Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee belong to that great sabbatical system which runs through the religious observances of the Law, but rest upon moral rather than upon formally religious ground. It is not, therefore, without reason that they are here set apart from the set times which fell strictly within the sphere of religious observances.
Vineyard - Rather, fruit-garden. The Hebrew word is a general one for a plantation of fruit-trees.
A sabbath of rest - See Lev 23:3 note. The express prohibition of sowing and reaping, and of pruning and gathering, affords a presumption in favor of the sabbatical year beginning, like the year of Jubilee Lev 25:9, in the first month of the civil year Lev 23:24, the seventh of the sacred year, when the land was cleared of the crops of the preceding year.
The great material advantage of the institution must have been the increased fertility of the soil from its lying fallow one year out of seven, at a time when neither the rotation of crops nor the art of manuring were understood. It must also have kept up a salutary habit of economy in the storing of grain. Compare Gen 41:48-56. Its great spiritual lesson was that there was no such thing as absolute ownership in the land vested in any man, that the soil was the property of Yahweh, that it was to be held in trust for Him, and not to be abused by overworking, but to be made the most of for the good of every creature which dwelt upon it.
Vine undressed - That is, "unpruned"; literally "Nazarite vine", the figure being taken from the unshorn locks of the Nazarite. Num 6:5.
The sabbath of the land shall be meat for you - That is, the produce of the untilled land (its "increase," Lev 25:7) shall be food for the whole of you in common, rich and poor without distinction Exo 23:11.
The land was to be divided by lot among the families of the Israelites when the possession of it was obtained. Num 26:52-56; Num 33:54, etc. At the end of every seventh sabbatical cycle of years, in the year of Jubilee, each field or estate that might have been alienated was to be restored to the family to which it had been originally allotted.
Seven sabbaths of years - seven weeks of years.
Cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound - Rather, cause the sound of the cornet to go through (the land). The word jubile does not occur in this verse in the Hebrew. The trumpet is the shofar שׁפר shôphār, i. e. the cornet (rendered "shawm" in the Prayer-Book version of Psa 98:7), either the horn of some animal or a tube of metal shaped like one. As the sound of the cornet (see Lev 25:10 note) was the signal of the descent of Yahweh when He came down upon Sinai to take Israel into covenant with Himself Exo 19:13, Exo 19:16, Exo 19:19; Exo 20:18, so the same sound announced, at the close of the great day of atonement, after the Evening sacrifice, the year which restored each Israelite to the freedom and the blessings of the covenant.
The fiftieth year - The Jubilee probably coincided with each seventh sabbatical year, and was called the fiftieth, as being the last of a series of which the first was the preceding Jubilee.
A jubile - Commonly spelled jubilee. The original word first occurs in Exo 19:13, where it is rendered "trumpet," margin "cornet." It most probably denotes the sound of the cornet, not the cornet itself, and is derived from a root, signifying to flow abundantly, which by a familiar metaphor might be applied to sound.
Sell ought - i. e., any piece of ground.
Oppress one another - Rather, overreach one another. (Compare Sa1 12:3-4).
The number of years of the fruits - i. e. according to the number of harvests. The average value of a yearly crop might of course be estimated, and the sabbatical years were to be deducted from the series.
In safety - i. e., secure from famine, Lev 26:5; Deu 12:10.
These verses express the principle on which the law of Jubilee, as it regards the land, was based. The land belonged to Yahweh, and it was He who allotted it among the families of Israel for their use. No estate could therefore be alienated in perpetuity, by any human authority, from the family to whose lot it might fall.
Grant a redemption for the land - i. e. grant power to recover the land to the original holder who had parted with it.
If thy brother be waxen poor - The Israelites never parted with their land except under the pressure of poverty. Compare the answer of Naboth, Kg1 21:3.
It shall go out - i. e. it shall be set free.
Not go out - Because most of the houses in cities were occupied by artificers and traders whose wealth did not consist in lands.
Rather, And concerning the cities of the Levites, the houses in the cities of their possession, etc. If one of the Levites redeems a house in the city, etc. The meaning appears to be, if a Levite redeemed a house which had been sold to a person of a different tribe by another Levite, it was to revert in the Jubilee to the latter Levite as its original possessor. The purchaser of a Levite's house was in fact only in the condition of a tenant at will, while the fields attached to the Levitical cities could never be alienated, even for a time.
For the application of the law of Jubilee to lands dedicated to the service of the sanctuary, see Lev 27:16-25.
Rather, And if thy brother (an Israelite) becomes poor and falls into decay with thee, thou shalt assist him and let him live with thee like a resident foreigner. He was not to be regarded as an outcast, but was to be treated with the same respect and consideration as a resident foreigner who, like him, could possess no land, but could accumulate property and live in comfort as a free man. See Lev 16:29 note.
Lend him thy victuals for increase - i. e. supply him with food for thy own profit.
Here, and in Lev 25:42, Lev 25:55, is expressed the principle which was to limit and modify the servitude of Hebrew servants.
The law here appears harmoniously to supplement the earlier one in Exo 21:1-6. It was another check applied periodically to the tyranny of the rich. Compare Jer 34:8-17.
Fear thy God - Yahweh was the Lord and Master of His people. To treat a Hebrew as a slave was therefore to interfere with the rights of Yahweh. Compare Rom 14:4.
Property in foreign slaves is here distinctly permitted. It was a patriarchal custom Gen 17:12. Such slaves might be captives taken in war (Num 31:6 following; Deu 20:14), or those consigned to slavery for their crimes, or those purchased of foreign slave-dealers. The price of a slave is supposed to have varied from thirty to fifty shekels. See Lev 27:3-4, note; Exo 21:32, note; Zac 11:12-13, note; Mat 26:15, note. It was the object of Moses, not at once to do away with slavery, but to discourage and to mitigate it. The Law would not suffer it to be forgotten that the slave was a man, and protected him in every way that was possible at the time against the injustice or cruelty of his master. See the notes at Exo. 21.
Your bondmen forever - i. e. they were not necessarily to be released in the sabbatical year nor at the Jubilee.
A sojourner or stranger - Rather, a foreigner who has settled among you. See Lev 16:29, note; Exo 20:10, note.
In these years - More properly, by one of these means. The extreme period of servitude in this case was six years, as when the master was a Hebrew Exo 21:2.
Looking at the law of the Jubilee from a simply practical point of view, its operation must have tended to remedy those evils which are always growing up in the ordinary conditions of human society. It prevented the permanent accumulation of land in the hands of a few, and periodically raised those whom fault or misfortune had sunk into poverty to a position of competency. It must also have tended to keep alive family feeling, and helped to preserve the family genealogies.
But in its more special character, as a law given by Yahweh to His special people, it was a standing lesson to those who would rightly regard it, on the terms upon which the enjoyment of the land of promise had been conferred upon them. All the land belonged to Yahweh as its supreme Lord, every Israelite as His vassal belonged to Him. The voice of the Jubilee horns, twice in every century, proclaimed the equitable and beneficent social order appointed for the people; they sounded that acceptable year of Yahweh which was to bring comfort to all that mourned, in which the slavery of sin was to be abolished, and the true liberty of God's children was to be proclaimed Luk 2:25; Isa 61:2; Luk 4:19; Act 3:21; Rom 8:19-23; Pe1 1:3-4.