Thursday: Duties to Help the Poor: Leviticus 25:1-55

Thursday: Duties to Help the Poor: Leviticus 25:1-55

Written on 08/04/2022
James Boice

By James Boice

Sermon: Jubilee

Scripture: Leviticus 25:1-55

In this week’s lessons, we learn about what happened at the Year of Jubilee, and see what this has to teach us about our own view of wealth and the accumulation of possessions.

Theme: Duties to Help the Poor

The long and concluding section of this chapter is verses 35 to 55, which has to do with duties to the poor. You might say, at first glance, “Why in the world are these duties to the poor here at all? Why does this belong in a chapter having to do with the Jubilee?” Well it shows that the central concern of the chapter is to protect or help the poor. There are a number of cases here.

In verses 35-38, there is an Israelite who has a financial need. When this happens, his fellow countrymen, especially his relatives, are to help him. They’re to lend him whatever money may be necessary or give him whatever may be necessary, whether money or food. That’s a family obligation. Now that doesn’t necessarily have to be outright charity. It says that the money given is not to be given with a thought of charging interest (in other words, you’re not to profit from your poor family member who is in need). But by mentioning that no interest was to be charged, it does imply that the money itself—the capital—is nevertheless to be given back. The people were to help the poor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were always just giving it. The laws did not encourage perpetual charity cases. But it does say that the rich are not to take advantage of the poor, and especially members of the family.

Another example would be when a poor man, or poor family, can’t get by merely with a loan or short-term borrowing. He is really in trouble, and the only way he can survive is by indenturing himself to his fellow Israelite. He is not to become a permanent slave or charity case. He is to work for the one who is paying him and he is to use the money to satisfy his obligations and feed his family. Because he is not a slave, he has the right to redeem himself. And in all cases he is to be set free in the Year of Jubilee. The reason given for that is that when God purchased His people out of Egypt, they were slaves and he set them free. And once free, they are not to become slaves again.

We have a carryover of that principle in the New Testament in the book of Galatians, which deals with this matter of slavery to the law. In the fifth chapter, which sums up Paul’s argument, he says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves become burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (v. 1). This is the spiritual application of this exact principle that you have in the Jubilee. 

Leviticus 25:44-46 deals with Gentile slaves, who really were slaves, not indentured servants. A Hebrew could have a slave from the Gentiles. Isn’t that a double standard, where Hebrews had to be treated one way and Gentiles in another way? It is a different standard. Double standards do exist. You treat your family differently than you do strangers. But we need to point out that the laws involving the Gentile slaves were not worse than the laws that prevailed in Gentile lands regarding slaves. They didn’t lose any rights. As a matter of fact, if you examine the whole picture, Gentile slaves were treated well in Israel, better than they were ever treated in Greece or Rome. 

Finally, in the longest section, you have the example of a Hebrew who is indentured to a Gentile. That’s the final case that is needed to round out the possibilities, and it establishes the rights of a Hebrew as a Hebrew in his own country. Even though the Gentiles had slaves and they didn’t have any right to be free, a Hebrew in Israel who becomes a servant of a Gentile nevertheless maintains his rights as a Hebrew. In other words, a Gentile living in the Israelites’ country has to do things in the Israelites’ way. In Gentile country they do what they want, but in Israel the Israelites protect their people.

The chapter ends by stating that the overriding factor is that the Israelites had become God’s servants, having been purchased by Him out of their Egyptian slavery. Hence they were always to be regarded as free men and women. And so are you and I, if we have been purchased by Jesus Christ. 

I want to briefly touch on the last two chapters of Leviticus. Chapter 26 deals with rewards and punishments. Most of the ancient law codes were based on the famous law code of the Babylonian emperor Hammurabi. They would have a section on rewards and punishments or curses and blessings that would go like this: “I am the king. If you obey me, these are all the blessings that will come. And if you disobey me, these are the curses that you will get.” This chapter follows the pattern of these law codes. You have it elsewhere in the Mosaic books. As a matter of fact, it’s the basis of the structure of Deuteronomy, as we see very clearly in chapters 28 through 30. 

The rewards section is shorter than the one for punishments. If the people follow God’s decrees and are careful to obey all His laws, then God will: 1) give rain in its season; 2) provide peace and victory over their enemies, and 3) assure them of His covenant presence with them. The section of curses is longer, which suggests that we are more motivated by fear of what we might lose than by the promise of good things we might gain. If the Israelites fail to carry out all God’s commands and so violate His covenant, God will: 1) bring certain disasters upon them; 2) withhold rain; 3) allow wild animals to harass them; 4) send hostile enemies against them; 5) lay waste the land; and 6) cause those who are left behind after they have been carried away by their enemies to waste away in fear and poverty. 

Study Questions:

  1. Explain how indentured servanthood worked when it was between Israelites.
  2. What principle lies behind the freeing of Hebrew slaves at the Jubilee?

Application: If you have been redeemed from your sins by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are no longer your own, but belong entirely to Him. How can you serve the Lord better?

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message from Romans 14, “The History of the Sabbath.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


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