDEEMED them.
He “purchased” them from slavery when he took them out of Egypt.
So, if this is the case, then it would logically follow that no redeemed person can become another’s slave, right?
Because every Israelite was redeemed.
The result of this law is that it was and is forbidden for an Israelite to own Hebrew slaves, because they are owned by God.
So understand that a bondservant was NOT a slave nor a piece of property owned by his master.
He was more like a specially contracted employee.
And thus, once the Jubilee year swung around, the bondservant was RELEASED regardless of how much debt was remaining.
The debt was completely cancelled and not only that, the master also had to let the bondservant’s wife and children go as well.
We are talking about a FULL and PERMANENT RELEASE here.
Because all Israelites belong to God, nobody else.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Do you not know that your bodies
are temples of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you
have received from God?
You are not your own;
you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
-1 Corinthians 6:19-20