Leviticus 25:39
And if your brother that dwells by you be waxen poor, and be sold to you; you shall not compel him to serve as a bondservant:
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(39) And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor.—Better, And if thy brother be waxen poor by thee, that is, after supporting his tottering hand, as prescribed in Leviticus 25:35-38, and making all the charitable efforts to help him, they fail, and he still finds himself in extreme poverty, and unable to obtain a livelihood.

And be sold unto thee.—The voluntary disposal of his own liberty for a money consideration the Israelite could only effect by stress of poverty.

Thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant.—Under these circumstances he is not to be treated like heathen slaves who are either purchased or captured, and made to do the menial service which these Gentile slaves have to perform. The authorities during the second Temple adduce the following as degrading work which the Israelite bondman is not to be put to: He must not attend his master at his bath, nor tie up or undo the latchets of his sandals, &c., &c.

Leviticus 25:39. To serve as a bond-servant — Neither for the time, for ever, nor for the manner, with the hardest and vilest kinds of service, rigorously and severely exacted.25:39-55 A native Israelite, if sold for debt, or for a crime, was to serve but six years, and to go out the seventh. If he sold himself, through poverty, both his work and his usage must be such as were fitting for a son of Abraham. Masters are required to give to their servants that which is just and equal, Col 4:1. At the year of jubilee the servant should go out free, he and his children, and should return to his own family. This typified redemption from the service of sin and Satan, by the grace of God in Christ, whose truth makes us free, Joh 8:32. We cannot ransom our fellow-sinners, but we may point out Christ to them; while by his grace our lives may adorn his gospel, express our love, show our gratitude, and glorify his holy name.The law here appears harmoniously to supplement the earlier one in Exodus 21:1-6. It was another check applied periodically to the tyranny of the rich. Compare Jeremiah 34:8-17. 39-46. if thy brother … be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond-servant—An Israelite might be compelled, through misfortune, not only to mortgage his inheritance, but himself. In the event of his being reduced to this distress, he was to be treated not as a slave, but a hired servant whose engagement was temporary, and who might, through the friendly aid of a relative, be redeemed at any time before the Jubilee. The ransom money was determined on a most equitable principle. Taking account of the number of years from the proposal to redeem and the Jubilee, of the current wages of labor for that time, and multiplying the remaining years by that sum, the amount was to be paid to the master for his redemption. But if no such friendly interposition was made for a Hebrew slave, he continued in servitude till the year of Jubilee, when, as a matter of course, he regained his liberty, as well as his inheritance. Viewed in the various aspects in which it is presented in this chapter, the Jubilee was an admirable institution, and subservient in an eminent degree to uphold the interests of religion, social order, and freedom among the Israelites. Neither for the time, for ever, nor for the manner, with the hardest and vilest kinds of service, rigorously and severely exacted from him. And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor,.... The above laws and instructions seem designed to prevent such extreme poverty as obliged to what follows, namely, a brother being sold either to an Israelite or to a stranger, by relieving his wants or lending him money; but when these were insufficient to support him, and keep him from sinking into the lowest state of distress and misery, then he was obliged to be sold, as follows:

and be sold unto thee; either by himself, being ready to starve and perish, or by the sanhedrim, having stolen something, as Aben Ezra observes; in such a case the civil magistrate had a power of selling a man, Exodus 22:3,

thou shall not compel him to serve as a bondservant; such as were Heathens, and bought of them, or taken in war and made slaves of; but an Israelite sold was not to serve as they, either with respect to matter or manner, or time of service; such as were bondmen were put to the hardest service, the greatest drudgery, as well as what was mean and reproachful, and were used in the most rigorous and despotic manner, and were obliged to serve for ever, and were never released; but a brother, an Israelite, sold to another through extreme poverty, was not to be put to any low, mean, base, and disgraceful service, by which it would be known that he was a servant, as Jarchi notes; such as to carry his master's vessels or instruments after him to the bath, or to unloose his shoes; but, as the same writer observes, he was to be employed in the business of the farm, or in some handicraft work, and was to be kindly and gently used, rather as a brother than a servant, and to be freed in the year of jubilee.

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:
39–46. Prohibition of permanent servitude of one Israelite to another (H and P mixed, the former probably preponderating)

This case was to be subject to the operation of the law of Jubile, Moreover, the Israelite so bought shall not be compelled to work as a slave, but only under such conditions as befit a sojourner or hired servant. Leviticus 25:42 adds the reason (cp. Leviticus 25:13; Leviticus 25:55). On the other hand slaves bought from persons of other nations, or from foreigners sojourning in the land, were to be bondservants in the strictest sense of the word. For the differences between the law on these subjects and that in Exodus 21:2 ff.; Deuteronomy 15:12-18, see ICC Deut.; p. 185, and Intr. to pent. p. 123.Verses 39-42. - We see the way in which a poor Israelite might become a slave in the case of the sons of the widow whose oil was multiplied by Elisha. "Thy servant my husband is dead; (and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord:) and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen" (2 Kings 4:1). And in the time of Nehemiah, "Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth.... And, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards" (Nehemiah 5:3-5). But the fact that an Israelite could not be kept in slavery for more than six years (Exodus 21:2), and that the period of his service had to be still shorter if the jubilee fell before the seventh year, and the further fact that at the time of the jubilee he would not only he free, but recover any ancestral property that he had forfeited, so that he might become once more on an equality with his master, would have made his position totally different from the hopeless, helpless state of the Greek or Roman slave, even without the positive command that he was to be treated, not as a bondservant: but as an hired servant, and as a sojourner. All alike, master and bondsman, were the slaves of God, and therefore not only were they, so far, on an equality one with another, but the master would be encroaching on the right of God if he claimed God's slaves for his own inalienably. "And whoever (if any one) redeems, i.e., buys, of the Levites, the house that is sold and (indeed in) the town of his possession is to go out free in the year of jubilee; for the houses of the Levitical towns are their (the Levites') possession among the children of Israel." The meaning is this: If any one bought a Levite's house in one of the Levitical towns, the house he had bought was to revert to the Levite without compensation in the year of jubilee. The difficulty connected with the first clause is removed, if we understand the word גּאל (to redeem, i.e., to buy back), as the Rabbins do, in the sense of קנה to buy, acquire. The use of גּאל for קנה may be explained from the fact, that when the land was divided, the Levites did not receive either an inheritance in the land, or even the towns appointed for them to dwell in as their own property. The Levitical towns were allotted to the different tribes in which they were situated, with the simple obligation to set apart a certain number of dwelling-houses for the Levites, together with pasture-ground for their cattle in the precincts of the towns (cf. Numbers 35:1. and my Commentary on Joshua, p. 453 translation). If a non-Levite, therefore, bought a Levite's house, it was in reality a repurchase of property belonging to his tribe, or the redemption of what the tribe had relinquished to the Levites as their dwelling and for their necessities.

(Note: This is the way in which it is correctly explained by Hiskuni: Utitur scriptura verbo redimendi non emendi, quia quidquid Levitae vendunt ex Israelitarum haereditate est, non ex ipsorum haerediatate. Nam ecce non habent partes in terra, unde omnis qui accipit aut emit ab illis est acsi redimeret, quoniam ecce initio ipsius possessio fuit. On the other hand, the proposal made by Ewald, Knobel, etc., after the example of the Vulgate, to supply לא before גּאל is not only an unnecessary conjecture, but is utterly unsuitable, inasmuch as the words "if one of the Levites does not redeem it" would restrict the right to the Levites without any perceptible reason; just as if a blood-relation on the female side, belonging to any other tribe, might not have done this.)

The words אח ועיר are an explanatory apposition - "and that in the town of his possession," - and do not mean "whatever he had sold of his house-property or anything else in his town," for the Levites had no other property in the town besides the houses, but "the house which he had sold, namely, in the town of his possession." This implies that the right of reversion was only to apply to the houses ceded to the Levites in their own towns, and not to houses which they had acquired in other towns either by purchase or inheritance. The singular היא is used after a subject in the plural, because the copula agrees with the object (see Ewald, 319c). As the Levites were to have no hereditary property in the land except the houses in the towns appointed for them, it was necessary that the possession of their houses should be secured to them for all time, if they were not to fall behind the other tribes.

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